News

Palo Alto to charge higher fees for car trips

New traffic-impact fee would create an incentive for reducing congestion

In a bid to ease traffic congestion and pay for needed transportation projects, Palo Alto is preparing to significantly increase its traffic-impact fees for new developments.

Seeking to add some teeth to the city's traffic-management program, the City Council is considering charging developers a one-time fee of $8,093 for every net new car trip that their building would produce during the evening rush hour. The fee would apply to developments in every part of the city and would replace the current system, which includes four different fees.

The proposed fee, which the City Council's Finance Committee discussed and unanimously endorsed Tuesday night, would be among the highest in the region, according to city staff and consultants. Mountain View and San Jose each charge somewhat higher traffic-impact fees for commercial developments, but in each case the fees only apply to developments in specific areas of the city.

Today, Palo Alto has one citywide fee of $3,575 for each evening peak-hour car trip the development generates and three other fees that apply to specific parts of the city. The highest total fee is charged in Stanford Research Park, where in addition to the citywide fee, developers have to pay $12.42 per square foot for new projects. Similarly, projects in the San Antonio/West Bayshore area and along the Charleston-Arastradero corridor are assessed fees of $2.56 and $0.38 per square foot, respectively.

In each case, the fees are used to pay for transportation projects in the area where the construction is occurring.

Under the new program, the three area-specific fees will be replaced with a single citywide fee (in the case of Charleston-Arastradero, the current fee would end once the city completes its long-planned road improvements).

The $8,083-per-trip fee was derived from a "nexus" study that was recently completed by the consulting firm Hexagon. The study considered the impact of new Palo Alto developments on traffic between now and 2030, the estimated the costs of transportation projects that would ease the added congestion, and the "fair share" that new developments would have to contribute.

The expected city growth in the nexus study is based on Palo Alto's recently updated Comprehensive Plan, which calls for between 3,545 and 4,420 new housing units and between 9,850 and 11,500 new jobs. Hexagon estimated that 2,855 net new car trips would be generated as a result during the peak afternoon commute hours, a figure that would comprise about 5.7 percent of citywide traffic in 2030.

Because the new fee would be commensurate with the traffic that new buildings create, the developments would be expected to pay for about 5.7 percent of the city's share of new transportation projects, or roughly $23 million.

The higher fee is aligned with the city Comprehensive Plan's broad goal of getting commuters to switch from cars to public transit, bicycles and other modes of transportation. Among the most significant new programs in the Comprehensive Plan is a policy requiring all new developments that generate 100 or more peak-hour trips to adopt "transportation demand management" (TDM) plans for reducing traffic congestion.

Specific targets for traffic reduction vary by area of the city. Developments in downtown, where public transportation is plentiful, would be required to reduce car trips by 50 percent of the total that would otherwise be produced, while those in the California Avenue area would need to shrink their projected number of trips by 35 percent. In the Stanford Research Park and along El Camino Real, the trip-reduction goal is 30 percent. Everywhere else, it's 20 percent.

The Comprehensive Plan policy also requires developers to monitor the success of their TDM plans, submit annual reports to the city and pay a fine if they don't meet the targets.

But even if developers succeed in getting their tenants to take alternative forms of transportation, most will still see their fees rise. Jane Clayton, a consultant with Hexagon, estimated that the fee for a 50,000-square-foot office building in the California Avenue area would rise from the current level of about $175,175 to $396,067. A multifamily housing development with 80 units on El Camino Real would be charged $282,905 under the new fee structure instead of the current $125,125, Clayton estimated.

In some cases, however, the fee would become lower. Because Stanford Research Park projects would no longer have to pay a separate fee based on square footage, their overall assessments would decrease. Clayton estimated that replacing a 100,000-square-foot research-and-development building with a 200,000-square-foot office development would generate $824,466 in traffic-impact fees, down from the current level of $1.2 million.

Once collected, the money would be earmarked for projects on the city's $955-million wish list of needed transportation improvements, which includes about $600 million for separating the Caltrain tracks from local roads. The new study assumes that the city's share for funding these wish-list projects will be about $405 million, including $250 million for reconfiguring the railroad intersections.

Other projects that would be funded by the new fees include bike boulevards, new traffic signals on El Camino Real and Embarcadero Road, road improvements at Page Mill Road intersections, an "enhanced bikeway" along San Antonio Road and reconstruction of the Caltrain undercrossing at California Avenue.

To date, transportation-impact fees -- two of which were adopted in the 1980s, the others which were adopted in 2005 and 2007 -- have generated about $11 million for transportation projects, with $4.5 million coming from the Stanford Research Park, according to a report from the city's Department of Planning and Community Environment.

Though members of the Finance Committee acknowledged that the fees will only pay for a small fraction of the city's transportation needs, they supported the change to a single fee -- which is expected to both bring in more funding and simplify the process of assessing and collecting fees.

"Administering one citywide fee is a lot simpler than four overlapping fees," Planning Director Hillary Gitelman said.

City Councilman Greg Tanaka said he was concerned that the new citywide fee could create problems for small projects in south Palo Alto, where property owners often don't have the resources that downtown firms enjoy. But Chief Transportation Official Joshuah Mello noted that downtown projects will have to face stiffer traffic-reduction targets and will have to spend significant sums to get their tenants out of cars and into using other modes of transit.

"The TDM demands would be fairly stringent," Mello said. "The money they'd spend on TDM would be close to what they'd spend to pay that (traffic-impact fee) for that trip."

The committee also agreed to make a few exemptions to the new citywide fee. Retailers would be required to pay 50 percent of the fee, while affordable-housing projects and day care establishments would be exempted entirely.

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Comments

13 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 7, 2018 at 10:48 am

Are these fees high enough to pay for the new parking garages that the city is building? Or do residents have to pay for those through our property taxes?


13 people like this
Posted by Green Gables
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 7, 2018 at 10:51 am

Hooray! Maybe that will decrease construction and traffic.


34 people like this
Posted by Concerned Observer
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 7, 2018 at 10:59 am

Just another money grab by the city to help pay for the bloated salaries and pension plans of city employees.

Interesting that Mountain View, in a recent report by the Daily Post, had lower revenues (336 million) but a higher surplus (103 million) compared to Palo Alto revenues(490 Million) and (36 million) surplus.

Maybe city manager and spender in chief Jim Keene, should visit Mountain View and find out how it's done. Nah, he'd probably hire somebody at 150K annually to do it for him. Job creation....the Palo Alto way.


24 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 7, 2018 at 11:15 am

The new fee is certainly an improvement, but, why are there between

"9,850 and 11,500 new jobs in the preferred scenario" ?

IMHO, the preferred scenario is zero (0) "new" jobs. Of course there will be change. But, why can't between 9,850 to 11,500 old jobs move elsewhere? We are beyond the limit on traffic as it is.


16 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 7, 2018 at 11:17 am

Online Name is a registered user.

An $8,000-ONE time fee when we're supposed to fund commuters' public transit fees for ever and ever??

That won't even buy TWO years of round-trip CalTrain fares SF-PA-SF at $4600 plus whatever Lyft/Uber fees get added on to get our commuters to/from the stations.

Still, it's a start but a teensy tiny one that will need to be updated early and often.


13 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 7, 2018 at 12:15 pm

I can't quite get my head around the nuts and bolts of this, but please can it apply to all the granny flats that are proposed to be built too!


29 people like this
Posted by curious
a resident of another community
on Feb 7, 2018 at 12:55 pm

How do they estimate that, from 14,000 new housing units and jobs, only about 3,000 additional rush-hour trips will be generated? Sounds awfully optimistic to me.


18 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 7, 2018 at 4:10 pm

"...charge developers a one-time fee of $8,093 for every net new trip that their building would produce during the evening rush hour."

It's a bargain, likely more than offset by accompanying PC zoning giveaways.


8 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 7, 2018 at 4:49 pm

@Online Name, that amount could buy 34 years of unlimited-ride Caltrain Go Passes.
Of course every Go Pass puts Caltrain further in the hole.


7 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Feb 7, 2018 at 5:45 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"Many California communities are banking on more transit use to address problems of congestion and climate change. Yet despite heavy investments in public transportation over the past 15 years, transit ridership is declining — from 2012 to 2016, California lost 62.2 million annual transit rides, and the six-county Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) region lost 72 million annual rides, 120 percent of the state’s total losses.

With such political support and policy stakes invested in transit, why is ridership falling? Three UCLA ITS scholars have authored a new report for SCAG in order to better understand this trend and help inform planners and policymakers on how to address declining ridership. The full report, by assistant professor of urban planning and ITS faculty fellow Michael Manville, professor of urban planning and ITS director Brian D. Taylor, and professor of urban planning and ITS faculty fellow Evelyn Blumenberg, includes several key findings:

Increased car ownership can likely explain much of the transit ridership decline in Southern California.
Between 2000 and 2015, private vehicle ownership dramatically increased among households in the SCAG region, from 1.7 to 2.4 vehicles per household. During the 1990s, the region grew by 1.8 million people and 456,000 household vehicles, or 0.25 cars per new resident. But from 2000 to 2015, the region added 2.3 million people and 2.1 million household vehicles, nearly one car per new resident."

Web Link


17 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 7, 2018 at 6:21 pm

To all you public transit haters, try taking BART or Caltrain during commute hours. Most of the time, the trains are standing-room-only through San Mateo County and over to the East Bay.


5 people like this
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 7, 2018 at 8:12 pm

Nayeli is a registered user.

@ Green Gables - Exactly! However, I think that it would be better to charge at a per-employee basis (including every new hire). This way, the funds could be used to pay for the new parking garage and traffic studies.

BTW, I really like your screen name! We watched the new "Anne with an E" series on Netflix. We loved it! I never thought that anything could compare with the old Anne of Green Gables series, but this one is very good!


12 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 7, 2018 at 9:55 pm

"How do they estimate that, from 14,000 new housing units and jobs, only about 3,000 additional rush-hour trips will be generated? Sounds awfully optimistic to me."

If they use the full number the plan falls apart on paper as well as in reality. 3,000 is the max that lets the numbers derived from it stay within their limits.

-- Urban Planning By Wishful Thinking 101


8 people like this
Posted by Judy
a resident of South of Midtown
on Feb 7, 2018 at 10:14 pm

How about replacing the local shuttle bus that goes from Charleston Rd to downtown and back. It is free and popular with low income seniors and students after school.
But you get a headache sitting in this loud, rattling, shaking bus with low front windows that you can hardly see out front for you stop. And the side windows were painted over almost completely. Sorry I have to complain about this:( but whoever designed this was so shortsighted. I don’t take the shuttle that often as I do drive more often but Infeel bad for the seniors and the kids.


6 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 8, 2018 at 4:38 am

In my opinion, trying to *get* people to use transit is futile. The spending, tax hikes, punishing employers, etc. only to watch ridership decline is not justified. I don't think it's our leaders' job to experiment with forms of social engineering. I also don't believe that a fee or tax increase is ever a sound solution to anything, because someone's getting paid!
I think any individual would prefer to drive where they can turn their A/C on full blast and control what they hear on the radio, and save time. It almost feels like the social engineers want us to lose many hours in unbearably congested traffic so that it makes public transit seem like a more viable alternative -- but this is a destructive solution, it is socialism at it's finest. Trying to get people out of cars and into public transit is regressive. It only makes sense from an ivory tower, bird's eye view but not from an individual's perspective. I want to see every one of these government bureaucrats and transportation executives give up their privileged parking spots and take a crowded train to work every day -- then I'll be convinced.

Besides, the population influx is the real problem, not the cars. Apparently, owning a car or three is part of the American dream.


11 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 8, 2018 at 8:23 am

Whenever there is a day without school, traffic around town is much, much better. It doesn't take a traffic genius to work out that school traffic makes driving around town much better, so don't always blame commuters coming here to work.

I think it is about time that shuttles to schools (school buses) were really improved. PAUSD does a reasonably good job of encouraging kids to bike or walk, but parents driving their kids to school and then picking them up afterwards has to be looked at as one of the biggest traffic problems this town has. PAUSD is not the only problem, we have so many private schools adding to the traffic mess - Challenger, Stratford, Castelleja, etc. etc. have to get on board too.


2 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 8, 2018 at 8:53 am

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

>> Whenever there is a day without school, traffic around town is much, much better. It doesn't take a traffic genius to work out that school traffic makes driving around town much better, so don't always blame commuters coming here to work.

Wow, so cities without kids wouldn't have traffic? Who knew it would be so easy? ;-)

No offense, but, your argument is "silly". If we have days with no school, traffic is much better. If we have days with no work, traffic is much better. If we have days with no shopping-- well, actually, this never seems to happen, but-- traffic is much better. If we had days with no school, no shopping, and no work, think how little traffic there would be! I can show you some retirement areas out in the desert that resemble this pretty closely, by the way.


2 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 8, 2018 at 10:53 am

Anon, you are trolling of course.


7 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 8, 2018 at 1:03 pm

Thought I'd swing by the East Bayshore Post Office to mail my driver license renewal on my way back from the Baylands yesterday afternoon. Traffic at the International School of the Peninsula was complete gridlock backed up onto the frontage road in both directions. Prominent sign at the P.O. parking lot entrance, "No ISTP parking at Post Office".

Similarly afternoon access to northbound El Camino from Meadow/El Camino Way can be impossible due to the backup at Keys School there on the corner. Someday I'll have to hang out and see how the #22 VTA drivers negotiate that bus stop.

Just observations.


4 people like this
Posted by No School No traffic
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 8, 2018 at 1:51 pm

What people are experiencing those days are a reduction in the total amount of cars trying to use the road. I think it's good to try and encourage this reduction in cars on a regular basis. If YOU are not ever willing to get out of your car, logic would dictate that you supported all efforts to get OTHERS out of their cars. Yet i see some here attacking those people (Bikes, Transit)
The loosing proposition is to try and make traffic flow without any reduction in cars.

So there you have it. You want traffic to flow? Who's first to give up their car? (Probably nobody)
Who wants programs that will assist others make the switch to get out of their cars? (should be every last logical one of you)

The only cure is less cars than we currently have. Thats' the simple fact.


8 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 8, 2018 at 2:03 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

@No School No Traffic, what you're seeing is the addition of the number of cars and other forms of transit AND the simultaneous narrowing of roads, lane elimination, road furniture etc etc. that make things seem twice.


Had they simply added more cars, it would have been bad enough but shoving more and more total vehicles into narrower and narrower roads is just sadism.


Like this comment
Posted by No School No traffic
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 8, 2018 at 2:20 pm

So eliminating the few narrowing areas will solve the traffic problem? I disagree. When I moved back here in the late 80's traffic was not great, but not so bad, but by 1998, prior to most all road changes, traffic was a real bear, esp in the evenings. It happened because of the amount of cars trying to use the roads grew beyond capacity during the .com boom. We've now added far more cars to the same space since then. It's my opinion, based on how I used to see the exact same roads "flow", that no matter how wide and clear you make those lanes, traffic will not improve. Nothing will improve it until the number of cars is reduced. What people are seeing today is the critical mass of cars now on our roads, warned about for decades, but ignored. If people insist on staying in their cars, the advice would be 1) slow down, 2) be patient. The magic bullet of traffic improvement does not exists with this many cars trying to fit into a finite space, so point blame elsewhere if you must, but know the real culprit.


Like this comment
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 8, 2018 at 3:39 pm

Posted by Online Name, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland

>> @No School No Traffic, what you're seeing is the addition of the number of cars and other forms of transit AND the simultaneous narrowing of roads, lane elimination, road furniture etc etc. that make things seem twice.

>> Had they simply added more cars, it would have been bad enough but shoving more and more total vehicles into narrower and narrower roads is just sadism.

To minimize delay at an intersection, you need more lanes behind the (red) light in order to queue up vehicles and get them through the intersection when the light turns green. Extra lanes are not necessary between lights, and encourage speeding and excessive lane changes. If cars are queued up at a light during rush hour, then THAT is the limiting factor, not the traffic calming measures.

Also, narrower lanes are actually statistically safer for cars and bicycles, and, maintain capacity as well. The safest range is 2.8-3.3m wide per lane, with ~3.0 the optimum overall for safety and capacity.

Web Link


2 people like this
Posted by Narrow lanes
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 8, 2018 at 4:43 pm

Narrow lanes do indeed correlate with fewer accidents in Tokyo, even if Toronto data is added in, according to the study. And causation is missing.

But in the context of the Bay Area, that study is so flawed that no conclusions at all can be drawn from it.


2 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 8, 2018 at 4:54 pm

Narrow lanes will bring the average speed down to that of the slowest vehicle. When that vehicle is a young child on a bike then that will be the speed for all traffic. When that vehicle is a bus that has to stop to allow passengers to alight and board and there is no space for overtaking said bus, the speed for all traffic will be even slower than a young child on a bike.


2 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 9, 2018 at 9:56 am

Posted by Narrow lanes, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis:

>> But in the context of the Bay Area, that study is so flawed that no conclusions at all can be drawn from it.

Why?


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood:

>> Narrow lanes will bring the average speed down to that of the slowest vehicle. When that vehicle is a young child on a bike then that will be the speed for all traffic. When that vehicle is a bus that has to stop to allow passengers to alight and board and there is no space for overtaking said bus, the speed for all traffic will be even slower than a young child on a bike.

Barron Park has always had mostly narrow streets with no sidewalks and young children on bikes. Drivers have always been obligated to modulate their speed depending on the situation.

The average driving speed I find averaged over several weeks and all kind of places, from Barron Park (generally slower) to Alma (generally faster) is about 14 mph end-to-end. (According to the car.) I don't have a comparable biking speed measurement method, but, I estimate 10 mph.

As I read all of these posts, it appears to me that the real problem is psychological. Drivers are quite used to controlling their speed as necessary to avoid hitting other cars, e.g., at red lights. But, for some reason, they resent having to control their speed for bicycles and pedestrians. I really has nothing to do with end-to-end trip time (quite often nearly the same by car or bike), but, something else.

Get over it. Share the road.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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