Editorial: Now with a department of its own, can city's transportation priorities finally get accomplished? | News | Palo Alto Online |


Editorial: Now with a department of its own, can city's transportation priorities finally get accomplished?

With consultant reports stacking up, Palo Alto tries a new structure to address transportation challenges

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Philip Kamhi is going into the role of Palo Alto's chief transportation official with his eyes wide open.

He is returning to the city after leaving just a year and a half ago to take a job at BART, lured back by the promises of reporting directly to the city manager, additional staffing and the City Council's commitment to implementing improvements that have languished for years.

Kamhi's previous job with the city, which he held for only a year, was to oversee Palo Alto's complicated parking system, including the Residential Preferential Parking (RPP) programs that are now being targeted for major changes. He was the last of three different people who held that job over just a two-year period between 2016 and 2018.

City Manager Ed Shikada and the council are in the process of implementing a major shift in how transportation issues are managed at city hall, and Shikada believes getting Kamhi in place is key to the plan. With the resignation last August of Chief Transportation Official Josh Mello, the architect of some of the city's most controversial traffic projects and creator of the infamous bike boulevard street "furniture" on Ross Road and elsewhere, the city has created an Office of Transportation that will no longer be within the over-worked planning department.

Transportation programs in the city have been both controversial and understaffed, and unprecedented turnover has stood in the way of progress. The recommendations of numerous consultant reports have been neglected or delayed over the years because of, among other things, the turmoil and challenges of managing the current complex RPP system.

Meanwhile, other important transportation issues, such as the current debate over rail grade separation, have been plagued by delays and a lack of cohesive and consistent public process.

Last year, former City Manager Jim Keene, Shikada and the council realized that transportation staff vacancies, the hodgepodge of residential parking rules and systems and a backlash from the community on perceived illogical and counterproductive traffic-mitigation measures had overwhelmed and virtually paralyzed the diminished transportation team.

On Monday night, the council plans a discussion on the new Office of Transportation work plan, which charts a course to achieving reforms of the RPP system, including the establishment of clear and consistent rules and policies. In June, the council endorsed the creation of quantitative standards for when the diminished availability of street parking warrants a residential parking program, a move designed to end the current practice of relying mostly on surveys taken of affected residents.

With a patchwork of policies unique to each neighborhood program, it's no wonder that managing the program has become nearly impossible.

The work plan also includes finally moving forward with the recommendations made more than two years ago by a consultant, Dixon Resources, to implement a paid-parking system for downtown Palo Alto. Because of the staffing shortages in the transportation office and higher priority placed on the residential parking programs, the important Dixon recommendations were unfortunately put aside.

Yet those recommendations are essential to moving beyond simply protecting neighborhoods from the cars of nearby employees. The plan outlined in great detail the benefits of re-establishing paid parking downtown on streets and in city lots and garages, with technology-enabled adjustable pricing and time limits that respond to the parking supply and demand in different areas.

It recommended "smart" parking meters, capable of accepting credit cards and mobile payments, on University and Hamilton avenues and the side-streets connecting them. Pay-station kiosks would be used on other streets and in parking lots.

Palo Alto is far behind other cities in implementing modern parking and transportation strategies, not because the solutions are unknown or beyond our abilities but because city has not devoted the resources to getting the job done. Instead, it has labored over the RPP program and pursued controversial traffic-calming measures that confuse and divide the community.

We hope Shikada and Kamhi get the council's enthusiastic and clear support for moving forward with the proposed work plan. With new leadership and full staffing, it's time to stop studying and start implementing the reforms that have been sitting on a shelf for the last two years.


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17 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 4, 2019 at 9:15 am

We're stuck with a vast oversupply of office space and a large number of people driving into town. When they get here, once they get through bottlenecks near the off-ramps, they drive through residential neighborhoods to get to work, speeding, turning right at red lights without stopping, even with kids on bikes in crosswalks in front of them, turning right at stop signs without slowing down, and then, reversing the process at quitting time. We need two things:

1) Traffic enforcement

2) More commuter rail throughput and route options to bring as many commuters in here without cars

I love bicycles, but, most people are not going to commute from Pleasanton and Danville by bike. Bike improvements are for Palo Alto residents. To make life better, we need to reduce auto traffic. Get commuters in here via alternate means.

19 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 4, 2019 at 9:31 am

This is Palo Alto of course.

Anything that should be simple is made so very difficult here. We still are waiting for the bridge to replace the tunnel under 101.

I have been waiting for electric signs at garages with information about empty spots, none have come.

We don't have real time apps telling us how long to wait for a bus or shuttle. These are common place elsewhere.

As for paying for parking for 3 hours plus, so far forget it.

I will believe they might do a good job when I see some of the simple things other places do become common place here. I won't hold my breath though. After all, we have to make every issue a big issue and we have to have design competitions and statement making everythings.

37 people like this
Posted by We are here, we are here, we are HERE!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 4, 2019 at 10:15 am

You can't take a bus from Gunn High School to get to Foothill College 15 minutes away, to take public transit would take longer than walking there (although it would be less dangerous for lack of any coherent pedestrian ways).

It just seems like all these expensive changes are window dressing to justify more senseless overdevelopment. We just had another article some weeks ago in which our emergency services chief said the density is going to be the cause of significant loss of life in the kind of foreseeable emergencies we have here. When do residents (and our lives) take any kind of priority in City Hall decisions?

This is Cuckoo and Cowbird-bird development, emphasis on "cuckoo". You know the "brood parasites" that lay their eggs in another bird's nest, get the other bird to raise the chick as its own and at some point the (big highly paid tech) baby bird takes over the nest and pushes all the original occupants out, including he original bird's own children? In the case of our local situation, it would also involved the new bird screaming at the former occupants that they failed to build enough nest/housing to anticipate the brood parasite taking over!!

There are limits to infrastructure and resources. The example of Hong Kong shows that even if you have the best transportation infrastructure in the world used by almost everyone (except the wealthiest), people still can't all live next to their jobs. People in Hong Kong have average commute times equal to those in LA. With the advent of cleaner transportation technology for cars, at some point, the significant loss of productivity, freedom, and discretion over time of mass transit weighs in favor of the newer individual transportation technology.

I'm not suggesting we don't improve the absolute dumb mess our current mass transit "system" is (when you can't even take a bus from the high school to the local community college for middle college classes), but I am saying densifying hasn't and won't lower costs or create benefits (anymore than it did in Hong Kong all the while people were promised them there, too), and these transportation promises are similarly just ways for rich developers to keep getting their way at everyone else's expense.

We need to push for converting office space into housing, and find a way to include the transportation circulation in the picture of any new development. Otherwise, we're just inviting the Cuckoo birds to lay more of their corporate overgrowth eggs in to parasitize and push out existing residents (who, contrary to the self-serving developer rhetoric, mostly also had it really hard getting into their own nests, too).

26 people like this
Posted by dtnnorth
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 4, 2019 at 11:38 am

I am with We are Here, some of the ridiculous traffic calming they have done on Arastradero Rd and E. Charleston just adds to more traffic than I have seen. Pulling out of Piazza's is more dangerous. I just dont get it, just because we get a grant we should spend it making bad choices. I think this plan is left over from Mello guy

27 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 4, 2019 at 11:48 am

Online Name is a registered user.

Save us some money and get rid of the idiotic traffic "calming" obstacles that impede through traffic, that eliminate parking spaces, that back up traffic at EVERY Middlefield intersection by sticking posts and giant BOTTS dots in the road. The bulbouts like they just put at Piaxxa's is utter expensive nonsense that's damaging our cars.

26 people like this
Posted by senor blogger
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 4, 2019 at 1:05 pm

Now that we have a new Transportation Dept. let's get rid of the atrocious traffic furniture, split speed bumps and intrusive bulb-outs on Ross Road.
Some one is going to get killed from them.

6 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 4, 2019 at 1:14 pm

I have to make an "argumentum ab auctoritate" here: speaking as a senior, I must say to other seniors who have trouble seeing or negotiating bulbouts and other traffic furniture: consider that it might be time to hang up your keys. Sorry. I know that nobody wants to give up their automobile-engendered independence, but, our problem lies not in our bulbouts, but, ...

9 people like this
Posted by Evan
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 4, 2019 at 2:50 pm

It's not that hard. Add paid parking throughout downtown, adjust the pricing based on time/day and use the money to fund transportation programs and fund neighborhood improvements (in and near downtown, keep the money local). Paid parking should NOT be limited to just University and Hamilton. It should be in most of the zone where permit parking is today. Let each household who lives in that zone register 1-2 cars per household that won't have to pay, if need be.

Sit back, and watch parking and congestion get MUCH better downtown.

15 people like this
Posted by Paid parking for RVs
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 4, 2019 at 8:50 pm

Paid parking for RVs is a registered user.

Can we please charge the RVs as well for parking? With an extra fee for overnight parking aka lodging? Isn't there a transient occupancy tax as well?

1 person likes this
Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 7, 2019 at 3:44 pm

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

Be careful on the RV's. What we are finding out is that some do not even work so do not qualify as a "vehicle". They are getting rented to people who do not have licenses and do not know how to move them. Someone has to move it for someone else.
Better that RV's in total either occupy space provided by the owner's work place, or some city designated space that gets monitored on a regular basis. A lot on San Antonio Road on other side of 101. I want to say east. Every other city has instituted specific rules on this topic. You don't see RV's over in East PA at the Home Depot center.

Other problem is people parking on residential streets. JCC people are told to park on certain residential streets. These people are there every day. They interfere with street cleaning and safety for young children who live in the neighborhood. It is no longer a neighborhood where they can play on the street. The topic of parking was raised when Oshman / JCC was being built and it was "no problem". However they need to grow so shoving their employees onto the street is part of their growth pattern and it is not working for the residents. The people dump their trash on the street expecting some one else to pick it up.

13 people like this
Posted by Another Giveaway
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 7, 2019 at 5:04 pm

Transportation having its own department will have no effect on traffic. Traffic is just going to continue to get worse.

Palo Alto city government, elected officials and staff, have been captured by the real-estate industry. Through a combination of campaign contributions and revolving door relationships the real-estate industry has taken control of Palo Alto city government and integrated city government into the real-estate industry.

In a city controlled by real-estate interests the purpose of a transportation department is to create the pretexts the real-estate industry needs to justify the continued exploitation of the resources built residents.

The only thing that will improve traffic congestion in Palo Alto is the cessation and roll-back of office development, but nothing is going to change unless we break the stranglehold the real-estate industry has on local government.

8 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 7, 2019 at 8:20 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

"The only thing that will improve traffic congestion in Palo Alto is the cessation and roll-back of office development, but nothing is going to change unless we break the stranglehold the real-estate industry has on local government."

Even Facebook figured that out when they cancelled their plans last week to expand in Sunnyvale BECAUSE of the ever-worsening traffic here. Let our pro-development politicians take heed.

2 people like this
Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 7, 2019 at 10:35 pm

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

A potential problem looming is an extensive Google build that is in MV but close by. A lot of people will be working on the build. Time for PA to establish firm boundaries for workers parking in residential areas. We cannot afford to absorb both SU and Google extensive builds and be expected to absorb their work forces.
PA needs to establish a policy and enforce it - and make sure that the parties who are into extensive builds are managing their work forces within the construction zone areas - commercial streets. PA needs to maintain it's marketability as a city that shoppers want to visit so our businesses are benefiting from good city policy. No city can afford to look shabby and unclean. We are in part a tourist area due to proximity to sports, good food, people visiting the campus. We need to look good.

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