Planned growth to strain traffic around Stanford | News | Palo Alto Online |


Planned growth to strain traffic around Stanford

Impact analysis: 'Significant and unavoidable' congestion at some local intersections

For nearly two decades, Stanford University's campus growth has hinged on a promise that development will not worsen traffic on its campus.

Now, as the university petitions Santa Clara County for permission to add more than 2 million square feet of academic space and more than 3,000 housing units on its campus by 2035, that promise is about to face its most serious challenge yet.

According to the newly released Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for Stanford's general-use permit application, the university's expansion will create "significant and unavoidable" traffic impacts along numerous road segments and intersections that are already heavily congested during peak hours. These include numerous intersections along Foothill Expressway; the Page Mill Road off ramp from southbound Interstate 280; and the intersection of Alma Street and Charleston Road.

In most cases, traffic conditions are already bad and are expected to get worse with or without the expansion. In a few cases, the Stanford expansion would tip an already busy intersection into a "levels of service" of E or F, connoting heavy congestion. At Alma and Charleston, the project-generated traffic would cause a degradation from D to E, according to the analysis.

Stanford's chief strategy for ensuring traffic doesn't get worse would be the continuation of its "no net commute trips" policy, which commits the university to not generating more traffic during peak commute hours. The policy, which made its debut in Stanford's 2000 general-use permit, requires Santa Clara County to count cars at cordons throughout the campus twice a year and impose penalties if Stanford fails. The agreement also allows Stanford to get credit for reducing car trips off campus and factoring those reductions into its "no net new commute" calculations.

To date, Stanford has largely held up its end of the bargain, thanks to transit incentives, bike programs, bus fleets and other programs that encourage students, faculty and staff not to drive solo to campus. Stanford had exceeded the commute threshold on only three occasions, in each case by a very small margin (a little more than 1 percent), according to county officials.

Now, Palo Alto officials and their counterparts in other jurisdictions are wondering whether adding more than 9,000 students, faculty members and staff to the campus over the next 17 years will make the goal impossible to meet.

Traffic isn't the only area in which Stanford's expansion will create "significant and unavoidable" impacts, according to the impact report. "Construction noise" and "cultural resources" are also identified as areas where the impacts are inevitable. But given the region's housing shortage — which necessitates commuting — and the already dire traffic conditions during commute hours, it is the area that is getting the most attention during the comment period for the DEIR, which is set to close on Dec. 4.

Santa Clara County Planning Director Kirk Girard said that the county has received plenty of comment so far about the "no new trips" policy, with many comments emphasizing that the county needs to establish that such an approach would effectively manage traffic, Girard told the City Council during a study session this week.

Stanford does offer other mechanisms for fighting congestion. Another strategy is having the university help fund transportation improvements at adversely affected intersections. The impact study lists projects that Stanford could help implement, even as it acknowledges the severe challenges for some of these projects.

For example, at Foothill Expressway, which will experience significant worsening traffic at Arastradero, Hillview and San Antonio roads, the proposed improvement is to create an overpass or underpass. Such a project would certainly face significant political and financial hurdles, even with Stanford's "fair share" contribution.

Other projects are smaller: reconfiguring lanes at the busy intersection of El Camino and Page Mill Road; adding a second westbound left-turn lane on Page Mill and Hanover Street; and creating a new right-turn lane on northbound Alma, near Charleston.

The report itself isn't overly optimistic about Stanford's ability to take care of its traffic impacts.

"It is uncertain whether it would be feasible to improve some of the affected intersections if the No Net New Commute Trips standard is not achieved, if there are not sufficient additional funds to complete the intersection impacts, or if there are not sufficient off-campus projects available to reduce peak-hour traffic," the report states.

Given the uncertainty, some local officials believe Stanford should go even further in funding transportation improvements. With public transit key to Stanford's congestion-management plan, Palo Alto Councilmen Adrian Fine and Greg Tanaka suggested that the university should contribute toward grade separations along the Caltrain corridor. With the number of trains set to increase with Caltrain's pending electrification project, grade separations become more imperative because of the traffic jams that will occur when crossing-guard gates are constantly closed, Tanaka said.

Palo Alto officials are also calling for the county to demand more analysis of commute patterns, including the number of cars on streets in non-peak hours; identification of Stanford's primary and secondary corridors; and an analysis of how Stanford commuters are avoiding the counts by parking on local streets in adjacent neighborhoods.

Earlier this year, Mayor Greg Scharff signed a letter from the council containing that request and indicating that traffic is one of the areas that most concerns the city.

"Members of the community appreciate the university's focus on reducing commute trips to/from campus by single-occupant vehicles during peak commute hours but are increasingly skeptical that the university's trip-reduction programs are living up to their promise," the letter states.

Council members offered additional concerns during Monday's discussion of the Stanford general-use permit. Vice Mayor Liz Kniss and Councilwoman Karen Holman both wondered how the university's expansion will affect parks and other recreational facilities. Councilmen Eric Filseth and Adrian Fine both talked about how expanding the number of Stanford students and faculty will affect the availability of housing.

Scharff noted Stanford still doesn't have a long-term plan for fire services. Palo Alto has been providing fire services to Stanford since 1976, though that partnership was strained in 2013, when Stanford announced its desire to terminate the agreement. The two sides have been negotiating since then and Scharff indicated that the dispute could end up in litigation.

"I don't see how we can certify the EIR without a long-term plan for fire service," Scharff said. "Stanford has not come up with a plan, other than us providing it on a very short-term basis, and the parties are quite far apart on that issue."

County officials will hold at least two more public hearings on the impact report before the document is certified. To date, the response from the general public has been mostly muted. On Oct. 12, only a handful residents attended a hearing on the document in the Lucie Stern Community Center auditorium, where they were outnumbered by Stanford and county officials. Only three residents spoke publicly about the EIR, none about traffic.

Supervisor Joe Simitian, who represents Palo Alto on the board, this week made a plea for the community to get more involved in the process and make their concerns heard.

"This is not the time for timidity," said Simitian, who was scheduled to host a public meeting on the impact report on Oct. 19 at Palo Alto City Hall. "If you believe the EIR needs to be robust, if you believe it needs more work, we'd rather hear it now than later in the process."

Concerned residents will have several more opportunities to comment on the EIR. The county plans to hold a public hearing on the document on Thursday, Nov. 30, from 7 to 9 p.m., at the Palo Alto Art Center. Residents can also submit written comments to or send them to David Rader, 70 W. Hedding St., San Jose, CA 95110.

"This is a major development over a long period of time in an area very sensitive to major developments," Girard said at the Oct. 12 meeting. "We have a very sophisticated regulatory program. We have very sophisticated decision makers, and the imput of the community will receive a lot of attention."


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31 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 20, 2017 at 7:14 am

Stanford, along with Palo Alto itself, is missing a large method of reducing traffic congestion.

For Stanford, extending the Marguerite, which is an efficient service they already run, to the parking lot on Page Mill at the 280 off ramp, would give incoming commuters an option other than driving to their place of employment.

Following this pattern, parking lots at 101 off ramp could be serviced by Marguerite shuttles as well as dedicated city of Palo Alto shuttles to take commuters to downtown and other areas of high employment.

People living on the coast, or in the East Bay, or basically anywhere outside the Caltrain corridor, have very few realistic means of commuting to Palo Alto. Giving them the means of getting from the highways to their job in an efficient manner that is an alternative to parking in congested areas.

4 people like this
Posted by Sea Reddy
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 20, 2017 at 8:51 am

I agree with the mayor. Stanford needs their own fire services.

For National interest, stanford needs to grow to 50,000 students. Otherwise we will be behind China India Russia on innovations.

Out of the box thinking Stanford and CalTech may merge to be great institutions for great research to cure cancer, find new galaxies and new metals power sources environmental cleanup etc.

Whether they grow it at this campus or elsewhere is a critical decision. The nation needs innovative universities that generate innovation not other mundane fields like art history world history lawyers except IP lawyers.

The nation is counting on us to be the think tank for 21st century.

The usual PaloAlto concerns about traffic are valid. We need to get gasoline cars out of here soon.

Innovation a must. Otherwise we will fall to lower tier not top league.

It might be ok with some.

OBut don’t sell yourself short mighty USA.


28 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Stanford
on Oct 20, 2017 at 9:32 am

Overpasses and double turn lanes are counter-productive since they make those streets significantly more cumbersome and/or dangerous for pedestrians and bicyclists, thus encouraging more people to drive. Stanford should put their money into into improving public transit options, including increasing their shuttle bus system farther into the neighborhoods where their students and employees live.

19 people like this
Posted by Miriam Palm
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 20, 2017 at 10:27 am

Miriam Palm is a registered user.

Please PLEASE put in the long-promised right turn only lane from Oregon Expy to El Camino, for cars turning north on the corner where Sunfield retirement is located. This is a real bottleneck for cars traveling West on Oregon/Page Mill at all times of day.

6 people like this
Posted by macbaldy
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 20, 2017 at 11:08 am

Stanford recently announced that it has contracted with Menlo Park to replace Palo Alto's fire protection service for SLAC; PA retains the service component of the central campus fire station. That's a sensible overdue adjustment, since MPk is adjacent to SLAC. If that gores PA's ox, bummer.

Stanford's adult night school program is an regional attraction that draws a lot of late-day traffic from all directions.

Stanford's athletic events are significant traffic generators and Stanford has the largest, most successful intercollegiate program in the nation.

Stanford cultural events are a popular regional traffic source; there's more public educational and cultural activity on the Stanford campus than in all of the surrounding communities. All of this Stanford-centric activity props up home prices--and property values. Some local gripes are valid and deserve attention; some local gripes would pluck the golden goose...those flawed attempts are obvious.

7 people like this
Posted by Joyce
a resident of Stanford
on Oct 20, 2017 at 11:10 am

I am responding to the article titled "Planned growth to strain traffic around Stanford" and the readers' comments. Either I am misinformed, or the article misrepresented the facts.

Stanford already has its' own Fire Station

Also, Stanford is creating more housing spaces for staff that are so close to the campus they can walk or ride their bikes. This will reduce traffic.

Parking is also difficult on campus and this encourages staff to use public transportation as well.

Finally, Stanford has moved many of their medical offices to a campus in Redwood City that is just off the highway. This should also reduce traffic

10 people like this
Posted by CM
a resident of another community
on Oct 20, 2017 at 11:12 am

A big hurdle for many employees is lack of options other than a car for those living on the western side of Santa Clara Valley. Public transit is non-existent or so slow as to be useless. Driving a long way to get to CalTrain, along with parking problems for CalTrain, and then the time to take the train and then Marguerite or even biking to campus --well, that adds too much time to the commute. A regional solution to transit, or perhaps Stanford shuttle routes from Sunnyvale/Cupertino, is needed.

30 people like this
Posted by anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 20, 2017 at 11:20 am

If this doesn't get Palo Alto residents to act NOW, then we deserve what we get - some good, but there is a lot of bad consequences for us that we will live with day after day. Last night our own County Supervisor Joe Simitian held a forum on Stanford's plans in City Hall. It was excellent. My neighbor told me that a video of the forum will be available on his website where all can watch it. No one explains things better than Simitian. I urge you to view the video and you will have an excellent understanding of this matter - so smart. Then act now. As he is says -
"If you believe the EIR needs to be robust, if you believe it needs more work, we'd rather hear it now than later in the process."

Stanford's planned development will effect us in substantial ways that really matter. Act!

Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Oct 20, 2017 at 11:31 am

Stanford employees need to take advantage of their employer's vanpool and carpool options.

8 people like this
Posted by neighbor
a resident of another community
on Oct 20, 2017 at 11:43 am

Stanford has managed its growth much better than Palo Alto has. Palo Alto's growth pressures stem from the areawide Silicon Valley growth pressures.

Note that Stanford's development plans include moving almost 3000 staff OFF CAMPUS to Redwood City.

9 people like this
Posted by Arthur Keller
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 20, 2017 at 12:38 pm

@Joyce: Stanford's Fire Station is operated by the Palo Alto Fire Department.

2 people like this
Posted by mj
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 20, 2017 at 2:16 pm

Humm-"Stanford employees need to take advantage of their employer's vanpool and carpool options."

They do. What leads you to believe they don't?

6 people like this
Posted by Tom from Midtown
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 20, 2017 at 2:21 pm

Tom from Midtown is a registered user.

It seems the article commits a serious oversight in not even mentioning Stanford Redwood City (also noted by Neighbor), which has been in the planning for at least a decade and has already broken ground. The first phase is scheduled to open in 2019 and will be where 2700 staff go to work each day. See Web Link for more info. Given Stanford's efforts to house faculty and especially students on or very near campus, it is staff who are largely responsible for the number of car trips through Palo Alto and onto and off campus each day (I know - I was one of them until I retired!) This will not solve the problem but I expect it will put a huge dent in it. I also agree with Neighbor that Stanford has managed its growth much better than Palo Alto.

14 people like this
Posted by Barron Park dad
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 20, 2017 at 2:53 pm

To @SeaReddy -

Regarding your idea of Caltech and Stanford merging. Wow, that is completely mind-blowing and would be very cool if it came to pass. But I don't think elite universities have ever merged in the history of mankind. Still, very cool to think about and I appreciate you bringing up an idea out-of-the-box.

Re. Stanford traffic, something needs to be done (i.e., traffic reduction plans in place) BEFORE we approve expansion. I hope we don't go down the road of approving expansion first and then say "hey, we'll worry about the consequences later".

28 people like this
Posted by margaret heath
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 20, 2017 at 4:47 pm

Stanford's traffic impact from their proposed new campus development should be linked to the huge and continually increasing number of vehicles generated by their Stanford Research Park properties. Particularly because the companies Stanford now leases to are offices densely packed with employees, which was not the case in the past.

As regards the proposed double lane turn from Page Mill onto Hanover, Hanover quickly narrows to one lane in each direction. Perhaps Stanford could be required to shave off twenty feet of their landscaping along Hanover and their California Avenue frontages to accommodate a separate road to serve those research park employees? Thereby relieving congestion on Cal Ave to serve the through commuters, and safer for school children and bicyclists.

Perhaps Stanford could be required to build a new connection from 280 down to Deer Creek Road to relieve some of the congestion caused by cars currently backed up along the freeway exiting onto Page Mill Road.

Stanford definitely needs to be required to extend shuttle buses to serve large parking lots at the 101 and Embarcadero-Oregon and at the 280-Page Mill intersections. Also serving non-campus employees.

It is at best wishful thinking, and more likely downright misleading, to state that Stanford won't generate any new automobile trips with all this proposed expansion. Predictions that commuters will be increasingly use public transport? Public transport would have to be completely transformed. How likely is that to happen in the foreseeable future? Trains? Already packed. Railway electrification will only accommodate one additional train per hour, from 5 to 6 maximum in each direction. Longer trains? Restricted to the length of the platform. Car-pooling? Not practical for everyone. Uber and Lyft? Cars on the road, also circling around waiting for their next ride. Self driving cars? Replaces a non-self driving car. No time frame for more futuristic solutions.

Building 100,000 new housing units in Palo Alto is predicted to lower prices by 10%, so great is the local demand and strong marketing in other countries by some local realtors. Unlikely most Stanford employees will afford to live near close by, at least for the foreseeable future.

Stanford could build more housing on campus. But what about the spouses who work elsewhere and will add to the number of cars needing to drive across town? As will be the case for Stanford employee spouses moving into Stanford's big new housing development at the top of California Avenue.

26 people like this
Posted by no net truths
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 20, 2017 at 10:44 pm

Good to see that people acknowledge that "no net commute trips" is a great slogan but it isn't true. There is no way to add 9,000 students, faculty and staff and not increase traffic and congestion. 9,000 translates to about 20,000 people when you realize they have spouses, children, meetings, household help, and visitors.

The brochure says "Stanford would actually reduce the Bay Area's average number of vehicle miles traveled on on a per-capita basis."

Notice Trick words:
Bay Area - not Palo Alto
average number of vehicle miles - not number of trips
per-capita basis - not the actual number

15 people like this
Posted by Ryan
a resident of another community
on Oct 21, 2017 at 5:29 pm

City of Palo Alto needs to terminate the fire service contract with Stanford. Stanford wants to reduce the contract fee by 1 and half million dollars per year. Also, Stanford contributes nothing to the pension or medical benefits of the retired firefighter. This contract has become a big loser for Palo Alto and a big winner for Stanford. It's time.

14 people like this
Posted by Rose
a resident of Mayfield
on Oct 21, 2017 at 6:20 pm

How about some Google-style buses to bring the SU employees from long distances (SF, SJ, East Bay)?

31 people like this
Posted by Donald
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 21, 2017 at 7:10 pm

The notion that Stanford's continued expansion of housing and office space will result in "no net commute trips" is simply absurd.

6 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 23, 2017 at 11:56 am


Stanford IS creating more housing. But I notice a LOT of the students being housed on Stanford are parking their CARS in Palo Alto, and biking or walking over to Stanford. They live on Stanford, as they carry their groceries and leave their cars parked on Palo Alto lands for days or weeks on end.

Stanford MAY be creating more housing, BUT they are failing to create appropriate number of parking spots to go with their housing. They really need to dig underground and create underground parking spaces for their units they create for students, or married couples.

Palo Alto residents living near Stanford are now dealing with issues like parking on their streets.

3 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 23, 2017 at 12:28 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Web Link \

This May Stanford paid $130,000,000 to house its people in Los Altos.

"LOS ALTOS — Stanford University, seeking to provide an additional housing choice for faculty and staff near the campus, has paid $130.5 million for an upscale apartment and retail complex in Los Altos.

The university bought Colonnade Los Altos, a complex of 167 apartments and 12,000 square feet of retail space, located at 4740 El Camino Real."

5 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 23, 2017 at 12:29 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Sorry. Here's the link to the above story: Web Link

Maybe Stanford doesn't need to grow so aggressively?

5 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 24, 2017 at 4:24 pm

Stanford ought to pay for significant road improvements in Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Redwood City and Mountain View. It is unrealistic to pretend everyone can or will use transit here. Minor efforts to improve cycling and busses are fine, but token efforts, in my opinion. Let's make noticeable improvements rather than politican feel-good projects. Get the major thoroughfares and intersections operating efficiently, like Page Mill and El Camino Real, Alma and El Camino Real, Page Mill and 280, Willow Road, etc. Otherwise, you're looking at an increase in speeding, internal neighborhood cut-through traffic, and that is not OK! I think Embarcadero Rd should be widened and improved, even if it's by half a foot. Stanford should pay, they create a ton of aggressive daily traffic on Embarcadero.

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