Letter to Council: Focus Directly on Traffic and Parking; Development Limit not most effective approach | Invest & Innovate | Steve Levy | Palo Alto Online |

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Letter to Council: Focus Directly on Traffic and Parking; Development Limit not most effective approach

Uploaded: Feb 6, 2015
My first understanding from personal experience and city studies is that most increases in traffic and parking have come from more intensive use of existing space including offices, retail stores such as the Apple store, and eating and drinking establishments that seem to be thriving. Our personal experience is that twice in the last three years, CCSCE has moved locations downtown as technology firms including Palantir have bought out our space. In both cases the density of use increased dramatically in the space we previously occupied. Both landlords were extremely gracious and I am pleased to see the growing innovative businesses and workers who now occupy our space.

My second understanding from following the discussions in Palo Alto is that residents have legitimate concerns about the recent increases in traffic and parking challenges. In response the city has and is undertaking a number of initiatives directly focused on reducing car travel and associated parking need.

I believe that the ratio of parking needed per employee is subject to the alternatives we provide, incentives and parking costs and regional efforts such as expanding CalTrain and other public and private commute options.

I also find that the Council agenda is full this year with the Comp Plan and other important issues and that staff has many issues on their plate at the same time we have losses in planning staff.

As a result I believe the more effective use of Council and staff time is to work on solutions that will reduce parking and traffic from existing uses and the increases in density of existing uses that will continue. I think the time and staff effort involved in developing annual growth limitations and the legal limits to these efforts suggest that focusing directly on traffic and parking need directly will be the most effective approach for the city and meet the desires of residents to reduce the transportation impacts of development.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on Feb 6, 2015 at 12:01 pm

"I believe that the ratio of parking needed per employee is subject to the alternatives we provide, incentives and parking costs and regional efforts such as expanding CalTrain and other public and private commute options."

In reality, it is subject to what the employees actually do. Individually, many find the drive to work alternative necessary and/or more convenient. The market speaks.

The quoted text has been used to rationalize each underparked development for the past 15 years, and we see its failure daily. These utopian pronouncements are as effective, and silly, as King Canute the Wetfoot's cease and desist decree to the rising tide.

 +   3 people like this
Posted by Bob, a resident of Menlo Park,
on Feb 6, 2015 at 1:52 pm

Amen! Parking and congestion are real issues - on rainy days like this one, I drive in from Menlo Park, so I see this first-hand. However, it's not realistic that these issues are being caused by what's been built in the last few years. It's much more likely that it's a combination of intensification of existing office use combined with retail conversions. Buildings like 101 Lytton have massive amounts of underground parking and so only make a small draw on the garages; even a small retail to office conversions like the one at Zibbibo will likely have a much greater impact on parking availability than that building did.

Not all buildings cause the same amount of issues, and lots of these issues are caused without building new buildings. So let's not treat all development the same under a cap just to pretend we've done something meaningful. Instead, let's see policies that tackle parking availability and congestion head on.

 +   3 people like this
Posted by miss the point, a resident of Downtown North,
on Feb 6, 2015 at 1:58 pm

I think that the point is being missed here - which is that people don't make decisions in a vacuum. They make decisions based on the options on the ground. If there is no public transportation, then it's not an option and no one will take it. In the case of our largest companies in downtown, more than 60% of their employees take public transit, bike, walk etc. They're not underparked. That number is much better than for other businesses and the question is why? The answer is of course all about incentives and whether or not the company encourages people to live close by via subsidies, whether they provide shuttles, whether they provide Caltrain passes, etc. All of these things DO make a difference.

Capping development only deals with the incremental additional issues that new development brings but it's clear that most of our problems actually come from buildings that never had any parking at all or very little parking, and it's now being used more intensely. Touring the downtown, you can spot these easily and there are many of them all built more than 15 years ago. So dealing with the incremental problem and not the larger issue we actually face is like breaking out an umbrella during a typhoon - seems like a good idea at first and then you quickly understand that the problem is way bigger.

Capping development only slows down the growth of the problem, but until we take smarter approaches, the problem is still just going to grow, even if slowly. What we need is to invest in the Transportation Management Association and actually start reversing the problem.

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