Palo Alto Forward’s Taming Traffic event hosted Evan Goldin, Director of Product at Chariot, and a former product manager at Lyft, and Jamie Jarvis, Transportation Demand Manager for Stanford Research Park. 60 eager attendees included residents, community leaders, and a brain trust of transportation and sustainability oriented professionals. Thanks to all who attended and if you couldn’t come, we are posting the presentations here:
Taming Traffic sounds like a dream. Especially in Palo Alto, where the problem seems to grow worse each year. While our resident population is 66,000, the number of jobs based in PA is over 90,000. While our city is served by two Caltrain stops, three bus systems, and pretty good bike infrastructure, most of the 90,000 commuters still drive into Palo Alto by themselves, dramatically inflating the number of vehicles on our roads, and GHG into our air. This problem might seem intractable, but transportation managers have long been working on ways to reduce solo driving. Companies and institutions have been carefully surveying employees on their commute choices, surfacing preferences and concerns, and turning that commute survey data to pilot new programs to reduce traffic. And with new transportation technologies, products, and programs, we now have more tools available to us.
Evan Goldin started his presentation by highlighting the negative incentive of free parking on commute behavior. When parking is free and not born by commuters, the choice is easy, people will always drive in. But parking is also an expensive resource to provide, especially in denser areas of employment. While he was at Lyft, Evan helped Lyft employees reduce driving and competition for the limited number of parking spaces. First they priced parking, then used a Facebook group to allow employees to trade and price spaces depending on availability and demand. Pricing is an important component and lever point – while it is important to use high prices to discourage single rides, discount zones for carpools could encourage people to take the carpool option into downtown PA or Cal Ave during peak hours. This is an important tool to aggregate trips going to the same general area. He also highlighted the sticks and the carrots that employers can use to encourage employee behavior shifts.
Jamie Jarvis prefaced her presentation with her challenge: to reduce single occupancy vehicle (SOV) use for 29,000 employees across 150 companies in a 3.5 mile long area. SRP’s SOV rate is currently 72%, compared with Downtown’s 58% and Stanford Academic Campus’s 49%. Lease agreements cannot require employers to charge for parking. Lack of transit proximity and no housing are also two contributing factors to the high SOV rate at SRP. Surprisingly, among Caltrain riders, 58% ride to the downtown Palo Alto station because it is more convenient and frequent even though it is further than Cal Ave station. Another surprising fact is the highest SOV rate is by people who live 6-15 miles from SRP, which is just beyond biking distance, but not long enough for transit use to be time competitive. SRP has set up a TMA, developed a number programs and begun wide outreach. She stressed the need to fund TMAs well in order to be successful, and for TMAs to offer customized solutions. Her programmatic efforts include Scoop carpooling services, transit passes through VTA (EcoPass) and she has also started organizing bike rides for bike season. Another commute survey is scheduled for this spring.
The Question/Answer session really deepened the discussion. One popular topic was how school related SOV could be reduced, particularly at Gunn High School which is next to SRP.Evan pointed out that in his (anecdotal) experience, around 20% of the morning rides he’s personally given on the Lyft and Uber platform have been parents requesting rides for their children to get to school. He also suggested there might be opportunities to encourage students, particularly high school students to implement programs and incentives to reduce student car use, like a Facebook group to organize carpools or ice cream parties when low car use targets are met. One audience member pointed out 100 Gunn students currently depend on VTA’s 89 bus, and Jamie mentioned SRP’s effort to support and extend the 88 bus route to serve SRP + the VA Hospital (both of which are on the "chopping block"). Another audience member was concerned about family friendly transportation policies like electric bikes with car seats, since childcare pick up is often a major reason commuters drive to work. Jamie noted that a Back to School bike education session at SRP might also be an important outreach strategy to increase bike ridership for local commuters.
The social equity question was also raised - whether TDM measures disproportionately serve more affluent workers who can pay for alternate transportation services. Jamie’s perspective was that TDM most often helps lower income employees – at SRP, those who take advantage of the transit passes are not the partners in legal firms but often the paralegals and admins who are not as well-paid. Another audience member who has worked on registering service and restaurant workers for the Downtown TMA emphasized the social equity component of TMA services. RPP and paid parking policies have put a greater burden on lower-income folks. While lower income workers would like to see better options and not have to drive, current transit passes subsidies may not help them because of the early or late hours. Most Downtown service employees come from Redwood City, EPA, Mountain View and Sunnyvale, and targeting options from those areas are critical for the Downtown TMA, but not as much for SRP, where 50% of employees are from the broader South Bay.
With several audience members in attendance from Los Altos, Mountain View, Menlo Park and Redwood City, regional coordination also came up quite a bit. One question was asked about whether SRP is currently working with Los Altos to help reduce SOV (the answer is currently No). Jamie Jarvis also responded to another question about cut through traffic in certain cities by noting a City Manager’s Mobility Partnership has been formed to help ensure connectivity between Palo Alto, Stanford, Mountain View and other cities so bike and transit infrastructure is more continuous and can serve a broader circle of community members.
The need to increase number of occupants per vehicle also came up. Chariot tries to cluster travel develop routes for up to 14 people at a time and Jamie brought up the idea of vanpools to assist with traffic reduction. However, these shuttles and vans are often stuck in the same traffic as everyone else. One person raised the important question of the role of dedicated bus lanes for these vehicles. Both Evan and Jamie acknowledged that TIME savings is critical to encourage folks to use transit or a high occupancy vehicle/shuttle. Dedicated bus lanes or HOV lanes on El Camino or Page Mill could help tremendously with private shuttle service.
The final question of the night centered on the role of transit oriented development and housing development as a strategy to reduce traffic. SRP officials acknowledged in a city council meeting several weeks ago they are open to exploring housing on SRP lands. While she couldn’t speak to this directly, Jamie, did note housing was not likely in areas farthest from transit, but closer to services and transit lines, near El Camino and Page Mill. Stay tuned for a future event on this subject!