Businesses to drive city's new traffic-fighting nonprofit

Palo Alto recruits steering committee for its first Transportation Management Association

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.

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2 people like this
Posted by Lulu
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 30, 2014 at 8:08 am

I hope Stanford is part of this as they are the BIGGEST culprit of traffic in and coming into Palo Alto. They should use some of their land to build a park and ride off 280 and 101 and transport their employees by shuttle onto campus. Marguerite runs empty a lot of the time; why not tie into this system?

2 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 30, 2014 at 8:28 am

Getting pay per hour machines at all city lots and garages is paramount to enabling all day visitors to downtown to know where to park.

Making it difficult to park will solve nothing without understanding the occasional need for all day parking that is easy to navigate and understand.

Everything else falls into second place when the occasional all day parkers' needs are met.

I don't think City officials realize that we have all day business visitors, and others who have no idea where to park when they arrive in town. This is a huge problem and officials completely ignore it.

1 person likes this
Posted by rhody
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 30, 2014 at 10:32 am

Nice article. I think it would have been very useful if it had given information about how readers might volunteer to be on the steering committee.

1 person likes this
Posted by $500,000
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 30, 2014 at 11:07 am

In August, the council approved a $500,000 contract with consultants who are now leading the effort.
The City Manager seems to have unlimited funds. That's OUR money.

2 people like this
Posted by Jeff Rensch
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 30, 2014 at 11:12 am

It is very important that some organization or entity in this group represent low and very low income residents and workers. Perhaps Adina Levin, who is a true friend to good transport, can ensure this happens.

5 people like this
Posted by Linda
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 30, 2014 at 11:32 am

Who will represent the residents?

1 person likes this
Posted by resident
a resident of Green Acres
on Oct 30, 2014 at 11:40 am

Bringing up South Palo Alto is interesting, because this discussion seems always to focus on cars, rather than the reason for the mode of transportation — independence, safety, convenience, and to save time (something I have yet to see these alternatives address) — and the need to have facilities, resources, and assets near people so they can walk there. People use cars because it's just not realistic to take your bike across town in the dark of winter, stop at Costco for the groceries, pick up the kids, and go home every day. Who has time for that even if it were logistically possible (or safe)?

Our City Council doesn't seem to realize even South Palo Alto isn't one large block, and because of the way everything is laid out, the neighborhoods near Los Altos nearer the hills, like Barron Park, really aren't that local to things in Midtown or Mitchell Park. Many of us spend more time in Los Altos and Mountain View because it's nearer and easier to walk or bike to than downtown Palo Alto. And by the way, I would much rather than Cal Ave resemble downtown Los Altos, than downtown Palo Alto....

That said, I sure wouldn't mind a shuttle to go to the farmer's market, if it were easy to take along rollaboard shopping carts, it's where we get most of our food...

Like this comment
Posted by concerned citizen
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 30, 2014 at 12:02 pm

With this scope of effort, I suggest city to include all the neighborhood close to caltrain stations into study, e.g Evergreen park, California Ave area!

1 person likes this
Posted by Crescent Park Resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 30, 2014 at 1:15 pm

Every city government sponsored program that impacts residents of Palo Alto must include resident representation on the steering committee. Failure to make resident representation a majority is a failure of the democratic process.

3 people like this
Posted by Jo Ann
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 30, 2014 at 1:36 pm

1) How about if the city stops approving more office buildings?

2) how about if the city stops approving more hotels with no parking spaces?

3) I second the point about Stanford traffic. Let's stop pretending that the growth of medical facilities on Welsh Road produce no traffic.

5 people like this
Posted by Jeff
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 30, 2014 at 3:27 pm

Having developers guide efforts to improve the parking problems caused by developments with too little parking guarantees residents will face steadily increasing costs to support more inadequately parked high density buildings. Tax developments for each parking space they are missing.

2 people like this
Posted by vwarheit
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 30, 2014 at 3:55 pm

I completely agree that residents MUST be included on the steering committee. Adina is fantastic, but the 'regular' people need more than one voice in this. What about families who live in downtown north and don't feel safe biking their kids to school because they have to cross a river of car traffic on University Avenue?
As for the resident of green acres who would like a shuttle to the farmers market - I completely agree. I would like to respectfully suggest, however, that s/he look at places like Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Paris, and New York - which have much worse weather, shorter days, and lots more traffic - where people DO bike to buy their groceries and pick up their kids, and have healthier, happier lives because of it. This idea that we are somehow *supposed* to drive around in cars is simply not true - and the sooner we realize it, the better off we all will be.

1 person likes this
Posted by Mr.Recycle
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 30, 2014 at 4:37 pm

@vwarheit: Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Paris, and New York, Palo Alto. Hmmm, which one of these doesn't belong? Maybe one of the names in the list isn't a major urban center, but is instead a suburban residential neighborhood design around cars?

Like this comment
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 30, 2014 at 5:54 pm

Stanford gets a lot of credit for its ride reduction program - some deserved, some not so much b/c it is achieved at considerable detriment to PA neighborhoods. Lulu's recommendation about a Park & Ride near 280 and 101 for Stanford strikes me as something worth looking into - and it could offset some of the current negative impact on PA neighborhoods.

Although some developers can be pretty slimy, I think that it's reasonable to acknowledge that being a developer is not automatically synonymous with being nefarious. Chop Keenan is a smart man. I've heard him speak about the parking problem and possible solutions and I think his input is valuable to this discussion. It's also good to remember, I think, that it is the City and City Council and PTC that approve development. Developers are in the game to make money. Who wouldn't walk through an open door? What we need is a City Council that knows when a plan is wrong for the City and is willing to say NO and close the door when that is what is needed.

1 person likes this
Posted by Lulu
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 30, 2014 at 10:36 pm

ok, Stanford alums, be green, donate to build a few park and rides instead of a building. The land is there, let's make good use of it.

1 person likes this
Posted by Mike
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 30, 2014 at 11:23 pm

You don't seriously expect most people to switch to public transportation; that would easily turn a 15 minute trip to university avenue into an hour or more.

Create much more parking downtown, widen roads, change traffic lights, create over/underpasses.

If there is one thing you can learn from Europe it's mandating that new construction include parking facilities.

2 people like this
Posted by mj
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 31, 2014 at 12:21 am

@vwarheit "...where people DO bike to buy their groceries and pick up their kids"

And how many young kids can one put on a bike, plus groceries?

2 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 31, 2014 at 7:32 am

MJ makes a good point. I think this new entity should keep in mind that one reason people choose to live in towns and suburbs instead of metropolitan areas is that they are (or at least were) family friendly. Palo Alto seems to be laboring through an identity crisis.

3 people like this
Posted by More consultants
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 31, 2014 at 10:27 am

$500,000 for consultants. Still more consultants. The City Manager appears to be emptying the city treasury.

Like this comment
Posted by Jo Ann
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 31, 2014 at 12:13 pm

I so hope our fine efficient responsive transportation director is in charge of this effort.

It's only taken him 9.5 years to PREPARE to write an RFP to start to find consultants who can advise him on how to synchronize one traffic light.

It's a sure guarantee that nothing will happen.

1 person likes this
Posted by Enough already
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 31, 2014 at 8:57 pm

Businesses cause the parking and traffic problems. Businesses should find the solution. And Businesses should pay for the studies and for the solution. What the city should do is "encourage" them by taking away their ability to park in neighborhoods and by passing some occupancy laws, that will kick in to limit head counts per square foot of retail space, if traffic and congestion worsens. They need ample motivation to find a solution quickly.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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