Oct Transportation_Shuttles, TDM, RPP

Palo Alto has been taking next steps on programs to reduce driving and use parking more efficiently

In the last year, Palo Alto City Council took major steps to transform its transportation strategy.   Sparked by controversies about car parking, Council decided on a multi-pronged approach:

  • manage existing parking more efficiently, including residential permit parking
  • invest in reducing demand for driving
  • add more parking garages (see other blog post)

Now, these programs are moving forward.  Here’s an update on what’s happening, and how you can help.

Monday 10/26 @ City Council - Shuttles and “Transportation Demand Management” (TDM)

Palo Alto - like other cities in the area - recently had a lightbulb moment: investing in services and incentives to reduce driving, can reduce the need to build expensive new garages.  Building a new parking space in a Palo Alto parking garage costs over $60,000.   By contrast, “Transportation Demand Management” (TDM) programs take a page from the playbook of private sector employers, like Stanford, who avoided spending $100,000,000 in parking structures by investing in the Marguerite shuttles and programs to reduce driving.

Before getting started with an overall TDM program, Palo Alto City Council decided to beef up the city’s shuttle programs.  On Monday, 10/26, the City Council decided to increase frequency on the Crosstown shuttle (which gets good ridership at a cost of less than $2 per ride, largely by serving seniors and youth) and to investigate the opportunity to get private funding for a shuttle that would connect Palo Alto Caltrain with Bayshore employers (where Google and LinkedIn are headquartered in Mountain View).  Council also directed staff to investigate the potential for a trolley connecting Downtown and Stanford Shopping Center, helping people on shopping expeditions to visit more stores and restaurants without driving across.

At the meeting, Council members also encouraged bolder approaches.

  • The shuttle improvements were based on surveying existing riders and planning incremental improvements.  They didn’t take into account the needs of people who don’t use the shuttles today.  The upcoming TDM survey will gather information from workers and residents who currently drive. There will be opportunities for further improvements based on that data.
  • The shuttle program uses medium sized vehicles travelling fixed routes.  Council directed staff to research opportunities to integrate newer rideshare services such as Uber, Lyft, and Bridj, to take advantage of more flexible, networked, on-demand services.
  • There was broader discussion that the program’s sights were set too low, and a resolution to discuss larger ambitions before the end of the year.

Wednesday 10/28 @ Planning Transportation Commission - Transportation Demand Management program update

In order for shuttles - and other programs - to help reduce driving, it will be critical to design and market options for people who are driving today.  On Wednesday, 10/28, the Planning and Transportation Commission will hear an update on the Transportation Demand Management program which is just getting started.  

The first step - following Stanford’s playbook - will be to gather information about how people travel - where they come from, where they go to; if they drive alone, why is that, and what are the barriers that keep them from using alternatives.  Successful programs have an active marketing component - selling the benefits to individuals, workplaces and neighborhoods.  If you’re interested, you can watch the meeting online, and we’ll blog what happens.

November 12 @ PTC and December 1 @ CC - Residential Preferential Permit Parking - an important step toward parking efficiency

On November 12, the Planning and Transportation Commission will review a proposal for Residential Permit Parking for neighborhoods around Downtown, followed by a December 1 review by City Council.

Currently, with an unlimited amount of free parking available on neighborhood streets, the top floors of the city’s garages are frequently empty. Workers and visitors have a strong incentive to drive to Palo Alto and park for free.  UCLA Professor Donald Shoup says it best - if you give away free ice cream on a hot day, you will attract big crowds and a “shortage” of ice cream.  Similarly, if car parking is available for free, people will use a lot of it, and driving will look attractive compared to other options.  If you’re interested in the subject, read Shoup’s long but excellent book, “the High Cost of Free Parking or watch this video.  

The position of Palo Alto Forward is that in order to provide effective incentives to reduce driving, and use existing parking more efficiently, free parking should not be an option.  Proposed details for the two-phase RPP program can be found here.  It’s not a perfect proposal and it's possible to take issue with the details of the program - residential permits are too cheap or too expensive - there are too many worker permits, or not enough of them.  But it’s critical to take the step forward to stop providing parking for free on neighborhood streets and to help create good alternate transportation options. 

It will be important for City Council to hear from residents who want to see the city manage parking efficiently.  If you have time, come to the City Council meeting on December 1, and support the RPP program.

Moving forward on all fronts - step by step

This sounds like a lot, doesn’t it?  Stanford didn’t transform its transportation habits overnight either - it took a decade to reduce the share of people driving alone from 72% to 42%.  Progress was made incrementally - gathering data, adding shuttle routes, charging for parking, creating incentive programs.   Palo Alto can do it - but it will require our support and encouragement.

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