News

Peninsula cities, companies explore partnership to tackle traffic congestion

Mayors and employers eye 'subregional' approach to increasing options for commuters, reducing traffic

Traffic may be a regional problem, but just about every city in the Peninsula has its own local gripes — and proposed fixes — for easing congestion on neighborhood streets and prominent commute arteries.

Among the trendiest solutions is the creation of a "transportation management association" (TMA), an agency that develops, markets and manages programs aimed at getting people to stop driving solo and giving commuters new options.

Mountain View and Sunnyvale are each looking at TMAs to manage traffic in their commercial hubs. When Sunnyvale approved the precise plan for the 450-acre Peery Park in 2016, it required the establishment of a Peery Park TMA. Mountain View, meanwhile, has set specific targets for businesses as part of its new North Bayshore Precise Plan, which aims to reduce the solo-driver rate from 63% to 45%. The Mountain View TMA is expected to be a big part of the solution.

While the TMA programs all share the goal of reducing solo driving, they vary widely in structure, scope and funding mechanisms. And despite everyone's acknowledgment that traffic is a regional problem that requires regional solutions, each TMA program has been operating more or less in a vacuum. Palo Alto, for example, has two TMA programs that function completely independently of each other. There's the SRPGO program, which is funded by Stanford University and offers shuttles, carpool assistance and other commuting benefits to employees at Stanford Research Park. There's also Palo Alto TMA, a nonprofit that is subsidized largely by the city and offers transit passes to downtown's low-income employees and mid-level managers.

Now, a movement is afoot to change that. On Thursday, elected leaders, transportation experts and representatives from major employers in the region convened at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Palo Alto for the fifth and final meeting in a series called "Manzanita Talks." Launched by Joint Venture Silicon Valley, the series sought to bring all the parties together to exchange knowledge about transportation-demand management, explore partnerships and — most significantly — consider creating a "subregional TMA" to serve the greater area.

Elected leaders who participated came from the cities of Palo Alto, Menlo Park, East Palo Alto, Mountain View, Redwood City, Sunnyvale, Los Altos and Atherton. From the private sector, representatives who work on corporate transportation programs came from Facebook, Genentech, Google, Intuit, LinkedIn, Palantir Technologies, Salesforce, Tesla and the Los Altos Property Owners Downtown group.

The benefits of the subregional approach could be dramatic, according to the "The Manzanita Report and Alternatives Analysis," a 162-page report that was released prior to the meeting. The report surveys myriad recently established TMA programs on the Peninsula, provides case studies about larger TMA efforts elsewhere in the nation and considers the trade-offs that cities would have to make under the subregional approach.

A key component of the new report is the exploration of a subregional TMA, a nonprofit that would allow established TMA programs to share services. This could mean shuttles that would circulate throughout a wider area, carpooling services that would match more people and partnerships between cities to collect data and conduct surveys, activities that may be too expensive for one organization to measure.

Such a program, the report notes, would give more people access to transportation-demand management (TDM) services and create new connections to employment centers and neighborhoods. Cities would also be able to reduce redundancies and realize the "positive effects of purchasing power," the report states.

A larger TMA may also benefit from more funding opportunities. It would also allow the various partners in the subregion to identify and advocate for new transit services that would make the most sense, given the existing TDM offerings.

The closest thing the region currently has to a subregion TMA is Commute.org, an organization that provides shuttle- and consulting services for employers in 17 cities and towns in San Mateo County and that gets the bulk of its funding comes from public sources, including the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

In addition to the potential benefits of forming a subregional TMA, the report also notes that such an approach would come with its own challenges. As the organization grows, it would become harder for it to focus on "hyperlocal transportation issues" or provide "one on one" services to residents and individual businesses. Including all the stakeholders in decision-making would also become more difficult.

"Pulling together the public sector organizations, private sector companies, commuters and residents from all eight jurisdictions would be a very complex task," the report states.

Despite the challenges, many of the elected officials and company representatives at Thursday's meeting expressed enthusiasm for moving forward with some form of organization to provide the services recommended in the report. Several asked for a clearer "call to action" that they could bring back to their respective decision-making bodies for approval.

"A bunch of us at this table have been talking about something like this for a good four years — so getting to this point, going around the table and seeing positivity (about) where we have gotten is really promising," summarized Michael Alba, head of transportation operations at Facebook. "We need a call to action that is something we can take back and get official sign-on to."

Menlo Park City Councilwoman Betsy Nash likewise emphasized the importance of regional cooperation.

"We need to work together for optimal solutions. Each city cannot do this alone," she said.

Russell Hancock, president and CEO of Joint Venture Silicon Valley, said his group plans to make some revisions to the report and send it back to attendees to bring back to their decision-making bodies for approval.

Working together and sharing intelligence

In addition to analyzing the subregional TMA concept, the new report also recaps the topics that were addressed during the talks, describes what other cities are doing to tackle traffic issues and looks at different organizational structures, including a "super region" scenario in which the Bay Area has one gigantic TMA serving all nine counties. It is also meant to serve as a guiding document that would help cities and companies work together "across sectors and jurisdictional boundaries."

The report also includes a joint statement from the participants, acknowledging the magnitude of the area's traffic challenges. The statement notes that the region has added nearly 900,000 jobs over the past decade. The growth and prosperity, however, has exacerbated the problems of skyrocketing housing prices, income inequality and "debilitating traffic congestion." With new jobs far outpacing new housing units, a large portion of the workforce is located on the outskirts of the region and beyond. As a result there are 90,000 "megacommuters" who drive more than 90 minutes each way to their Silicon Valley jobs, according to the report.

"Our roadway congestion, already the nation's worst, will only worsen," the report states.

"The goal, of course, is to reduce traffic congestion, increase transportation choices, and free up space on the roadways," the report states.

John Ford, executive director of Commute.org, a joint powers authority formerly known as the Peninsula Traffic Congestion Relief Alliance and based in San Mateo County, advised meeting attendees that their challenge is not an easy one.

"At the end of the day we're tasked with ... convincing someone like you or me to do something other than drive alone to work. That's really hard."

He pointed to one policy tool that already exists but is currently underutilized: the Bay Area Commuter Benefits Program, a law that requires employers with 50 or more employees to provide commute benefits to their workers. Four years after the law was implemented, he said, compliance is only at about 60%.

Aaron Aknin, the creator of the "Manzanita" report, co-owner of the consulting firm Good City Company and former employee with the cities of Redwood City and Palo Alto, offered attendees traffic information from the "big data" firm StreetLight Data. On Thursday, he asked attendees for suggestions on which streets or areas they'd like to see traffic data from first.

Palo Alto Mayor Eric Filseth said he was eager to explore some of the data to understand traffic trends between East Palo Alto, Palo Alto and Menlo Park in particular.

Participants Thursday also emphasized their interests in making sure those transportation choices are provided to the area's workers in an equitable way — not only seeking to help low-income or minority community members find ways to avoid driving solo to work, but also to do the same for people who live far away, or are single parents who have to drop their children off at school before going to work, or work for companies that don't particularly care how their employees get to work and aren't much concerned with subsidizing alternatives.

Company representatives also explained that they plan to continue to explore all options to get their workers to and from work by ways other than solo driving.

Tom Harrington, global commute solutions leader at Intuit, listed the different commute options he's worked to provide employees including vanpools, long-distance shuttles and public transit passes.

"We do it all," he said. "We have to deliver on every single one of these options we're talking about. ... I don't think any individual jurisdiction or company can be as effective as if we were to work together."

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Follow the Palo Alto Weekly/Palo Alto Online on Twitter @PaloAltoWeekly and Facebook for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

Kate Bradshaw writes for The Almanac, the sister publication of PaloAltoOnline.com.

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Comments

31 people like this
Posted by Don't be EVIL companies
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 18, 2019 at 9:39 am

"Company representatives also explained that they plan to continue to explore all options to get their workers to and from work by ways other than solo driving. "

How about moving some of your operations to where the the people need jobs and there is affordable housing, or getting the state to invest in amenities in places that want them (like Stockton)? That's a whole heck of a lot easier on all of us, is better for the state, and doesn't require you to continue ignoring how you are crushing the lives and livelihoods of so many ordinary people so that you can all pile into the Silicon Valley clown car. TDM won't actually restore a reasonable level of traffic circulation.


36 people like this
Posted by TELE-COMMUTE!!
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 18, 2019 at 9:48 am

How about exploring any and all options of decreasing people's need to join the congestion and get to an office 5 days a week?
That worked well in the 90s during the first tech boom.

Beat that drum loudly: Why won't companies let people telecommute???


15 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 18, 2019 at 10:27 am

Online Name is a registered user.

Whatever happened to the ballot initiative to limit office space construction that only contributes to congestion? When are businesses going to start contributing THEIR fair share?

Right now residents increasingly have to pay for parking permits and our visitors (over-night and short-term) are now getting tickets for parking on the streets near our houses? The holidays are coming; warn your visiting friends and families!


5 people like this
Posted by lstovel
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 18, 2019 at 1:02 pm

lstovel is a registered user.

It’s about time for regional planning!


7 people like this
Posted by NeilsonBuchanan
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 18, 2019 at 1:50 pm

NeilsonBuchanan is a registered user.

In addition to ideas being expressed, this is a sound concept and worthy of implementation. The most important hurdle is scale....lots of scale and thorough communication to the 1000s workers who will have access to pooled transportation schemes.

Even if employment and jobs were frozen at today's levels, improved mass transit provided by well-managed, private non-profit TMA should work. The devil is in the details. For example, these Manzanita talks are communicating benefit to employers including our own city government with its $700k current city TMA funding. All TMAs require time to change driving habits so a multi-year rollout. Patient ROI is necessary. In the case of Palo Alto, its small, quaint TMA is a top candidate to join a regional TMA capable of operating at scale.


8 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 18, 2019 at 2:47 pm

This has to be good news for a start. But we shall have to wait and see how useful and productive this can be. The problem is regional and cities within the region must work together and enterprise has to be coordinated to make things work.

We need express buses to get to airports from several onramp parking lots.

We need satellite parking lots with dedicated shuttles to downtown and business areas.

We need better bus routes and shuttles that cross city boundaries and not ones that are perceived to be snaking routes than are designed for poor people without cars who have hours to get to their destinations.

We need to simplify parking and all cities should have similar rules and costs.

Caltrain needs to look at the zones. It makes no sense that someone riding from Palo Alto to Redwood City pays for 2 zones, while someone riding from Palo Alto to Sunnyvale pays for 1 zone.

We need to be able to get people from Half Moon Bay, Milpitas, Union City and so many other places to be able to commute by public transit.

The more people on public transit and the more people who can park at highway ramps the more traffic will be alleviated.


35 people like this
Posted by Another Giveaway
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 18, 2019 at 3:22 pm

How are residents represented?

Local government on the Peninsula has been captured by the real-estate industry, so this is just the two industries that are exploiting the infrastructure built by taxpaying residents getting together and trying to figure out how to trick the public into allowing the exploitation to continue.


29 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 18, 2019 at 3:57 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

The only way traffic can be reduced is for tech companies to move operations, or move entirely to areas that need economic development and can provide affordable housing. Everything else is just a waste of time and window dressing. Until politicians make it clear to the local tech industry that they absolutely must do it and that no housing help for the employees they irresponsibly keep hiring into the Bay Area would be generated, nothing will change.


14 people like this
Posted by Invisible Hand
a resident of Atherton
on Oct 18, 2019 at 10:01 pm

What mauricio said x100


11 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 18, 2019 at 10:30 pm

TMA is a scam. There is fundamentally nothing wrong with driving your car alone and its not something that should be reserved for the elite. The hypocrisy with this obsession of "getting people to stop driving solo" is through the roof, and its also delusional because no one's gonna stop driving solo, okay??


7 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 19, 2019 at 1:04 am

^ The true elite don't drive alone. They have a chauffeur.


19 people like this
Posted by Physics
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 19, 2019 at 4:29 am

No, there's nothing inherently "Wrong" with solo driving. Just know that solo driving will likely take longer and longer as more people do it, and if you WANT traffic to move faster as you drive solo, the only way is to reduce the number of other drivers on the road.

Do what you want but know the only reason for our traffic is too many cars in too little space. That is the very definition of traffic...to many cars for the conditions.
Some say it's the tech companies. If they move guess what would happen...YES! a reduction of cars on the road would occur and improve traffic.
The moving doesn't do it, the removal of those cars does it.


20 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 19, 2019 at 2:47 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

Telling drivers in anation whose public transport is light years away from Europe and Asia not to drive solo is as futile and ridiculous a waste of time as telling college age kids not to have sex. There's one, and only one solution to the traffic quagmire:create many tech hubs around the country, pressure tech companies to move operations and/or move entirely out of the Bay Area, make it a big no no for them to keep hiring workers into the Bay Area. If this is not done, stop wasting time on fantasies like tackling the traffic quagmire.


1 person likes this
Posted by HUTCH 7.62
a resident of Portola Valley
on Oct 20, 2019 at 9:08 am

Sounds like increasing taxes and road diets are in order......


6 people like this
Posted by Charlie Rothschild
a resident of Los Altos
on Oct 20, 2019 at 10:03 am

I had the pleasure of attending this meeting and was very impressed by the willingness of Private enterprise to cooperate with local communities. If we are going to solve this problem, it will only come from a recognition that we are in a crisis, and the only way to solve it is by working together.

If we don't solve it, this area will become more and more unaffordable to live and work, and we we'll see an overall decline. This is the "boiling frog" concept. Newcomers will just stop coming.


35 people like this
Posted by One day I realized...
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 21, 2019 at 10:16 am

I figured it out. I realized that when people were saying it's beneficial to REDUCE solo car trips, I FINALLY realized that they were not talking about eliminating ALL my solo car trips, rather try to find an alternate to ANY solo car trip at all at any time. Maybe it's only once per year. Maybe it's 5 days a week.

It's hilarious to me that people cannot quit thinking in absolutes, as if there is only one way to do things, ever.


12 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 21, 2019 at 11:43 am

Posted by Charlie Rothschild, a resident of Los Altos

>> If we are going to solve this problem, it will only come from a recognition that we are in a crisis, and the only way to solve it is by working together.

Yet, companies keep doing what is convenient for themselves, not for reducing traffic. According to my app, if I leave now, using public transit, it will take me 1 hour and 20-30 minutes, depending, to get to Facebook HQ in Menlo Park, which is a half-hour shorter than if I walk- 2 hours.

Who thought that it was a good idea for Google and Facebook to locate so far off the existing "transit corridors"? And, why can't the companies and developers build rapid transit to these out-of-the-way locations?


15 people like this
Posted by It's just not that hard.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 21, 2019 at 1:57 pm

It's just not that hard. is a registered user.

Well said, Charlie. I have cut my auto trips by half simply by walking or biking for trips that are less than five miles. It's just not that hard.

I'm 60 years old. I still drive for longer trips, but this is keeping me in shape...and my local trips are faster on my bike. AND, big bonus...it's fun.


22 people like this
Posted by Another Givevaway
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 21, 2019 at 11:15 pm

@IJNTH,

We really need to stop with the magical thinking that bicycles can somehow solve our Bay Area wide problems with traffic congestion.

Using your bike for a few of your trips is the easy part. Using bicycles to solve our Bay Area wide problem of traffic congestion is the hard part. Bicycles are just not a practical option for the overwhelming majority of commutes and/or commuters.

Bicycles will never even make a dent in our traffic congestion as long as bicycles are bailing cars off our roads with a thimble and real-estate developers are filling cars back onto our roads with a fire hose.


18 people like this
Posted by Again, for the kids in the back row
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 22, 2019 at 6:44 am

Not ONE solution will fix anything. 20 x 5% solutions = 100%
Re-read that.


24 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 22, 2019 at 10:50 am

Online Name is a registered user.

With commuters out-numbering residents 4:1, it's way past time to reduce the number of offices being constructed, to eliminate under-parked buildings that only serve to maximize developer profit and to preserve local retail instead of sending us miles out of our way to do our shopping.


23 people like this
Posted by What if...
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 22, 2019 at 2:02 pm

What if all the commuters are just passing through to another town. How will it help if PA stops construction? It won't. You'll need all surrounding cities on board and even then, it's school commutes that seem to max out our capacity. I think I'll try biking while I wait for multi-city wide building moratorium to quickly happen that will fix it all ;)


17 people like this
Posted by Another Giveaway
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 22, 2019 at 5:50 pm

@ What-if,

What if all the commuters are NOT just passing through to another town? Seems a lot more likely given the fact that Palo Alto's daytime population is 3-4x Palo Alto's nighttime population.

It is really quite amazing to see the twisted logic and flimsy excuses bicycling advocates will try to use to promote their failed solution to our transportation woes.


3 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 22, 2019 at 6:06 pm

We have absolutely no idea how many Palo Altans leave town each day for work. Therefore we have no idea how the daytime/nighttime numbers vary.

Looking at the numbers of people boarding Caltrain in both directions at both stations each morning and the number of cars leaving town on highway ramps each day as well as Alma/Central, ECR, Middlefield, Charleston, etc. We cannot ascertain whether there are more people leaving than arriving for work each day or what the daytime numbers of people in town may be.


21 people like this
Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on Oct 22, 2019 at 10:35 pm

Allen Akin is a registered user.

In fact, we do know how many Palo Altans leave town each day for work. Census data shows that about 8% of all Palo Altans actually work in Palo Alto. (Expressed another way, about one-third of *employed* Palo Altans actually work in Palo Alto.) 92% of people who hold jobs in Palo Alto commute from other cities. This has remained relatively constant over a long period of time.

This data is available from the Census. A good introduction can be found here: Web Link


2 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 23, 2019 at 4:33 pm

Posted by Allen Akin, a resident of Professorville

>> This data is available from the Census. A good introduction can be found here: Web Link

Yes, I wish Michael Goldman would move from Sunnyvale to Palo Alto and run for City Council here. I appreciate his rational approach. He is actually able and willing to do simple arithmetic instead of just accepting at face value self-serving arguments from various sectors. His blogs are here: Web Link

As for the data from that particular blog post: we need similar summary for Stanford. We kind of need to consider Palo Alto and Stanford both separately and together because of the parts that are inside the city and those that are outside (but, people commute to via Palo Alto).


10 people like this
Posted by The hidden data is most important
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 24, 2019 at 6:22 am

We know how many who live in PA commute. How many people from RWC commute through PA to get to their jobs in SV, LA, MV?
How many started in San Jose and are working towards say, Burlingame?
How many will stop in PA for a meal or shop on the way home?

People have a had time seeing the whole picture. It's far more complicated that just worrying about who's coming into PA and leaving from there specifically; it's about all the others who are just passing though.


1 person likes this
Posted by Bill
a resident of Mountain View
on Oct 24, 2019 at 8:09 am

Lost in the sea of comments that it’s the “companies” who are at fault is the reality that PA steadfastly refuses to build housing. It permits offices but refuses to permit any responsible amount of housing.

This is a feature, not a bug, if you happen to hold PA real estate. Constrain supply in the face of rising demand and you rig the market to achieve ever-increasing prices, which is the root cause of housing crisis which is the root cause of the traffic crisis.

Commuters are victims of corruption, and there is a valid case that this is a social justice issue.

SB50 now! We should get it onto the 2020 statewide ballot, which will drive youth and Millennials turnout which will in turn get us more seats in Congress and the Legislature anyway, so what’s not to like, Palo Alto liberals?

SB50 now!


1 person likes this
Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on Oct 24, 2019 at 9:16 am

Allen Akin is a registered user.

@The hidden data is most important: We don't really know how much pass-through traffic there is, or exactly where it flows, so we can't say it's more important than the traffic that originates or terminates in Palo Alto. But it's certainly significant on highways and arterials.

The Manzanita group has done some early analysis using information from Streetlight Data, which has the ability to count pass-through traffic.

Lots of us who are interested in traffic issues are hoping the new Transportation Department will be able to make use of this kind of data once staff is in place.


4 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 24, 2019 at 11:58 am

Posted by Bill, a resident of Mountain View

>> Lost in the sea of comments that it’s the “companies” who are at fault is the reality that PA steadfastly refuses to build housing. It permits offices but refuses to permit any responsible amount of housing.

You are being misled on every issue. Take the Fry's site, for example. It was zoned for RM-30 long ago. The property owner, Sobrato, is not interested in building housing on that site "right now".

>> This is a feature, not a bug, if you happen to hold PA real estate. Constrain supply in the face of rising demand and you rig the market to achieve ever-increasing prices, which is the root cause of housing crisis which is the root cause of the traffic crisis.

Read this link about the "housing crisis": Web Link

>> Commuters are victims of corruption, and there is a valid case that this is a social justice issue.

"The companies" are indeed the root of the problem, although ego and self-interest are usually more the issue than "corruption" per se.


10 people like this
Posted by Another Giveaway
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 24, 2019 at 4:29 pm

Real-estate developers want to profit from building (office or residential) but do not want to contribute to increasing our transportation capacity because that would cut into profits.

Even if developers could be encouraged to profit from building residential instead of office there is no guarantee that the new residential would be occupied by workers who live in Palo Alto.

Bottom line... there is no way to build your way out of our transportation woes. More densely populated areas are always more contested than less densely populated areas.

Trying to build your way out of traffic congestion is a fool's errand that benefits real-estate developers, not commuters.


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