City's effort to curb traffic hits its first speed bump | September 20, 2013 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - September 20, 2013

City's effort to curb traffic hits its first speed bump

Palo Alto council agrees, then splits on how to proceed with new transportation-management program

by Gennady Sheyner

It could be an ominous sign that Palo Alto's first discussion of a broad and ambitious traffic-management program kicked off with optimistic plaudits and ended in legislative gridlock Monday night.

Or it could be yet another reminder that when it comes to curing the city's traffic and parking woes, nothing is ever simple or straightforward.

The City Council on Monday rallied behind a proposal by four of its members — Mayor Greg Scharff, Vice Mayor Nancy Shepherd, Councilwoman Gail Price and Councilwoman Liz Kniss — to develop a "comprehensive" transportation-demand management program in the city's major business districts with the goal of reducing solo car trips by at least 30 percent. Then, in a splash of cold water, the discussion devolved into a squabble over how best to launch this program.

After much debate, a motion, a substitute motion, an amendment to the original motion and an aborted attempt to table the discussion, the council finally reached a unanimous decision: to continue the discussion to another day.

The colleagues memo aims to add another program to the city's broad but slow-moving effort to solve the problem of too many cars, an effort that also includes considerations of new garages, residential parking-permit programs and the elimination of parking exemptions.

Their proposal entails hiring a consultant to create a "rigorous TDM (transportation demand management) plan" targeting four areas: downtown, the California Avenue Business District, Stanford Research Park and the East Meadow Circle area, which was added to the other three on Monday. After defining the boundary for each district, the city and its consultant would come up with a variety of car-reducing measures — including incentives to ride public transit, carpool and bike — and ways to pay for them.

Shepherd, who recently took a trip to the Contra Costa County Transit Center (which reduced solo car trips by more than 30 percent through a TDM program), characterized the proposal as holistic.

"Rethinking our districts as units — as a whole unit — and not just demanding that each individual business come up with a plan — that's the concept here and that's something where we can have takeaways from Stanford's Transportation Demand Management and many others," Shepherd said, referring to the university's reduction of its car trips by more than 30 percent under mandate from Santa Clara County.

But how does one begin? Therein lay the squabble. The four council members who signed the memo urged their colleagues to hit the gas pedal and hire a consultant, who would then help the city come up with a broad outreach plan to the many community stakeholders. Others, including Councilmen Larry Klein and Pat Burt, urged caution and argued that the city should do some community outreach before heading into a broad, multi-year initiative.

"This is such an important project that we should not just jump into it without our eyes being wide open about what we're doing, how much we're spending and how we're going to proceed," Klein said.

Klein proposed holding two study sessions, featuring stakeholders from the neighborhoods and the business communities and presentations from transportation-management experts, before hiring a consultant. As part of this process, staff would also come back with cost estimates and information about what exactly this effort would entail.

Burt stressed the importance of "getting it right" and characterized the proposal from the four council members as a "Ready. Fire. Aim" approach. Both he and Klein praised the memo's desired end, even as they challenged its proposed means.

"This is a big deal," Burt said. "If we're successful at it, (it'll be) one of the more important accomplishments we'll have for a long period of time."

Councilman Marc Berman agreed and said he doesn't have enough data to adequately discuss the broad proposal. Berman said he wouldn't feel comfortable approving a transportation management program based solely on a three-page memo and sided with Klein and Burt.

"Everyone hates the Palo Alto process until we try to short-circuit the Palo Alto process," Berman said. "Then we get beat over the head with that. I become very leery of doing that."

Councilwoman Karen Holman noted that the effort would affect "every person who lives and works in this community." It's very difficult, she said, to make a "don't rush" argument about an issue that is so urgent to the community. But she also stressed the importance of getting it right.

"If we do it poorly or if we do it in a rushed fashion, I'm concerned we won't have the community and business community support," Holman said.

Ultimately, the council decided not to vote on either Scharff's motion to hire the consultant or on Klein's motion to schedule the study sessions. After a debate stretching past 11:30 p.m., Kniss made a motion to table the discussion, which would effectively push it forward to a future meeting. At Klein's urging, she withdrew this motion in favor of his proposal: to have a council member from each of the two camps meet, resolve their differences, and bring back to the full council next month a proposal for kicking off the traffic-reducing program.

"The important thing is that we're studying TDM and looking at a way to make this happen in our community," Kniss said near the end of the discussion.


Posted by Tired of this Mess, a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 17, 2013 at 10:02 am

What next? I can't even drive down my own street to get to my house due to a restriction on hours for passing through the neighborhood and now the council is going to tell me I can't drive. The city council needs to stop pushing their problems on the residents and start to figure out how to stop the growth of people which it the REAL problem! We are simply MAXED OUT!

Posted by TDM for what, a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 17, 2013 at 10:18 am

Herb Borock made an important point, that is, is the intention to deal with the current traffic-parking problem or will it take into account the buildings about to be approved and constructed.

Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 17, 2013 at 10:34 am

Can someone explain this TDM - Transportation Demand Management - thing in simple easy to understand terms? I just see this as some kind of "code" to pull one over on people, another way to keep them from doing what they want and going where they they want when they want - without paying someone for the right. Another way to stratify society based on cash. Screw that!

One thing it says in Wikipedia: The concepts of TDM borrowed from mainstream transport planning in Europe, which had never been based on assumptions that the private car was the best or only solution for urban mobility.

In other word this fancy term is something that is being imposed here that was originated in Europe for another environment and purpose.

I like the old simple model ... we have a city, we have businesses ... it is the city's job, and the taxpayers to develop in a balanced way to leverage our infrastructure to maximize our use and enjoyment of our city - NOT to just suck more and more money from residents for more restrictions, rules and fees! This is pure regressive taxation but hidden in a very underhanded way.

Posted by resident, a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 17, 2013 at 10:36 am

Traffic engineering is a complicated discipline. I think they are right to turn this process over to professional engineers instead of politicians.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 17, 2013 at 10:36 am

Aim to get the school traffic off the road by improvements to the shuttle. Stop getting some of the kids to school for free and others on VTA and others nothing.

Traffic is completely different when school is out of session. Parents driving to school makes up a big part of the problem. Do something about the shuttle, charging a fare and getting it all over town during school commute time.

Put pressure on the school district to start hiring a school transportation company for getting some of the kids in the south to their respective schools. For students who live in the far south of both high school boundaries, there is a long commute and many of them need a better option than bikes or parents driving them.

Same can be said about the magnet schools, in particular SI at Escondido as well as Ohlone and Hoover. Get the school district to do a better job of alleviating the traffic problems these schools create.
A few shuttles from key areas of town might help.

Posted by Kate, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 17, 2013 at 11:04 am

While the city and council are debating all of this ad nausea, could the city PLEASE fix the traffic mess on Embarcadero at T& C and PALY? Maybe Messrs. Arrillaga and Peery could build an overpass for the students? We could even name it for them!! Anything - just somebody do something!! This past week westbound traffic was backed up to Cowper, and the eastbound traffic stalled through the Embarcadero-El Camino intersection. It's a traffic nightmare. Then there are the ambulances trying to navigate through this jungle of vehicles.

Posted by jerryl, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 17, 2013 at 11:44 am

I am very suspicious of this TDM buzzword. It will be used as an excuse to hide a bunch of restrictions on us, to justify half measures implemented by large developers instead of providing parking for ALL workers and customers of their projects. It will be used in a vain attempt to force people on to bicycles who are too old or infirm to travel that way.

Shuttle busses sound fine but they don't really reduce the number of car trips unless satellite lots are constructed where people can leave their cars and transfer to the shuttle or other public transport. Where would these transfer points be built? Who would pay for them in the rare event that a place for them was found?

Posted by Mary G, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 17, 2013 at 11:47 am

I agree with Kate - Embarcadero is a mess around school start and end times - and I don't see it listed in the areas that the TDM would address. Combine the traffic going to Stanford and the traffic to local schools, and I can barely get out of my house. Can we go back to school buses? And have we looked at Portland, Oregon and their out-of-downtown parking structures coupled with free loop transit? And making developers provide full parking facilities - not "public benefit" tradeoffs? This would be three fairly simple ways to go.

Posted by Henry, a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 17, 2013 at 11:57 am

Why isn't this program included in the Comprehensive Plan Update so it's environmental impacts can be analyzed per California Law (CEQA)?

It's folly to implement such a HUGE program without having a clue as to the general direction the city is headed (high, med, low or no growth).

Mayor Scharff declared of war on the "folks" in Palo Alto who want to preserve a small town feel. Shepherd, Price and Kniss are apparently fighting on his side too. This War Declaration happened at the RidePal ribbon cutting ceremony and is quoted here. Web Link

Posted by Soren, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 17, 2013 at 12:10 pm

So stop letting developers have carte-blanche with Palo Alto! Stop attracting more and more businesses and huge office buildings that bring more and more employees from out-of-town! Way, way more people commute to live here than the number of people who live here, and THEY are the ones causing all the traffic congestion, not the residents!

Stop punishing Palo Alto residents! Punish the developers who cause this problem!

Posted by Donald, a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 17, 2013 at 12:16 pm

TDM deals with commuters going to work, and that is not the primary source of problems at T&C. Furthermore, the city has no authority to make any changes inside the shopping center, on El Camino or at the school. How do you expect them to "fix" the problem when their hands are tied?

TDM for employers has been around for a long time, but has not been taken very seriously in most cases. Stanford is the exception, and we should learn from their success.

Posted by Soren, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 17, 2013 at 12:44 pm

I meant to say, more people work here than live here!

The problems at T&C are too many stop lights in a very, very short distance--one of which can be set off by any Paly student at any time, bringing everything to an abrupt halt. That is a Palo Alto city engineering problem.

Also, With all the traffic that the T&C improvements brought ( those are mostly out-of-towners, too), Embarcadero was not widened to accommodate it all. Worse yet, the very people who increased the number of shops and businesses there also removed 25% of the parking when they re-landscaped! What is left is very tight parking, causing frequent fender-benders! The people, de elopes, and engineers who planned this, along with the city who let them do it, should be held account table, including taking financial responsibility for the traffic accidents.

I am amazed that no one has sued yet!

Posted by university ave, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 17, 2013 at 1:01 pm

Stanford has a TDM plan which it is always touting but that plan has done nothing to alleviate the traffic mess on University Ave. and its surrounding streets. Some of this traffic is local, some headed downtown but MOST of it is created by Stanford employees commuting to 101 and/or Dumbarton. Why doesn't Stanford and, perhaps, the City provide a Park and Ride on the City outskirts with bus service to Stanford?

Posted by Mike, a resident of University South
on Sep 17, 2013 at 1:53 pm

I'm not saying that the Stanford plan is perfect, but Stanford does have free buses going from Caltrain into campus. That should take some traffic off of University Avenue. See Web Link

Posted by boscoli, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 17, 2013 at 2:27 pm

Unfortunately this is akin to closing the stable door after all the horses have escaped. Palo Alto has been grossly overdeveloped and its population density is unnaturally high for its particular location and infrastructure. Stanford with its perpetual desire to expand and develop is exacerbating the problem. Unless those trends are reversed, no curbing traffic plan will work.

Posted by Garrett, a resident of another community
on Sep 17, 2013 at 2:32 pm

Passing laws don't make anyone happy or willing to change, it will just make them mad. Getting people to use shuttle or any kind of transit means changing lifestyles but passing laws won't help.

I think most people are willing to ride a fast, safe and easy to under shuttle bus network, not a slog on wheels. We have morning rush hour, Lunchtime and evening rush hour not to mention all the kids that are being driven to school. Shuttle buses can double as school buses and no the kids don't have to sit with strangers. If Mountain View gets a shuttle in the San Antonio Area which nothing wrong with transfers.

Stops, places and the routing kinks can be worked out over time.

Posted by Neilson Buchanan, a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 17, 2013 at 3:16 pm

Time to be realistic. Here are my most optimistic hopes. Workers in Palo Alto vastly outnumber residents so doing nothing is not an option for City Staff and Council. Traffic demand management (TDM) is a proven way to manage the increasingly negative commuter traffic AND severe commuter parking within our neighborhoods.

Next month the Council can announce a series of public meetings to explain this concept. The meetings must start with a frank admission of how severe traffic and parking is today and will be in 2017. Not later than December 1 the Council can be in a position to make a decision to pursue TDM or not. If the Council and Staff move at lightning speed at least 12 additional months would be required to get TDM alternatives on the table. Implementation funding mechanisms could take 6-12 additional months.

During this 2+ year period the Council cannot continue its policies promoting developments without true analysis of traffic and parking impact. Developments, especially office buildings, without on-site parking must be stopped today. Each project must be evaluated by its cumulative impact on gridlocked intersections and neighborhood streets. Waivers, exceptions, incentives, exemptions, etc, etc granted to developers have been abused and mis-used. Time to stop this madness while TDM evolves.

Posted by Jill, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 17, 2013 at 4:18 pm

Don't punish the residents of PA for the traffic and parking woes.
Punish the developers in their pocketbooks. The city council needs to just say "no" to developers, who are destroying this town. Our current city council members are not good stewards of Palo Alto. The quality of live here has diminished significantly in the last 2 years.

Posted by Donald, a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 17, 2013 at 4:27 pm

Why does anyone need to be "punished"? Why can't we work together to find a solution instead of just looking for someone to hurt?

Posted by Robert, a resident of another community
on Sep 17, 2013 at 4:32 pm


Sorry. The truth is, if you're sitting in traffic you're as much at fault as everyone else. Palo Alto isn't some gated community that only certain people have the "right" to be in.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 17, 2013 at 6:11 pm

Nothing wrong with TDM, but the real answer is (drum roll please):


This City Council apparently doesn't like that shot of common sense, but maybe the next one will.

Posted by common sense, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 17, 2013 at 6:26 pm

This all window dressing for next year's election; no action will be taken on traffic or parking - but Scharf, Price & Shepard will claim they are "working on the issue".

Of course they won't mention all the zoning changes to PC which allowed very high density development; they won't mention the hundreds of thousands of square feet of commercial buildings they voted to allow. Nor will they commit to vote down the Jay Paul project 300,000 square foot project, the 27 University Ave 270,000 square foot project.

And they won't give up their reserved parking that they get as "council members".

Posted by senior longtime resident, a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 17, 2013 at 7:48 pm

So once again I urge all Palo Altans TO VOTE NO ON MEASURE D on Nov. 5th!!!

This will show our City Council that residents have a voice and a choice in regard to PC rezoing for high density whether it be for commercial or residential buildings. We've started to change the process with our petitions that required a referendum on the ballot to rescind the rezoning on Maybell.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Sep 17, 2013 at 8:10 pm

Henry - didnt you hear - your democrats in the state government just removed traffic impacts from CEQA consideration. Because what they care about is fast tracking development for lining developer and union pockets. Period. End of Story. And to think - I was a lifelong democrate until just a few years ago when this monkey business started... The high speed rail shenanigans has really opened my eyes...

Posted by Parent, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Sep 17, 2013 at 8:13 pm

Resident of Downtown North just figured out how to save this city millions in consultant fees.

And other here mentioned school busses - what a novel idea. Another low hanging fruit that apparently is just not as politically attractive as looking for ways to legislate our freedoms.

Posted by Mom, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 17, 2013 at 8:17 pm

Please quit blaming the students of Paly for the traffic. Truth is, 1000 students ride their bikes to school each day, which is much more than most other schools in America. Half our high school students bike. Others walk. It's faster for students to ride their bikes instead of waiting in traffic. As for Paly traffic in the morning, my children usually bike but I drove my daughter to school for the last month due to a sports injury and most of the congestion on Embarcadero is from Stanford employees or people turning left or right onto El Camino. There are not 1000 cars dropping off at Paly. Other posters are likely correct in saying most cars are commuters.

Posted by DGN, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 17, 2013 at 8:21 pm

How do we get Vote "No" lawn signs for Measure D? I want one.

Posted by Mom, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 17, 2013 at 8:23 pm

In addition, the shuttles on Embarcadero do not start in the afternoons until 3:25 and there are two days where Paly releases as early as 1:50. If the shuttles ran more frequently to Paly in the morning (they are only running every 15 minutes) then perhaps more students would take the shuttle in the morning. It's standing room only on the shuttle at 3:30 and 3:50.

Posted by jb, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 17, 2013 at 9:08 pm

The right hand has rarely known what the left was up to in Palo Alto. Way back in perhaps the 1980's I remember that the yearly Palo Alto Almanac used to publish the numbers for Palo Alto's population of residents and total population on a work day. Back then it was something like 56,000 people sleeping in town every night and about 200,000 in town on a work day. Surely it is more than that now by a long shot. But that difference has been diverging for a very long time.

Not only is there a traffic/parking problem created by this disparity, but what do we do with all those out-of-towners if The Big One (earthquake) should occur during a work day?

Posted by resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 17, 2013 at 10:48 pm

Common Sense nailed it - this is "window dressing", cover for those Council members facing reelection next year. In its timing it's probably also meant to diffuse resident anger and negative perceptions in general of the Council, prior to the Maybell referendum which should be a blow-out "NO" vote.

As for this proposal, in Palo Alto TDM if ever implememented cannot even put a dent in the increasing congestion. We are locked in with unsolvable parking and traffic problems created by uncontrolled development on an unforgiving scale in a City which had a unique and delicate balance of residential, business, corporate, academic,aesthetic, and environmental values which the City Council rather than protecting has destroyed. The Council turned its fundamental role of "preservation" upside-down and inside-out by doing the opposite.

Posted by Paul Mackie, a resident of another community
on Sep 18, 2013 at 9:00 am

Palo Alto aims to curb solo car trips by 30%. The squabbling leaders should look to Arlington, Virginia on how it envisioned its "transportation demand management" strategy years ago and has seen congestion greatly reduced and a vibrant walkable community in its place. It has also created a research and development think tank called Mobility Lab with lots of data and stories about how to do TDM and how to ennoble behavior change among leaders and citizens.

Posted by Zayda, a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 18, 2013 at 9:03 am

If you, or anyone else, want a 'Vote Against D' sign for your lawn, go to our website, Web Link and click on 'Contact Us' to send us a message. Or just send a note to and we'll add your name to the list.

Posted by Mom, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 18, 2013 at 9:07 am

Another reason I know it's mostly commuter traffic on Embarcadero is that I drive from Greer Rd. and all the traffic is driving from 101; it starts backing up at Newell Rd.

Posted by boscoli, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 18, 2013 at 4:36 pm

As much as I hate traffic, it is not the culprit but the outcome of hubris. Bad traffic congestion and parking difficulties are a direct result of uncontrolled overdevelopment, facilitated by the shortsightedness of the city council over decades, and by Stanford's unquenchable desire to expand and develop.

Palo Alto and this areas are singularly unsuited for rapid and massive growth and development because of our unique geography and eco-system. Los Angeles had vast desert space to the east west and north when it was subjected to massive growth, the outcome was still and environmental disaster, but we don't even have that nearly that kind of space. Our urban planning has been an unmitigated disaster and traffic congestion and parking problem are only the tip of the iceberg.

Posted by resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 18, 2013 at 7:30 pm

You are right. Water supply is another environmental factor
which is not even discussed or considered as a growth constraint, as we face in this calendar year to date the lowest rainfall ever recorded. Yet the City has no policies regarding dewatering of sites for basements and parking garages. Our area is subject to subsidence as well if groundwater is not recharged using imported water.

Posted by Ron, a resident of Greater Miranda
on Sep 18, 2013 at 10:17 pm


Drekmeier figured out how to solve the impending water supply problems. Build the anaerobic digestor in the Baylands and treat the water that is extracted from the sewage. First step will be to use the recycled water for irrigation and cooling systems at large sites like Stanford and the Research Park. Never mind that the water contains heavy metals that will be "safely" sequestered in the soils or that the salinity kills trees. Next step will be to make the water potable and we'll all be drinking it. The anaerobic digestor is part of the plan to sustain growth. Just look at who on Council is pushing for it to be built.

Posted by Back to the future, a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 19, 2013 at 11:11 am

Palo Alto has had traffic and congestion issues going back to the creation of the stanford research park and 1950's and 1960's post war suburban housing boom. This isn't a new issue. What has changed is that building our way out of traffic congestions is increasingly being aknowledged as not being a realistic possibility. Promoting alternatives to the single occupancy automobile is the only possible answer.

Many posters think that requiring developers to build more and more parking is the answer. If the evil developers are required to build 1,000's more parking spaces downtown how will that solve the congestion problem? It will only make congestion worse. The streets leading into downtown and the downtown grid itself can only handle so many cars at a time. There is no room to add additional lanes as there may have been in the past. Are we supposed to build double decker roads? We can't build(roads and parking spaces) our way out of this.

Posted by Silly, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 19, 2013 at 11:18 am

1) School busses, especially since the mothers dropping off their kids have NO problem blocking my driveway to save themselves a few steps. If I leave a note on the car with an arrow pointing to the driveway, they shrug and throw the note on the ground in front of their Lexus SUV.

That would go a long way toward ending the Embcaradero-Middlefield-El Camino backup.

2) STOP approving massive developments with no parking or not enough parking. I guess that's too complicated for our bright-lights in the city.

Posted by Sunshine, a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 19, 2013 at 11:21 am

"Traffic engineering is a complicated discipline. I think they are right to turn this process over to professional engineers instead of politicians."
Traffic engineers are the ones who brought us the mess on Arastradero. Traffic engineers are the ones who would like to make El Camino Real even worse than it is now.

If Palo Alto wants to decrease the number of single occupancy vehicles in town, they should start with themselves first. Find a way to make all city employees, including council members, take public transit or walk or bike. That would free up a lot of parking downtown.
Remember, if Palo Alto makes driving and parking downtown or to California Ave too difficult the city will decrease the number of people shopping, going to restaurants and movies, and using services that are located downtown. We will start going to a shopping center or store that provides parking for customers. It is possible to ruin your customer base for downtown and California Ave.
Many shoppers park in neighborhoods because they fear they might overstay the 3 hour limit in the garages. Remember also that some garages have been subject to cars vandalized and holdups.

Posted by Solutions, a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 20, 2013 at 8:56 am

The solution to this is an Occam's Razor.....simply turn away business developers and companies who will bring hundreds or thousands of employees and their vehicles from other communities. UNLESS, of course, they are willing to improve and widen the roads and highways that will bring them here, and provide ample parking for them.

This has been done elsewhere, and effectively produced a passive building moratorium.

Posted by boscoli, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 20, 2013 at 2:49 pm

Requiring developers to build parking space will only exasperate the traffic problem and increase the traffic volume. Palo Alto has been grossly overdeveloped and now is the time to put a stop to it. You can fill a tab with only so much water before the water spill over. The are various way and methods of stopping development, we can use models from Oregon, western Europe and many other areas, but this is the direction we need to move in.

Since the Stanford Research Park is the reason for a great deal of the traffic going through Palo Alto, Stanford will need to be included in this process. Palo Alto has been shortsighted for decades in allowing overdevelopment, but it's also time for Stanford to be part of the solution, not just the problem.

Posted by Michaelquiek, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jun 5, 2017 at 8:59 pm

wh0cd106511 [url=Web Link] [url=Web Link viagra[/url] [url=Web Link viagra[/url] [url=Web Link elimite[/url]