If things proceed as planned, this will be the year in which Palo Alto reforms its byzantine parking programs, embraces bike- and scooter-share programs and helps traffic-weary Crescent Park neighborhood residents find some relief from the daily congestion on their streets.
The city will also complete a new garage near California Avenue and approve a new guidance system in downtown garages that can alert drivers to open parking spots.
And pending City Council approval, the city's newly established Office of Transportation will get an injection of resources. The city is now in the process of recruiting its next chief transportation officer, who will have the complicated job of advancing the council's long list of transportation projects, including the adoption of new requirements that new developments limit added traffic, the reorganization of the city's "residential preferential parking" programs and the expansion of the city's shuttle system.
These initiatives are all included in the city's transportation work plan, which the council's Policy and Services Committee discussed and endorsed on Tuesday night. The various items aim to address the council's 2019 priority of "transportation and traffic" — the only topic that has remained on the city's priority list for the past six years.
"I think the idea of creating the office just for transportation is definitely the good way to go, since the growth is going to happen and we don't provide enough resources for transportation," Councilwoman Lydia Kou said. "The fact that it's been a council priority ... for the previous six years shows how much we need to dive in and take it very, very seriously."
At the same time, Kou and committee Chair Liz Kniss urged staff to be cautious on some of its more ambitious initiatives, including potential changes to the particularly congested stretch of University Avenue in Crescent Park. Much like with the recent pilot project on Middlefield Road, which the city installed in response to residents' complaints about dangerous traffic conditions, the city is looking to create temporary road markings in Crescent Park and seek residents' feedback before the changes are made permanent.
Similarly, the two committee members called for staff to be careful about bike- and scooter-share companies. The council last month approved a yearlong extension to its pilot program, which allows any vendor to bring its services to the city. Kniss cited her recent trip to Santa Monica, where there is now an abundance of electric scooters on city streets.
"People do get around on them and they seem to be very effective, but people tend to leave them and then they end up on somebody's lawn or in the street," Kniss said.
In Austin, Texas, by contrast, the ride-share services do not result in the same kind of a mess on the streets, she said.
Chantal Cotton Gaines, assistant to the city manager, said that Palo Alto is learning from the experiences of other cities in creating its guidelines. Those that put a greater onus on companies to take care of their equipment in the early phases of the program, for example, tend to have more success, she said.
"We're being very meticulous," she said.
In addition to these initiatives, the council plans to review this year a new "transportation demand management" ordinance, requiring developers to create programs that encourage building tenants to use modes of transportation other than cars. The current schedule calls for having such a law in place by this fall.
The committee supported the plan, which will go to the council in August for approval. The delay was intended to give the new leader of the Office of Transportation an opportunity to weigh in and adjust plans as needed.