At the same time, the city has quietly launched a bold new initiative that aims to attack the problem from the demand side.
The City Council approved earlier this month a three-year, $499,880 contract with the firm Moore Lacofano Goltsman (MIG) to form the city's Transportation Management Association, a downtown nonprofit organization that would coordinate incentives for downtown employees to switch from cars to other modes of transportation. Among the association's main goals, and measurements for success, will be a reduction of trips made by solo drivers, according to a staff report from the Department of Planning and Community Environment. Its mission is to reduce the number of such trips by 30 percent within three years.
The new association is one leg of the city's "three-legged stool" approach for addressing what many call downtown's parking "crisis." Another component is increasing supply by building new garages and lots. The third is to better manage existing parking through new parking-permit programs and garage technology.
The new association, according to the staff report, would "help identify specific needs for various transit programs, provide a centralized location for transportation information, identify and create funding mechanisms for various transit programs, and advocate for the use of those programs."
The idea of forming the new nonprofit was inspired by aggressive "transportation demand management" programs at Stanford University and in Contra Costa County, which reduced solo-driver trips by more than 30 percent. The Contra Costa Transit Center draws funding from area employers and uses strategies such as car-sharing services, taxi vouchers and BART fare subsidies to alleviate traffic problems.
In September, Mayor Nancy Shepherd, Vice Mayor Liz Kniss, Councilwoman Gail Price and Councilman Greg Scharff proposed in a colleague's memo that Palo Alto pursue something similar. The memo identifies parking and traffic as among "the toughest challenges facing the city at this time" and notes that Stanford (which is obligated as part of its general-use permit with Santa Clara County to make sure its new buildings bring no additional cars onto the campus) succeeded in reducing its car trips by 40 percent through a comprehensive transportation-demand management program. With the "right focus and attention, Palo Alto could have similar results," the memo stated.
"The city, employers and transit agencies have already promoted trip reduction and alternative options," the memo stated. "Yet, these initiatives are not comprehensive in nature and have not been effective from a district-wide standpoint. The idea of considering downtown districts as a unit, with an experienced TDM contractor working directly with employers and commuters, is a smart and proven strategy to address the city's traffic and parking issues."
The council approved this contractor on Aug. 11 when it unanimously passed its "consent calendar," a list of non-controversial items that get voted on with no discussion. The formation of the new TMA is expected to take about three years. Along with MIG, the team includes Silvani Transportation, which had launched similar programs in Emeryville, San Mateo and in San Francisco's Mission Bay neighborhood.
The report from city planners notes that the new TMA, as a third-party entity working with city staff, would be "considered an umbrella organization for many current and future transportation programs."
"The TMA would manage, market and brand these programs, develop data and metrics on transit use within the community identify potential services and programs that could serve various downtown constituents," the report states. "The TMA would work closely with city staff's parking-management efforts to provide coordinated efforts that could complement one another."
The first order of business for MIG will be reaching out to downtown's businesses, who will feel more parking pressure early next year when the city begins limiting the time that commuters can park on residential streets, as part of the new residential-parking permit program. Once this happens, downtown employees accustomed to free all-day parking in neighborhoods like Professorville and Downtown North will no longer have these options.
The business outreach and work-plan development phase is expected to take 19 months. At the same time, the team would be creating a TMA website and launch social-media initiatives.
The contract also calls for creating of a steering committee that will lead the creation of the TMA; conducting "transportation and social marketing related research" and launching various marketing and public-outreach initiatives.