News

Palo Alto seeks ideas for new traffic-fighting nonprofit

City plans to set up Transportation Management Association by end of this year

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."

Comments

4 people like this
Posted by It-Didn't-Work-Last-Time--So-Let's-Do-It-Over-One-More-Time
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 29, 2015 at 8:05 pm

Wow! Clearly a who's/who of the business community--but just how much expertise do any of these people have when it comes to traffic management?

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.

And these two have had plenty of experience watching the problem of over-development and traffic growth without ever demonstrating the slightest idea of what to do about it.

Another Palo Alto disaster in the making!


4 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 29, 2015 at 8:21 pm

How many of these people live in Palo Alto?

How do these people get to work? Do they walk, bike, drive, use public transportation?

If they drive, do they carpool? Do they have allotted parking spots?

In other words, how much experience do they have of using the roads in and about Palo Alto in commute time?


4 people like this
Posted by anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 29, 2015 at 9:10 pm

why aren't there any neighborhood leaders on this group?
who is representing the residents?

this is designed to fail and cost taxpayers $$$$ and shield some members of the business community ( again) from paying their fair share ….


6 people like this
Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 29, 2015 at 9:45 pm

Marie is a registered user.

Is it true that the latest underpriced proposed development at 441 Page Mill would be able to be underparked by 16 spots by joining the TMA? I certainly hope that establishing a TMA is not just one more way to guarantee developers another exemption from Palo Alto's parking requirements (one spot per 250 sq. ft. of office space). In general, it sounds like a good plan - but not if it gives away parking before we know if it works.

Palo Alto has a huge parking deficit. The TMA should focus on reducing the number of existing cars, not making the existing deficit worse. I think the city council should increase the required number of spots for future development to one per 150 sq. fit. in hopes of providing an adequate number spaces or at least maintaining the status quo after all the legally required reductions to parking are granted.

Once again consultants, staff and developers want to put the cart before the horse. They want to reduce parking requirements based on the future performance of an untested program. Reduce the number of cars - then allow reduced parking requirements.

What I would really like to see is all new development suspended until the business registry is in place and all the many developments out there are complete so we have the data to really design a good program. What a concept - plan first, develop later rather than the torturous one at a time up zoning that leads to a hodge-podge of design and inadequate infrastructure.


2 people like this
Posted by This isn't Rocket Science
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 29, 2015 at 10:18 pm

"Fighting" traffic is easy - stop adding housing and business space to an already over-crowded city! The same goes to all cities in Silicon Valley. Just because people want to live here does not mean we have to destroy our cities and lifestyles to accommodate them.

Why can't we encourage growth somewhere else, like south to Morgan Hill and Gilroy, or further north in California? Why do people think that Silicon Valley has to keep creating housing and office space for an endless number of people? Let's share the wealth! Allow other areas to grow and absorb some of this over-population!


2 people like this
Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 30, 2015 at 2:12 pm

"and two "residential liaisons," Dena Mossar and Bern Beecham."

Ex-councilmembers Mossar and Beecham are "residential" liaisons??? Hoo, hoo, hee, hee, haw, hawwww.

Both are "starry-eyed" (Mossar's own words) poster children extraordinaire of overdevelopment and overdevelopers. The residents they represent reside in Woodside, Atherton, Portola Valley, and Los Altos Hills.


1 person likes this
Posted by finally!
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 30, 2015 at 6:14 pm

it's great to see this effort finally kick off. Other cities have successfully managed their traffic and development through a successful TDM/ TMA. Palo Alto has the resources and talent to to this. The solution is not "stop building houses, stop building offices"... the Bay Area is growing. Palo Alto will also grow. We need to intelligently manage this growth.


Like this comment
Posted by Manager'sBusiness support
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 31, 2015 at 2:23 pm

Agree with curmudgeon:
Mossar and Beecham "are poster children extraordinaire of overdevelopment and overdevelopers. The residents they represent reside in Woodside, Atherton, Portola Valley, and Los Altos Hills."
They are the most developer - development friendly former councilmembers you can find. Except maybe for Larry Klein.

Seems strange that the City Manager is spending so much money to organize the business community even though there is the Chamber of Commerce and other business organizations.
So that they can fight RPP?
He didn't organize residents. We need a new City Manager.


Like this comment
Posted by Rick
a resident of another community
on Mar 26, 2016 at 12:07 pm

Take a lesson from San Francisco. We have been taken over by the new urbanist, high density anti-car crowd. Our MTA is trying to make driving miserable. Many of us need to drive - families with kids, lower income folks that have to go to 3 different jobs every day, blue collar workers with tools, the elderly and handicapped. The move to push people to walking, biking, and using slow crappy bus transportation works for the young health and rich (who will just taxi or Uber) but is not workable for many.
Be sure this new Palo Alto thing has representation from neighborhoods, handicapped, blue collar workers and families. You'll probably be bulldozed by the developers but you've got to try!


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

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