News

New nonprofit to manage downtown Palo Alto's traffic problems

City approves contract to create a new 'Transportation Management Association'

From a "satellite lot" on Embarcadero to new garage technologies, Palo Alto officials this month have been busily brainstorming ways to boost downtown's insufficient supply of parking.

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.

Comments

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Thank you
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Aug 26, 2014 at 11:07 am

Thank you Mayor Shepherd, Vice Mayor Kniss, Councilman Scharf and Councilwoman Price for taking the leadership on this issue! I know you've done a lot of research into best practices and propose three solutions to alleviate our parking and traffic concerns. Many people don't know what Traffic Demand Management is, but they'll learn to appreciate it!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Quality of life
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 26, 2014 at 11:14 am

Dear Councilmembers,
Please lead by example and give up your dedicated parking spots under City Hall. I would like to see Liz Kniss in particular get off her high horse and take a bike to and from City Hall. This is not just a snarky comment. Boston transit was just gross until Governor Michael Dukakis took the T to work every day, and thus were born the improvements we still benefit from today. These Councilmembers in particular seem to enjoy doing unto others without any intention of those decisions hitting them close to home. If they were to adopt every suggestion first themselves, they would understand far better the consequences and problems with their proposals. It's particularly galling to have them repeatedly put development and their pet goals and dismissiveness about South Palo Alto in particular above safety and quality of life. They can't understand unless they experience it.

This shouldn't just be for the little people they expect are eating cake, they should walk the walk (literally) first themselves. Start by giving away the dedicated spots. They may be available during the day but just having the signs there is often a deterrent to other people using the spots. Then have City meetings across town on a regular basis, that they attend only by public transit or bike/foot. Then and only then will we see the kind of soul searching, action, and solutions to overdevelopment and transportation we need (at least from this crowd - the other answer is to vote them out).


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 26, 2014 at 11:36 am

The photo attached to the story says it all doesn't it? The horror of cars parked along the bucolic streets of north Palo Alto. When will the suffering end? A half million dollars is a small price to pay to keep developers happy!

Meanwhile, in south Palo Alto, drivers along El Camino now have to deal with the blinding sun reflected off the glass of massive hotels built to the curb during the evening commute. Palo Alto's ARB reserves seats on the board for architects so they can anticipate this kind of thing. I guess they'll do better next time, eh?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Senor blogger
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 26, 2014 at 11:53 am

Maybe the Council should park in the free parking down at the Duck Pond and take a non profit shuttle to their business in city hall.
Maybe all the dedicated spots in City Hall should be done away with.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Bike commuter
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 26, 2014 at 12:10 pm

I know they are in East Palo Alto, but it would be great if someone could convince the management at University Circle (4 Seasons Hotel complex) to stop actively discouraging bicycle commuting. One tiny bike rack in front of the building, and then they took it away! Why is it so hard for them to have a convenient place to lock up a few bikes?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 26, 2014 at 12:42 pm

The city is willing to fung $500,000 to solve parking problems for businesses, but want to make the residents pay for the parking permit program in their own neighborhoods.

The residents did not create the parking problems in their neighborhoods; the city did, by approving zoning variances permitting higher density development that allowed, and by approving projects that were under parked.

That $500,000 should have gone to the residential parking permit program first. Then the city should have been charging businesses for the $500,000 to solve the parking issues that they had a hand in creating.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Midtown
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 26, 2014 at 1:13 pm

Yes, growth is inevitable, but it doesn't have to look like the horror being built on El Camino near San Antonio or the one at El Camino and Charleston. South Palo Alto is being sacrificed to the developers and their captive City Council.
November is coming, Vote all the Council members out and let's have a clean slate that can fire the "planners."


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Pissed off for a while
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Aug 26, 2014 at 1:24 pm

Agree with Midtown.
Fire the council and investigate their links to the developers.

El Camino between Charleston and San Antonio begins to look like LA. Most part of that high density housing is not even up yet but the traffic is already killing. Given VMWare, Tesla, and other companies up Arastradero and adjacent streets, try to take Foot Hill or Arastradero at 5-6 PM.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Aileeny07
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Aug 26, 2014 at 1:33 pm

How about the parking problem in California Ave surroundings! Since we know it will be as bad as downtown Palo Alto in the near future, why don't we study at the same time?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 26, 2014 at 1:35 pm

Anyone else concerned that they are "hiring" a "non-profit" at a cost of almost half a million dollars?

Non-profit sounds a bit fishy to me. It might be all OK, but shouldn't we be told a little more about this end of it?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Bill
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 26, 2014 at 1:47 pm

Don't a number of council members listed as "solving" this problem own or have interest in commercial property in downtown Palo Alto? Isn't this something that directly benefits them, and their (over-)developer friends?

Maybe we should file an anonymous complaint with the FPPC? The Daily Phishwrap could have.another "exclusive"!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by b
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 26, 2014 at 4:30 pm

FPPC is a useless waste of time. They don't find anything unless it's handed to them on a platter with neon signs and then only if it can't be avoided.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Something terribly wrong
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 26, 2014 at 5:06 pm

> "hiring" a "non-profit" at a cost of almost half a million dollars?

>Non-profit sounds a bit fishy to me. It might be all OK, but shouldn't we be told a little more about this end of it?

Very fishy. The firm is composed of architects. We've had such good experience with architects, haven't we? They are easily convinced to approve developments.
The city manager has been spending Millions lately, for weird projects. Like the 4.5 million to refurbish the ground floor of cityhall.
There doesn't seem to be anyone to stop him. Something is terribly wrong.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Anon
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 26, 2014 at 6:18 pm

There is a recent contract between the City of Richmond and Moore Lacofano Goltsman posted at Web Link In that contract, they checked the box for "corporation", not the box for "non-profit corporation".


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Elaine Uang
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 27, 2014 at 11:40 am

A year after hosting a Growth Without Gridlock session @ Avenidas, it's great to see the TMA in place. I am eager for them to hit the ground running. I hope they can collect good data on the needs of local workers.

Going forward, it'll be important for the programs the TMA puts forward to be available to ALL businesses throughout the downtown area, not just the commercial core along Univ/Lytton/Hamilton. Businesses along Middlefield, SOFA, and around Professorville should all benefit. And at some point, it would be lovely if residents can benefit from the programs the TMA puts in place, like ride sharing, shuttles or discount transit passes for CalTrain, VTA or SamTrans. What matters is that the Downtown area becomes a transportation ruch node, with many mobility options. Stanford has already created such a node on one side of ECR, we can and should do the same on the other side.

Also crucial is whether the TMA can do post-occupancy analysis of major development projects going in, so those projects are held to the TDM measures and standards that were part of their conditions of approval. Not much has been discussed around this yet, but for TDM to really work for downtown Palo Alto, there needs to be some teeth and some serious sticks, not just carrots.

No one likes battle traffic and finding parking. The neighborhoods are seeking improved quality of life from parking & traffic issues, and downtown workers could have better quality of life if they had more convenient ways to come to work. If we do this right, downtown Palo Alto can become a strong force in shaping regional transportation policy.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by stephen levy
a resident of University South
on Aug 27, 2014 at 11:57 am

stephen levy is a registered user.

I agree with Elaine.

By crafting programs that help everyone, we can address parking and traffic as a community together rather than seeing these issues as pitting residents and business and workers against each other.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by If-Wishes-Were-Horses
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 27, 2014 at 4:03 pm

> And at some point, it would be lovely if residents can benefit
> from the programs the TMA puts in place

Good lord! "Wouldn't it be loverly .. " a line from a movie that had nothing to do with real life.

The whole idea of a non-profit with no experience to fix the problems that the highly paid "professionals" of the Palo Alto Planning Department have failed at every time they have tried is another example of the amateurish nature of everything this Council does.

Just like the "Destination Palo Alto" debacle .. more wishing and not very much doing.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by JO
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 27, 2014 at 8:21 pm

Seems like just another "non=profit", but in this case,apparently not really a non-profit, to transfer City money to, like the City has done with PAHC and Avenidas. Residents have no confidence in City staff, so Council pays for non-staff to take responsibility. We need a new City Council.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 27, 2014 at 10:47 pm

JO,

Agreed. PACC is grasping at straws in a futile (and costly) attempt to fool everyone into thinking the over-development problem they created, can be solved by rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

All of the development cheerleaders on the Council must go. Time to drain the swamp!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Oldster
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 27, 2014 at 11:24 pm

JO and Ahem, Yes! Clean the decks.

Who is running in November?

Which of them voted on any new buildings without making sure there was enough parking on site or ensured the builder's parking-elsewhere bribe produced real parking slots within, let's pick a random number, 5 years?

Which ones have pledged to remove IMMEDIATELY the council parking slots at City Hall?

Everyone in my family votes each and every time. As one who walks a dog daily, I chat with a lot of my neighbors every day and many of us are already waiting for a lawn sign on Ms. Kniss' front yard saying "I've given up my downtown parking space."


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Midtown
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 28, 2014 at 10:07 pm

After half a million dollars how are we to know if they reduced the parking demand? I know, another half million dollar study. I hear the sucking sound already. And the RPPP will be delayed until we get the answers.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Midtown
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 28, 2014 at 10:07 pm

After half a million dollars how are we to know if they reduced the parking demand? I know, another half million dollar study. I hear the sucking sound already. And the RPPP will be delayed until we get the answers.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Midtown
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 28, 2014 at 10:07 pm

After half a million dollars how are we to know if they reduced the parking demand? I know, another half million dollar study. I hear the sucking sound already. And the RPPP will be delayed until we get the answers.


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