In fight against traffic, Palo Alto finds business allies

Congestion drives companies to join city's traffic-fighting efforts

From Caltrain passes for daily commuters to nimble shuttles for local residents, city leaders in Palo Alto have no shortage of ideas for moving people out of cars and into other modes of transportation.

Money, however, is a different matter. Though the city is banking on getting significant proceeds from the transportation-tax measure that the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority is preparing to place on the November ballot, these dollars are expected to support regional infrastructure projects like submerging the Caltrain corridor under crossing streets (or vice versa) and adding a lane to Page Mill Road. Local projects, city officials recognize, will likely require local funding sources.

Where will the money come from? That's the question the City Council will wrestle with Monday night, when it considers the growing list of pending "transportation-demand measures" (incentives for changing people's commute habits) currently being pursued and evaluates the city's funding options. The menu includes a new city tax on businesses, a local sales-tax measure, a new assessment district and various public-private partnerships between the city and local businesses, according to a new report from the Department of Planning and Community Environment.

Some of these partnerships are already taking shape as part of the city's new Transportation Management Association, a newly incorporated nonprofit that aims to slash the number of downtown's solo drivers by 30 percent. A similar effort is also coalescing at Stanford Research Park, where a consortium of large employers is working with Stanford University to solve the area's traffic problems by offering shuttles, transit passes and other incentives to employees to get them to stop driving to work solo.

As for the city's new traffic-fighting nonprofit -- modeled after similar associations in Contra Costa and San Mateo counties -- its board of directors will consist of six members: the City, Google, Palantir, the Garden Court Hotel, IDEO and Philz Coffee.

According to the rules that the TMA established for itself, board members from the three larger employers (the City, Google and Palantir) will make annual contributions of $10,000, according to a report from planning staff. Medium-sized employers on the board (Garden Court and IDEO) will pay $2,500 annually, while the single small employer on the board (Philz) will contribute $1,000.

In addition to the board member fees, all businesses that wish to participate in the new association and take advantage of its services will be assessed membership dues, which the board will set in the next few weeks, according to the new report.

The organization is rolling out at a time when the council is paying particularly close attention to traffic, having called it a top priority for 2016. It was also one of the major themes of Mayor Pat Burt's "State of the City" speech last month. Burt pointed to other communities that have had success with transportation-demand-management strategies and cited the willingness of Stanford Research Park businesses to step up.

"They explained that they're moving in that direction because the businesses in the Research Park see traffic congestion as the biggest threat to their businesses that they have," Burt said in the speech. "The very thing that we as residents see as a problem, businesses see it as their biggest problem as well. We have an opportunity together to really address this and solve it."

Voluntary partnerships are not, however, the only option on the table. The city could raise the impact fee it charges developers of new projects to help support transportation initiatives. It could pursue a business tax with proceeds allocated directly to transportation, an idea that Burt has previously proposed. It can even put its own sales-tax measure, dedicated entirely to city transportation initiatives, on the November ballot, alongside the countywide measure.

Developers will also be expected to participate in the city's battle against traffic by offering tenants incentives to commute without cars. As part of Palo Alto's ongoing update of its Comprehensive Plan, a document that will guide the city's growth policies until 2030, planners are evaluating a range policies that would restrict new traffic during peak commute hours.

One bold measure that the city is considering as part of the update is a goal of "no new increase" in car trips during peak hours from new developments (with exceptions for developments that "directly contribute to the neighborhood character and diversity of Palo Alto," such as affordable housing and ground-floor retail, according to the Environmental Impact Report for the Comprehensive Plan update). The program would, at a minimum, require developers to prepare and implement transportation-demand-management plans, which will include enforcement and penalties if they fail to reduce traffic adequately.

Each district under this strategy would have its own goal for traffic reduction, with the Downtown area aiming for 45 percent and California Avenue shooting for 35 percent. Stanford Research Park and the El Camino Real corridor would each have a target of 30 percent; while other areas of the city would have a target of 20 percent.

Developers would also be able to bend those traffic-reduction rules by paying an annual fee to the City or contracting with another property owner or organization to reduce trips there. The fee, according to the environmental study, would be used to reduce motor-vehicle trips "to the extent feasible through the provision of transit services, carpool/rideshare incentives, bicycle lanes, and other similar programs and improvements."

What is democracy worth to you?
Support local journalism.


44 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 11, 2016 at 9:35 am

The Shuttles we have, and even the VTA buses, are all designed to get neighborhood people to local destinations by snaking around residential areas. They are much too long, infrequent, and serve very little purpose for most employees needing to get to work.

This needs to be rethought. We need to get parking lots near the highways and have dedicated shuttles to places of employment without snaking around neighborhoods. A parking lot at the Baylands, with a shuttle every 15 minutes that serves downtown, Cal Ave area, Page Mill/Sand Hill, or similar just may be easier for people arriving on a regular basis. These shuttles would need to be efficient to get people to use them, 15 minute intervals during morning commute and say 30 minutes during the day and later in the evening. These do not have to be free, but certainly should cost less than the cost of a parking permit in downtown.

If we are really trying to do something to make a difference to traffic, then useful alternatives must be attempted.

It is time to be innovative. It is time to try new approaches. Let's be leaders in this rather than moving deck chairs on the Titanic.

10 people like this
Posted by Palo Altan under 40
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Mar 12, 2016 at 10:02 am

Talk about truly supporting small businesses! Given the TMA survey said about half of those driving said that they'd be willing to try transit if it were easier financially, it is positive to see that downtown employers who already give transit passes to their employees are trying to partner with the City to extend those benefits to lower income workers.

This feels like a small step but one that could longer term benefits if implemented.

I think the real question is: How can the City amplify and support this effort so that it has the greatest impact?

15 people like this
Posted by stephen levy
a resident of University South
on Mar 12, 2016 at 12:14 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

Thanks to the staff and TMA members. Businesses are supporting SOV commute reductions as well as more housing up and down the peninsula.

I hope the TMA can be adequately funded by the City and business partners.

Helping low wage workers find alternatives to driving (when possible) is also a priority for me.

I think improved Caltrain service to Cal Ave combined with shuttles that I am sure the research park companies and Stanford would support is another solution for that area of town.

9 people like this
Posted by Business Consultant
a resident of Los Altos
on Mar 12, 2016 at 1:25 pm

If you talk the right talk you won't have to walk the tight walk.

13 people like this
Posted by Professville
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 12, 2016 at 4:16 pm

So glad the structure is now in place to test and implement some solutions. I think EVERY Palo Altan has a vested interest in getting the TMA funded so it can be effective. How can we, as residents, support the TMA, any suggestions?

10 people like this
Posted by Elaine Uang
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 12, 2016 at 6:20 pm

Really great to see this effort moving forward! One challenge will certainly be be educating the many small and medium size businesses about TMA benefits and encouraging a broader set of workers to use the transportation benefits. Another challenge is fiscal - the TMA needs short term and long term stable financial support. The first 2-3 years will probably need seed funding through general or public funds. But more long term sustainable sources of revenue, whether from development fees, parking revenue, or business memberships, will be critical to sustaining the effort. Parking fees may be one of the best levers - it helps allocate parking resources more efficiently and supports the city's sustainability efforts to reduce car trips and parking demand.

I hope council and the public supports the program with immediate funding, and that we see some trip reduction successes in the next year or two. It will take some experimentation and several iterations to get right, but it's nice to see the City of PA and local businesses showing leadership on this. And I hope residents and all members of the PA community support it as well. I certainly do.

15 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Mar 12, 2016 at 6:59 pm

The naivete going on here is shocking...

6 people like this
Posted by Finally!!
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 13, 2016 at 5:04 pm

It's great to see some movement on a TMA for Palo Alto. The current strategy of only trying to alternatively build more parking garages while limiting parking in neighborhoods doesn't change anything about the fundamental problem of mobility. Finally a group is attempting to change the economics and modes of transportation!

I hope that Council allocates sufficient funds for this to get going; I also hope that Council is supportive of significant long term funding sources

10 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 13, 2016 at 5:58 pm

"I hope that Council allocates sufficient funds for this to get going"

Won't be a problem, they'll pluck it from the dollar trees.

6 people like this
Posted by Russ
a resident of another community
on Mar 13, 2016 at 7:34 pm

The formation of the TMA is a big step in the right direction. Is it a panacea for the multitude of parking and transit issues, specifically downtown? No. It is however, a mechanism that will be funded in large part by businesses and help serve those who can least afford permits. If Palo Altan's want to paint the blame on office workers, it is misguided. Statistics prove that. I hope that those who insist on opining blame will instead become part of the solution and get behind the TMA and its programs, especially now when it's in its infancy. Let's not poo poo an idea that has proved successful in other cities before it even begins in ours. I encourage the PA council to fully support the effort to establish a TMA.

2 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 14, 2016 at 11:35 am

I suggest asking SOV drivers the three main reasons why they do not give up their car and then address what emerges as primary reasons people opt to drive. If I had young children, having the ability to get to them in an emergency situation would be my #1 justification for driving. The problem is now so extreme that I think people of all ages will accept some level of inconvenience in order to improve the situation. If we are going to subject this issue to "process" let's be certain we focus on the most common obstacles to opting to ride-share or commute via public transportation. If we don't, we're just spinning our wheels.

4 people like this
Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 14, 2016 at 11:37 am

Marie is a registered user.

As long as membership in the TMA alone does not allow its members to reduce its parking requirements, I'm all for the TMA. If this becomes another way to reduce parking requirements on business before any results are achieved, I'm against it.

New construction of any sort needs an increased parking requirement until the parking deficit is solved either by reducing the number of cars arriving or by increasing the number of parking spaces. Reducing demand for parking by making it more expensive in time or money is just another benefit for the 1%. Why should those in the service industry, already working long hours for less, have to pay the price rather than city employees and office workers earning $100K+?

How about requiring the city encourage their own employees to use mass transit or car pooling? The city manager could lead the way. At a minimum, since there is no chance they will ever charge city employees for parking, they could offer employees an additional $50 of income monthly if they don't park in the city garage, which would come out of the pool of money available for bonuses. If the city manager had to figure out a way to personally get to work without parking downtown, I'm sure there would be more creative solutions.

Another way to improve parking off hours, would be to encourage businesses to make their parking lots available to the public on weekends and after hours. My bank does so. Why don't others?

8 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 14, 2016 at 11:59 am

"If this becomes another way to reduce parking requirements on business before any results are achieved, I'm against it."

You've found the core. Transportation Demand Management Agreements (TDMA) form the mythology that has been invoked to justify our underparked overdevelopment for decades. In return for getting substandard parking, developers promise to encourage non-auto commuting. In its turn, city hall never enforces those TDMA agreements.

And here we are again. Different tune, same dance.

2 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 14, 2016 at 12:17 pm

"I think people of all ages will accept some level of inconvenience in order to improve the situation."

Actually, this is called socialism and has no place in America, unless that is you want us to become a 3rd world country.

Like this comment
Posted by Dean
a resident of another community
on Mar 14, 2016 at 2:06 pm

The only real solution is as I had previously stated: Use the ABC model to control the number of businesses in any area, depending upon their number of employees. The more highly concentrated businesses are, the more traffic congestion and longer commutes for everyone. This is the only REAL solution, and I know it doesn't fit with the politicians view points, there is no other way to solve the traffic and congestion problem.

High rise building for concentrating businesses along with high rise parking facilities not only are the cause of traffic congestion, but also cause people congestion, increasing the crime and rate of transmitted diseases. When people know most of the people who they are around, there are fewer crimes committed and when they are committed, everyone knows who is responsible.

How long is it going to be before people realize this? I will be dead and long gone!

Ranting is what this forum is for isn't it?

2 people like this
Posted by Ditch the In-Office Requirements
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 14, 2016 at 3:11 pm

With the absolute easy technology has afforded us to work from home, I think
we need to hold the employers feet to the fire by demanding they allow capable employees to work from home at least 1 day per week. Flexible work hours, staggering the times people need to be in the office will also work.

Things got bad in the .com days and at that time companies alleviated the issue with WFH programs. They worked. The problem is that currently companies want their employees all at their desks all at the same time which creates the gridlock we're experiencing.

Flexible work hours and wfh programs helped last time this happened.

Like this comment
Posted by Dean
a resident of another community
on Mar 14, 2016 at 3:37 pm

Many bosses who work in companies that allow for WFH are usually far too incapable of believing that people can and generally are extremely loyal and will likely put in 10 to 12 hours of legitimate work for every 8 hours they are paid for. The reason, is they themselves would take advantage of their company despite the company trust in them.

I have worked for many bosses who were totally incapable of doing any job under their supervision, and as a result nobody could work independently. Even though the boss didn't understand what was really going on, as long as "his/her people were in attendance" he/she felt they were doing their job.

11 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 14, 2016 at 3:44 pm

1) Bring back school buses and you'll get a very large number of cars off the streets during the morning commute hours and mid-day.

2) Allow dogs on the shuttle buses.

3 people like this
Posted by Fred
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 15, 2016 at 6:44 am

I can't wait to rid downtown of ALL businesses. I have been living here for 50 yrs and I want Palo Alto to go back to the 70-80's when downtown was quiet. All these businesses should go to another area so I can walk my own dog without all these people around. I can't wait for Whole Foods to move. They are the main source. Can't we get RPP to start now with 100% of parking dedicated to residents.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 16, 2016 at 7:58 am

We have Ford with their smart mobility coming to town. Good. Ask them to help with some smart technology to help parking here. If they can get drivers in London to find where there are spaces to park, then they should be able to do something here to show where there is space to park and how to do it without a visit to City Hall to pay. Where's the technology signs we were promised? Why can't we pay by text to park? Why can't we get an app that shows real time parking options? Why are we so behind the rest of the world?

7 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto Native
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 16, 2016 at 9:41 am

@Ditch the In-Office Requirements: Everyone knows that working at home is overall less productive than working in the office. Yahoo's CEO realized this when she stepped into office and no one was in the office so she ended WFH. I think there are a lot of businesses that use flexible hours, based upon rush hour ending at 10AM and starting at 2:30.

Agree with first poster, Resident - shuttle schedules are ineffective. For one, if they increase the hours of the Embarcadero shuttle, I'll stop picking up my child after school on Tuesdays/Thursdays when they are released early but the shuttle doesn't start till 3:30. In the mornings and afternoons, the shuttle isn't frequent enough.

As Online Name suggested, if they bring back school buses, this would help too, especially at the middle school and high school level. Even if there were busses that did only one run in the morning, I'll bet a lot of students would take it.

Like this comment
Posted by Crazy Idea
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 17, 2016 at 2:20 pm

What if we closed University to cars (and other E/W streets maybe), added some more parking around the Downtown area, and maybe added a few shuttles (a monorail?) that went from the perimeter to downtown? We could have a really nice pedestrian promenade (like Santa Monica and others) and less traffic trying to get in and backing up at rush hour.

Less radically: What if the city council actually paid attention to best principles of traffic engineering? Downtown is a mess when it really doesn't have to be. Those streets are wide enough to support the cars that go through, but nobody does anything about it.

Finally: Not sure if there's anything that can be done about this, but there's also always a huge back-up of cars around Paly at Rush Hours (especially with the train backing up cars). It makes it very hard to cross the street on a bike, given that the pedestrian crosswalk doesn't technically have a stop sign (so technically they aren't supposed to stop for bikes, even though they always do, as if we're pedestrians).

Just some food for thought.

2 people like this
Posted by One Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 17, 2016 at 3:22 pm

Crazy Idea,

Since University Ave. is one of the 3 Palo Alto conduits to/from 101 and the most direct one to Stanford, er, University, how do you propose that cars get to/from 101? Through the neighborhoods?

Like this comment
Posted by Crazy Idea
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 17, 2016 at 4:59 pm

One Name,

That's a good point. As for Stanford, I just meant shutting the street down between Alma and Middlefield. You would still be able to get to Stanford through Alma and 101 by getting onto University from Middlefield. Alternatively, you'd still have Willow Rd. and Emarcadero Rd.

2 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 17, 2016 at 6:45 pm

Crazy Idea,

Been on Middlefield and/or Embarcadero lately? Ever since Menlo Park banned right turns on red from Willow heading toward 101, Middlefield has become gridlocked from 4:00PM on. Embarcadero has always been gridlocked during commute hours and school drop off/pick up times.

And routing traffic from Middlefield onto University still routes traffic onto University which would seem to cancel out your University pedestrian mall.

Like this comment
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 17, 2016 at 6:57 pm

Typically when traveling in the 5-7pm block, Middlefield has been a better/faster route for me than Alma, no gridlock experienced. Maybe it's worse at 4pm.

Meanwhile, I think I might have been unclear in my proposal. I'm proposing making University between Alma and Middlefield a pedestrian mall while leaving it untouched between Middlefield and 101. Are you arguing that cars have no other way to get East from downtown except on University?

Like this comment
Posted by Crazy Idea
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 17, 2016 at 6:57 pm

Sorry, that last comment was me, not Online name. I screwed up the boxes. Can mods fix?

2 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto Native
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 17, 2016 at 7:56 pm

People may not realize this, but during M-F, 7:45AM-8:15AM, cars on Churchill are not allowed to drive across the tracks (driving towards El Camino) due to all the biking Paly students. There is a sign at the tracks, although not noticeable. Most people learn after seeing PAPD ticketing drivers.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 18, 2016 at 2:23 pm

The above post is in fact not completely accurate. Between these times on Churchill vehicles with the exception of bicycles MUST turn left only.

There is more than one sign and the only green light is an arrow pointing left. Any driver who does not notice the signs saying left turn only should at least notice that the green arrow points left. There is no right on red either as all traffic must turn left.

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

All your news. All in one place. Every day.

After experiencing harassment, owner of Zareen's restaurants speaks out about Islamophobia, racism
By Elena Kadvany | 28 comments | 7,245 views

Don't Miss Your Exit (and other lessons from an EV drive)
By Sherry Listgarten | 14 comments | 2,403 views

Goodbye Food Waste!
By Laura Stec | 8 comments | 2,320 views

Premarital and Couples: Tips for Hearing (Listening) and Being Known
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 860 views

Is racism also a local problem?
By Diana Diamond | 25 comments | 656 views


Register today!

‚ÄčOn Friday, October 11, join us at the Palo Alto Baylands for a 5K walk, 5K run, 10K run or half marathon! All proceeds benefit local nonprofits serving children and families.

Learn More