News

Palo Alto eyes another shake-up to parking policies in commercial areas

New action plan calls for adding 'performance pricing' downtown, reducing employee permits in residential neighborhoods

A car drives past a parking garage near California Avenue in Palo Alto on April 7, 2021. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic shook up local commuting patterns, Palo Alto's parking policies were in a state of flux.

Over the past five years, the city has been creating — and modifying — residential parking programs, revising its strategies for where employees park and planning for new garages. While these efforts have lessened parking congestion on residential streets, particularly around downtown's and California Avenue's neighborhoods, visitors to the city's commercial districts still confront a dilemma: park for free for two or three hours or spend $25 for an all-day parking permit.

Now, with pandemic restrictions loosening and traffic expected to return, the city is taking a new approach. In the coming months, the Office of Transportation plans to advance what it's calling a Parking Action Plan, an effort to make parking policies throughout the city less rigid and more convenient.

In this endeavor, the city will have several new tools at its disposal. Over the course of the pandemic, the city concluded the construction of a six-level garage near California Avenue; the City Council hired a parking manager and approved the purchase of automatic license plate readers, technology for the city to monitor parking occupancy levels in residential areas, evaluate whether their new policies are working and make further adjustments as needed.

One model that the city is looking at is in Seattle, where prices for on-street curb space vary based on usage trends. If occupancy levels in a particular zone fall below 75%, the hourly rate falls by 50 cents; if more than 85% of the spots are taken, rates go up by 50 cents.

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If Palo Alto adopts this "performance pricing" approach, rates would go up or down in specific zones, lots or garage floors, "depending on pre-set occupancy metrics, in line with the needs of select blocks or zones," according to a report from the Office of Transportation.

With the change, staff is hoping to create a more dynamic and flexible model than the one that exists today, with prices fluctuating based on location and time and visitors getting fresh options for extending their stays.

The action plan, which the Planning and Transportation Commission discussed last week, stops short of adopting metered parking in all commercial spaces — an option that the council had flirted with in the past. It would, however, create a hybrid system in which the city can charge for certain on-street parking spaces, while still allowing free parking in garages for two or three hours.

One of the major goals is to make parking easier for visitors during peak periods, said Nathan Baird, the city's recently hired parking manager.

"Folks who are aware of Palo Alto pre-COVID understand that at lunch and during dinner hours, it was very hard to find parking in our commercial areas," Baird told the commission on March 31. "While COVID has had a huge impact on that, we do expect those peak parking time to continue to be well served by our current system."

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In addition to injecting flexibility into parking policies, staff is also looking to direct visitors and commuters away from residential streets and toward the city's often underutilized garages. In the California Avenue area, this means gradually reducing the number of permits that are sold to employees in the Evergreen Parking/Mayfield residential parking program — an endeavor made easier by the new garage at 350 Sherman Ave.

With the new policies, the city wants to encourage visitors to head for public lots and garages rather than circling around in search of on-street parking, according to transportation staff. And by allowing those who park in lots and garages to extend their stays, the new policy would obviate the need for visitors to face the all-or-nothing dilemma that they currently have to confront when they evaluate their parking options.

Chief Transportation Official Philip Kamhi suggested that injecting some flexibility into parking will become more critical in the post-COVID-19 era, with more companies adopting policies that allow employees to work remotely at least part time.

"This is a time where we're going to see that happen more, with people doing more flexible hybrid work schedules," Kamhi said at the March 31 meeting. "Part of what we're trying to do is adjust what we consider our inflexible current system and create more flexible options. We're trying to make sure we have more options available."

The changes in the commercial districts are just one component of the broad and wide-ranging parking action plan. Other policy proposals include giving employees more flexibility when it comes to the duration of their parking permits (currently, they are required to commit to a six-month permit), improving the city's communication to employees about RPP zones that have ample available parking and raising costs for employee permits in the residential zones to create another incentive for workers to park in garages.

While costs will be raised, supply will be lowered. The plan calls for "a 'quid-pro-quo' approach to reduce RPP employee permits where the addition of 'employee spaces' in garages and lots triggers the reduction of RPP employee parking permits."

For some residents near the commercial districts, the change is overdue. Carol Scott, a resident of Evergreen Park, urged the city to go even further and simply prohibit all-day parking for area employees on residential streets.

"Commercial parking does not belong in a residential neighborhood and the standard for commercial parking there should be zero," Scott said.

Commissioner Doria Summa shared that sentiment and suggested that the city should do whatever it takes to move commuter cars away from residential streets and toward public lots and garages.

"I'd like to optimize parking in the garages, including new garages, as soon as possible, understanding that it wasn't — even pre-COVID — anywhere near 100%," Summa said. "That's a big priority for me. Any of the reasonable technologies that we can use … let's try them out and use them."

While the planning commission didn't take any formal actions on the parking plan, members lauded staff's approach, including its near-term goal of adding new options for visitors to the city's two primary commercial districts. Commissioner Ed Lauing said the city should offer visitors more than two options for parking, while Commissioner Michael Alcheck called the plan to offer some free parking while allowing customers to pay to extend their stay a suitable compromise.

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Palo Alto eyes another shake-up to parking policies in commercial areas

New action plan calls for adding 'performance pricing' downtown, reducing employee permits in residential neighborhoods

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Thu, Apr 8, 2021, 3:41 pm

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic shook up local commuting patterns, Palo Alto's parking policies were in a state of flux.

Over the past five years, the city has been creating — and modifying — residential parking programs, revising its strategies for where employees park and planning for new garages. While these efforts have lessened parking congestion on residential streets, particularly around downtown's and California Avenue's neighborhoods, visitors to the city's commercial districts still confront a dilemma: park for free for two or three hours or spend $25 for an all-day parking permit.

Now, with pandemic restrictions loosening and traffic expected to return, the city is taking a new approach. In the coming months, the Office of Transportation plans to advance what it's calling a Parking Action Plan, an effort to make parking policies throughout the city less rigid and more convenient.

In this endeavor, the city will have several new tools at its disposal. Over the course of the pandemic, the city concluded the construction of a six-level garage near California Avenue; the City Council hired a parking manager and approved the purchase of automatic license plate readers, technology for the city to monitor parking occupancy levels in residential areas, evaluate whether their new policies are working and make further adjustments as needed.

One model that the city is looking at is in Seattle, where prices for on-street curb space vary based on usage trends. If occupancy levels in a particular zone fall below 75%, the hourly rate falls by 50 cents; if more than 85% of the spots are taken, rates go up by 50 cents.

If Palo Alto adopts this "performance pricing" approach, rates would go up or down in specific zones, lots or garage floors, "depending on pre-set occupancy metrics, in line with the needs of select blocks or zones," according to a report from the Office of Transportation.

With the change, staff is hoping to create a more dynamic and flexible model than the one that exists today, with prices fluctuating based on location and time and visitors getting fresh options for extending their stays.

The action plan, which the Planning and Transportation Commission discussed last week, stops short of adopting metered parking in all commercial spaces — an option that the council had flirted with in the past. It would, however, create a hybrid system in which the city can charge for certain on-street parking spaces, while still allowing free parking in garages for two or three hours.

One of the major goals is to make parking easier for visitors during peak periods, said Nathan Baird, the city's recently hired parking manager.

"Folks who are aware of Palo Alto pre-COVID understand that at lunch and during dinner hours, it was very hard to find parking in our commercial areas," Baird told the commission on March 31. "While COVID has had a huge impact on that, we do expect those peak parking time to continue to be well served by our current system."

In addition to injecting flexibility into parking policies, staff is also looking to direct visitors and commuters away from residential streets and toward the city's often underutilized garages. In the California Avenue area, this means gradually reducing the number of permits that are sold to employees in the Evergreen Parking/Mayfield residential parking program — an endeavor made easier by the new garage at 350 Sherman Ave.

With the new policies, the city wants to encourage visitors to head for public lots and garages rather than circling around in search of on-street parking, according to transportation staff. And by allowing those who park in lots and garages to extend their stays, the new policy would obviate the need for visitors to face the all-or-nothing dilemma that they currently have to confront when they evaluate their parking options.

Chief Transportation Official Philip Kamhi suggested that injecting some flexibility into parking will become more critical in the post-COVID-19 era, with more companies adopting policies that allow employees to work remotely at least part time.

"This is a time where we're going to see that happen more, with people doing more flexible hybrid work schedules," Kamhi said at the March 31 meeting. "Part of what we're trying to do is adjust what we consider our inflexible current system and create more flexible options. We're trying to make sure we have more options available."

The changes in the commercial districts are just one component of the broad and wide-ranging parking action plan. Other policy proposals include giving employees more flexibility when it comes to the duration of their parking permits (currently, they are required to commit to a six-month permit), improving the city's communication to employees about RPP zones that have ample available parking and raising costs for employee permits in the residential zones to create another incentive for workers to park in garages.

While costs will be raised, supply will be lowered. The plan calls for "a 'quid-pro-quo' approach to reduce RPP employee permits where the addition of 'employee spaces' in garages and lots triggers the reduction of RPP employee parking permits."

For some residents near the commercial districts, the change is overdue. Carol Scott, a resident of Evergreen Park, urged the city to go even further and simply prohibit all-day parking for area employees on residential streets.

"Commercial parking does not belong in a residential neighborhood and the standard for commercial parking there should be zero," Scott said.

Commissioner Doria Summa shared that sentiment and suggested that the city should do whatever it takes to move commuter cars away from residential streets and toward public lots and garages.

"I'd like to optimize parking in the garages, including new garages, as soon as possible, understanding that it wasn't — even pre-COVID — anywhere near 100%," Summa said. "That's a big priority for me. Any of the reasonable technologies that we can use … let's try them out and use them."

While the planning commission didn't take any formal actions on the parking plan, members lauded staff's approach, including its near-term goal of adding new options for visitors to the city's two primary commercial districts. Commissioner Ed Lauing said the city should offer visitors more than two options for parking, while Commissioner Michael Alcheck called the plan to offer some free parking while allowing customers to pay to extend their stay a suitable compromise.

Comments

Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 8, 2021 at 4:24 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Apr 8, 2021 at 4:24 pm

How about making the employees shuttle into work from remote areas?? It's already tough enough to for shoppers/residents/visitors to park in any of our central business districts.


Native to the BAY
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Apr 8, 2021 at 6:23 pm
Native to the BAY, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Apr 8, 2021 at 6:23 pm

As far as I understand, Mayfield (place) is exempted from a residential street parking permit — even the German, Klaus lift does not accommodate the elderly, disabled or families w children. The very demographic and reason the residential complex was approved . Good luck when the grid goes down for school, appointments , medical emergencies. I’d hate to be under the park puzzle with a 2ton car above when a 5 plus quake takes place (not if it’s when in Calif). Q: Does Japan, the other largest “ring of fire” location, have German made electronic auto storage lifts? A very unwise choice for residential life. Car storage is not parking!!!!


Nayeli
Registered user
Midtown
on Apr 8, 2021 at 8:10 pm
Nayeli, Midtown
Registered user
on Apr 8, 2021 at 8:10 pm

The city should NOT follow Seattle in anything. The parking rules in that city are more confusing, backward and profit-motivated. The city should NOT charge city residents to park in city lots. Sadly, parking has become a cash cow for money-hungry politicians.


Carol Scott
Registered user
Evergreen Park
on Apr 9, 2021 at 10:59 am
Carol Scott, Evergreen Park
Registered user
on Apr 9, 2021 at 10:59 am

Please note that this article reports on a PTC meeting that happened on March 31 — about 10 days ago. Unfortunately, Mr. Sheynar does not present any of the discussion points that residents raised to support the elimination of commercial parking in the residential, primarily R1 neighborhood of Evergreen Park. These include the current glut of public parking which presents the ideal opportunity to try out various practices designed to reduce not only parking, but also traffic and its attendant negative effects on greenhouse gas emissions and safety (think employees racing in to find parking in the morning or hurrying out to get home in the afternoon just as kids are going to or arrive from school). Evergreen Park contains a large park where children play, and yet all-day employee parking and traffic is allowed on the park’s border. When the City wishes to approve
under-parked office buildings or housing to reduce developer costs, we are told that this is such a ‘transit-rich’ area that no one will need cars. Yet, parking is always in such demand that we are then told that demand for all-day employee parking (in addition to two-hour customer parking) is so great that it must spill over into residential areas. The City just built a very large garage to alleviate parking in the Cal Ave area. We have been promised relief from it, and supported its funding for that reason. If the City does not get the cars out of Evergreen Park now — as it has in the similar neighborhoods of Old Palo Alto and College Terrace that also border Cal Ave and Evergreen Park — there will never be a better opportunity.


Carol Scott
Registered user
Evergreen Park
on Apr 9, 2021 at 11:06 am
Carol Scott, Evergreen Park
Registered user
on Apr 9, 2021 at 11:06 am

[Post removed; consecutive comments by the same poster are not permitted.]


Bystander
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 9, 2021 at 11:57 am
Bystander, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Apr 9, 2021 at 11:57 am

Does this mean getting rid of the color codes and confusing signs in streets and garages?

No mention of the promised electronic signage, real time parking space apps, or paying for parking by phone!

$25 per day is expensive to me. For someone who wants to park for 4 hours there should be hourly parking. We also should have more 20 minute only parking.


jguislin
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Apr 9, 2021 at 12:38 pm
jguislin, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Apr 9, 2021 at 12:38 pm

College Terrace had the first RPP in Palo Alto and allows no all-day non-resident parking. The Ordinance #5060 clearly states the rationale: "...Such long-term parking by nonresidents threatens the health, safety and welfare of residents of College Terrace."
In subsequent RPPs, the City has ignored this thinking and offered thousands of all day non-resident (commercial) permits. Why are College Terrace residents offered protections while other neighborhoods are not? No surprise, the answer is political pressures from business and their lobbyists.
Residents were promised reductions in the number of these commercial permits but the City has been slow to act. With the new California Ave Garage - which is currently mostly empty -
there is no sound reason to continue selling non-resident permits in Evergreen Park/Mayfield.
And next, let's ask our vaunted "innovative business culture" to find solutions to parking their employees somewhere other than our residential neighborhoods. We need to seize this moment of reduced workforce commuting to mandate the many benefits of reduced traffic in our neighborhoods.


Name hidden
Downtown North

Registered user
on Apr 9, 2021 at 4:00 pm
Name hidden, Downtown North

Registered user
on Apr 9, 2021 at 4:00 pm

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?


ST
Registered user
Stanford
on Apr 10, 2021 at 11:52 am
ST, Stanford
Registered user
on Apr 10, 2021 at 11:52 am

Add more safe and easy-to-use bike parking in downtown and Cal Ave! And while you're add it, more protected bike lanes. And add more dense housing to these two trips (so people can live without cars). Easy and eco-friendly ways to reduce parking needs :)


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 10, 2021 at 12:44 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Apr 10, 2021 at 12:44 pm

@ST, re people "living without cars," how special of you to ask us to give up visiting friends not accessible by public transit and to give up our pets who haven't yet learned how to bike.


Annette
Registered user
College Terrace
on Apr 10, 2021 at 2:20 pm
Annette, College Terrace
Registered user
on Apr 10, 2021 at 2:20 pm

"No surprise, the answer is political pressures from business and their lobbyists."

WHAT?!? As I recall, the effort to add a RPPP in CT was undertaken by a small group of dedicated CT residents. A driver of the effort was Stanford. One reason their TDM program was successful was that people were driving to CT, parking, and then making their way on to campus by foot, shuttle, or bike. I live near Bowdoin and often saw people do this. That businesses and lobbyists were involved is news to me. Are you sure about that assertion?


Evan
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Apr 11, 2021 at 9:50 am
Evan, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Apr 11, 2021 at 9:50 am

Just charge market rate for parking. This isn't hard folks. And if we actually believe in climate change and want to reduce congestion, why is it $3,000/mo to rent a 1-bedroom but totally free to park my car for hours on end? Do we really care more about subsidizing space for cars than for people?

Also, it's dumb to to just ban people from parking in neighborhoods. If people want to park there, fine, but they should pay for it. The city (or better, the neighborhood) should keep the money. Having grown up on a Palo Alto block with a ton of vacant street street parking, I don't see much reason that blocks must be mostly empty of cars — when there are people who would pay to park there.

And want to give wealthy homeowners a pass? Fine, let people who live on the block not pay. But then let others pay to park there.


Bystander
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 11, 2021 at 10:29 am
Bystander, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Apr 11, 2021 at 10:29 am

There is of course the idea of renting out driveways to workers. If you charge less than the City you win! It may keep one car off residential streets too and leave some space for those who live nearby and do not have enough space on their driveways! Here's one site, there are many others if you google them. Web Link


Annette
Registered user
College Terrace
on Apr 11, 2021 at 11:42 am
Annette, College Terrace
Registered user
on Apr 11, 2021 at 11:42 am

@Bystander: excellent resource, thank you. Castilleja should consider using that site in lieu of building an enormous concrete garage. Win (school) win (neighborhood) win (student commuters) win (environment) win (those who rent a space in their driveway).


Pat Markevitch
Registered user
Downtown North
on Apr 13, 2021 at 3:39 pm
Pat Markevitch, Downtown North
Registered user
on Apr 13, 2021 at 3:39 pm

I think the City should go old school on this. Get rid of the color coded areas and put in parking meters. Then you can pre-pay based on how many hours you intend to stay during the hours of 9-5. After work hours and weekends should be free.


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