Palo Alto Planning and Transportation recommends making Arastradero restriping permanent

Last night, the Palo Alto PTC recommended that City Council make the Charlston-Arastradero corridor restriping permanent including some fine-tuning recommended in the staff report. City Council will review the project in September. Letters to PTC favored the project 26-8. About a dozen people gave public comment in person, slightly more against.

The main arguments in favor of making the restriping permanent were that the project achieved its main goals.
* reducing speeding on Arastradero
* reducing collisions
* increased cycling
* while not decreasing travel time

As Commissioner Fineberg summarized, “mission accomplished”

The main arguments against were from residents of Barron Park who reported more cut-through traffic. City staff will do further measurements before the project goes to Council for final approval.

Posted in Bicycling, Palo Alto | Leave a comment

Palo Alto City Council approves California Avenue Streetscape Project

Palo Alto City Council approved the California Avenue streetscape project unanimously, after a motion to go ahead with a trial failed 2:7 (Holman/Schmid). The project will reduce the low-vehicle-traffic 4-lane street to 2 lanes, and use the additional space for sidewalk widening and bike access.

Merchants who had been opposing the project supported a trial to verify that the project would not cause a vehicle traffic impact. But a majority of city council members were not convinced that a trial would be beneficial, given the overwhelming evidence that Cal Ave does not have a car traffic problem. Cal Ave has only ~5000 vehicles per day, which is 3 to 4 times less volume than other retail streets in the area, including Castro (Mountain View), University (Palo Alto), and Santa Cruz (Menlo Park). In addition, a trial would put the schedule needed for the grant funding at risk.

In response to comments from the Planning and Transportation Committee, city staff withdrew a controversial proposal to add a contraflow bike lane from the Caltrain underpass. There will be further review with the Palo Alto Bicycle Advisory Committee and the bike community on the design.

Public comment was mixed, with over 20 speakers arguing strongly for and against the project, and for and against a trial.

David Bennett, the proprietor of Mollie Stones supermarket, located at Cal Ave and Park, made the rather shocking comment that “bikes hurt supermarkets”. He believes that if cyclists follow “share the road” signs, which document current safe practice, the presence of cyclists will discourage drivers who will stop coming to the Cal Ave area to shop.

Council Member Burt observed in response that cyclists actually consume much less scarce parking space, and are therefore beneficial to merchants.

In the fairly dense Mid-Peninsula cities, where pedestrian bike and transit mode share is high, local merchants tend to underestimate the contribution of customers who arrived without a car, or who chain multiple trips as a pedestrian.

Posted in Palo Alto, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Sunnyvale passes cyclist anti-harassment ordinance

The Sunnyvale City Council voted to approve the cyclist anti-harassment ordinance on Tuesday July 17, on a 6:1 vote, with Davis dissenting.

The ordinance, based on a measure passed last year in Los Angeles, enables a cyclist to file a civil suit against a driver who runs a cyclist off the road or attempts to do so. The driver would be liable for a penalty starting at $1,000. The cyclists would need to prove in court that the driver acted deliberately with the intent to injure or distract the bicyclist.

(Davis also voted against Sunnyvale’s Bus Rapid Transit proposal, which went down on a close 4:3 vote.)

The measure was initially approved on June 19. A “second reading” is required but does not usually change the outcome.

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New Vehicle Parking Policies for Downtown Palo Alto

Palo Alto City Council

Palo Alto is now studying ways to update its downtown parking policies to better manage growing business and residential development. Recent growth in both the number of downtown workers and retail businesses have increased demand for vehicle parking. Some residents feel that future development should slow down, or that new parking structures should be built to provide parking for more vehicles. We think it’s a classic resource management problem that can be addressed through better, more modern policies and new technology.

On July 16, the Palo Alto City Council rejected a proposal to implement a 6-month trial Residential Parking Permit Program (RPPP) in the city’s historic Professorville neighborhood, which lies just south of University Avenue. Permits would be needed to park vehicles there, and only residents would be able to purchase the permits. The RPPP was intended to prevent downtown workers from using the neighborhood’s streets as a conveniently located free parking lot, a longstanding concern of residents.

The City Council voted 6-2 to reject the trial parking permit program and instead directed city staff to study a more comprehensive set of solutions, including Transportation Demand Management (TDM) programs for downtown businesses, the implementation of technologies able to monitor the availability of each parking space, and perhaps most controversially, parking meters. City staff has 6 months to complete such a study, which will be funded by $250,000 obtained as a public benefit from the Lytton Gateway mixed-use development. Similar concerns regarding vehicle parking were raised by the public during the development of that project, which was approved earlier this year.

Palo Alto’s Vehicle Parking Problem
Palo Alto’s downtown parking woes boil down to a simple fact that’s becoming ever more apparent: the city’s parking policies discourage efficient use of its own parking supply.

Workers choose to park in residential neighborhoods instead of city-owned lots and structures, leaving spaces in lots and structures empty while filling up residential streets with parked cars during weekdays. Parking downtown is, generally speaking, a hassle for most visitors for a variety of reasons: (1) it’s free on University Avenue, which means it’s almost always full during periods of high demand, and (2) the “2-Hour Zone” system that doesn’t allow parking for more than 2 hours in any one of 4 different zones forces visitors to either re-park every 2 hours or just park in the nearby residential neighborhoods.

University Avenue Palo Alto

It’s often impossible to find a parking spot along Palo Alto’s University Avenue.

Palo Alto could soon adopt parking policies to better reflect current market realities and take advantage of new parking technologies that can provide motorists with up-to-the-minute information on the locations and prices of available parking spaces.

The High Price of Free Parking
University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) professor Donald Shoup has written an influential book called The High Price of Free Parking (2005), in which he argues that vehicle parking should be dynamically-priced such that 15% of parking spaces on a given block or a given parking lot or structure are unoccupied at any given time. If more than 15% of spaces are empty, the price should be lower. If less than 15% of spaces are empty, the price should be higher.

Donald Shoup

Donald Shoup is an expert on urban land use, transportation, and parking policies.

Such a system is considered by advocates for market-based parking policies as the holy grail of vehicle parking – an optimized and intelligent system that perfectly manages available parking spaces so that one is always available when and where a motorist wants to park – at the appropriate price.

This has already been implemented in parts of Redwood CitySan Francisco, and Los Angeles, but requires a more complex parking management system than currently available in Palo Alto – one that includes sensors in every parking spot, computer software that adjusts the price of parking according to demand, and smartphone/internet applications that provide the price and availability information to motorists wishing to park.

So what are some simpler solutions? Can Palo Alto move closer to a market-based parking management system without such technologies? How? Here are some ideas:

The Easier Things – no new technology needed
1. Charge to park a vehicle for more than two hours in city-owned lots and structures. How about $1/hr or $2/hr after the first two hours? Right now, motorists cannot even choose to pay to park for more than two hours – they must move their vehicle or risk getting a parking ticket.

Palo Alto Downtown Parking Zones

Palo Alto allows free parking downtown for up to two hours in each of 4 different zones.

2. Charge to park a vehicle in city-owned lots and structures on a daily basis. How about $3 or $5 per day? The price could be set by market demand (by periodically counting the number of parked cars in each lot of different days) such that about 15% of spaces are always available. Right now, motorists cannot even choose to pay to park for a single day or a few days per month – the only options are to park for two-hours or for an entire quarter year (with a parking permit). Monthly parking permits will soon be available, but this is still very limiting – either park for two hours or for one month.

3. Allow anyone or any company or organization to purchase daily or monthly parking permits in city-owned lots and structures, for anyone to use. Right now, only individuals can purchase the parking permits, and only for their own individual use. Why not let a company buy permits for 5 spaces that 10 employees can share? Or let an individual buy a permit for 1 space that he/she shares with 2 friends? Again, the price should be determined by market demand, such that about 15% of spaces are always available.

The Harder Things – new technologies needed
4. Charge to park vehicles on University Avenue in downtown Palo Alto and on some adjacent streets. Currently, it’s very difficult to find a parking spot during periods of high demand (weekdays and weekend evenings), so motorists “cruise for parking” – driving up and down and all around searching (often in vain) for that perfect parking spot. This generates unnecessary frustration, traffic congestion, and increases hazards for pedestrians and bicyclists. How about $1/hr or $2/hr during high-demand periods? Some motorists would choose to pay and park, and some would choose to save a little money and park a few blocks away for a lower price. But when it’s always free, it’s almost always full.

What if 15% of parking spaces were always available, everywhere on University Avenue? That’s good for the motorist who wants to park, good for the business owner who wants parking to be available near his/her business, and good for everyone else – fewer cars to avoid for people walking or bicycling, and cleaner air for everyone.

5. Manage all of the city-owned lots and structures with market-based dynamically-priced parking, such that about 15% of all spaces in a given area are always available at any given time. Sometimes the price would drop to $0, when demand is low, such as late at night – but there’s nothing wrong with that. Smart phones and a website could inform motorists about where parking is available and at what price. This way, no one would need to “cruise for parking”. You just park where you want, when you want. It’s not necessarily free, but cruising for parking isn’t really either – you waste time and gas, and it’s just stressful. Check your phone or a website before you go out – and you can always know the price ahead of time.

Such policies might be politically difficult to enact right now, but that’s mostly because paying for parking is new concept in Palo Alto, and most residents are unfamiliar with actively-managed dynamically-priced parking systems. Other cities, including nearby Redwood City, have implemented market-based priced parking, overcoming a variety of objections from residents and business owners.

Residents of downtown neighborhoods would benefit due to reduced demand for parking in front of their homes. Workers and visitors would benefit as well, with conveniently available parking at all times. And everyone would benefit from reduced traffic congestion and safer streets – even people who never park at all.

Posted in Palo Alto, Parking | Leave a comment

Mountain View prioritizes San Antonio area planning – opportunity for better connection to transit

On Tuesday July 10 as part of its review and approval of the 2030 General Plan, Mountain View City Council voted to escalate the priority of doing a Precise Plan for the San Antonio area, assuming that city staff is able to repurpose grant funds.

A the General Plan study session on July 3, residents of The Crossings presented a petition with 92 signatures urging Council to prioritize an update of the San Antonio Center precise plan, which hasn’t been comprehensively updated since the early 90’s.

The San Antonio area at the border of Mountain View and Palo Alto, which was one of the region’s early suburban-style shopping centers in the 1950s, has been seeing substantial new development and interest. It is adjacent to the San Antonio Caltrain station and El Camino’s frequent bus service. Now that Caltrain’s modernization plans have been fully funded with High Speed Rail and regional funds (as of last Friday), it is highly likely that the area will see substantial improvement in train schedule by 2019.

But the walking and biking facilities in the area are poor, so the area does not take advantage of its proximity to transit.

Advocates of bike safety and urban environmentalism will have an opportunity to participate in this process and improve bike and pedestrian access. Assuming the funding is available, this process will start in 2013.

Posted in Mountain View, Palo Alto | 2 Comments

Learning from Portland: How to Grow Jobs and Reduce Traffic

An area in Portland increased jobs, while reducing drive-alone mode share from 80% to about 40%. How did they do it, and what lessons can other cities learn?…

Back in 1994, the Lloyd District in Portland faced a dilemma. The second largest employment area in Portland, including offices, a shopping mall, and some residences, was planning for major growth. The district wanted to double the number of employees from 15,000 to 30,000 over the next 15 years.

But there was limited access to the district from the freeway system, and 76% of workers and shoppers arrived driving alone. Only 10% used transit, and less than 1% rode a bike. Transportation studies showed that if employment doubled and drive-alone rates remained the same, there would be gridlock on the freeway.

The city would need to spend half a billion dollars – 5 miles of highway lanes, at $100 million per mile – to support all the new traffic resulting from the new development. Over and above the cost of the auto lanes, the district would need to add over $500 million of new parking structures. Surface parking was impractical, since the parking spaces for the new employees would require 70 acres of parking lot space of 200 acres total.

Lloyd District Map

A group of leaders from the city, including the director of the Bureau of Planning, the
Commissioner of Transportation, the General Manager of the transit agency (TriMet), businesses, and property owners got together to see if there was any way out of this seemingly intractable dilemma.

The leaders proposed a scenario that seems like a fantasy in most of the US today. What if the percentage of people arriving to the district changed dramatically – not by 15%-20%, which is considered ambitious in most places.

What if the percentage of people driving alone was slashed by more than half? Great idea, they agreed. Then they figured out how to make it happen.

Part of the solution was better transit service. The team collected and geocoded the addresses of the employees in the district, and identified locations where large clusters of employees lived. Then Portland’s transit agency created three new express buses travelling from those locations.

A crucial part of the solution was making transit financially appealing to employees. To do this, transit service needed to be cheaper than the cost of parking a car at work.

In 1994, all parking was free. The District added parking meters to formerly free parking spaces. Then, 51% the revenue from the parking meters was used to fund transit passes and other alternative commute programs.

In partnership with the transit agency a new heavily discounted transit pass was created, costing $330 rather than the previous $1,100. The price of the transit pass was intentionally set lower than the price of parking a car. Businesses had to commit to buying a transit pass for every employee. For every 2,000 transit passes sold, the transit agency provided a new bus.

The new development plan prohibited new surface parking lots and limited the amount of parking – only 2 vehicle parking spaces for every 4 employees, with maximum parking ratios for retail and commercial space.

The stakeholders also set a goal of 10% bike mode share. The city agreed to build bike lanes, and businesses agreed that all buildings would have bike parking available for at least 10% of employees. Over time the district added 2,500 bike parking spaces.

A successful outcome

Today, the Lloyd District consists of 8 property owners with 500 businesses, employing about 23,000 employees, and housing about 600 people. The drive-alone mode share is down from 80% to about 40%. Peak hour vehicle trips have actually declined by over 1,000 vehicles per hour.

The scarcity of vehicle parking (relative to other commercial developments) hasn’t scared away tenants or visitors. Just the opposite – the building vacancy rate is 4%, which is the highest occupancy of any district in the state. Employment grew steadily, even during the post 2008 recession. Visitor trips grew from 15 million to 20 million per year. The district plans to add another 4,000 housing units, to further improve travel mode share by enabling people to live close to work.

Helping people choose not to drive

The Lloyd District’s Transportation Management Association has a staff of 5 people, on a budget of $450,000 per year, who provide support programs to reduce solo driving. More than one third of the revenue comes from the property owners in the Business Improvement District. About a third of the revenue comes from parking meters. Other funding sources include regional grant funding and a commission on transit pass sales.

For employees and residents new to the public transit system, staff will help a new rider plan a trip, and will provide a “buddy” to ride a bus for a few days. There are carpooling and carshare programs. A “Commuter Connection” store sells bike gear, provides bike repair services, and lends bikes and helmets. There are regular educational events where employees learn about transit, bicycling, and walking options. There is a “commuter rewards” program with monthly prizes for people who commute without driving alone. The Transportation Management Association conducts a transportation survey for the entire district, and generates a custom report annually for each business.

These robust services are familiar in large, forward-looking corporations such as Google and Facebook. But they are very rare elsewhere. The Transportation Management Association provides these services to all of the businesses and employees in the district, including low-wage retail and service employees.

The secret to success – committing to the goal

Rick WIlliams, the Executive Director of the Lloyd District Transportation Management Association, says following this simple three step process ensured success:

1) Agree on the problem. The stakeholders agreed that they wanted to see employment growth in the district without worsening traffic congestion on nearby streets and highways.
2) Set a goal that solves the problem. The Lloyd district set a goal of 33% non drivealone mode share
3) Commit to the goal. The businesses in the Lloyd district needed to commit to the plan in order to build new buildings and add jobs.

More than that, the stakeholders had to believe that travel mode share is a variable – that it can be modified with sensible, well-designed, well-priced transit and bicycling services and infrastructure that give workers competitive alternatives to driving. In most of the United States, it is taken as a fact of life that most workers will commute by automobile. The status quo is seen as the preferred lifestyle, the natural result of a “car culture”, so efforts are not taken to give residents convenient and cost-effective alternatives.

The stakeholders also had to commit to controversial changes such as charging for formerly free vehicle parking, and limiting the amount of parking spaces for new developments. These choices paid off. More jobs and shoppers were attracted using cheaper programs and infrastructure (transit service, bike lanes, bike parking, etc) than if typical auto-oriented developments had been built.

Last but not least, the Lloyd Business District took proven, powerful transportation management tools, that are currently used by the largest and wealthiest employers, and made them available to smaller businesses and diverse employees. This enabled them to achieve ambitious traffic-reduction results for the whole area.

With ambitious goals, firm commitments, and effective collaboration, it is possible to make very large changes in the mix of transportation services that people use.

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Sunnyvale votes for Bicyclist Anti-Harrassment Ordinance

This update from Kevin Jackson of Sunnyvale:

On Tuesday, June 19, the Sunnyvale City Council passed a Bicyclist Anti-Harassment Ordinance, sponsored by the Sunnyvale Bicycle/Pedestrian Advisory Committee.

The Sunnyvale ordinance is modeled after a recent Los Angeles ordinance and makes it unlawful to intentionally force or attempt to force a bicyclist from a roadway with the intent to injure or distract the bicyclist.

Sunnyvale City Council Member Jim Davis

Sunnyvale Council Member Jim Davis voted against the Bicycle Anti-Harrassment Ordinance.

The Sunnyvale measure was approved by the council on a 6-1 vote, Jim Davis dissenting. No one spoke in opposition, and Davis didn’t even try to explain his negative vote. The council motion also directed staff to publicize the new ordinance in order to put on notice any motorists who may be tempted to react with aggression when they encounter cyclists.

The measure needs a “second reading” to pass. This is typically a formality, but the measure will not be law until then.

Want to pass this in your own city? Contact Kevin Jackson who can give you advice on how they did it in Sunnyvale. His contact info is kjbiker at netzero dot net. And ask your city’s bicycle advisory committee, transportation committee, or planning commission to take this on.

Posted in Bicycling, Sunnyvale | Leave a comment