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About this blog: I grew up in Los Angeles and moved to the area in 1963 when I started graduate school at Stanford. Nancy and I were married in 1977 and we lived for nearly 30 years in the Duveneck school area. Our children went to Paly. We moved ...  (More)

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Reducing Congestion and Parking Challenges While Respecting the Mobility Advantages of Cars

Uploaded: Jan 20, 2015
I have never driven a car—poor eyesight. But I respect the enormous mobility and other advantages of car ownership. And I understand that residents will have different tastes and needs in their vehicle selection.

Currently my wife drives a plug in electric hybrid. Previously we had a high mileage non electric Prius. But for most of the time our kids were at home our car was a minivan. Our son drives a truck; his wife drives a high mileage small car.

I believe that climate change is real and that reducing carbon emissions is a good thing. But for Palo Alto and the region, my main interest in reducing car use is related to traffic congestion and delays and parking issues. We already have a number of existing measures to reduce carbon emissions from vehicles. There are federal standards for increasing gas mileage in cars. The California Air Resources Board has several measures to reduce the carbon content in fuels, include fuels in the cap and trade emission reduction program and will adopt more measures if needed.

Palo Alto is now beginning an exploration of ways to reduce car use and better manage parking in congested neighborhoods. This is a worthwhile set of tasks but will not be easy to achieve. I favor approaches that increase mobility options with an honest recognition of the advantages and challenges of car use and options that make sense in terms of costs and benefits to residents.

I am hopeful that the ingenuity and good will of residents can find solutions that are respectful of and attractive to people who currently see cars as their only reasonable choice.

With the exception of CalTrain, there are currently no growing public transportation alternatives on the peninsula. In the early days of my professional life, we worked on a number of regional transportation projects. One of the hardest problems to solve was finding a way for fixed route bus service to work in areas (such as the peninsula) with diverse origin and destination nodes. It was hard to envision a service that would attract riders with these spread out nodes and our relatively low density.

That is still true today and is a reason why the automobile will continue to be a preferred mobility option for quite a while. But Palo Alto and the peninsula do have some promising alternatives to explore to reduce auto use without reducing mobility. One is expanding CalTrain service, both with the ability to serve more people in peak hours and by expanding service (currently curtailed) in midday times.

Another option is to replicate the success of the Stanford shuttle in other settings. I am not an expert in shuttles but could see more shuttle options serving the research park, both to and from public transportation but also as a way to get people to the California Avenue shopping and dining area without the parking challenges. I am hopeful that expanded service of some kinds (shuttles, better bike options) can reduce the need for car transport to schools.

The private company buses are playing a role in allowing people to live and work where they choose while not needing to drive long distances to work.

Land use policies throughout the region can reduce car use by supporting housing near services, shopping and dining. Lots or trips and parking needs are not at commute times. A bonus occurs when these land use choices also allow people to use public transportation to commute, noting that Palo Alto is the second busiest CalTrain station as a result of its proximity to jobs at Stanford and downtown.

As I observe my son who loves to drive and some of my younger friends, I see services like Lyft as a growing option. I just signed up over the weekend as we were having dinner with Dave and Lacey because I needed a ride back from a meeting in Orange County where Nancy was staying later (and Dave had been bugging me to give Lyft a try). It was easy to sign up and use.

I can envision these services as a growing option as residents age over the next 15 years and may want options besides driving to take short trips and for younger residents who can combine these services with living near work or transit to reduce car ownership and costs.

With respect to parking, I am open to hearing that more parking slots are needed in addition to any reduced car use we can achieve. I also believe that parking should come with a cost in congested areas. Many cities on the peninsula now charge for parking in downtown areas. We are all accustomed to paying for parking at airports and sporting events. I am hopeful but cautious about the prospects for the residential permit programs.

In the end solving the challenges of traffic and parking will take money as well as ingenuity to provide options that are attractive and not punitive. There is a necessary public investment component of maintaining and improving mobility in a growing region like the peninsula and Bay Area. I hope we make the investments but look closely at costs and benefits. These are not one size fits all challenges.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Mary Hodder, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Jan 20, 2015 at 2:02 pm

Tonight at the City Council meeting they will look at parking:
Web Link

"The purpose of this Study Session is to seek Council direction on whether to develop a work plan for the potential development of one or more City-owned properties in downtown Mountain View."

And the study memo quoted below is here under Item 3.1 of the 7pm session (second section of the meeting agenda -- the first section is for the closed session).

According to the Downtown precise plan, development of parking lot #4 would require the parking spaces to be replaced, while development of lots #8, #11, #12 would NOT require the spaces to be replaced. In particular, the memo says: ?lots #11 and #12 Lots 11 and 12, both of which are outside the District, are designated as temporary parking lots in the Downtown Precise Plan and have always been intended for future development.? Of course, council could amend the precise plan to remove or add a requirement that parking spaces be replaced.

The memo concludes with the following staff recommendation:

"Given the private sector interest expressed to date, current market conditions, likely financial feasibility, and the impact on existing parking while a parcel is under development, staff recommends the City Council direct staff to issue two RFQ/RFPs? one for the development of Lots 4 and 8 (in tandem) and one for the development of Lot 11. Staff recommends the City Council consider development of a hotel, possibly in combination with other uses, on Lots 4 and 8 in order to contribute to the vitality of downtown Mountain View, potentially create additional public parking downtown, and create a revenue stream to the City. Staff further recommends that the Council direct staff to market Lot 11 for market-rate or affordable housing, or a combination of market-rate and affordable housing. Finally, staff recommends that the Council direct staff to return with a proposed work plan and budget to address Council interest in development of these City properties, phasing development as necessary to address parking and other impacts."

"Alternatively, the Council could direct staff to issue an RFQ/RFP for development of Lot 12. Given both staff capacity and community impacts while construction is under way, staff does not recommend pursuit of more than two new development projects on City property at the same time."

Basically they are looking at potentially developing the parking lots the city owns, in the downtown area.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Jan 20, 2015 at 6:54 pm

So Steve. You favor paying for parking in downtown and I agree. Why are you not advocating pay per hour machines in every downtown lot and garage? Why do you not advocate for getting rid of the complicated color zones? Why do you not advocate for better high tech signs, apps, and other ways to allow people to find a parking spot and paying for it in a simpler manner than today? Why do you not acknowledge that people coming into downtown and want to stay all day, for a business meeting and lunch, for lunch and a matinee, for the day they have to drive rather than train or bike each week, for the day they have to come to the office rather than work at home, etc. etc. should not be able to find a place to park at any one of the garages and lots without having to trudge to City Hall to buy an all day permit? Why do you assume that the RPP will solve all problems because those drivers will buy a permit?

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Jan 23, 2015 at 12:15 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

Is it worth considering more options for students to get to school without being driven or driving? Is this a problem for parents or congestion around schools at peak periods?

What are some practical ideas that can be included in the city's analysis of traffic management solutions?

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Jan 23, 2015 at 3:04 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

Resident, I don't respond to all very specific local policy questions. That is not the purpose of the blog. If you have some ideas to share, please post them and I will respond if they are something I feel strongly about. All I see is a list of questions.

Posted by Marie, a resident of Midtown,
on Jan 23, 2015 at 5:22 pm

Marie is a registered user.

Steve, were you aware that Palo Alto used to have parking meters downtown? My understanding was that they were removed in order to allow downtown retail business to compete with Stanford Shopping Center. The day Stanford Shopping Center starts charging for all parking, is the day it is feasible for downtown Palo Alto to do so. If we want retail business downtown to compete at all, we must give them the tools to do so. What we really need is a cost-effective way to park downtown all day so as to better utilize our current parking garages. The choice of $17.50 per day (Bryant St. Garage) vs. no charge for 3 hours seems ridiculous. IMHO, monthly parking spots, which are often go unused, should be reduced to favor one day inexpensive passes, which would all be utilized.

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Jan 24, 2015 at 2:12 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

Hi Marie, thanks for your comments.

My experience is that other cities like Burlingame and Redwood City have paid downtown parking and that it is working well. I expect that paid parking along with enough parking for downtown area customers will be an increasing part of making the peninsula downtowns continue to be great places to visit.

Your post underscores the point that in Palo Alto parking pricing and availability solutions have to work for many groups including workers, visitors and residents.

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