In search of the car-less commute | November 16, 2012 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Cover Story - November 16, 2012

In search of the car-less commute

Cities, companies look to convince employees to try new ways of getting to work

by Jocelyn Dong

On any weekday morning, upwards of 17,000 commuters — some in buses, others on bicycles, but the majority in cars — stream onto north Shoreline Boulevard and North Rengstorff Avenue in Mountain View. By their sheer numbers, they could almost fill Shoreline Amphitheatre. Instead, they're on their way to Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft and other companies whose office complexes populate the area between U.S. Highway 101 and the San Francisco Bay.

At peak hours, the line of cars on Shoreline is so long, it backs up on the off ramp from 101 north.

The traffic is only projected to get worse.

The Mountain View City Council in July approved a plan that allows companies in what it calls the North Bayshore Area to expand to 10.7 million square feet of buildings by 2030, or almost one-and-a-half times the current square footage. Conservatively, that growth could bring the number of employees trundling their way to work each day to 28,000.

The roads weren't designed for that much traffic. About 25 percent more cars could squeeze onto the streets, officials say, but after that it would be perpetual gridlock.

Mountain View's not the only city where traffic jams are a part of daily life. The Page Mill Road exit from Interstate Highway 280 south is a logjam on most weekday mornings. Ditto the Willow Road exit from 101 south in Menlo Park.

And it's not just highway intersections that transportation planners are scratching their heads over. Officials in Palo Alto are puzzling over traffic and parking downtown. Residents in neighborhoods near University Avenue have been clamoring for relief from downtown workers who park their cars all day along neighborhood streets, leaving residents to park blocks from their homes.

And when a 21,700-square-foot office building on the edge of downtown Palo Alto was approved by the City Council in May, it came with one fairly novel requirement: Its owners must manage how people working in the building commute to and from work. The city is banking on having at least 20 percent fewer cars parking there than would normally be allotted. And those workers ought to arrive by bike, carpool, bus or train — not park their cars on adjacent streets, residents have already said.

The Lytton Gateway project, as it's called, as well as other upcoming developments downtown, have triggered a study of parking and commute options that planners are hoping to get off the ground this fall.

In the Bay Area and nationwide, transportation experts have long examined roads, parking and public transportation, aiming to make them as efficient as possible. They've considered a raft of questions: Are there enough lanes? Are traffic signals timed to allow for a smooth flow of cars? Is parking sufficient for the demand? Are routes laid out so buses pick up the most people and deliver them as quickly as they can?

Increasingly, however, officials are turning to additional transportation tools to ease congestion, techniques that go squarely to one central goal: convincing people to leave their cars at home.

As with other efforts to get people to change their habits, transportation-demand management programs, as they are known, offer people both carrots and sticks — rewards and penalties — to motivate them to adopt new ways.

The toolbox includes passes for free public transit, shuttle buses, van- or carpools, car- and bike-sharing and even cash and raffles for those who convert to alternate modes of transportation.

Many of the larger companies in Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Mountain View have started to tackle these issues. Ubiquitous Bauer's Intelligent Transportation shuttles and white double-decker Google buses pick up high-tech workers as far away as Marin and the East Bay and deliver them to work. Free bicycles, painted in primary colors, allow Google employees to get quickly from building to building without hopping in a car.

Palo Alto's Hewlett-Packard Co. lets its employees buy transit passes with pre-tax income and partners with to encourage workers to carpool.

Facebook, now located in Menlo Park, provides workers with free passes to ride Caltrain and runs shuttles from the nearest stations to its campus along Bayfront Expressway. More than 40 percent of the company's workforce take the train or bus, hop on Facebook-run shuttles, join van- and carpools, bike or walk, according to the company.

The efforts have shown decided results. In Mountain View's North Bayshore Area, 25 percent of employees at the four largest companies take transit or employer-run shuttles, while 6.4 percent use a car- or vanpool, and another 5.6 percent bicycle, according to a consultant's study released in October.

Some 61 percent drive to work by themselves.

"Compared to the typical Bay Area business park where 80 percent or more of the employees drive alone, the current modal share for the North Bayshore Area shows the effectiveness of the programs the existing employers use to encourage use of alternative travel modes," the report states.

Palo Alto, meanwhile, is contemplating how to work with its downtown businesses and their merchants group, Palo Alto Downtown Business and Professional Association, to make stores and offices aware of the many ways their employees could get to work. By banding together, they might even be able to make a car-sharing program or discounted transit passes available.

It's all about economies of scale, according to Jaime Rodriguez, the city's chief transportation official.

"If I'm a seven-person business, how can I take advantage ... and create a transit-pass program?" he asked hypothetically.

The city already has in place a commute-alternatives program for its own staff, but encouraging — or outright requiring — businesses to do likewise is an area under exploration, Planning Director Curtis Williams said recently.

The challenges the city faces in getting people to leave their cars at home are unlike those of private companies. In terms of the city's own employees, union contracts prohibit the city from taking away benefits, such as parking, that otherwise could be used as a means to get people onto trains, buses and bikes.

And some developers might balk at requiring tenants to run a transportation program, fearing it would scare off potential tenants because of the costs.

While companies such as high-tech security firm Palantir "are progressive on their own," Williams said, "other businesses think, 'Well, that's going to cost me money to provide transit passes for all my employees.'"

But offering commute options could be a perk for employees and help the business to attract workers, he said. The city's role could be to make companies aware of what they could offer, and at what cost, if they join with other businesses.

Unlike Mountain View, which surveyed the North Bayshore Area companies, Palo Alto doesn't yet have firm data on the driving habits of commuters, let alone its residents on the whole. To better assess these habits and devise a transportation-management strategy, the city is looking to start an annual transportation study, Rodriguez said. It could document both how people are getting to and from where they want to go and also, over time, how people shift from traveling by one mode of transportation to another.

While city planners look for ways to keep their roads and parking lots from clogging, they already have one local organization to look to when it comes to getting people out of their cars: Stanford University.

Partly by choice and partly because of limits imposed on it by Santa Clara County, Stanford's become a national leader in transportation-demand management.

The university has managed to keep the number of cars coming onto and leaving campus steady for the past 10 years, even while the campus population has grown from some 10,300 employees (not including those at the hospitals) in 2001-02 to about 12,700 during the last academic year. Add to that thousands of undergraduate and graduate students.

As part of a 2000 agreement with the county, which governs the conditions under which Stanford can construct new buildings and add more employees, the university agreed not to allow the amount of traffic to increase. Twice-yearly measurements show the university's succeeded: In 2002, 3,474 cars arrived during a peak morning commute hour of 8 to 9 a.m.; in 2011, the count was 3,081. The number of cars leaving campus one day between 5 and 6 p.m., the evening commute, was 3,591 in 2002 and 3,540 last year.

The success has been consistent but not necessarily easy. One year, the count of evening commuters exceeded the 2002 "cap" by 144 cars; however, the university only has to implement measures to ease the traffic if the surplus occurs in two of three consecutive years.

The commute counts may be the official measure of compliance, but the real success of its transportation program is seen in the number of people who no longer drive themselves to work, according to Brodie Hamilton, the university's director of parking and transportation services.

Today, just 46 percent of employees drive alone to campus, down from 72 percent 10 years ago. Those taking Caltrain to work has jumped to 21 percent from 4 percent. The bicycling population has grown to nearly 13 percent from 7 percent. People taking the free Marguerite Shuttle, Stanford's fleet of 41 red-and-white buses that roam campus and the Palo Area, account for more than 7 percent, up from 4 percent a decade ago.

Stanford's success has relied on introducing and expanding a host of programs that draw on psychology, access to transit information, publicity, new infrastructure and even giving people cash in order to convince them to commute differently.

"When I got here (in 2000), it had a good TDM program," Hamilton said, referencing some of its features: a program that guaranteed rides to a commuter in a personal emergency, the Marguerite service, and Clean Air Cash, which rewards alternate-commuters with money. "What we needed to do ... was enhance that."

One of the program's biggest successes has been a partnership with Caltrain to offer employees free rides, a ticket now known as the GO Pass. So many people took the university up on the offer that the Marguerite system, which stopped at the train stations, had to expand, he said.

"If you're ever out there from between 7 and 8 a.m., the train pulls up and they disgorge all those people, and they pile into the buses and off they go," Hamilton said of the seamless transition for commuters.

In fact, the number of rides Marguerite buses provide to and from the train has doubled since 2004 — growing from 212,000 rides to 449,000 last year.

Another major initiative for the program was the creation of the Commute Club, a way to offer recognition to alternative commuters.

"The idea was, 'Let's create this group, an identity, a sense of belonging, and people who are having a common cause, if you will: 'We're alternative-transportation users!'" Hamilton said.

To create a buzz and raise awareness, the department held a competition for the best testimonials from people who loved their alternative commute. It featured the winners on posters and postcards.

"It was like putting a face to members of the Commute Club," he said. Soon groups of people from departments contacted his office wanting to be featured as well.

"Now we're up to 8,000 Commute Club members. That sense of identity is there," he said.

In addition to recognition, cold hard cash has helped the Commute Club grow from an initial group of 3,700. Commute Club members receive $25 a month in exchange for not having a parking permit.

Stanford also has a way to nudge those not swayed by rewards, in the form of one fairly large "stick": the price of a parking permit.

The annual price of an "A" permit, which allows prime parking, is $792, more than twice of what it cost in 2001. A "C" permit, which allows parking farther away from most buildings, costs $309 a year, nearly three times the price in 2001.

With more than 20,000 parking spaces on campus, the university has been able to avoid building any parking for new commuters, according to Hamilton.

"Most of our parking now is replacement parking, or if a new dorm is built, we do need to meet that demand," he said.

The same agreement with the county that limits traffic has put a cap on parking at 2,300 new spaces — much to the dismay of visitors to Stanford who circle around for the better part of the hour looking for a slot.

As the numbers show, limiting parking and raising the price have been effective. Demand for parking has dropped more than 6 percent since 2002, even as buildings and employees have been added, according to a university report.

In spite of the successes, Hamilton admitted there have been a few bumps in the road to the alternative-commute lifestyle. About eight years ago, the university decided to mount a pilot program for its East Bay residents by offering free passes for BART.

"It was going to be a piece of cake. We knew we had 2,000 to 3,000 people living in the East Bay ... that would be eligible," Hamilton said.

But the response was underwhelming, to say the least.

"We had 11 people take us up on this," he said. "We said, 'Wait a minute; it's free!"

It may have been free, but getting to campus on public transit still felt too onerous for most people. The typical commuter would have to get to BART, then transfer from BART to another transit line, and then leave that transit line to hop on Caltrain or the Marguerite, Hamilton said.

"That was telling us that was a long way to come with maybe too many connections," he said.

It was either an idea that was before its time, or it was just not a good idea, he added.

So what lessons can be learned from Stanford's decade-long program?

"The biggest takeaway I would offer is: With the right mix of incentives, and maybe some sort of disincentive, you can change people's commuting behavior," Hamilton said.

There is no single service that has been responsible for the university's success, he said, but rather a vast array that have met the needs of Stanford's commuters.

Free transit passes, the Marguerite system and the Commute Club form the pillars of the overall program, but car-sharing, emergency rides home, help with planning one's commute, one-day parking passes and bicycle-repair stations, to name just a few additional services, all make the program work.

Hamilton believes, however, that not all of Stanford's services are directly transferable to other organizations, in part because of differences in location, budget and other factors. Stanford, for example, spends more than $5 million to run its program, he said.

Then, there's control.

"Universities, because they are like small communities on their own, have the flexibility to do things municipalities don't. We can control our parking. Very few universities don't charge for parking," he said. "We're in a situation where we can do that, and it works out very well."

Likewise, Stanford commuters rely on Caltrain, but a company located away from a train line would have to consider whether that option makes sense, as the business might have to run shuttles to get workers from the depot to the office.

Where employees live and whether there is a sufficient concentration of them there could also determine whether an option, such as a company-sponsored shuttle, would make sense.

The City of Palo Alto has been working on a few initiatives that could make life easier for train and bus commuters. A rental bicycle program, in which 100 bikes would be stationed at train depots and other strategic locations around town, is aimed at helping commuters get from public transit to their workplaces. That connection, known as the "last mile," can be one of the thorniest problems of public transportation, planners say. The timeline for deploying those bikes, officially part of the Valley Transportation Authority's Bicycle Share Program, is due at the end of the year.

The city's also rolling out bike corrals downtown — green rectangles the size of one car parking space that can fit up to 10 parked bicycles — to motivate more people to travel by bike.

In the bigger picture, the city is hoping to work with merchants, through the Palo Alto downtown association, to make small-business owners aware of commute options for their employees.

And the council took a huge step in pushing alternative transportation when it approved the expansion of Stanford Medical Center in June 2011. As part of an agreement with the city, the medical center pledged to provide GO Passes for free Caltrain rides to all of its current and future workers, thus stemming a potential flood of thousands of cars driven by employees. As of mid-December last year, 2,000 workers had already signed on.

Mountain View officials, meanwhile, are continuing to examine the city's options for the North Bayshore Area. Among those could be automated and magnetically levitated "pod cars" that run on an overhead track, akin to a monorail, from downtown Mountain View to the North Bayshore Area and NASA Ames, according to the October study and city officials.

It is also considering launching a Transportation Management Agency, a partnership of the city and employers that would organize transportation-management programs and institute incentives and penalties. Such groups, usually nonprofit organizations, have sprung up over the past several decades around the country and have been successful in getting people to leave their cars at home.

City planners intend to return to the council in January for direction on action steps, once stakeholders have weighed in this fall and a list of "preferred options" has been defined.

Editor Jocelyn Dong can be emailed at


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Posted by Mike
a resident of University South
on Nov 16, 2012 at 9:22 am

Stanford only offers Go Passes to selected employees. SLAC employees, for example, aren't eligible.

Web Link

I'm told that's because SLAC is in San Mateo County. Many SLAC employees, however, drive through Santa Clara County to get to work.

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Posted by commuter
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 16, 2012 at 9:35 am

One problem is that many of these companies are east of Hwy 101, while most of their employees live west of Hwy 101. Public transit as well as bicycle and pedestrian routes crossing the highway are generally terrible.

The Adobe Creek bike path that connects Palo Alto residents to their jobs in the north Shoreline area has been closed all year. The sign on the fence says it may reopen in Fall 2012, like anyone believes that. I wouldn't even bet on it being open next summer.

Bicycling to Facebook is just as bad. Bicycling over Hwy 101 at University Ave is a death trap, even on the sidewalks. East Palo Alto has been talking for years about building a separate pedestrian bridge, like they have the money to do that.

Caltrain is a great resource, but it is already overloaded and does not have the money to expand service. Many commute-time trains are standing-room-only and standing up in a bumpy train with no handrails for an hour is not real safe or comfortable.

Companies that build campuses far away from where their employees live have a responsibility to help build the transportation infrastructure to get their employees to work.

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Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on Nov 16, 2012 at 9:50 am

Light rail, bike expressways, BRT? We have to improve so the 61 percent have options.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 16, 2012 at 10:39 am

One of the big problems is that commuters are not driving from home to work and then back again. Many commuters I know are driving their kids to school or daycare en route to work (often private schools not in walking distance of home) and doing the same on their return. Most public transit options are not realistically geared up for this type of commuter.
Additionally, if a commuter needs to use more than one type of transit for first and last mile,or need to do two equal length bus journeys (to San Antonio center and then to Foothill college) they need an additional ticket with an additional fare. Making all the transit authorities in the Bay Area more user friendly would go a long way to help.The different authorities need to work together on ticketing and be time sensitive rather than mile (zone) sensitive, and buses need to meet and wait for trains to meet passengers needs.

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Posted by Bay Trail
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 16, 2012 at 10:43 am

I am angry that Facebook got off without contributing to helping to close the bay trail gap as part of their mitigations for their monstrous office park. That would have gotten a lot of their employeees out of cars. Shame on them. Shame on Menlo Park for prioritizing motor vehicles in the negotiations.

1 person likes this
Posted by Be wary of developers bearing TDMs
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 16, 2012 at 10:51 am

The City of Palo alto doesn't really use any sticks at all in their TDM plans...and they give out all of the carrots up front before property owners deliver car trip reduction.

Developers work with staff on TDMs in place of other more expensive transportation mitigations when a developer is negotiating for more density. The city never builds in enforcment mechanisms (the sticks). Even if they did, they couldn't enforce them because the city doesn't have the staff to follow up on compliance and enforcement.

The carrot, higher density, is given away up front so the developer has no incentive at all to comply.

Be wary of developers asking for TDMs. The city should stop approving TDM plans until they have a strategy and resources to do it right.

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Posted by Alan
a resident of Professorville
on Nov 16, 2012 at 12:03 pm

An innovative, straightforward and quick solution for the parking issues: use an "Even-odd market" approach. Simply alternate days when cars can park in the area from odd number license plates to even number license plates (with home owners given a 1-car street-parking permit valid all days). Then let "market" forces apply, where people will find creative ways to get to work and move around (e.g. scheduled trips, public transport, car share, bike, walk etc). Worthy of a thought?

1 person likes this
Posted by KEN
a resident of Professorville
on Nov 16, 2012 at 12:19 pm

A couple of comments:

On carrots and sticks - My dad used to say that carnivores (ie developers) don't respond very well to an offer of carrots. And if Palo Alto has no sticks -- oh well. In the case of the so-called "incentives" offered to downtown SOFA developers and property owners - they are prime beef steaks that are gobbled up without restraint -- and subsidized by the residents of the area with the quality, livability and value of their homes.

On Downtown Palo Alto development - Every project approved in downtown Palo Alto over the past couple of years has been issued a negative declaration (no problems) under the California Environmental Quality Act review (CEQA) and a statement from Planning that there are no "cumulative" impacts. The traffic back ups on University Avenue, Middlefield and Alma, as well as the parking and traffic impacts in the neighborhoods suggest this may have been overly optimistic, if not purposely contrived.

On Stanford -- Great job. Except that like similar programs by private companies that pay employees not to drive - some people game the system by collecting their rewards, parking in the neighborhoods and walking, biking or skateboarding to work/school. A serious residential parking program is the only way to prevent this misuse of TDM incentives.

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Posted by Bay Area needs collaboration
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 16, 2012 at 12:33 pm

I live within a few blocks of El Camino in Palo Alto and work on El Camino in Menlo Park. As far as I can tell (and I periodically check to see if things have improved), the fact that I cross county lines means I cannot make this trip with only one bus fare or stay on one bus. If I am wrong, then the information made available to the public needs to be fixed. The trip is less than 5 miles in a straight line, but each county has their own bus system and fees.

I would love to walk the short distances to the bus stops and take the bus, however not when I am charged twice for the short distance and have to change buses (with then double wait time).

I am primarily posting because I hope someone with experience will actually tell me I am wrong and that it is actually possible for me to take one bus and pay once (in which case our transit groups need to seriously improve the information on the various websites.

1 person likes this
Posted by commuter
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 16, 2012 at 12:34 pm

The stick approach only works when there are safe and convenient alternatives. Caltrain is already overcrowded with no plans to expand service until electrification happens at some point in the not near future. There is no light rail or BART service to Palo Alto and no plans to build any, ever. Many people would be willing to bicycle to work if there were safer bike paths. Mountain View has a nice cross-town Stevens Creek bike path, but Palo Alto has no such facilities.

Market forces may be able to build new private parking lots, but can these forces really build new bike paths or new public transit? I know that Stanford is proposing to build a new Adobe Creek bike path over Hwy 101, but that took more than a decade of negotiation. Can employer sponsorship pay to accelerate Caltrain's electrification program?

1 person likes this
Posted by Peter
a resident of another community
on Nov 16, 2012 at 12:41 pm

This article follows the typical story line that cars are bad and people need to be stopped from driving. We've been trying to do that for the past 30 or 40 years with ZERO success. Traffic is only going to improve when we make it easier to get around. Fewer impediments. No cut-off streets, no roundabouts, no carpool lanes. None of these things have worked. They've made air pollution worse because people spend more time driving around the obstacles that NIMBYs forced elected officials to put up.

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Posted by commuter
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 16, 2012 at 1:01 pm

Peter - you are just wrong. Any traffic engineer will tell you that building more and more highways (at huge expense) just encourages people to drive more miles to get to their jobs. That of course causes more congestion, more gasoline use, more pollution. The impediments mentioned in the original article are things like freeway interchanges, which are not easily or cheaply fixed.

Even if you do pave all these new roads, you still have the problem of where do you park all the cars? Downtown parking garages are tremendously expensive (like $100 million). Should tax payers pay for these? If a private companies build new garages, would commuters be willing to pay $20/day (or whatever the break-even prices is) to park there?

1 person likes this
Posted by Bike Commuter
a resident of Ventura
on Nov 16, 2012 at 1:06 pm

I've biked to downtown PA for decades and even bought our home because it was on the Bike Blvd. and I saw the sale sign while biking by. It is a short commute and I invest in good rain gear to try to bike year round. I LOVE how I get to work or home feeling refreshed with a clear mind after my 3 mile commute. The time to bike is about about the same as driving due to traffic, esp. with construction delays. I also try to bike for errands in town when possible.

I wish they'd repair the potholes on the bike boulevards as a priority. Some are quite deep and hazardous.

I think more folks would bike if they got into the habit. While it seems inconvenient and may take more time depending on the distance, it can enhance quality of life and peace of mind.

Like in Holland, if more of us bike, the commute will be safer for cyclists.

1 person likes this
Posted by FrankF
a resident of Ventura
on Nov 16, 2012 at 1:13 pm

FrankF is a registered user.

Peter - you are alos wrong when you say "with ZERO success" - as the article itself points out 61% carpool here instead of 80% other places - that's 19% success and does not even count the mass transit ridership.

But I agree that we need large investments in light rail, bus, Caltrain, bicycle paths (crossing 101 is dangerous except at Page Mill and at Ringwood), south bay ferry - everything should be up for discussion.

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Posted by KEN AGAIN
a resident of Professorville
on Nov 16, 2012 at 1:13 pm

Developers and property owners are the ones responsible for providing and paying for the parking needed for those who use their buildings - not the public entity. It is simple planning and zoning policy and the town that doesn't do it and accepts the responsibility to pay for it or that forces the surrounding properties to provide it is --- well, they are not on top of the situation.

I was a city planner for many years in Mountain View and worked to get Light Rail into town and support for the trails. It does take years - we called it advance planning -- apparently a progressive idea to some.

1 person likes this
Posted by Silly
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 16, 2012 at 1:48 pm

Keep dreaming that you're going to abolish cars. People run errands after work, go grocery shopping after work, have to pick the kids up, etc. During the work day, they often go to off-site meetings, out to lunch, to the dentist, etc.

They're not going to do that on bicycles.

If you're going to live in a fantasy world, you should have at least legalized marijuana and gotten the tax benefits rather than spending money on more silly studies.

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Posted by Henry
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 16, 2012 at 1:57 pm

The Palo Alto Comprehensive Plan, the document that guides development only went through 2010. It was based on analysis from the mid 1980s and was adopted in 1998. We are still years away from adopting a new Comprehensive Plan. We were the last City in Santa Clara County to submit a draft Housing Element to the State.

Council apparently doesn't see this as a problem and keeps increasing the scope of the Comprehensive Plan Update. It pushes off the adoption date further and further into the future. Meanwhile, with no new policies in place, the project reviews are based on what Staff and Council think our policies ought to be, rather than what has been reviewed and adopted through a public process that includes CEQA review. The CEQA review process includes an analysis of environmental impacts and identifies required mitigations.

This is like giving developers a get out jail free card. It's the residents and taxpayers that then bear the costs and suffer the consequences.

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Posted by businessdecision
a resident of another community
on Nov 16, 2012 at 2:37 pm

re "I live within a few blocks of El Camino in Palo Alto and work on El Camino in Menlo Park." (by Bay Area needs collaboration)
The transport black hole over the county line is striking. Not too many years ago, the VTA 22 bus went as far as the Menlo Park train station, and I argued strongly (before Palo Alto and Menlo Park City Councils) to keep it running across the county line. VTA argued that SamTrans could take care of that portion of the roadway. But Samtrans 390 only runs about once every 40 mins on weekdays, and KX only about once an hour, and they have no timepoints in Menlo Park. The trains that stop in both places are infrequent.
We do definitely need this collaboration/cooperation.

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Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on Nov 16, 2012 at 2:51 pm

After World War II, there were ideas floated. BART was one, which you ask me wasn't done. We went for freeways, again not done. Bus lines are joke, more light rail lines, more bike trails. 61 percent find driving easier.

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Posted by carol
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 16, 2012 at 4:02 pm

Just wait until the new hospital opens......How many thousands of cars coming and going on Palo Alto streets all hours of the day and night will there be? This is just the beginning! We need to get a handle on this situation.

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Posted by Silly
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 16, 2012 at 4:31 pm

Cue the song "Wishin' and hoping'" for a carless commute...

The staggering lack of reality by our officials continues.

The hospital won't increase traffic, adding more office space won't increase traffic, clogging up traffic with ridiculously timed lights to discourage driving won't increase traffic tie-ups, reducing the number of lanes won't cause any backups while cars try to park...."

For this we pay them money???

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Posted by Lachen
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 16, 2012 at 5:17 pm

Bicycling is admirable, with rewards both to the cyclist and the environment, but it is also punitive to the cyclist, who must breathe the air made foul by the passing cars, most all of which have their windows rolled up, one assumes for protection from the foul air. It was Winston Churchill who said, "The invention of the internal combustion engine is the beginning of the end of civilization." Civilization appears to be driving at a faster and faster speed toward one wonders what end with a windshield too steamed to see clearly ahead.

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Posted by Lachen
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 16, 2012 at 5:18 pm

Bicycling is admirable, with rewards both to the cyclist and the environment, but it is also punitive to the cyclist, who must breathe the air made foul by the passing cars, most all of which have their windows rolled up, one assumes for protection from the foul air. It was Winston Churchill who said, "The invention of the internal combustion engine is the beginning of the end of civilization." Civilization appears to be driving at a faster and faster speed toward one wonders what end with a windshield too steamed to see clearly ahead.

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Posted by horselady
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 16, 2012 at 5:27 pm

I tried public transportation when I lived in SJ. Took 3 hours to go from SJ to Campbell on the bus. Only 40 mintues by car. Six hours a day to commute is unacceptable: cuts into sleep time, errand running time, makes doctor appointments impossible.

My brother-in-law commutes by train from SJ to SF. Takes 2 hrs each way. All his doctors, dentists, etc are in the city because of it. saya he gets a lot of work done on the train, but a few times he has fallen asleep and missed his stop because he has to fet up at thea--crack of dawn to catch a train so that he can get to work on time.

Public transportation just does not work well unless it is ina huge city like NY, or Tokyo, or Paris. Otherwise, ridership cannot be guaranteed. It is too impractical. Even France's TGV is in fiancial trouble.

What does a biker do in bad weather? American bikes do not come with rain canopies.
I was once refused a job by National Semiconductor because I rode a bike 365 days a year, and had no car. They said: what will you do when it rains. I said: carry an umbrella in one hand. The interviewer said: unacceptable, get realistic. you cannot come to work wet. Even though I lived near the company in Sunnyvale at the time!

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Posted by commuter
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 16, 2012 at 7:24 pm

I cannot believe that people are condemning bicycling because it rains here occasionally. Yes, we got some sprinkles today, but I can't even remember the last work day that it rained. Total rainy days can't be more than 5% of work days. Is a 95% success rate so low that you're declaring a complete a complete failure? If you can't afford a rain jacket, then come up with a backup plan like public transit or carpooling or telecommuting on those 5% of days when you can't bicycle.

Sure public transportation has some room for improvement, so lets make those improvements. Many public transit systems around the Bay Area are currently overcrowded (Caltrain, BART, Muni, and others) with standing-room-only and passengers regularly left behind. More people want to use these systems, but do not, because of the crowding issues. This is a reason to invest more in public transit, not less.

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Posted by Bob
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 16, 2012 at 9:41 pm

WHY doesn't Palo Alto install LEFT TURN signals ON University ONTO Middlefield in each direction.. Autos going west in the morning are backed up to almost 101 and in the evening bumper to bumper eastbound through downtown Palo Alto. Only one car if any per light change gets through that intersection to go left onto MIddlefield. So.....savvy drivers divert to Hamilton,etc. westbound or Lytton eastbound and snake down to Chaucer. "Party traffic" is horrendous west bound on Friday and Saturday nights. Why doesn't the Transportation Department wake up to the problems?

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 16, 2012 at 10:35 pm

Whereas my earlier post was directed to the point of attempting to commute without using a car, the reality is that cars are the method of choice for most of us.

The title of the article assumes that there will be people who would be delighted to use alternate means to commute if it was simpler.

For the rest, then Palo Alto transportation gurus seem to suggest that if they make it so difficult to drive around town then the majority will give up and use an alternate method. This is not going to happen.

Accordingly, I would suggest that it makes sense to improve the flow of traffic around town. Roadways around town should be designed to get traffic to where it needs to go in the most efficient manner possible at the speed limit without too many stops and starts. Normally, this is what traffic engineers attempt to do. However, around here this is not the case. The idea seems to be to make it more difficult to drive than it is to walk or ride a bike.

So many of our routes are bottlenecks designed to stop the flow of efficient moving traffic and make it take alternate routes. What comes to my mind immediately is the Alma/SandHill intersection which has been designed by morons for political reasons. I could mention Charleston/Arastradero, but I won't because that is another political bone of contention.

El Camino/Embarcadero is horrendous, particularly the sb/ECR left turn lane to Embarcadero which tales back beyond the turn left into T&C and causes traffic that exits T & C having to cross this tale back and is crazy.

Therefore, I say, fire all the traffic engineers who obviously never drive around Palo Alto at the busiest times of the day, or get them to use bikes or walk to all their destinations they are investigating, after they have come here by train or bus, of course.

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Posted by A neighbor
a resident of another community
on Nov 16, 2012 at 11:34 pm

While Palo Alto may be getting a lot of gleaming new projects, that are harder to approve in Mountain View, Palo Alto long-term livability seems to be heading downwards quickly compared to Mountain View, which has a long-range, long-term view of development and livability. An example of pro-development short-term greed, short-sightedness ruining this soon-to-be once-great town?

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Posted by Limited Stops
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Nov 17, 2012 at 12:31 am

I would take the train more often if it ran more often. As it is, if I miss the train from my station, I have to wait another hour. It hasn't been made practical yet.

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Posted by Richard
a resident of another community
on Nov 17, 2012 at 5:34 am

Of course the situation will only get worse. Plans to deal with increased traffic congestion are either inadequate or have too many budgetary constraints. The corporations, who keep building new buildings with more employees, view congestion as the problem of the municipalities. While the cities are hoping the corporations assist in the planning. When one is stuck in their vehicle endless hours, attempting to get from one end of the SC Valley or SF Peninsula to the other, hopelessness starts to set in.

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Posted by Ken
a resident of Professorville
on Nov 17, 2012 at 8:26 am

Who mentioned CEQA? Palo alto planners have issued neg decks, with no cumulative impacts, no impact on jobs housing balance, no impact on traffic, no neighborhood impacts, etc on every downtown project for the past couple of years. And, they consider parking in residential neighborhoods a "social" impact - not something to mention in a CEQA environmental review.

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Posted by Gisele
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 17, 2012 at 9:26 am

Public transportation is not practical. It is too slow, too infrequent, does not run 24/7, among other impracticalities that make it inefficient. I hav e worked for employers who docked commuters' pay for things like being late because the bus broke down, or the train was late, etc.

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Posted by Not yet
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 17, 2012 at 9:31 am

When public transportation has more routes, more stops, more days, all days, then I will use it. It has to be more convenient and easier to use, as well as more available for everyone, before it will have a profitable ridership. It has none of that now, and until it does, it will run in the red because it does not reach enough people.

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Posted by commuter
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 17, 2012 at 9:33 am

Do employers also dock your pay if an accident causes a traffic jam? Or if you can't find a parking space near work? These happen a lot more often than the train being late.

Public transit can be improved for much less money than building new highways. Those new ramps being built on Hwy 101 right now cost a staggering $100 million of your tax dollars.

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Posted by commuter
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 17, 2012 at 9:35 am

For people who complain about public transit running in the red, where do you think the money to build and maintain our roads and highways comes from? Most of that comes from sales taxes and property taxes, because car registration fees and gasoline taxes are way to low to support car infrastructure.

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Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on Nov 17, 2012 at 11:13 am

Need to make public fast, a choice for drivers. Easy to use, efficent, clean. Just like bike riders moving and you are sitting in traffic. Not everyone will use public transit or ride a bike evert day, but seeing how we built for single drivers for the last 50 years. Putting urban type transit in a suburban area that wants to be small town suburban with thousands of jobs. I'm not just talking about Palo Alto.

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Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on Nov 17, 2012 at 11:16 am

I'm bad lost a word, public transit must be easy to use.

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Posted by Garmin&Bikes
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 17, 2012 at 12:07 pm

Is there a Garmin powered for bicycle riding? I have no sense of direction.

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Posted by commuter
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 17, 2012 at 12:17 pm

Yes, Garmin makes GPS units for bicycles. They are expensive, though. If I get lost, I just pull off the road and bring up Google Maps on my smartphone. Google Maps has lots of bicycle route features.

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Posted by bill
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 17, 2012 at 3:16 pm

Many good thoughts, but it seems to boil down to two major problems: one is lack of coordination of public transportation; the second is that there are too many variables for one size fits all, e.g. different needs for different households, and different lengths of travel.

I agree that penalizing drivers is a lose-lose situation, but traffic engineers keep butting their heads against this stone wall. They really don't have good alternatives to reduce car use beyond a certain level, but they paid to find a way. Hence many poorly thought out ideas.

I don't know the answer. Does anyone?

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Posted by jm
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Nov 17, 2012 at 4:44 pm

Car commuters to Stanford get a great deal if they are willing to walk for five minutes. Drive into Palo Alto, park in the neighborhoods and walk to catch the Margarite shuttle, then get $300 a year for not driving to work!

More and more savvy Stanford employees are using this method to get to work. Some even park their car and get out a bike to ride onto campus. Extremely handy if you need to get about campus during the day.

Also clear to anyone who stops to think for a moment that the 160 foot office tower and three other towers Arrilliaga wants to build at University and El Camino is being quickly pushed through the city council BEFORE Palo Altans start realizing the huge traffic impact from employees driving to and from the new and hugely expanded Stanford medical center.

And the property taxes will go to the county.

El Camino is going to be reduced to two lanes. This plan has been in the works for years. The city planners have the idea that this will make for a pleasant boulevard to encourage people to walk down. Also safer for pedestrians to cross, and people on bicycles.

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Posted by Silly
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 17, 2012 at 6:06 pm

Reduce EL CAMINO to TWO LANES? Are they nuts? Are 101 and 280 next??

And then they'll wonder why sales tax revenues dropped even more.

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Posted by Walter
a resident of another community
on Nov 18, 2012 at 4:15 am

It appears many people want public transportation to take them quickly to exactly where they want to go, 24/7, from within a block of where they are situated. Unfortunately they don't want to pay for it.

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Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on Nov 18, 2012 at 8:39 am

Finding funding for long term transit will be the major task, not tomention what kind of transit project. Minor short term transit and traffice improvements will help. Signal timing, lane improvements, bike lanes, and etc. All will work but for how long when the space is filled. Long term improvements will require how we live, work and play.

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Posted by Unlucky
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 18, 2012 at 5:02 pm

A Neighbor

"While Palo Alto may be getting a lot of gleaming new projects, that are harder to approve in Mountain View, "

Lucky you, developers definitely seem to have it a lot easier in Palo Alto. They have constraints everywhere else, so they come here, and they even get exceptions if something bothers their project.

In general, the city seems to be pro-developer, even though residents bring the income, and developers bring the costs.

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Posted by Steve Raney
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 18, 2012 at 6:21 pm

about the "stick approach."

In "suburban commuting" areas like Palo Alto, sticks work well and the resultant shift from driving alone goes mostly to carpooling.

European and Asian gas prices are roughly $8 per gallon. Per capita annual driving (vehicle miles traveled or VMT) is one-third less than the US. The influential US non-partisan climate-transportation policy analysis, The Moving Cooler Report, agrees that a phased-in $5 per gallon gas tax increase will reduce US transportation GHG by 28%. No one contests that raising the cost of driving decreases the amount of driving. But, alas, neither political party will suggest even a $0.05 gas tax increase. There doesn't seem to be a way to have an "adult conversation" in the US about raising the price of driving.

Says Bay Area MTC about charging for parking (another way to increase the cost of driving): "There is no question that the provision of free parking is a huge incentive for people to drive to work. A 2000 survey of Bay Area commuters found that while 77 percent of commuters drove alone when free parking was available, only 39 percent drove alone when they had to pay to park. Additionally, among commuters with free parking, only 4.8 percent commuted by transit. By contrast, among commuters without free parking, 42 percent commute by transit."

From the set of US employers with free workplace parking, there are two virtuous outliers: Google Mountain View at 52% SOV (single occupancy vehicle) and Microsoft Redmond at 62% SOV. Both Google and Microsoft spend much more on commuting benefits than can be expected from marginally profitable firms. Traditional free-parked corporate commute trip reduction programs are comprised only of incentives without a driving price increase for SOV. These programs are disappointingly ineffective, often yielding only 1% commute shift. Stanford does a great job of pricing parking and of making parking a really big hassle. (Palo Alto Council is really good at demanding that Stanford have "no new net trips," but for some strange reason, Council hesitates when it comes to demanding that Palo Alto voters reduce their driving.)

Overall, the US commuting market has 102M individual commuters with 91% provided with free parking.

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Posted by Unlucky
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 18, 2012 at 7:03 pm

Steve Raney

"There doesn't seem to be a way to have an "adult conversation" in the US about raising the price of driving."

Palo Alto could lead, by raising the price of driving in Palo Alto any ideas?

"among commuters with free parking, only 4.8 percent commuted by transit. By contrast, among commuters without free parking, 42 percent commute by transit."

City Hall wants to increase parking, encourage driving, so we're stuck somewhere closer to the 4.8%

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Posted by Unlucky
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 18, 2012 at 7:47 pm

Steve Raney,

I googled you and found Web Link

"The Ultra personal rapid transit (PRT) is a new and innovative on-demand system for developed or urban environments. Using small, driverless electric vehicles that run on guideways, the lightweight and flexible nature of the system enables it to be retrofitted into a broad range of environments and provide transportation that is environmentally friendly and operationally efficient."

This sounds interesting for Palo Alto.

A related town square thread "Group calls for more rail crossings, parks around Caltrain tracks" states a priority - to improve connectivity between east and west Palo Alto. The City suggests opening 15 pedestrian crossings, but I think the real problem are not pedestrian but cars.

Dreaming out loud, but if only to reduce cars in Palo Alto, it would be nice if all the parking would stay along 101 and 280, and thee pods could transport commuters into central Palo Alto, or have various routes to major offices like Stanford Research Park.

They look faster and more fun than buses.

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Posted by Janet Lafleur
a resident of Mountain View
on Nov 19, 2012 at 9:05 am

From Silly: "People run errands after work, go grocery shopping after work, have to pick the kids up, etc. During the work day, they often go to off-site meetings, out to lunch, to the dentist, etc. They're not going to do that on bicycles."

To Silly: Not true. I do everything you mention above as a part of my bike commute(except the kids since I don't have any). And I do it in a dress and heels. And in rain, dark and cold. With the proper gear--saddlebags, baskets, fenders, raincoats--it's not hard at all. If I'm going more than 5 miles one way or in a hurry, I take my bike on Caltrain.

I live in Mountain View and work by San Jose airport. My dentist is at Stanford, my doctor at PAMF, my primary shopping areas are San Antonio and Stanford Shopping Centers. I've met our PR firm for dinner on University Ave and business alliance partners on Castro Street. I've also Caltrain + biked to both SFO and SJC for 1-2 day business trips. The more I bike, the fewer limitations I find.

I don't do this to save the planet, I do it because it's pleasant, convenient, and I get a continuous stream of low intensity exercise. Our area is one of the best in the country for bicycling, in part due to visionary folks like the late Ellen Fletcher.

Look beyond the excuses and find a way to work bicycling, walking and transit into some of your daily trips. Every trip counts.

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Posted by Donald
a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 19, 2012 at 9:30 am

I only have dentist appointments twice a year, so that is a pretty flimsy excuse for driving to work every day. There may be occasions when people need to drive, but that is OK. We don't need everybody to bike to work every day. If people do it once a week that is a 20% reduction in car volumes, which is enough to eliminate congestion. Many people start by biking once a week, then find that the barriers they imagined are not so high after all and they enjoy it, increasing their percentage.

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Posted by transit friend
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 27, 2012 at 5:05 pm

Regarding no bus checkpoints in Menlo Park: not all bus stops are listed on a schedule due to space limitations. Learn more about transit by surfing the transit agency's website. They generally have a customer service center and the staff would love to answer your questions about where the bus stops. Get out and explore instead of saying no from the sidelines.

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Posted by Larry Morris
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 15, 2014 at 1:55 pm

Interesting stats about commuting in the area:
Web Link

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Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 15, 2014 at 3:03 pm

Statistical representations are weak when undated. Larry's weblink above looks like 2012 data, like when this thread was started. Fortunately our comments here get an automatic time-stamp. Whether commute patterns have changed much in the past two or three years would be interesting. Most major alterations I read or hear about are anecdotal or due to disruptive construction projects. Data collection methods may be questionable, since many employees give answers the survey wants to see or transit providers inflate their figures to increase funding.

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Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 15, 2014 at 7:43 pm

I am tired of people saying we are never going to have BART. BART close to the 280 side of town would help greatly with a Stanford Station and VA station.

If the BART is going to Santa Clara than Mountain View will follow - they are on top of their game. They have CALTRAIN, Lite rail, and buses.

As to electrification of CALTRAIN in preparation for HSR forget it. Both Japan and China use maglev technology for their trains - rides on air at 250+ miles per hour.

We need to step up to the best technology which is mag lev - everyone we point to is using it.
We keep getting trapped in old technology and limited options.

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Posted by Mr.Recycle
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 15, 2014 at 9:03 pm

@Resident 1 - China has a single 19 mile maglev line, and Japan has a sing 5.6 mile maglev line, so not like maglev is widely in use anywhere. You can pretty up trains, but the whole concept is centuries old tech. If you want to step up why not look ahead past trains.

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Posted by Christopher Chiang
a resident of Mountain View
on Nov 16, 2014 at 10:32 am

How do you reduce traffic, increase affordable housing, and reduce our carbon emissions all at the same time?

Zone to permit developers and residents to consider building extreme microhousing by our regions largest work hubs, with the condition these micro-houses will not build/design for any private cars, so no parking for cars other than for shared car services like ZipCars and shuttles, and no car garages but instead bike garages.

Many won't want to live there, they don't need to. There's enough who want to save for some future larger housing (like when one starts a family), who at the same time want to live on an extreme eco-footprint.

Micro-housing in Portland is suffering since it was not adjacent to companies, and added to local parking problems. We can easily substitute some future commercial development to build micro-houses (no impact on open space). Micro-housing is the only type of housing that can be affordable on such expensive land.

For anyone who thinks these would be dorms or slums, haven't seen what a 100 square foot design can look like, this video shows one such design: Web Link

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Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 16, 2014 at 11:09 am

People do what they need to do at different times in their lives. School age children want to bike with friends. Younger adults want to live in the city and take the bus down the peninsula. People with children and working parents need to be able to leave and pick up, drop off, and be available when needed. Older people may have health issues in which they need a car to haul groceries, etc. Trying to dictate how people work and manage their day-to-day lives is an opinion based on the age and health of the opinion maker.

Growing up in los Angeles we used to love taking the Wilshire Blvd. bus to downtown to shop at the big stores and go to the main library. That was a different time and age and it is no longer advisable to allow young teenagers to go downtown and visit the big city - at least in Los Angeles.

Unfortunately the opinion makers usually have an agenda - a company that is selling the components for electrification, or a union that will benefit from some purported service - like building the infrastructure. All those are important elements in the building of the economy but you cannot force feed options down people's throat and say that the total community is benefiting. The people that are providing the service are directly benefiting and the populace then has to chose which is the right fit at any time in their lives.

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