As Palo Alto prepares to launch new shuttles, impose downtown parking restrictions and offer other incentives for commuters to ditch their cars, officials are also planting the seeds for a new nonprofit organization that will ultimately oversee these efforts.
The city is now in the early stages of forming its first Transportation Management Association, a nonprofit that would market and manage the city's transportation-demand management effort. The goal, per City Council direction, is to reduce by 30 percent the number of solo commuters to downtown within three years of the organization's launch.
In August, the council approved a $500,000 contract with consultants who are now leading the effort. On Wednesday, Joan Chaplick of the firm MIG and Wendy Silvani, whose firm Silvani Transportation Consulting spearheaded transportation-management associations in Emeryville and San Francisco's Mission Bay district, gave the city's Planning and Transportation Commission their first update.
Palo Alto's program would primarily target downtown employers and businesses, who would also take on the leading role in its management. The goal is to have the association up and running in the second-year of the formation process, said Chaplick, who added that the first year in the process has just kicked off.
Right now, the consulting team is talking to downtown stakeholders and identifying potential members of the steering committee that will take the lead in the association's formation.
So far, about a dozen interviews have taken place, with the list including Friends of Caltrain's co-founder Adina Levin and developer Chop Keenan.
Both Kevin Mathay and Brian Shaw, who oversee the ambitious and hugely successful transportation programs at Google and Stanford University, have agreed to serve on the steering committee, as have Russ Cohen, president of the Downtown Business and Professionals Association; Barbara Gross, general manager of Garden Court Hotel; Sue Nightingale of Watercourse Way; and David Jury, vice president at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation.
Silvani said she plans to interview other stakeholders in the coming months, including representatives from the Chamber of Commerce, Whole Foods, Palantir and Survey Monkey.
"This first year is really the big start-up year," Chaplick said. "The key activity we want to accomplish is establishing a steering committee to lay out how the TMA will function and operate."
Silvani said so far the team has been "warmly received" by the business community. Everyone the team has spoken to, she said, "is concerned about traffic, congestion in parking and other transportation issues as they relate to the viability of their business."
Employers are particularly concerned about how the new transportation programs pertain to their ability to recruit and retain employees and support the customers that patronize them.
These concerns will likely solidify next year, when the city unveils a new Residential Parking Permit Program that limits the employees' ability to park all day and free of charge in downtown's residential neighborhoods. When the program kicks off next year, employees will be forced to either seek more distant places to park their cars or find new ways to get to work.
"Everyone is very much concerned about being a good neighbor and a good community citizen -- that's been the positive message so far," Silvani said.
Several themes have emerged from these conversations, including the need to be "data driven," the importance of making all modes of travel easier, the need for the organization to serve as a "downtown voice" and the need to make the program "mutually beneficial," Silvani said.
The planning commission enthusiastically supported the new organization, with members offering plenty of questions and suggestions. Chair Mark Michael was one of several commissioners who urged the consultant team to look beyond downtown.
"I think something that's downtown-centric would be unfortunately limited," Michael said, noting that there already is a common perception that downtown gets far more attention from city leadership than south Palo Alto.
"I think this should definitely be citywide, with California Avenue and Midtown," Michael said, as well as consider drivers who pass through Palo Alto as they commute from Mountain View or Menlo Park, or vice versa.
Vice Chair Arthur Keller made a case for including Stanford Research Park, which he said has lower transit use than any other commercial district and a higher solo-driver rate than downtown.
Commission Carl King, participating in the final meeting of his term, said he hopes there will be "teeth" in how the city works with its employees.
"Palo Alto is a notoriously polite community from a government standpoint," King said. "There's a tendency to do a lot of warnings and hoping that people will do things."
While commercial areas will be the great focus, Adina Levin, speaking on behalf of Friends of Caltrain, suggested including residents as well. The city of Boulder, Colo., she said, has a program in which certain neighborhoods participate in an association that provides them with discounted transit passes and other transportation-demand-management tools. Residents in this association drive 40 percent less than residents in other neighborhoods, she said.
Other questions that the city and the steering committee will have to consider revolve around funding. Silvani said some communities fund their transit management associations through fees and dues (in some cases very nominal, possible $20 or $50 per year), while others rely on funding from state, county and regional agencies.
The city is expecting to kick in some funds for traffic-reducing programs (on Monday night the council unanimously supported, for example, an expansion of the free shuttle program, including a new north-south route). Eventually, however, the association is expected to pay for itself.
"The city does have seed funding that we're putting toward the initial program development, but the goal is to get the TMA self-sufficient as soon as possible," Jessica Sullivan, the city's parking manager, said.