New transportation vision targets congestion, parking | News | Palo Alto Online |


New transportation vision targets congestion, parking

Palo Alto officials propose changes to Transportation Element in city's Comprehensive Plan

From congested roads to inadequate parking, transportation problems have been driving most of the debates at City Hall over the past year.

So when City Council embarked on Monday night on what promises to be a long journey toward an updated Comprehensive Plan, it seemed like the logical place to start. In its first substantive discussion about the goals of the updated Comprehensive Plan, the council cobbled together a list of issues that should be included in the document, which will be the guiding document for local policymakers until 2030. Not surprisingly, parking, car congestion and a commitment to reducing green-house gas emissions will all play a central role in the city's new transportation vision, the council agreed.

Councilman Pat Burt, who crafted the motion laying out the new transportation element (elements are what the plan's chapters are called), stressed the importance of getting it right.

"So much about what we'll do as a community going forward is dependent on whether we can solve transportation issues in our community in a way that enhances the quality of life in the community and enables many of the things that otherwise would be determined by the lack of solving (them)," Burt said during a wide-ranging discussion that began at about 11 p.m. and concluded just after midnight Tuesday. "Other decisions will be determined for us if with can't solve the transportation issues."

Some of these issues aren't new. The existing plan already includes policies about reducing the number of people who driving solo, encouraging biking and protecting neighborhood streets from traffic going through the area. Many of these will remain in the new plan, though they will be complemented by new goals that will emphasize the city's recent traffic-reduction efforts.

Councilman Tom DuBois argued Monday that "congestion relief" should be explicitly called out in the vision for the Transportation Element.

"It's become an issue that I think needs to become more of a priority on its own," DuBois said.

Councilman Greg Scharff agreed and added into Burt's motion a statement calling for traffic flow to be enhanced and "traffic congestion reduced where possible." The council also added into the new Comprehensive Plan a reference to greenhouse-gas reduction and a commitment to encouraging "attractive, convenient, efficient and innovative parking solutions."

They also agreed with Mayor Karen Holman's suggestion that the existing Comprehensive Plan's commitment to keeping local streets "safe and attractive," and "designed to enhance the quality and aesthetics of Palo Alto neighborhoods."

Though Monday's discussion was the council's first foray into actual revision work (prior Comprehensive Plan meetings focused on the process for the update), much of the prep work had already been done by staff and the Planning and Transportation Commission, which spent several years reviewing and revising each element of the Comprehensive Plan.

The new Transportation Element will likely include a mishmash of vision statements and goals from both the existing document and the planning commission's revisions. Other goals that the council agreed to add during its discussion were the reduction of people who drive solo by 30 percent; the creation of a trench on the Caltrain corridor; improved mobility options for seniors and people with special needs; and "attractive, convenient, efficient and innovative parking solutions."

The discussion has been a long time coming. The City Council launched the effort in 2006, recognizing that the existing document was intended to stretch from 1998 to 2010. Over the years, the council has repeatedly changed course on the update process, most recently agreeing to appoint a citizens panel to help the process along. The panel will independently review each element and propose programs and policies that are consistent with the council's goals.

The latest process is expected to stretch the timeline for the Comprehensive Plan even further into the future. When the council committed over its annual retreat earlier this year to completing the update, the plan was to get it done by the end of 2016. Now, the informal deadline has been extended by four to six months, into the first half of 2017.

The council also agreed on Monday to explore a system for prioritizing the Comprehensive Plan's policies, though exactly what this priority system will look like remains to be seen (planning staff will bring forward a proposal at a future meeting).

The decision was prompted by years of concerns from residents about the inherent conflicts between different Comprehensive Plan policies, which effectively allow developers, residents and anyone else to find justification in the broad document for seemingly any position. DuBois proposed exploring a priority process and the council agreed by a 7-1 vote, with Marc Berman dissenting and Liz Kniss absent.

"It's really meant to address the issue we hear over and over: That's there's something in the Comprehensive Plan for everyone and nothing has any weight," DuBois said.

The DuBois proposal also called for exploring a new "quantitative framework," which would include real-life data and projections, for making decisions on the updated Comprehensive Plan.

While most of the council agreed, Berman voted against the proposal, saying he doesn't understand enough about the proposal.

"My concern is that we're going to get to a point that creates a point system that we'll attach to every project that comes in front of the council," Berman said. "I don't know enough about it to support it at this time."

In addition to the Transportation Element, the Comprehensive Plan includes elements on housing; land use and community design; natural and urban environment; business and economics; community services and facilities; and governance. The council will review each chapter over the next year.

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34 people like this
Posted by rhody
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 3, 2015 at 10:30 am

Please just stop trying to get me out of my car. Find a way to accommodate single driver cars. A big part of our population is aging/infirm and public transportation just isn't a realistic option.

11 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 3, 2015 at 11:02 am

As long as they don't keep harping on about buying annual or monthly permits.

Not every parker wants to park every day, just occasionally for all day and these parkers need to be able to do it easily.

So, put pay hour machines in all lots and all garages.

Also let's make 30 minute free parking outside all retail. After that, parking meters for loose change just like Redwood City, with a limit of 2 or 3 hours. Two hour or more parking should be in garages and lots only, but with ease of payment.

And remember the Caltrain lot is $5. All day parking in town realistically can't be more or else people will park in Caltrain lots. With $17 daily parking in our lots, it is cheaper to park in Caltrain lot and buy the cheapest ticket (unused) rather than pay the $17.

18 people like this
Posted by Reduce congestion by supporting alternative commutes.
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 3, 2015 at 12:22 pm

What do they mean by congestion relief? If the city adds more capacity for cars, we will GET more cars--and more congestion. We have seen this in cities all over the world. Cars undermine quality of life. They are loud, they pollute, they create real hazards for all road users.

We have many streets where capacity cannot be added without the city exercising eminent domain. Do we want to encourage that? How about on YOUR street?

Congestion relief could mean: buses, better train service, real improvements to bike and pedestrian facilities. These changes would be costly and would require cooperation of transit agencies and a commitment from them to spend money in the north county. These are facilities that keep people moving about the community whether or not they can drive. If you are so infirm that you can ONLY drive now, where will you be when you can no longer drive--which may not be too far off. What about kids? They are too young to drive.

If the city opts to provide new parking for more cars, they should charge the FULL cost of that parking to drivers. Why is auto transport subsidized so heavily when other modes have to beg to get a small fraction of transportation dollars?

While I drive sometimes, I try to use other modes. I am amazed at how much our transportation system supports the choice of auto over all other options. It's wasteful...and it is destroying our planet. Our children and grandchildren will pay the price for our selfish choices.

7 people like this
Posted by Downtown Worker
a resident of Menlo Park
on Sep 3, 2015 at 12:36 pm

@Rhody - if you like driving, this is not about you. But the TMA's survey found that half of all drivers in downtown would prefer not to drive if they had better options. If we gave them all the better options they wanted, _that_ would really reduce congestion.

Remember that the city is about to spend millions of dollars to build parking garages in downtown and on Cal Ave. Each parking spot costs about $3000/year in interest payments on the bonds - $12 per business day! If we gave drivers $12/day NOT to drive, the streets would clear out pretty quickly as half of drivers find better options.

21 people like this
Posted by Tight Schedule
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 3, 2015 at 12:47 pm

I find it simply time-inefficient to deal with the snail pace and frequent stops of CalTrain and VTA; my schedule is too full and too tight for that.

Bike riding is out of the question, since I have permanent injuries from two previous injuries while bike riding ( hit by preoccupied motorist on residential streets both times) and now have a knee replacement and severe arthritis in my spine.

I simply must drive a car or carpool, which I often do.

14 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 3, 2015 at 1:54 pm

Having to put our 3 garbage cans on the street separated by 2 feet plus 5 feet away from the nearest parked car will do an awful lot to help the parking crisis.

What geniuses think up nonsense like this? Will they cover this absurdity in the comprehensive plan since it will cut our parking by huge amount?

As if we have any control over who parks near our garbage cans in the middle of the night or before the trucks pick up the trash mid-day!

9 people like this
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on Sep 3, 2015 at 2:18 pm

Slow Down is a registered user.

@Downtown Worker - it is telling that 50% of downtown workers wouldn't take a better option, even if such a fantasy existed. Regardless, there will never be a better option for people who live in the east bay, or who don't live within walking distance of a train station along the rail corridor, which is the vast majority of people.

The only real solution is to stop new development, and encourage existing businesses to relocate to high density transit friendly locations like San Francisco, downtown San Jose, and Oakland.

5 people like this
Posted by Groundling
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 3, 2015 at 2:34 pm

If "reduction of greenhouse gas emissions" is part of the transportation element vision, why was there no mention at all of the Palo Alto Airport as a contributor to such gasses? Consider the commuters who arrive daily in loud, lead-fuel burning prop planes or turboprops. What can City Council do to acknowledge how THAT form of transportation is diminishing quality of life for residents?

The hobbyist flyers and airplane owners are a handful of people whose pleasure and individual "rights" trump the rights of everyone suffering on the ground. PAO is of little use to the vast majority of Palo Altans and yet it is an environmental negative for all residents. I had a discussion with a GA pilot the other day who admitted that he was transporting business associates of the plane's owner from San Carlos Airport to San Jose Airport: a 6 minute flight blasting all of PA with turbo-prop noise, below the suggested noise abatement altitude of 1500 ft. Such short-hop flights are the most inefficient and noisiest (being low, overland flights) and yet this flight saved passengers maybe 15 minutes in transport time! This is unconscionable, unenvironmental, entitled behavior. We have realtors showing off property flying out of PAO, joy riders learning to do aerobatics, student pilots circling incessantly over the Baylands, and helicopter flight schools rattling our nerves. Why? Because the pilots' associations are wealthy, powerful, and organized. And because the airport Palo Alto recently took over needs to drum up business to become financially viable. It is operating at 70% capacity, (in terms of rented tie-downs) so we can look forward to increasing noise if they succeed in drumming up business.

Palo Alto is accepting FAA grants to keep the Airport going. The FAA loves this as they train traffic controllers in the PAO tower. But our elected City Council needs to consider the burden assumed for all Palo Altans when they receive FAA grants to improve the airport. How does that limit residents' rights to control what happens at that airport? There are strings attached to that money--and external costs to our community. Are we then obligated to allow a commuter taxi service like Surf Air to operate there? Are we forced to accept drone-based delivery operations there? If planes at 800 ft bother you, consider a drone at 200 ft, barely above our trees! Remember, the FAA is all about facilitating aviation as long as they deem it safe. No mention of quality of life issues for groundlings.

The Transportation Element of the Comprehensive Plan needs to include a robust noise monitoring program to collect noise data for analysis and perhaps propose changes to the FAA's use of the airspace over PA and neighboring communities. There needs to be an Airport Commission that includes residents NOT affiliated with flying clubs and pilot groups. That commission has to include residents of the much impacted East Palo Alto community. That commission needs to report to the community on the operations of the airport and its contribution to greenhouse gasses and other forms of pollution that impact all of us. that commission needs to question the wisdom of accepting FAA grants!

13 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 3, 2015 at 2:58 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

Additional capacity for cars simply means attracting additional cars and the problems that come with them. Palo Alto is intrinsically a small town with small town infrastructure. We don't have the wide multilane boulevards and avenues of local big cities or even relatively small cities like Sunnyvale. Our streets are narrow and impossible to widen, unless eminent domain is excercized to demolish many houses and widen a few roads, which will never happen, nor should it.

There is only one solution, which Slow Down very eloquently offers. Stop all new developments and discourage corporate irresponsibility. Companies should move to density friendly locations in the bay area and beyond. Palo Alto can't be an office park and a physical high tech hub. It's like asking a 5'5" foot player to play the center position n the NBA.

14 people like this
Posted by Jane
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 3, 2015 at 3:09 pm

Congestion relief should start with not making the traffic situation any worse. In recent years with each proposal for new commercial space the developer and staff have speculated that a large proportion of commuters will utilize the train, bus, walk, or bike. While very conveniently ignoring the additional drivers that will be added, whether solo, carpooling, or large private coaches. At present there is about 240,000 plus square feet of commercial development already in the pipeline before the annual office cap goes into effect. And the new much larger Stanford Hospital with a vastly increased number of employees is still to open. Palo Alto should put a hold on accepting any new applications for any more large commercial developments until all the ones already in the pipeline are occupied and the hospital has opened. Only then will we know what we are dealing with and what additional infrastructure is needed.

10 people like this
Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 3, 2015 at 5:11 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

There seems to be a serious problem with coordination here.
Council discussed two elements of the Comp Plan on 8/31 to give guidance on what needs to be included:

1. The Community Services and Facilities Element, which has already gone through the Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) at their August meeting.

2. The Transportation Element, which will be discussed as the CAC meeting on 9/8 and for which public input was already sought.

The City Manager should be either scheduling Council to be giving direction enough in advance of the corresponding CAC meeting that the CAC can respond to that direction, or the Council should be giving further direction based on what the CAC has recommended. The responsibility for the scheduling is the City Manager (and Director of Planning) because they control when Staff Reports are available to Council and Staff schedules the CAC meetings.

9 people like this
Posted by jerry99
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 3, 2015 at 7:57 pm

"reduction of greenhouse gas emissions" is part of the transportation element vision. [Portion removed.] Fewer office buildings, hotels and condominiums and apartments are what Palo Alto needs. More people mean more pollution and traffic gridlock and almost no parking downtown.
[Portion removed.]

FEWER PEOPLE MEAN LESS CONGESTION AND EVEN LESS POLLUTION. Stop new construction in Palo Alto now. And stop bicycle lane expansion. There are few people that bicycle to work and more lanes won't change that. And the buses along El Camino are useless since few people work directly on El Camino.
This effort is off to a pathetic start.

7 people like this
Posted by Pay_attention
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 4, 2015 at 11:25 am

"Congestion relief" means paying attention to cars too. For too long, our city transportation officials have been all about the bikes. Just paying attention to making our car traffic work more smoothly would help tremendously. Without widening roads, we can do better with traffic light synchronization, turn lanes not being blocked by parked cars, improved lane markings on certain streets, etc. And we do need invest in our roads for cars, particularly our major arterials. We have dedicated bike boulevards. Let's make our major arterials better for cars, so we can fewer cars cutting through on local streets!

5 people like this
Posted by Johnny
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 4, 2015 at 11:28 am

Modifying roads so that people will experience MORE traffic and thus be coerced to abandon driving alone is not only backwards thinking at its finest; it is downright disrespectful. Driving alone is not a sin, there is nothing wrong with it, it shouldn't be discouraged in favor of "alternatives", its not singlehandedly damaging the environment. It is a valuable element of our quality of life.

Big Government: leave well enough alone. Deal with the congestion only by adding more lanes wherever possible.

Stop over regulating and wait until someone invents flying cars like in the 5th Element movie.

4 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Sep 4, 2015 at 11:39 am

Fear not, Johnny, we have been and will continue to, in every front, from zoning to transportation spending, prioritize driving alone at the expense of all other modes.

8 people like this
Posted by Connect the dots
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 4, 2015 at 11:47 am

I lived on Emerson Street as a child when the city used eminent domain to demolish homes along what was then Oregon Avenue to create Oregon Expressway. This poorly designed attempt to handle traffic pouring into the newly developed industrial park on Stanford land only served to exacerbated the problem and divide the city. And how is that working for us now? The problem facing Palo Alto residents then is the same one they face now: unregulated growth fueled by Stanford interests with no accountability for the pressure it puts on Palo Alto's existing infrastructure. I remember my dad telling me when we watch the house next door to us being demolished: "the people said no each time the proposal for the expressway was raised, then suddenly it was no longer 'do you want it,' it was 'how do you want to pay for it'? Palo Alto democracy in action then and now.

4 people like this
Posted by PatrickD
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 4, 2015 at 12:59 pm

jerry99: It also means higher home prices, which is good or bad, depending on whether you own your home or not.

As someone who lives in your neighborhood (and is lucky enough to own a home), I've biked to work for the last 8 years, and adding those bike lanes will help people (like you) who are unable, or unwilling to give up their cars by reducing the total number on the road. It takes a while, but given that we've already paved over a good 1/3 of the available space in Palo Alto with car parks and roads, the science for handling congestion is pretty sound.

5 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 4, 2015 at 2:03 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

Stanford bullied Palo Alto into unregulated growth, just like Connect the dots remembers, in order to service their industrial park, and this has continued for decades. Every Stanford growth trigger creates hundreds, even thousands of additional daily car trips in Palo Alto, and Stanford's growth appetite is insatiable. The original sin was that Stanford had enough Palo Alto collaborators to push Oregon Expressway down Palo Alto's throat, and then the dam broke. This new, so called transportation vision, is a similar vision:tit will attract more cars, it will result in many additional daily car trips, more congestion, less parking options, more noise, more pollution and less livability.

5 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 4, 2015 at 3:39 pm

The argument that there is not enough parking is only part of the problem. The truth is that we do not have enough of the right types of parking. A commuter to Palo Alto is quite able to buy a permit in one of our garages for mere money. The residents of Palo Alto who may wish to park over 3 hours so that we can do some shopping, have lunch, watch a movie, can go by bus because oh yes we have free shuttles or they can go by bike because we have wonderful bike paths.

What baloney. I may need to have a meeting at a certain time of day downtown and I may want to grab some lunch before or after, but oh dear, the shuttles are still more than a mile from my house and they are not at a suitable time for my use.

No shuttles are good for those who are likely to use them regularly at the same time each day, not for spontaneous trips or occasional meetings where other events elsewhere have to be accounted for.

Bike riding is fine provided the weather is good, or I don't mind turning up looking and smelling like a teenager rather than a professional who is expected to be taken seriously, and that I don't have to get to another meeting afterwards 20 miles away.

Congestion is a problem too. I wonder how many of the people sitting in cars stuck in traffic are actually looking for somewhere to park. Or are trying to get kids to school, or are taking someone to the station, or are on their way to a medical appointment, or have a meeting with a lawyer, or a teacher, or a city hall employee.

Yes we have a traffic problem. We have a parking problem. At present we have so little efficient solutions.

Let's get people parked near where they need to go and I don't mean by building more garages, but by making the parking we have work better.

Let's get traffic moving efficiently and by that let's solve the problems of T & C, Middlefield, Alma at ECR/Sandhill, by getting rid of the inefficient lights and intersections and improving them.

Let's get better localized transit by expansions of the shuttle even if we have to start charging a modest fee. Let's get the kids to school by shuttles. Let's get shuttles from the offices at Fabian to the Caltrain stations. Let's get shuttles crossing the border (not the Berlin Wall) to Mountain View, to San Antonio, to the airports.

Let's solve problems that real people have by actually asking them, rather than guessing.

3 people like this
Posted by Tom
a resident of another community
on Sep 4, 2015 at 11:16 pm

Does anyone know how it got so crowded around here and why it will only get worse? The Bay Area Plan adopted regionally limits most development to existing transportation corridors and corporations have imported labor from around the globe. With little room for new housing near the new jobs, commuting here has increased. The good news is that retirees who own homes are free to reverse mortgage (or sell and leave the area) and live pretty well - as long as they do not venture into commute traffic in the Bay Area. Mass transit will be a massive disappointment. When a BART line has a problem, for example, no one gets anywhere on that line. Tele-commuting would be better than getting stuck in traffic or on a stalled BART train. Maybe push for that

5 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 4, 2015 at 11:49 pm

One of our other local newspapers reported today that because the garages are under-utilized, esp. the one on Alma/High St., that we're spending $1,000,000 over the next 3 years for valet parking to encourage garage use.

Of course the valet parking only lasts until 6PM and they haven't figured out how to turn over your keys in case you have a dinner meeting beyond saying you can pick your car up the next day!

Someone remind me how much we're paying for the residential parking permit program when we have under-utilized garages!!

5 people like this
Posted by stagger developments
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Sep 5, 2015 at 9:39 pm

Maybe they should slow down construction and stagger new developments. I can't get ANYWHERE in Palo Alto without getting slowed down for new construction. I usually bike my son to school (1 mile away) but sometimes we drive and we pass 3 HUMUNGOUS new developments which often impede my path (even though it's be 8am) It's aggravating that it takes me 15-20 mins. sometimes to drive 2 miles to downtown. I sometimes bike with my 2 other children, but with a big cargo bike plus groceries sometimes my legs get tired....but I get so fed up with traffic congestion I sometimes feel trapped on my street. When will it EVER STOP. It doesn't matter to those who go to work and stay in their offices all day. I'm a stay at home mom and have to go out and about to school drop off and pick-up, doctors appts, errands every day and what used to take me maybe an hour to do 5 years ago, now takes me 2 because I'm stuck getting out to the Trader Joe's parking lot due to the bottle neck absurd design of traffic signals they have going on there.

1 person likes this
Posted by surprised?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 6, 2015 at 8:54 am

So finally the wraps have come off the Gateway project at 135 Hamilton,
the sister to the 101 Lytton Gateway. Underparked, with mechanical
lifts. Use of TDR's under existing zoning. Approved by staff and ARB.
Findings.Incompatible with adjacent land uses or with the general character of the surrounding area including density and building height no impact, compatible in the immediate vicinity,creates a substantial imbalance between residents and jobs no impact,transportation and traffic impacts less than significant impact.Stone clad, tan colored resembling columns with recessed windows. Drive by and take a look at it.

3 people like this
Posted by easong
a resident of another community
on Sep 6, 2015 at 9:57 am

As more traffic impediments are placed in the downtown residential areas to slow cars down, increased traffic on Alma and Middlefield is bound to approach gridlock. When Caltrain eventually is trenched the intersections at Churchill and Meadow will cease to be bottlenecks. Covering the trench would allow widening Alma to full-width lanes with a dual turn lane in the median, or even better a solid tree lined median with turn lanes where needed. Potentially a couple new street overcrossings to El Camino, and additional greenway with bike and pedestrian paths all the way from downtown to California Ave. This all has to happen when Caltrain gets electrified. It will cost an extra billion. The bulk of the money should be extracted from developers and major employers like Arrillaga and Stanford. I can dream, right?

3 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 6, 2015 at 10:24 am

mauricio is a registered user.

I completely agree with 'stagger development'. Three houses on my street have been torn down and are being replaced by three larger new homes. There are heavy construction trucks and equipment running up and down the streets constantly and the noise is immense. Guidelines for construction hours are routinely ignored. Another house is being prepped for demolition, and three more are on the way. Often, the street is blocked because of the construction activity, and residents can't get into their garages. Why isn't construction staggered so you don't have several projects going on at the same time? The construction activity is endless and is seriously diminishing our quality of life, because there is never any relief from construction noise and construction hassles.

4 people like this
Posted by work from home
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Sep 6, 2015 at 6:08 pm

Tech Companies should require all employees to work from home a couple of days each week, or carpool.

3 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Sep 6, 2015 at 6:43 pm

@work from home

I know, if everyone else stopped driving it would make traffic flow a lot better.

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