As Palo Alto zooms ahead with a broad plan to become a top-tier bicycling destination, city officials are embarking on a data-gathering effort to determine the best ways to meet the transportation needs of local residents and commuters.
To compile the information, the city's Planning and Community Environment Department has put together a survey that will be mailed to residents this fall. The data from the survey will be used to implement future transportation programs and projects, according to a report from Assistant Engineer Ruchika Aggarwal. The Planning and Transportation Commission will discuss the proposed survey this evening, Sept. 12.
While the survey is relatively brief (it consists of 13 questions for residents and 11 questions for employees and is meant to be completed in five minutes), it is unusual for its breadth of scope. Aggarwal's report notes that transportation surveys are typically used by transit agencies for more focused objectives such as identifying service routes. Palo Alto's first-ever Transportation Survey, by contrast, aims to help the city "understand how residents and commuters travel within Palo Alto." It is the first such survey for local agencies within the San Francisco Bay Area, Aggarwal wrote.
The survey asks residents, among other things, what part of town they live in, how many cars and bicycles they have in their households and what time they head out for their daily commutes. Employees are asked for their preferred mode of transportation, their arrival and departure times and the types of facilities they believe would help their commutes.
Both residents and employees are asked what they think the city can do to help encourage them to use an alternate mode of transportation more regularly.
The survey will be available on the city's website and will remain online for four to six weeks. Aggarwal's report calls it a "simple, yet powerful innovative tool to help the city develop a more sustainable transportation infrastructure."
Palo Alto's data-collection effort is accelerating at a time when the city is awash with ongoing and planned transportation projects, many of them aimed at making local streets more bike-friendly. Earlier this year, the City Council approved a Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan that proposes a vast network of trails, bike boulevards and other infrastructure projects geared toward making it easier for non-drivers to get around the city. Among the most ambitious of these is a new bike bridge over U.S. Highway 101 at Adobe Creek, a project that could cost more than $9 million.
Last week, the city applied for a Santa Clara County grant that could provide $4 million for the new bridge.
At the same time, the council has been looking for ways to ease parking congestion and to encourage more development near major transit hubs, particularly next to the city's two Caltrain stations. The goal of these transit-oriented developments is to bring in housing and companies whose residents and employees would rely on means other than cars.
Planners are also working on a "transportation demand management" program that would encourage City Hall employees and others to eschew their cars for other modes of transportation. The program, which the city is just starting to develop, would use the results from the new survey as its baseline travel information, according to Aggarwal.