Nonprofit revs up efforts to reduce traffic | News | Palo Alto Online |


Nonprofit revs up efforts to reduce traffic

Nonprofit to start distributing more transit passes; considers expansion to California Avenue

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The new nonprofit charged with easing Palo Alto's traffic congestion has a new leader, a growing bank account and fresh plans to expand its programs both in downtown and beyond.

The Palo Alto Transportation Management Association (TMA), which the city launched three years ago to tackle downtown's worsening traffic problem, has seen some success in its first two years by using transit subsidies, carpool programs and trip-planning assistance. According to a mode-shift survey conducted last May and June, the rate of service workers who drove alone in 2017 was 70 percent, down from 80 percent in 2016.

The biggest contributor to this trend is the TMA's subsidized-transit program, which buys Caltrain, VTA or SamTrans passes for service employees. Today, 115 downtown workers use subsidized transit passes, according to a report from Christine Maley-Grubl, the association's newly hired executive director. That's up from 89 last fall.

But thanks to the City Council's decision last year to allocate $480,000 for the TMA, the organization is hoping to raise the number to 200 this year. And provided it gets the necessary funding in future years, the association is looking to distribute between 700 and 1,000 transit passes in the next three to five years.

The transit program alone could account for nearly half of the association's goal of reducing solo driving by 30 percent from the baseline year of 2015. The association estimates that downtown has about 5,500 employees who drive alone to and from work, which means it would have to shift 1,650 drivers to other modes.

Wendy Silvani, who helped start the organization and who is now working with Maley-Grubl during the transition, said the program has been getting overwhelmingly positive feedback from users. Once people have started using the program, most have not left it, said Silvani (who is now helping Redwood City launch a similar association).

In addition to the promoting transit, the Palo Alto TMA also hopes to expand its two carpooling programs: Scoop and Waze. Currently, it has between 160 and 197 unique users per month, according to Maley-Grubl. The association is looking to raise that to 240 this year and have 300 and 600 users in the three-to-five-year timeframe.

Some think it can do even better. Bob McGrew, vice chair of the TMA's board of directors, noted that compared to buying workers transit passes, the carpooling program is inexpensive. McGrew, a Palantir employee, wondered whether the city can do even better than 240 users this year.

"This is our cheapest program," McGrew said. "The more we can do through marketing to get people to adopt it, the more we can stretch our dollars."

The association is also thinking about unveiling new programs, including ones relating to bicycling and shuttles. The board estimates that it can get between 100 and 150 solo drivers to take shuttles in the next three to five years.

The goals, which the board discussed Wednesday, signify growing ambitions for a group that until recently had an annual budget of $160,000. The city limited its contribution to the TMA to $100,000 in the first two years. The TMA's initial plan was to only offer about 25 transit passes, though it roughly quadrupled its goal before running out of funds last year.

Rob George, who chairs the TMA's board of directors, said the group has "done some great work and tested programs" in its early days of operation, with almost no funding.

"Now we're ready with a new permanent (executive director) and some funds to grow some programs," said George, area director for Lemonade Restaurant Group.

The program may expand geographically as well. The TMA board Wednesday discussed bringing the transit program to California Avenue, which is experiencing its own traffic and parking challenges. The board agreed that this idea is worth pursuing, particularly if the organization is able to get some private funding and can partner with the recently established Stanford Research Park TMA.

The effort may also benefit from the council's decision last summer to raise the annual fees for parking permits in the California Avenue business district from $149 to $365. During its discussion of the TMA last August, several council members said that they would like to see the revenues from the permits allocated for programs that discourage driving.

"The community is interested, the businesses are interested," George said. "If we have the ability to add extra funding ... this is moving one step closer to the goals of the TMA in general."


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35 people like this
Posted by Elizabeth
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 14, 2018 at 9:06 pm

Those are impressive results!

Why not reinstitute school buses while we're at it, perhaps with shuttles for Castilleja? None of those schools were built for their present car traffic and every parent hates the time suck of the drop off line. It's another type of traffic that could be sharply reduced with minimal inconvenience for the user.

17 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 14, 2018 at 9:19 pm

Dedicated shuttles from parking lots at highway ramps parking lots to business areas would really make a difference. Commuters coming from so many different areas are unable to use Caltrain or VTA, places like the Coast and Milpitas or Cupertino. Get them to park and use dedicated shuttles would help traffic and free up parking.

Even those who can use public transit some days can't always use it everyday, maybe they have to do school run, or have after work commitments, or can work from home some days, still need to park a couple of days a week. Make it easy for occasional but frequent parkers to find parking and pay for parking with apps and pay per hour machines. Get those signs with available spaces up quick.

Make it easier to accommodate commuters of all types, rather than putting up preventative methods. Carrots that help reality, rather than sticks that punish those who try to do their best part time make much more sense.

10 people like this
Posted by Totally Making A difference
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 14, 2018 at 9:30 pm

This is great news! Would be great to see 1650 fewer drivers. Education is really important for the temporary and service workers - they need to know what the options are, and the TMA can facilitate the outreach and create programs to fund alternatives. While we're at it, let's use pricing of our on-street parking spaces and permits to discourage long term parking on our streets and in the commercial area.

13 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 14, 2018 at 9:36 pm

Giant parking lots can easily cost $50 MILLION to $100 MILLION each. This group's budget is a tiny fraction of that. New employee-specific parking lots aren't going to happen unless the city imposes a significant transportation tax on employers around the city, which they seem reluctant to do.

Cities around the peninsula really need to work on increasing housing density near existing train stations and also expanding efficient transit routes into more residential areas. Transportation solutions based on long-distance private car driving are not the solution.

27 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 14, 2018 at 10:17 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

1650 fewer drivers, ok, but how many NEW jobs / comm,uters will there be next year with employers like Google and Facebook and others adding tens of thousands of jobs in the area?

"The association estimates that downtown has about 5,500 employees who drive alone to and from work, which means it would have to shift 1,650 drivers to other modes."

When are we finally going to get hard numbers on the how many commuters we have in downtown and other parts of Palo Alto?

How much are employers paying? How much is coming from residents having to pay for residential parking permits? If the program's more successful, what type of budget is projected over the next 3 years, 5-years etc. and how much will come from the city of Palo Alto?

22 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 14, 2018 at 10:34 pm

Once again. People don't always choose to live where they work for so many reasons. People change jobs more often than they change homes. Both people in a couple don't work in the same place. Trying to pretend that everyone who works in Palo Alto can work in Palo Alto is as unrealistic as saying that everyone who lives in Palo Alto works in Palo Alto. From my observations, the Caltrain stations are full each morning of people leaving town for their jobs and the onramps to the highways are busy with people commuting out of town.

The traffic/parking situation is not a one size fits all scenario. People don't always fit neatly into the perceived ideals. We have to look at more than just getting less cars into town each day. We have to provide realistic alternatives and Go Passes, residential shuttles and more bikes are not going to solve the problem. The reality is much more complex.

Unless this is solved with regional solutions and cooperation across city and county boundaries, we are not going to get big improvements. Being innovative means trying new ideas rather than just rehashing the same old rhetoric.

15 people like this
Posted by Woo Hoo!
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 14, 2018 at 10:47 pm

Wonderful news! A robust TMA, autonomous vehicles and ride sharing will make a BIG difference. People automatically think that getting in their cars is the most convenient way to get around but there are more options being offered all the time. Let's NOT build the garage downtown for $40 million and instead give a fraction of those $ to the TMA to get people out of their single-occupancy vehicles as much as possible.

22 people like this
Posted by David Coale
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 14, 2018 at 11:02 pm

This is great news indeed! With this kind of solo car trip reductions when the program is not even fully developed, it means the city won't have to go bankrupt building new parking garages that cost over $112k per parking space downtown and $124k in the Cal Ave area. With this program and greater use of ride sharing, self driving cars on the horizon, along CalTrain electrification and free bike share programs in the works, that means the city will be able to fully fund all the other projects including the employee pension funds as well. This also means there would be no big disruptions in our downtown areas as the garages don't have to be built and we can have more pedestrian friendly area that will not be adding to parking and congestion problems. Yeah!!!

14 people like this
Posted by Glad to see this
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 14, 2018 at 11:36 pm

Glad to see this is a registered user.

I hope the TMA will get $$ they need for a robust effort. Getting people to think about and try alternatives other than picking up their car keys every time they leave the house isn't easy, but it's nice to see some good results here. It would be great not to build that parking garage.

Building the infrastructure to support cars is horribly expensive for taxpayers--over-engineered roads, parking lots and garages--not to mention environmental impacts. We can do better.

9 people like this
Posted by Eric Rosenblum
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 15, 2018 at 9:46 am

This is nice progress by the TMA. I would have loved to see them move faster, but the results are directionally encouraging (and they are being quite methodical in their roll-out). I can't see why we would object to expanding their budget: this directly attacks our core development problem: how to maintain quality of life/ manage traffic impacts while acknowledging that we are a regional center/ small city.

27 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 15, 2018 at 9:58 am

Online Name is a registered user.

@Eric, could you answer my specific questions above? We have a right to know how much all of this unlimited growth is going to cost us in $$$$$.

If we're adding tens of thousands of new commuters to the area, how does our spending money on 2,000 commuters' commuting expenses and a new bureaucracy make any sense when we've already got unfunded pension liabilities?

When will the employers start paying instead of us?

13 people like this
Posted by Fan of @Elizabeth idea
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 15, 2018 at 10:41 am

Just to riff on @Elizabeth's point: There is a very noticeable decline in traffic when schools are out, so doing more to reduce car trips for kids going to school could be a big deal!
In Seattle, I noticed that neighborhoods have "walking school buses," in which a group of kids are walked to school by one or more adults.
And guess what? There's likely an app for that! (Or at least there is one in some areas.)
It also helps in building community, which seems like could be a great thing in this area.

Here is some info: Web Link

9 people like this
Posted by Russ
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 15, 2018 at 11:40 am

The TMA is a huge leap forward. The business community has partnered with the city to study how we can make a real difference, especially for service and shift workers, after all studies have shown that a large part of the office worker population is already taking public transit. The TMA along with other programs like RPP, new parking structures, and parking management technology will also help. I am proud to have sat on the steering committee for the TMA and helped get it off the ground. Bravo to them.

23 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 15, 2018 at 11:43 am

Annette is a registered user.

I'm all for traffic reduction but have some questions. Am I correctly understanding that:
1. the City's TMA is called just that, City of Palo Alto TMA; and
2. the City funds the TMA; and
3. the main thing the TMA does with the funds is buy and distribute subsidized transit passes?

If there are costs to operating a TMA (such as staff, benefits, pension, other overhead) would it make more sense to cut out the "middle man" and simply sell subsidized transit passes AND put some teeth into the "D" of Traffic Demand Management and require large employers to do the same? If I've got this right, residents are paying for something that businesses and individuals should, arguably, be paying for. We have a transportation department; is there some advantage to also having a TMA? I ask b/c
it is getting very expensive to heal our self-inflicted wounds.

@David Coale: I suspect that if this City were to go bankrupt, the cause will more than likely be tied to our unfunded pension problem, not a downtown garage.

20 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 15, 2018 at 11:49 am

The Ross Road changes are putting more traffic on nearby streets and many young bikers as well as older bikers are avoiding Ross. Those who tend to like the changes are residents who feel that there is less traffic going past their home blindly ignoring the fact that the traffic is rerouting by going by someone else's home. The others who like it are adult commuting bike riders who can speed through without "unclipping their shoes".

If this Ross Road change is under the so called success in this article, then I think it is grossly inaccurate.

13 people like this
Posted by David
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 15, 2018 at 2:13 pm


Both the garages combine are projected to cost $68 million! This is major part of the $80 million project deficit that the city is currently facing. Many of the other good projects that have been in the works for years are headed for the chopping block to pay for the garages. This is the tip of the iceberg to irresponsible fiscal management which will include the unfunded pension fund.

The TMA results show that for less then 1% of the cost of the garages, along with other improvements and trends in ridesharing and transportation that will not cost the city anything, we can solve the parking problem with no disruptions to our downtown areas.

So to avoid making the city's financial problems any worse, and to really get a win-win solution, we should be fully funding the TMA. This will also reduce the congestion in these areas as well.

10 people like this
Posted by bikermom
a resident of Mayfield
on Mar 15, 2018 at 8:42 pm

backpeddling to all the traffic that city council allowed due to the new developments, it's only going to get worse with the 2 giant ones along Park Blvd.

16 people like this
Posted by Another resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 16, 2018 at 4:50 pm

Bob McGrew doesn't live in Palo Alto, so I'd rather he didn't take leadership in Palo Alto institutions. His connection to Palo Alto is as an advocate for Palantir's interests.

6 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 16, 2018 at 6:55 pm

Annette is a registered user.

@David - thank you for the information you provided.

@Another resident - someone from another community named to a leadership role in this city? Huh? Who made that happen - and how? Is this a common practice?

3 people like this
Posted by Another resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 18, 2018 at 1:33 pm

The City Manager proposed McGrew in a Staff Memo to the PTC on 3/11/15 ID#5605.

page 3 ...the City Manager invited the following individuals and/or organization
representatives as the membership of the TMA Steering Committee:

Russ Cohen, Executive Director, Palo Alto Business and Professional Association
Barbara Gross, Manager, Garden Court Hotel
Brendon Harrington, Transportation Manager, Google
Bob McGrew, Director, Palantir Technologies
Hal Mickelson, PA Resident and Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce
David Jury, VP Support Services, Palo Alto Medical Foundation
Max McGee, Palo Alto Unified School District, Superintendent
Rob George, District Manager, Philz Coffee
Brian Shaw, Director of Parking and Transportation Services, Stanford University
Sue Nightingale, Owner, Watercourse Way
Jessica Sullivan, Transportation Planning Manager, City of Palo Alto

16 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 18, 2018 at 7:01 pm

Palo Alto needs to start preparing for America's future. The REAL future, not the wishful thinking of the Hippy Generation that still seems to believe it can win its 50 year long lost war on cars with bicycles and by instilling so much fear and guilt in the Millenial Generation that half of them are afraid to pilot a vehicle of any kind.

A recent Auto Trader Kelley Blue Book survey of generation Z found:

"According to respondents, 92 percent of Gen Z own or plan to own a vehicle, and 97 percent have or plan to get a license. In fact, they look forward to it, citing that it makes them feel free (32 percent), responsible (29 percent) and excited (23 percent) as the top three emotions associated with driving. Of those surveyed, a car represents freedom (29 percent) and convenience (21 percent), and is not necessarily a reflection of who they are (6 percent). Generation Z also would be willing to give up quite a bit for a year to get into the driver's seat, including social media (72 percent), new clothes (63 percent) and their cell phone (33 percent).

Web Link

6 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 18, 2018 at 10:12 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Gee, who knew it was the "Hippy Generation" waging the war on cars; instead I thought it was the developers who want higher density and hence profits in their "car light" developments while all those cars encroach on other neighborhoods.


12 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 18, 2018 at 11:02 pm

@Online Name,

Gee, who knew it couldn't be both? An alliance of convenience between developers and Hippy Generation diehards in a desperate last gasp effort to deliver one self-destructive parting blow in a 50 year long war that every rational person knows they have lost.

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