Palo Alto survey to gauge local transportation habits | September 14, 2012 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - September 14, 2012

Palo Alto survey to gauge local transportation habits

City looks to use survey results to shape future transportation projects

by Gennady Sheyner

As Palo Alto zooms ahead with a broad plan to become a top-tier bicycling destination, city officials are embarking on a data-gathering effort to determine the best ways to meet the transportation needs of local residents and commuters.

To compile the information, the city's Planning and Community Environment Department has put together a survey that will be mailed to residents this fall. The data from the survey will be used to implement future transportation programs and projects, according to a report from Assistant Engineer Ruchika Aggarwal. The Planning and Transportation Commission discussed the proposed survey Wednesday evening, Sept. 12.

While the survey is relatively brief (it consists of 13 questions for residents and 11 questions for employees and is meant to be completed in five minutes), it is unusual for its breadth of scope. Aggarwal's report notes that transportation surveys are typically used by transit agencies for more focused objectives such as identifying service routes. Palo Alto's first-ever Transportation Survey, by contrast, aims to help the city "understand how residents and commuters travel within Palo Alto." It is the first such survey for local agencies within the San Francisco Bay Area, Aggarwal wrote.

The survey asks residents, among other things, what part of town they live in, how many cars and bicycles they have in their households and what time they head out for their daily commutes. Employees are asked for their preferred mode of transportation, their arrival and departure times and the types of facilities they believe would help their commutes.

Both residents and employees are asked what they think the city can do to help encourage them to use an alternate mode of transportation more regularly.

The survey will be available on the city's website and will remain online for four to six weeks. Aggarwal's report calls it a "simple, yet powerful innovative tool to help the city develop a more sustainable transportation infrastructure."

Palo Alto's data-collection effort is accelerating at a time when the city is awash with ongoing and planned transportation projects, many of them aimed at making local streets more bike-friendly. Earlier this year, the City Council approved a Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan that proposes a vast network of trails, bike boulevards and other infrastructure projects geared toward making it easier for non-drivers to get around the city. Among the most ambitious of these is a new bike bridge over U.S. Highway 101 at Adobe Creek, a project that could cost more than $9 million.

Last week, the city applied for a Santa Clara County grant that could provide $4 million for the new bridge.

At the same time, the council has been looking for ways to ease parking congestion and to encourage more development near major transit hubs, particularly next to the city's two Caltrain stations. The goal of these transit-oriented developments is to bring in housing and companies whose residents and employees would rely on means other than cars.

Planners are also working on a "transportation demand management" program that would encourage City Hall employees and others to eschew their cars for other modes of transportation. The program, which the city is just starting to develop, would use the results from the new survey as its baseline travel information, according to Aggarwal.

Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be emailed at


Posted by jm, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Sep 12, 2012 at 12:49 pm

With huge numbers of workers commuting into Palo Alto, and the Council encouraging more and more dense office development, surely the real traffic problem is how to accommodate this influx of workers.

Most of whom need to drive because they live too far away from quick and easy alternative transportation and need their cars to run errands on the way home, pick up children, and all the other myriad reasons cars are the only option for most people.

With all the mundane infrastructure needs and future pension and health benefits unfunded, traffic police cuts, and existing programs, I am continually amazed at all ways the city diverts money to fund less essential services.

But then, allocating what are supposed to be scarce resources to the boring and mundane yet essential responsibilities of running the city does not stroke the egos and boost their campaign funds of those given the ultimate responsibility of running our town. Nor boost the careers of those employed by the city. Nor line the pockets of all those who have a finger one way or another in benefiting from the building boom.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 12, 2012 at 12:59 pm

The best way to improve non personal automobile traffic is to improve the shuttle. At present it serves very few areas and is free. Expand the service, charge a small fare, aim to getting all secondary schools served within their boundaries by shuttle or vta service and survey seniors to ask them how the shuttle can better serve their needs.

Commuters in and out of Palo Alto is a different issue, but aiming to address the intown commutes is something Palo Alto can do on its own.

Posted by Big Picture, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Sep 12, 2012 at 1:04 pm

"Most of whom need to drive because they live too far away from quick and easy alternative transportation and need their cars to run errands on the way home, pick up children, and all the other myriad reasons cars are the only option for most people."

Right. And by improving the cycling infrastructure and getting those who CAN cycle to do so, it will help those who cannot get out of their cars by reducing congestion. A 10% reduction in the vehicles on the road would be very noticeable.
Maybe we should call these improvements "automobile congestion improvement measures" because that's exactly what they aim to do

Posted by Angela Hey, a resident of Portola Valley
on Sep 12, 2012 at 1:06 pm

The survey should cover not just residents and employees of Palo Alto, but people who bike through Palo Alto - many people do just that. I suggest the survey reach out to local companies with bike commuters like Google and also to local bike clubs like Western Wheelers ( and bike-related Meetup groups, as well as bike stores.

Posted by false claims by concerned, a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 12, 2012 at 1:13 pm

Boy what an ego our city leaders have--instead of dealing with problems facing residents, they are more interested in turning Palo Alto into a "biking destination"!!! Do they think that bikers will come from far and wide to bikethrough our streets? Is this whatthey want???
Big Picture has the right idea.
Time for the city to help all citizens not just the wacky environmentalists and the "there is no excuse fo rnot biking everywhere crowd"

Posted by destination, a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 12, 2012 at 1:32 pm

Palo Alto is a destination for people who are commuting to Palo Alto for their jobs. Believe it or not, most people working in Palo Alto do not actually live in Palo Alto.

New streets and parking garages will cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Forcing employers to pay for that infrastructure will force them out of town, and several high profile employers have left town.

Bicycle infrastructure for commuters is very cheap, creating a lot of bang for the buck. We should applaud out city leaders for looking for inexpensive solutions to real transportation problems.

Posted by Janet, a resident of Mountain View
on Sep 12, 2012 at 3:24 pm

I ride my bike from Mountain View to Palo Alto to go to work. I ride my bike across Palo Alto to go to the bank, the mall, and the grocery store on my way home from work. On Friday night, my husband rides his bike to my workplace and we ride together to University Avenue for dinner and then ride home.

We could use a car for these trips but don't because the bike facilities in Palo Alto are good. We spend our money in Palo Alto because we like riding there. Bike facilities allow more people to spend money in Palo Alto without adding extra cars, which require expensive parking and add congestion.

Posted by Vache LaMou, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Sep 12, 2012 at 3:45 pm

Bikes are perfect for commuting from Fremont in the rain.

Posted by destination, a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 12, 2012 at 3:51 pm

The bike lane over the Dumbarton Bridge is actually a very pleasant ride. Facebook has reportedly promised to improve the bike path between the Dumbarton Bridge and Palo Alto (most is already in good shape, but a small piece is missing). How often does it really rain around here?

Besides, the city is not trying to get everyone to bicycle all the time. Traffic engineers who study these things say if just 10% of trips an be made on bicycles instead of cars, congestion and pollution around the city will be dramatically reduced.

Posted by Silly, a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 12, 2012 at 4:00 pm

Since the city is so insistent on screwing up car traffic and making our lives miserable, why not require all commuters, visitors and shoppers from elsewhere to rent bikes at the city borders?

Why not require the developers of the super-dense office and residential developers to ban cars and make everything bike-only.

Otherwise this LUNACY is doomed to cause more exhaust and pollution as cars are backed up INTERMINABLY at every poorly timed traffic light.

Remember how the cops couldn't chase that guy because of DENSE CAR TRAFFIC? Expect more of that.

Posted by Good idea., a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 12, 2012 at 5:35 pm

Clearly no one who wrote in this thread has read the staff proposal. I just did. The writer fails to make clear that the survey focuses on ALL modes of transportation, including automobiles. Jeesh.

I am glad city staff is collecting data on how people get around the city, what their preferred modes of transporation are, where/when they travel. I think the survey needs some tweaking, but overall it is a good idea and overdue.

Everybody wants the streets to serve people better. Asking people how they currently use streets and how they might prefer to use the streets will provide some good information for planners.

Before you kvetch in a public forum, please get better informed. That is part of being a responsible citizen.

Posted by Lin, a resident of Professorville
on Sep 12, 2012 at 6:33 pm

There should be regular shuttle service (like the on at Stanford) all around the towns to bring residents to the train - CUZ you can't park there unless you pay quite a bit and there is not much parking also.

Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 12, 2012 at 8:19 pm

This article doesn’t represent the survey very well. First it says “...survey that will be mailed to residents…,” later says it will be online and will be for residents AND people employed in Palo Alto.

One thing that should be added is a question asking how far the respondent lives from a public transit station, e.g., a RR station. There’s a theory that people who live in dense “transit-oriented” housing will take public transit, but so far there’s no data to support that.

> “The survey should cover not just residents and employees of Palo Alto, but people who bike through Palo Alto - many people do just that.”

Yes, and they will be counted. Sending the survey specifically to bicycle groups would bias the results.

Posted by Gus L., a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 12, 2012 at 9:50 pm

We need a massive increase in bike riders in Palo Alto to go with a massive bridge to nowhere so we can have massive low cost housing with massive lane closures to cause massive gridlock so our City Council can make massive mistakes, causing a mass exodus on the council..Did I tell you HP is downsizing? ...Whew

Posted by jm, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Sep 13, 2012 at 1:15 pm

I have no problem with cross town bike boulevards like Bryant, and other easy and inexpensive quick fixes.

But we need to make travel through our town flow more smoothly for all forms of traffic, not plan to make it more frustrating.

What bothers me is the Planning and Traffic Department's punitive attitude to cars. To use the stick just as much as the carrot. To punish those who drive by increasing congestion because they believe this is necessary to force people out of cars.

The intersection snarl by Town and Country was not the city's doing, I believe they had their hands tied because the new Town and Country owners improved their site piecemeal so as not to have to do an EIR. But that kind of snarl will be replicated across town.

The plan to reduce lanes on El Camino is a good example. Although El Camino is a Cal Trans road, the Planning Department proposed to them and is well along in planning to reduce the lanes. Their answer is to provide dedicated turn lanes instead. Which will then back up into the regular lanes causing more frustration. This happens already lanes during times. Frustration for all. Increased speed and light running. And no traffic police on motorbikes because the city cut out those positions. There will be more trees and the stated goal is to make El Camino a walkable boulevard.

Yes, great to HOPE to reduce traffic by 10% with more people biking, but the city is enthusiastically increasing dense development that will surely increase traffic by at least 10%.

Do we just hope there isn't an "increase" in traffic with all the new dense 50' office buildings and high rise condos that are part of the Planning staff and council members goal?

And hope that Stanford's huge new medical center expansion won't impact our traffic. The huge number of increased employees, visitors, delivery trucks, this will bring to our local roads. Because I understand that Stanford will not be doing much in the way of providing traffic access themselves but instead get out of this by paying Palo Alto mitigation funds.

But if our roads have already been changed to limit and discourage traffic, what happens then?

There will be thousands of new low wage jobs whose workers cannot even dream of living anywhere near our lovely area. They have long commutes, often several hours or more. Take public transport the city employees say, with their well paid jobs, the rich in Palo Alto who have no idea that on minimal wages the cost of public transport is prohibitive. A gallon of gas in an old car is the only viable form of transport in cost and time saving for almost all these invisible workers.

Let's give them all free bikes to encourage them to get out of their cars.

Posted by I mostly drive, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Sep 13, 2012 at 4:13 pm

While I walk a lot, I drive almost everywhere, daily. Even if I can walk, in the winter or at night, I'll drive. The freeways are so congested, it's often a parking lot, during the morning and the evening commute. Hwy 101 & Hwy 85 are the worst, from my experience.

While multi-million dollar bike and pedestrian bridges are good, if there is lots of money to spend, we need to get real.

Fix the issue with freeway congestion first, and have traffic flowing reasonably well on El Camino Real, Embarcadero, Oregon Expressway, Page Mill Road, and other large streets that people would take to get to the freeways. To Liz Kniss: drive the freeways, please, and see what needs to be done. It's simple observation. No studies needed.

Anyone involved in ABAG needs to see what the current conditions are, before building more homes, to meet an arbitrary quota.

Posted by Verify the myth, a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 13, 2012 at 4:29 pm

They need to find out whether the myth that people who live near the train stations use the trains more than people in other parts of town.
People I know who live near the stations say their neighbor's cars are gone during the day.
But that is the mythology accepted by the city council so it can approve bigger and bigger buildings by their developer supporters.

Posted by robit noops, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Sep 14, 2012 at 8:32 am

Although I think an article about spending city money on a study of bike usage is frivolous, I find reading the comments just sad.
I used to ride my bikes everywhere but have gotten lazy and drive more now. I do find my stress level much lower riding through PA, because the drivers are very inconsiderate and the newer parking layouts are awful.
Yes, why not finish fixing the freeway, or the major through ways that are being impacted, or divert the money to more POLICE until burglarys and sexy assaults are resolved,

Posted by Long time resident, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 19, 2012 at 5:34 pm

Suggestions to city staff and council members:
1. Consider doing what two UK university cities have done: Oxford and Cambridge have eliminated virtually all private traffic in town centers. Large municipal parking lots on the outskirts accommodate commuters, residents, students, and tourists, and very frequent city buses bring people into town. Core streets are for bicyclists and pedestrians. Be imaginative,Palo Alto!
2. Palo Alto Planning and Transportation staff and City Council members should hop on bikes and see how wretched our existing infrastructure is. The bike lanes on N. California between Alma and Jordan Middle School are dangerously uneven, and the entire road is full of cracks that are hazardous to the hundreds of children and grownups who use this route. Bryant is better, but Cowper is arguably worse than N. Cal.
3. The city needs a road civility campaign and traffic enforcement more than it needs a costly bike bridge. I ride my bike all over town every day but because so many drivers speed mercilessly, and run red lights and stop signs, bicycling here requires incredible vigilance.

Posted by Jan H., a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 10, 2012 at 8:12 pm

Actually, I ride my bike quite a bit, and have seriously considered buying an Amsterdan City Bike, which has a large seating compartment in its front with room for two kids and two or three bags of groceries as well.

However, sometimes, in fact, rather frequently, it is impractical to bike ride: Rainy days, windy days, severe cold weather, injury , severe hot weather, large loads to carry, several people to transport, etc.

But the powers that be do not seem to u derstand that . They seem to think one should bike ride in all weather and all states of health and all sizes of load.

Hey, City Council: get real!

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton
on Oct 10, 2012 at 8:20 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

" Consider doing what two UK university cities have done: Oxford and Cambridge have eliminated virtually all private traffic in town centers. Large municipal parking lots on the outskirts accommodate commuters, residents, students, and tourists, and very frequent city buses bring people into town. Core streets are for bicyclists and pedestrians. Be imaginative,Palo Alto!"

Stanford did exactly this in 1976!! It does not require a lot of imagination.

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