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In search of the new commute

Original post made on Oct 16, 2015

In late August, Wendy Silvani met with a group of employees from The Epiphany, an eight-story hotel that in many ways epitomizes Palo Alto's problematic prosperity.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, October 16, 2015, 12:00 AM

Comments (31)

Posted by Elaine Uang
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 16, 2015 at 9:46 am

It's very gratifying to see Palo Alto move forward on this initiative. 2+ years ago I helped organize a community forum, Growth Without Gridlock (Web Link with Brodie Hamilton, Gary Heap and Wendy Silvani, to explore ideas for managing traffic, parking and transportation challenges. As we noted then, good transportation policy begins with good data collection and collaboration with local businesses. Two years later it's nice to see Palo Alto proactively moving in the right direction to manage the transportation situation and help people of all income levels find better ways to get around.

I hope the TMA tries many new things soon and finds success (and even failures) with their program launches. THere's no silver bullet and we can learn from all of our tries. Above all, I hope the TMA finds the stable funding it will require for operations and increased programming, as it is a much needed tool in our local planning toolkit. Thank you to all the former and current Palo Alto electeds for showing leadership and moving forward the TMA and TDM efforts. I hope you will continue to support in the near term.

Posted by Sandra
a resident of Professorville
on Oct 16, 2015 at 9:55 am

A wonderfully thorough article that articulates our issues and some really interesting -- and potentially game-changing solutions. So pleased to have a group of committed, intelligent and thoughtful people working on this seemingly intractable problem. It's good to see some hard data around who's driving, where they're coming from and when. Let's make decisions made on data not on emotional impressions that demand more parking -- making our region even more congested. It's not easy and I thank all those who are working hard on finding solutions.
I see a glimmer of hope here.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 16, 2015 at 10:15 am

I think it is wonderful to hear how by helping one by one to improve their commute. This is very worthwhile and good to hear.

I think it is useful to hear these stories and how others can be helped just by hearing others' stories.

People who work regular shifts at regular times in regular places are the ideal candidates for public transportation. Helping them see alternatives to driving does help.

However, how does it help those who perhaps work irregular hours, whose shifts change each week? I know that people who are permanently subbing at different schools each day around the District for example, are people who are going to find public transportation difficult.

I would genuinely like to see out of town (Baylands and near 280) parking lots with shuttles that go directly to downtown without stopping at every block get workers to their jobs from the highways and other entrances into the town.

I would also like to see shuttles that cross the Mountain View and Menlo Park borders but still designed as shuttles rather than VTA/SamTrans bus routes.

I would also like to see better designed shuttles to get to our middle and high schools, not just for students, but for teachers and administrators to use also.

This article shows what a good start looks like. Thank you.

Posted by Adina
a resident of Menlo Park
on Oct 16, 2015 at 10:15 am

It's exciting to have data about the transportation patterns and needs of commuters. This is generating practical ideas about how to reduce traffic and parking demand. Looking forward to getting started with programs to provide more cost-effective commute options.

Posted by Chip
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 16, 2015 at 10:31 am

Chip is a registered user.

This is useful information. It doesn't excuse the City's practice of allowing a hotel developer to buy his way out of providing 200 parking spaces by adding "in lieu" fees. It doesn't help the overall downtown traffic congestion as drivers circle blocks searching for parking that isn't there. I think we'll see more downtown residential front yards turned into dedicated parking spaces by homeowners whose nannies, housekeepers, gardeners, and guests need a place to park.

Maybe PA can pass an ordinance that PA North residential tenants may not have cars & rent exclusively to bicyclists?

I think I'll shop online instead of in downtown stores or confine myself to Stanford Shopping Center for retail needs. Town & Country Village is a mess of congested parking & it's car lanes built in the '50s are too narrow for today's SUVs, mini or maxi vans & long bed trucks.

Posted by Adina
a resident of Menlo Park
on Oct 16, 2015 at 10:42 am

@chip - why should in-lieu fees only be able to go to parking that encourages people to drive, rather than to programs that help people commute without driving. Since traffic is also a big problem, doesn't it make sense to invest in solutions for commuting that reduce traffic?

Posted by commonsense
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 16, 2015 at 11:34 am

This is not a Palo Alto problem. It's a Silicon Valley "problem", a result of economic success. A regional transportation strategy, with politicians able to execute it (good luck) is what we need or the traffic/economic success will only get worse. MASSIVE transportation and vision is needed or nothing will change. Electrifying the train is all well and good but what we really need are thousands of miles of subways, light rails, trains and gondolas. Listening to fellow Palo Altans complain about the shadow a 51' tall building might cast is old and tiring and totally out of tune with reality. We need more housing in silicon valley and it will only come with greater density and height allowance. This is not a farm town anymore - get over it already or move to a farm!

Posted by Resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 16, 2015 at 11:37 am

I agree with commonsense. We need to stop listening to all the very short term, short sighted "visionaries" and come up with a well thought out strategy for the inevitable long term growth in this region. Denying it will only spell trouble in the long run. Look at what the past denial/planning has gotten us.

Posted by LizzyBell
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 16, 2015 at 12:14 pm

Housing, Jobs, Schools. When Palo Alto visualizes that their workforce also desires to be residents - living and working within 2 or 3 miles of their jobs and families will reduce the carbon footprint and bring noise pollution to a more tolerable level. Provide a housing bridge to the 80 percent of the low-income Palo Alto workforce who trim our hedges, care for our children, serve our food and clean our bathrooms. When coming from a 10 - 40mile distance, pumping gas costs less than stepping on a train or a bus. While many high-tech workers have the luxury to work from their laptops while sitting on the train, most service workers are not paid that way. Only virtually can we have our cake and eat it too.

Posted by resident
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 16, 2015 at 12:38 pm

It is all about the Train which is already running to capacity at rush hour. Meanwhile...fleet of empty busses on El Camino.

Posted by Chip
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 16, 2015 at 12:58 pm

Chip is a registered user.

@ Adina-
My point is that it is a mistake to develop any project without adequate on site parking for the intended users, especially for a hotel or office building.

Joie de vivre made it sound good - convert senior housing (few of whose residents drive) which Palo Alto also needs to a hotel! Great!! It's only patrons will arrive & depart by CalTrain so parking isn't needed? Balderdash! Big local companies have 2-4 day meetings @ that hotel & half the attendees are employed at the local campus, no where near CalTrain, so those employees have to drive. We all know how good the bus system here is NOT. Many out-of-town hotel guests rent cars to travel locally & see sights. Where do they park those cars? Not at the hotel.

The concept of "in lieu" fees is wrong & adds to street congestion. A properly managed city budget will have provided for infrastructure maintenance without living off one-time payments from developers who want exceptions to zoning & building regulations. Eventually, it will all be developed so who'll pony up money then?

Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 16, 2015 at 1:06 pm

Very good article; highlights the first mile/last mile issues all commuters face. Left out of the article is the fact that we have too many different public transit governing bodies which are sometimes in competition with each other (eg. is the Rapid Bus Transit proposal by the Santa Clara VTA to take over 2 lanes of El Camino Real exclusively for buses - which duplicates what Caltrain does).

And the article highlights locating work near the transit hubs, not residences, which is the opposite of what the politicians in Palo Alto seem to emphasize.

And maybe what should be required is that each employer in Palo Alto get taxed on each employee who does not have a GO pass or monthly bus pass to help fund the transportation management; this tax can then be used to buy train or monthly bus passes for the employees who cannot afford them.

Posted by Neilson Buchanan
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 16, 2015 at 1:22 pm

I am a small, voluntary, financial investor in the TMA. In fact, I may be the only investor except the City of Palo Alto. As a member of the public, I attend as many of the TMA meeting as possible. Here is my take.
1) The City's investment of $499,880 over a few years is irrationally small given the enormity of the traffic problems. The TMA as currently configured is a timid approach unbecoming to a city that claims to be world class. A fragmented employer TMA is a real challenge and requires massive front end investment and an inspirational leader.
2)The TMA goal should immediately include Town and Country and California Avenue commercial core; funding should be increased accordingly. Either Stanford University or the TMA should encompass Stanford Research Park.
3) Exactly what was the in lieu fee contribution from the Epiphany Hotel developer? Was it proportionate to benefits received. I will post the amount if I can find the information buried in the city website?
4) Palo Alto deserves a world class TMA including residents who live near the California and University Avenue commercial cores.
5) Within a few weeks city staff may propose a new garage on city property. If we are serious about climate change and traffic reduction, then a new garage is ridiculous allocation of resources. This capital could propel Palo Alto's baby step TMA into a serious endeavor.

Posted by Spoiled
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 16, 2015 at 1:31 pm

Palo Alto is out of space. The city needs to halt further commercial development. Why don't all the spoiled, whining 24-35 year olds move to East Palo Alto where housing is affordable. But no, they want "it all" now. They also want rent control.

Posted by Anneke
a resident of Professorville
on Oct 16, 2015 at 1:50 pm

An effective and efficient multi-integrated regional transportation system is critical in enhancing everyone's quality of life.

As the article states, right now, each transportation system seems to operate independently from one-another.

It would be worthwhile to do a study of all the transportation systems:
o Their routes and stops
o Their times of departures and arrivals
o How many people are on a system
o And more.....

If we could better coordinate all these systems, we may already go a long way in reducing the present transportation system, which would then positively influence affordable housing, which in turn would enhance people's quality of life.

Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 16, 2015 at 1:52 pm

What is missing is a rational regional plan to site industry near housing, and to get support workers from their homes to their jobs. Local "solutions" like TMA and the unsung failure known as TDM don't cut it, even if they actually worked within their geographical scope.

Moving software jobs is super easy (which will be the downfall of this boom that has everyone all tizzied up). Designating zones regionally for new industry is much, much simpler than scurrying about trying to slip in housing following a constantly changing, willy-nilly scattering of employers. And it would equalize the distribution of economic opportunity.

Why the institutional allergy to taking control?

Posted by Midtown
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 16, 2015 at 1:52 pm

What about tolls for single out of town drivers during commute hours. Congestion tolls!

Posted by Bonnie Doon
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 16, 2015 at 1:56 pm

I would rephrase the title of this article: In need of no commute - how Palo Altans will encourage a new path to live and work within climate change.

Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 16, 2015 at 1:56 pm

"What about tolls for single out of town drivers during commute hours. Congestion tolls!"

And double tolls for PA residents commuting out, which is about half the working resident population. They occupy housing that could be used for the local workforce.

Posted by Jane
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 16, 2015 at 2:19 pm

For four years the winter weather has been pleasant, but if this year truly turns out to be the second wettest El Nino in the last twenty or thirty decades, I wonder how many will take the train if it involves walking 15 or 20 minutes in drenching rains? Also, VTA provides so few bus shelters along El Camino. Either from winter rain or from blazing hot cancer causing sun.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 16, 2015 at 2:22 pm

Serious question. How good is ZipCar for downtown residents?

I know people in San Francisco who consider it wonderful for their lifestyle.

Why are we not promoting ZipCar in new residential communities?

Why is there not a ZipCar for the residential units at JCC?

Car share programs will help those who want to commute by train or bus on a regular basis but still want car ownership benefits for weekends and evenings. Shouldn't this be part of the mix?

Posted by traffic and parking
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 16, 2015 at 3:18 pm

I think it's really important for the city of Palo Alto to see and understand that traffic and parking are tradeoffs. If you build lots of parking and you don't even price it, you encourage people to drive here and that creates traffic and congestion. The more parking you build, the more traffic you're going to get. If you want to reduce congestion, then you need to offer less free parking. I for one often take the train into the city precisely because I know I'm going to have a hard time finding parking. So I leave the car at home. If SF built plentiful parking garages everywhere, then why wouldn't I drive there?

That being said, you can't morally cut out all the parking if you're not providing real alternatives to driving. And that's where Palo Alto really needs to step up its game to make other modes of transit far more appealing. It sounds like Wendy and her team are doing a great job coming up with creative solutions and I hope they keep going with them. Let's pilot a bunch of things and see what works and what doesn't, learn, and move forward. We can't just stick our hands in the sand though and pretend that these tradeoffs aren't real.

Posted by neighbor
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 16, 2015 at 4:47 pm

I moved here a few decades ago in part because Palo Alto was so easy to get around compared to other cities, and so calm. I can't remember the last time I've been to the University area since the boom, though. I miss my favorite restaurants but can't handle the traffic and parking problems. University Ave is now for Palantir and other tech employees I guess.

Posted by KenAgain
a resident of another community
on Oct 16, 2015 at 5:18 pm

A decade ago I appealed the hotel dreaming it might help wake up the City about the problems it was causing. It didn't. Development without meeting parking needs continues and Palo Alto continues to "Study" the issue. And the developers and commercial property owners responsible for paying for viable solutions continue to reap the financial benefits - even beyond the $500 million plus subsidy given to them by the City (the value of parking not provided).

Posted by out of control
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 16, 2015 at 11:06 pm

The in lieu fee actually paid by Epiphany is difficult or impossible to determine leaving it open to conjecture,absent disclosure by the City to clear-up confusion on this.

The absence of a complete fully operational regional rail system at the center of a public transportation system as exists in European countries cannot be overcome by a TMA program. As a society and a local community
here in Palo Alto we have not planned for,and have given away and lost control of our future.

Posted by Old Pro
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 17, 2015 at 7:25 am


When you hear/read "non-profit", realize that a non-profit is a structure to reward insiders with highly competitive compensation under the guise of social virtue. It's a great gig, revenue must be spent to have zero profit.

As such, nonprofits tend to raise money from government/donors, pay insiders very well, enable the insiders to feel virtuous, but only nibble at the edges of problem. They never never solve the problem. Indeed, it's in the insiders' interest for the problem to continue.

Here, do you think that this "budding Palo Alto non-profit" will change the way people get to work? Or will they collect monies from government/donors, and pay themselves very well to write airy communications and reports, do outreach, and make a barely perceptible change? Experience says the latter.

Posted by Bunyip
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 18, 2015 at 10:10 am

I don't think we have a traffic congestion problem, we have a traffic management problem. There is no coordination of red lights throughout the district. Why can't a commuter get from Stanford to the 101 or from downtown to the 101 without a red light? Seems to me that unclogging the arterial is the best approach that is low cost and readily available right now, while we waste millions on consultants and visionaries.

Fell and oak streets in SF are excellent examples. Timed right, at 25mph one can go from golden gate park to the city without ever stopping at over 10 red light intersections.

Not rocket science people.

Posted by Neilson Buchanan
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 18, 2015 at 10:37 am

Here is the best information I can find about the parking fees paid by the developer when the city approved conversion of the nursing home to a high end hotel.

In-lieu fees paid by Epiphany:
per page 2 on fWeb Link they paid $486,000 in 2012 for 8 spaces. However, cash flow doesn't appear on the in-lieu list from the city dated March 31, 2013. It is nbt clear the city has been keeping good records, especially if in-lieu fees went into some general fund.

Bottom line: Hotel does not provide any on-site parking spaces for its employees and it is highly doubtful if hotel employees park in the commercial core garages and surface lots. TMD effort is wonderful, but low intensity. TDM does not preclude more and more non-resident parked vehicles pushed in the residential neighborhoods.

A related question is the valet parking program for Ephiphany hotel guests. The hotel (now owned by billionaire Larry Ellison) has leased private parking spaces built on the site of the Lytton Gardens residential care facility located in DTN residential neighborhood. Presumably Lytton Gardens guests and employees have not been displaced????? I wont even pursue the question of where hotel guests will park when the hotel is completely full. CalTrain parkinglot is by far the most economical option.

Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 18, 2015 at 1:22 pm

"However, cash flow doesn't appear on the in-lieu list from the city dated March 31, 2013. It is nbt clear the city has been keeping good records..."

Or even collectinf, if indeed the in lieu arrangement is still in force. City hall's record of collecting what developers owe the city is legendarily poor.

Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 18, 2015 at 2:41 pm

Too many good posts to comment on all of them, but thanks to all of you who made them. Just a few. Lizzy Bell, thank you for your thoughts. Chip, many developers/builders are gaming the system with the 'in lieu ofs' and sadly, there seems to be very little oversight and accounting of them. It's a scam con game. Some people are experts at it and make their livings doing it. But more sadly, some people at City Hall are falling for it, either because of naivete, or because they also see a benefit in furthering their political careers by supporting it and then turning their backs and never following up on the results. Old Pro, I've been a skeptic also on non-profits. Of course they're non-profits because their books can always show all the money was used up, thus no profit. But I want to give this aspiring startup a break with conditions. Give us your business plan, people on your staff (with salaries), and how you plan to reach your goals and use the money. That should be a reasonable request!

Posted by Izzy
a resident of another community
on Oct 18, 2015 at 5:28 pm

As someone who commutes daily to Palo Alto, anything that can make this better would be great!

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