Palo Alto considers update to transportation in its comprehensive plan

On August 29, the Palo Alto Planning and Transportation Commission considered revisions to the transportation element of its comprehensive plan.

Palo Alto has been a strong role models in the region for environmentally friendly transportation planning supporting biking, walking, and transit. The new draft plan has valuable new provisions bolstering these goals, including
* an explicit goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions
* concentrating development near transit
* incorporating multiple modes of transportation in planning and goals
* adding standards for “Level of Service” for multiple modes of transportation, not only vehicles
* strengthening the city’s policies regarding Transportation Demand Management
* incorporating Safe Routes to School policies.

The revisions to the Comprehensive Plan continue and strengthen Palo Alto’s policy to refrain from the harmful practice of using automotive level of service as the pre-emininent metric and road-widening as the pre-eminent tactic to measure and address transportation capacity. The consideration of multi-modal level of service, and the clarification that there are goals that can over-ride auto LOS are beneficial.

One of the notable features of the plan includes a commitment to work cooperatively with neighboring jurisdictions and agencies to implement policies. Everyday travel routes cross jurisdictional boundaries, so this willingness to work on collaborative solutions will help make Palo Alto an effective leader and achieve more powerful results.

There are several improvements that would help Palo Alto achieve its goals further.

* Explore options to enable Transportation Management Associations to get more results from Transportation Demand Management policies. These organizations allow multiple businesses to invest together to support a TDM program. Currently the region’s largest employers – Stanford, Google, Facebook – have achieved impressive results with their TDM programs, achieving over 50% nondrivealone more share (Stanford) and over 40% (Google, Facebook) respectively. By allowing smaller businesses and residential developments to buy into TDM, the benefits of TDM can be brought to a much wider range of Palo Alto transportation users and provide a much greater level of congestion relief, lower parking demand, and environmental benefit.

Oregon is a pioneer in implementing TMAs. For example, th Lloyd District in Portland successfully reduced drivealone mode share from 80% to 40% over 15 years with the use of a TMA for multiple employers.

* More robust multi-modal measurement and analysis. Palo Alto is currently planning to conduct a web-based multi-modal transportation survey. This is a good first start toward having an accurate understanding of transportation, and therefore toward targeting policies to achieve the goals. Palo Alto should have a goal of accurately measuring transportation use in all modes.

* Mode share goals. It is excellent that Palo Alto is incorporating its Greenhouse Gas reduction targets into the Transportation Element of the Comprehensive Plan. In order to make progress toward this goal more transparent and easier to integrate into core transportation and land use planning processes, it would be useful to translate this Greenhouse Gas goal into its equivalents in VMT and Mode Share. By measuring and stating a goal in terms of mode share, Palo Alto can more easily target and evaluate its policies. For example, Palo Alto could measure transportation mode share in the downtown area and set a goal to reduce it from 65% drivealone to 50% drivealone during the plan period. (numbers are hypothetical).

* Goal-setting. There are several other techniques used in nearby jurisdictions that Palo Alto may also wish to consider measure results.
* Trip time measurement. With the Charleston/Arastradero project, city staff used corridor trip time rather than intersection delay to evaluate results. This is a valuable technique that could be used for other corridors as well.
* Auto Trips Generated. San Francisco is in the process of revising its planning process to focus on an “Auto Trips Generated” metric. New developments that increase ATG pay into a fund that can be used for multi-modal improvements.

* Parking management. The section on Parking describes the various goals and options relating to Palo Alto’s ongoing process to study parking solutions in the downtown area, with the ability to add policies based on those solutions. However, the section on Parking also starts with a detailed description of today’s “zone parking” system. It might be more clear if there was a sentence indicating that this exiting policy could potentially be modified as a result of the ongoing study and policy revisions.

These improvements could help Palo Alto achieve its mission of strengthening multimodal transportation.

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