Planners offer predictions on post-pandemic traffic | May 1, 2020 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - May 1, 2020

Planners offer predictions on post-pandemic traffic

Experts expect biking, telecommuting will remain popular after shutdown

by Gennady Sheyner

Cleaner air, quiet highways and roads that have suddenly become far more bike friendly than anyone could have imagined are constant reminders that the health crisis has a hopeful side.

This story contains 1591 words.

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Staff Writer Gennady sheyner can be emailed at [email protected]


Posted by What Will They Do Next
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 29, 2020 at 11:55 am

We should enjoy this while it lasts (the traffic, air, etc). It'll be over soon as normalcy returns.

Posted by John Guislin
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 29, 2020 at 12:27 pm

The pandemic has forced many businesses to embrace telecommuting like never before. It took a life-threatening disease to get us here and we should not ignore what we have learned. Let's require businesses where teleworking has been proven to work to maintain a significant percent of employees (25%?) in teleworking positions. Obviously this cannot work for every business but many medium and large companies now know they can implement it with the right push. It would be a win for all of us.

Posted by Steve Raney
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 29, 2020 at 1:59 pm

Gennady, Kudos for the Weekly dedicating 1700 words to this topic. Many transport professionals are thinking about how this will play out. We're seeing 2 or 3 Zoom webinars per week on related topics.

Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 29, 2020 at 2:10 pm

Posted by John Guislin, a resident of Crescent Park

>> The pandemic has forced many businesses to embrace telecommuting like never before.

Here's hoping that "Silicon Valley" can figure this out. Air Quality, traffic, etc., have all been so much better. Let's just keep telecommuting as much as possible.

Posted by Join me for a ride!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 29, 2020 at 4:15 pm

This truly is a great time to try bicycling. Try biking to your workplace as an outing right now. The route you'd choose to bike might be different for the one you'd drive in a car. Go to Google maps and click on the bike option. It will direct you to quieter streets and some off-road trails that you might not already know about.

Biking is a great way to start your work day. My husband bikes 18 miles to his job via Bay Trails. He loves it. My work is more local, so I have an easier ride--about 20 minutes. It gets my blood flowing and my brain working. I arrive feeling great!

Posted by Join me for a ride!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 29, 2020 at 4:18 pm

Another outing might be a ride to the train station. You might be surprised to find how much easier it is to bike than to drive and park.

Posted by Don't do anything extra
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 29, 2020 at 6:01 pm

Encouraging people to go exercise on closed streets is in conflict with the shelter in place order. That order says to stay at home except for essential tasks. This is about trying to impose a road diet on people, just when we nmwant to use our cars to protect us from airborne virus, and from other people, to do those essential tasks.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 29, 2020 at 6:47 pm

With schools staggering start times or even days as the new school year approaches, it will probably change commutes too.

If PAUSD does alternate days in classroom with days using online teaching, or alternating morning and afternoon groups, then the obvious thing is that we won't have the normal frenzy of getting all students arriving at school at the same time.

Of course we don't know for sure that any of these things will happen, but who knows what the future holds.

Interesting scenario.

Posted by Sense
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 29, 2020 at 6:50 pm

At some point, the premise that we should bias and twist our reasoning in every way to advantage tech whales to continue cramming as many workers into this area as possible, while avoiding seeing the ills, must hit the harsh reality of the pandemic.

The tech companies already should have been thinking about creating satellite locations -- even founding and growing new towns in areas that made sense. If you are telecommuting a lot, it makes little sense to have to do that from a tiny chicken coop that cost so much you are mortgaging your future. The companies haven't cared what the overcrowding did to the quality of life and costs for everyone else, but the improvement of the air and roads have been like that scene from the Divine Comedy (hell) in which the hungry are placed tantalizingly close to fruit that moves away from them when it's just within their grasp. For all those who came within the last 10 years, this is what things used to be like here, not a million years ago, but so recently (including during good times for Silicon Valley), there was always hope that this wave of tech whales would see the light and stop destroying things for everyone else.

This is a vast nation. The ills of overcrowding and sprawl can be solved with more support for intelligent satellite growth, increasing the number of job centers so that companies still get the benefit of enough of a workforce in one place but not growing like a cancer in one place and steamrollering out everybody else.

It's too bad that companies and the state didn't put some investment into satellites when times were good, the economy would be much more resilient after something like this if they had. When I say something like this, that goes not just for pandemic, but for drought, terrorism, natural disaster, etc etc. Bloomberg announced as the pandemic began that they were splitting their operations and moving part away from New York in order to make the company more resilient if one location was hit. That's good advice for a long list of possible reasons large companies would want to divide up a little to become more resilient.

Planners still seem stuck on the idea that they must densify! build! build! build! Are construction workers going back to work to create more underparked chicken coops based on the old world order that only the richest deserve a decent quality of life and that to serve that, it's necessary to ignore the environmental devastation, health consequences (not just from infections), and negative consequences to middle- and unskilled labor of infinite densification?

Yes, electric car availability for more people along with telecommuting will help -- for one, they will increase worker productivity because they allow everyone to spend less time commuting. In Hong Kong, which has always been the endpoint of this densification journey, with the best transit in the world used by like 90% of everyone, people still can't live near their jobs, and the average commute times are similar to Los Angeles. Just the richest get to treat their time like it's valuable and use cars. We are not a small island like Hong Kong, and their are large stretches of the country where growing a few towns would make sense.

Bottom line: what happens now will depend a lot on the tech whales and whether they decide to move in the direction of growing satellites and not cramming everyone into here, especially since their workers can be productive from home, and clearly don't mix much with the local community or care much about what they can do to solve problems. They can do that anywhere, including nicer less crowded cheaper places. That, and electric cars instead of putting all the money into large mass transit could help a lot. (I have always said, why not make I-5 into an autonomous electric vehicle autobahn, in which cars end up linked together, instead of spending the money on high speed rail?)

Posted by David Page
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 29, 2020 at 8:57 pm

The average USA light vehicle gets 22 mpg , or 24.7 {23.3?}
The average commute distance is 32 miles - round trip.

Tailpipe emissions = 19.6 lb CO2/gal,
and Upstream emissions = 5 lb. CO2e / gal
{“upstream” emissions can range from about 3.35 pounds per gallon to 6.7 pounds per gallon.}

19.6 + 5.0 = 24.6 lbs of GHG's per gallon

I get 1.37 gallons burned , per day , per person , with an average commute,
which means 33.7 lbs of chemicals (Carbon monoxide, Nitrogen dioxide, Sulfur dioxide, Particulate matter, Benzene, Formaldehyde, Carbon dioxide) emitted per person, per day.

The ramifications of those numbers are...! Does that seem right, one average USA commuter puts more than 4 tons of CO2e pollution up into the air/atmosphere each year?

Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 29, 2020 at 10:47 pm

Time to rethink transportation systems that depend on density to achieve their false economies.

What are the real costs of Caltrain, VTA, BART, etc, when you add in the health care costs associated with these government run transportation systems that provide an ideal environment for "accelerated transmission" of any contagion including the usual seasonal flu?

What is the value of a transportation system that will have to be shut down again the next time there is another COVID? Why are the beaches going to be closed when Caltrain, BART, VTA, SFO, SJC, and LAX are still open?

It is outrageous that these psychopathic bureaucrats are still scheming to socially engineer us into consumers of their toxic services in the middle of a pandemic. Since mass transit is going to be unusable for the duration of the pandemic, shouldn't these high functioning grifters be reassigned to some other government job that is actually useful in the middle of a pandemic?

Posted by TS Member
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 29, 2020 at 11:20 pm

Have people noticed how quiet the sky has been above Palo Alto, by and large, with the collapse of air travel since the start of this crisis? I have and I am really happy to be able to sleep without being constantly woken up in spite of using ear plugs. I can now also enjoy my backyard where I no longer had spent any time recently due to the incessant noise. Now that you can hear the difference, can we all agree that Palo Alto is normally subjected to an inordinate amount of airplane noise, along with some neighboring communities?

Now would be a good time to reassess the whole situation of commercial airplane noise in the area. It has made our lives miserable and it does not have to be this way. Rethinking the whole pattern and making overdue changes would be welcome. Let us rethink the flight paths in the area to alleviate the horrible amount of jet noise we have had in this town and nearby. The city should tackle noise as a major issue in its attempt to shore up our declining quality of life.

Posted by Transportation "experts"
a resident of Mayfield
on Apr 30, 2020 at 5:35 am

All these so-called experts like Steve Raney ever accomplish is blowing endless money on these things and then scratching their heads wodnerig why people still solo-commute and why there's empty buses, trains and unused bike lanes and carpool lanes everywhere.

Its the kind of thinking is what led to Ross road debacle, and lane reductions on Charleston. The article admits that much, but doesn't even see it as much of a problem.

Steve Raney thinks this will "nudge" people towards riding a bicycle. But most people need to get on the freeway to drive to another city to work, people aren't just going to merrily bike up Ross road onto Oregon to merge their bicycles down the freeway ramp and onto 101. Why does he ignore this glaring reality?

Disband the TMA, stop paying these armchair academic "experts". HANDS OFF THE ROADS. Prioritize *DRIVING* because that's what most people do.

Experimenting with the roads to try and "discourage SOVs" has failed at every turn and made traffic worse. Why do we keep paying these people?

Posted by Critical Thinker
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 30, 2020 at 9:51 am

@"Don't do anything extra",

The County order lists recreation as an essential activity and specifically includes bicycling. Read it. Web Link

@David Page,

Where did you find those values for tailpipe emissions? By simple conservation of mass, they seem wildly inaccurate. A gallon of water weighs about 7 pounds. A gallon of fuel isn't much different. Even by adding O2 from the combustion process, 19.6lbs of CO2 per gallon seems impossible.

Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 30, 2020 at 11:07 am

Posted by Critical Thinker, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

>> Even by adding O2 from the combustion process, 19.6lbs of CO2 per gallon seems impossible.

It depends on the type of fuel, e.g. gasoline or diesel, but, look again:

"It seems impossible that a gallon of gasoline, which weighs about 6.3 pounds, could produce 20 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) when burned. However, most of the weight of the CO2 doesn't come from the gasoline itself, but the oxygen in the air."

Web Link

Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on May 7, 2020 at 7:40 am

Commuters are going to be afraid to use carpools or public transit until a COVID vaccine is easily available. We don't have enough room on the roads or in the parking lots for everyone to drive a single-occupancy car to work. We need to encourage employers to let people work from home whenever possible. ALso encourage bicycling to work whenever possible, including building more bike lanes and other safe routes to work.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 7, 2020 at 9:18 am

It is easy to blame employers, particularly of big companies. They are in fact doing quite well with the majority of their employees working from home.

The biggie is going to be the schools. We all know that commutes are much easier when school is out. Whether the kids are walking, biking or being driven to school, the danger zone for commute times will be the school schedules. On top of the students, there are also the teaching staff and all the support roles of admin, staff and parent volunteers, who clog up the commute getting to and from school.

Get the schools to stagger their days, particularly the secondary schools. Do all students need to be on campus 8 - 3 five days a week? Can some do 10 - 5? Can some do M, W, and alternate F, while others do the T, Th, alternate F? Can schools accept dance classes, swim lessons, sports, in lieu of PE? Can choir, band, orchestra be after school electives either done by school or by church, or other type of group?

The schools can get back to teaching academics and the "electives" can be done by groups other than schools and credits for extra curricula activities done by organized bodies. Vouchers can be given by schools for those needing financial help to pay for some of the classes or activities that are needed as requirements. Schools will save money on less need for fancy rooms of equipment and teachers, or else they can be used by other groups as after school extra curricula run by the credentialed teachers on an optional basis.

Obviously my thoughts are not necessarily covering all aspects of how this can be done, but definitely getting more education done away from the school campus is a worthy goal to help the issue of huge numbers of people needing to be squeezed into a relatively small campus for the same hours every day. Social distancing would be helped by this also.

Posted by Silence, Ah
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 7, 2020 at 10:11 am

I'm totally enjoying the silence, no more highway in the sky. If the airlines go broke, I'm fine with that.

My vegetable garden no longer has soot on the lemons, they are bright yellow and clean. Everything is thriving with this clean air.

Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 7, 2020 at 10:23 am

Posted by resident, a resident of Midtown

>> We don't have enough room on the roads or in the parking lots for everyone to drive a single-occupancy car to work. We need to encourage employers to let people work from home whenever possible.

True, but, I'm noticing a big uptick in what looks like construction-related traffic. I'm wondering how well traffic would be doing right now if we didn't have much heavy construction going on. Not to mention maybe get the potholes caused by heavy trucks filled in so the Prius wheels wouldn't drop into them.

We have too many big buildings around here already. Let's make do with what we have. "Make do" would include software development companies make do by letting more people work from home more of the time.

Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 7, 2020 at 7:16 pm

When will transportation planners pull their heads out of the sand and stop trying to force people into mass transit systems that limit their employment and business opportunities and put them at risk of catastrophic loss associated contracting a deadly disease?

If we add health care costs and missed work to the operating losses of these transit systems what are the real costs to our society?

"New York City’s multi-pronged subway system was a major disseminator –if not the principal transmission vehicle –of coronavirus infection during the initial takeoff of the massive epidemic that became evident throughout the city during March 2020. The near shutoff of subway ridership in Manhattan –down by over 90 percent at the end of March –correlates strongly with the substantial increase in the doubling time of new cases in this borough. Subway lines with the largest drop in ridership during the second and third weeks of March had the lowest subsequent rates of infection in the zip codes traversed by their routes. Maps of subway station turnstile entries, superimposed upon zip code-level maps of reported coronavirus incidence, are strongly consistent with subway-facilitated disease propagation. Reciprocal seeding of infection appears to be the best explanation for the emergence of a single hot-spot in Midtown West in Manhattan."

The above quote is from the abstract of MIT Professor Jeffery Harris's study entitled "The Subways Seeded the Massive Coronavirus Epidemic in New York City". Web Link

Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 7, 2020 at 7:24 pm

The bright side is the $100 on my Clipper card will last me until 2035.

Posted by RE Agent
a resident of Portola Valley
on May 8, 2020 at 10:03 am

[Post removed.]

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