From Emeryville to Boston, nonprofits called "transportation management associations" have sprung up in the last few decades to expand transit use, encouraging walking and biking and dramatically reduce the percentage of drivers who commute alone.
Now, as traffic-weary and parking-parched Palo Alto prepares to launch its own traffic-fighting nonprofit, city officials are looking for inspiration both from other cities and from local businesses and residents. To that effect, about 35 people attended the city's first community meeting on the new association to learn about the effort and offer their own ideas.
The new nonprofit, known as a TMA, is seen as an integral part of the city's "three-legged stool" approach to solving parking and traffic problems in downtown and beyond (the other two legs include parking-permit programs and new garages). If all goes as planned, by the end of the year the new organization will be in place and will offer at least one traffic-reduction program. By year three, its array of transit, bike and ride-share programs would be robust enough to result in a 30 percent reduction in single-occupant vehicles, according to the City Council's stated goals.
At the Thursday meeting, the city's consultant Wendy Silvani offered a series of examples that have set up successful TMAs, including ones she helped start in Emeryville and San Francisco's Mission Bay district. Boston and Portland also have long-established programs that draw participation from businesses large and small. Portland's GoLloyd program, which focuses on a section of downtown, succeeded in lowering the drive-alone rate by 18 percent, increasing transit use by 16 percent and increasing bike use by 124 percent in 10 years.
But as Silvani noted in her introductory remarks, every TMA is different and each is shaped by its community's characteristics and desires.
"The sky is the limit," Silvani said. "It's up to the TMA and its members and ideas from the public."
Jessica Sulivan, the city parking manager, characterized the new program as a venue for coordinating the panoply of programs aimed at reducing parking. The TMA, she said, "is going to be really central to helping us move the needle as far as transportation demand management."
"We know a lot of us have frustrations with parking in the community. There's a lot of traffic concerns. Everyone has different ideas about the things we can do to address these challenges," Sullivan said. "It's not one strategy that can help -- it's a whole bunch of things."
Participants had plenty of suggestions. Some advocated more biking improvements. One encouraged staff and consultants to have better signs for bike routes. Another called for more bike-share stations, and another suggested "ubiquitous protected bike lanes." An app to inform residents about transportation options also proved a popular idea.
Other residents urged staff to focus on impacted routes, including around Willow Road and near Stanford University. Former planning Commissioner Arthur Keller said the effort should go well beyond downtown, an area that is the focus of the three-legged stool approach. The area around California, he said, "has zero legs of the stool." And the commercial area around Arastradero and Charleston actually has negative legs because of a recent lane-reduction project, which benefited bicyclists but decreased the road capacity for cars.
"There is a significant expenditure of city money being spent on downtown," Keller said. "How will we make sure there's enough money to expand it to those parts of the city that affect our residents an businesses?"
Barron Park resident Bob Moss likewise said that the new association should improve transportation services for all neighborhoods, not just downtown.
"We have to have a bus system that goes through residential areas too, so people can take the bus to shop and go to work," Moss said.
Ken Allen, a resident of the Adobe Meadow neighborhood in south Palo Alto, said it's important to consider the parking impacts of any proposed programs.
"The improvement for me would be not having all the other people parking on my block," Allen said, citing a project being developed by Google in his area.
Others offered "blue-sky" ideas: a car-free University Avenue, the ability for residents to hop on Google buses; and a "short-hop trolley" that goes from one end of downtown to another.
Many of the ideas tossed around at the Thursday meeting will be explored more thoroughly in the coming months by the TMA's newly established steering committee, which will hold its first meeting in two weeks and which will ultimately determine the financial structure and the bylaws for the new committee. The steering committee roster, which was announced at Thursday's meeting, includes representatives from businesses big and small.
The committee consists of: Russ Cohen from Downtown Business Improvement District; Barbara Gross from Garden Court Hotel; Brendon Harrington from Google; Bob McGrew from Palantir; Hal Mickelson from the Chamber of Commerce; David Jury from Palo Alto Medical Foundation; Palo Alto Unified School District Superintendent Max McGree; Rob George from Philz Coffee; Brian Shaw from Stanford University; Sue Nightingale from Watercourse Way; Adina Levin representing Friends of Caltrain and two "residential liaisons," Dena Mossar and Bern Beecham.
Silvani said the goal is to have the association launched in earnest by the end of this year. She and Sullivan will be working with the steering committee in the coming months.
"What we're trying to do is get to a place where it's not either-or but people having choices and increasingly their choice is not to get in a car and drive by themselves," she said. "But you can only have that be a realistic option if you have other means for them to get from Point A to Point B."