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Survey sheds light on downtown Palo Alto drivers

Original post made on Aug 18, 2015

They drive alone and show up in droves -- that much is clear. But who are downtown's non-carpooling commuters and where do they come from? Palo Alto finally has some answers.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, August 18, 2015, 6:38 PM

Comments (36)

Posted by Mystified
a resident of University South
on Aug 18, 2015 at 7:18 pm

Maybe next time our council will get the data before they act. It sounds like they were wrong about who causes traffic, which means the solution will be wrong, too.


Posted by kids?
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Aug 18, 2015 at 7:46 pm

Perhaps coders are more likely to be unmarried and childless than those in retail. Those who need to transport kids to or from school/childcare are more likely to drive alone.


Posted by need more
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 18, 2015 at 7:49 pm

If tech workers comprise a higher percentage of the work force Downtown,
packed in at 4-6/1000 sq ft or more then even though they commute SOV less they may contribute more vehicle trips. We need to know what percentage of the workforce is tech vs the other categories, and the trend of that data to understand the problem and how to deal with it. If the survey doesn't
present that data the study is incomplete and poorly designed.


Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 18, 2015 at 8:19 pm

Did anyone else notice that there are a large percentage of drivers who are part time workers? This means that they are not going to be buying permits for garages as they are only here part time. This means that they want to park for longer than 3 hours on a part time (occasional) basis.

There is very little scope for part time workers to park more than 3 hours at a time in Palo Alto.

This proves we need pay per hour machines at each garage and each lot. Otherwise, these workers will pay in Caltrain lots, or in residential areas.

QED.


Posted by Downtown Worker
a resident of Menlo Park
on Aug 18, 2015 at 8:55 pm

@need more: The tech workers aren't "packed in at 4-6/1000 sq ft or more". The TMA survey doesn't answer density (the business registry is supposed to when every company has reported in), but the SurveyMonkey/Palantir/RelateIQ survey says that their employees are at 4.4 per 1000 sq ft.

If tech workers are at 4.4 per 1000 sq ft, and only 33% drive, then you only need 1.5 parking spaces per 1000 sq ft, not 4 parking spaces per 1000 sq ft as today's zoning dictates. That's why, even though Lytton Gateway got a break on building parking, SurveyMonkey uses fewer parking spots than the developer of Lytton Gateway paid for.

According to the business registry, SurveyMonkey only uses 12 permits even though the Weekly reported that the developer paid $1.5m in fees for 25 garage spots. The company offers free parking permits for workers, so there's no reason their workers would park in the overcrowded neighborhoods when they could get a reliable garage spot for free.

The parking problems didn't happen because new office developments were "underparked" and they overflowed. They happened because downtown Palo Alto had a restaurant boom and the garages don't support parking for shift workers. RPP is a good idea anyway, but we either need to accommodate low-income workers in the garages or help them afford public transit.


Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 18, 2015 at 9:54 pm

@Downtown Worker
611 Cowper under construction is 50+ spaces underparked through bonuses, TDR's and grandfathered conditions and is not in the Downtown Parking
Assessment District. 524 Hamilton down the street is not in the
Assessment District. At 537 Hamilton across the street there are mechanical
parking lifts. Only twice have I ever seen a car enter or exit that garage.
Is the garage being used? Are the mechanical lifts being used or being
avoided or unattended? As far as the employee density of tech offices,
Palantir and SurveyMonkey are probably not representative of the spectrum of
tech offices Downtown. Simple observation seems to bear that out.


Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 18, 2015 at 9:59 pm

>> "Of the commuters with trips longer than 50 miles, 38 percent reported driving alone while 40 percent rely on Caltrain."

Caltrain doesn't go 50 miles from here. I guess those Caltrain riders must be connecting to Caltrain from other modes like bus or ACE or BART or driving to count extra miles. Or does 50 miles mean round-trip? What a rat-race.


Posted by need more
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 18, 2015 at 10:38 pm

Sorry- Inadvertently entered this initially under wrong name as "resident"
@Downtown Worker
611 Cowper under construction is 50+ spaces underparked through bonuses,
TDR's and grandfathered conditions,and is not in the Downtown Parking
Asssessment District. 524 Hamilton down the street is not in the Assessment
District. At 537 Hamilton across the street there are mechanical parking lifts. Only twice have I ever seen a car enter or exit that garage. Is the
garage being used? Are the mechanical lifts being used or being avoided or unattended? As far as the employee density of tech offices, Palantir and
SurveyMonkey are probably not representative of the spectrum of tech offices
Downtown. Simple observation seems to bear that out.


Posted by Friends and Neighbors
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 19, 2015 at 8:06 am

Perhaps these single car commutwrs, some of whom come from 50+ miles away, do not have friends or neighbors going in the same direction to drive with. Perhaps they have already dropped off their co-rider(s).

Commuting long distances means rising from sleep at the crack of dawn or before, arriving home long after dark. They may not want to be slowed down by dropping off various people in different locations. Or, no one else in their area rises that early. Also, working long hours ( required by tech employers) makes it very difficult to carpool with ANYONE!

There are lots and lots of reasons to go solo.


Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 19, 2015 at 8:12 am

The amount of time saved driving solo (vs public transit) over great distances is significant. Add in that most tech oriented jobs require flexible hours in terms of when you go home...public transit is not the most time efficient way to get home to places like Livermore, etc.


Posted by need more
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 19, 2015 at 8:56 am

The reality is that we have no integrated rail/bus transportation system
as exists in Europe. The lack of infrastructure spending here over the
last 50+ years is showing up and putting us into a disastrous crisis situation which cannot be solved on the margin while land use policy
ignores this reality. There has been a massive failure of government
at the Federal/State/local level.



Posted by East bay commuter
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 19, 2015 at 9:27 am

I commuted to Palo Alto for a part time job for years and using public transportation was out of the question. Not just because there isn't a viable option coming from the east bay but because it is unreliable if you're driving from one job to the next (many part time workers have multiple jobs). I would have loved to sit on a train or bus for my commute but it was always faster driving myself than waiting for the next transbay bus then taking Bart. Part time workers just don't have that time. If more Palo alto businesses hired full time instead of all these part time positions, i'm sure that would help but for example the city will hire three separate part time positions (8-12 hrs/week) instead of one full time position so they don't have to pay benefits. Who is really causing this problem then? Not the people trying to make a living.


Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 19, 2015 at 9:31 am

Marie is a registered user.

Mass transit does not work for people who don't work between 8 and six. Caltrain runs just once an hour. #22 becomes Hotel 22 (the name of a documentary this year at the Sundance Film festival about the homeless who use VTA #22 as a place to sleep: Web Link

Shift workers whose hours do not fall within those hours have very little choice but to drive. So it is not surprising that many of those in the restaurant business drive solo.

Given the shortage of parking spaces today, and the multiplicity of ways, including joining the TDM, to reduce the number of spaces required by zoning, the current requirements should not be reduced. If anything, they should be increased until the problem of parking in residential areas is solved.

Of course, the city can always start charging for all parking, and completely kill retail downtown.


Posted by Friends and Neighbors
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 19, 2015 at 9:38 am

CrescentParkDad is right. My brother recently stopped using CalTrain to commute from his home in SJ to his job in SF. His commute went down from four hours each way to two hours each way--a 50% saving of time and a 30% increase in sleep time.

However, he does commute with a coworker.


Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 19, 2015 at 9:53 am

More than anything else, I think this survey shows us where we need to improve the public transportation network. Public transit is generally good along the Caltrain line from San Francisco to Palo Alto to San Jose, at least during rush hour. Along the I-280 corridor or across the bay, public transit to Palo Alto is really terrible. We can't just keep building parking lots and wider roads. Palo Alto needs to work with VTA and Caltrain to improve public transit access to Palo Alto, both in terms of schedule and in terms of routes.


Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 19, 2015 at 10:11 am

Interesting survey data. Next question is to sort out who's at the restaurants. It may be that office growth is causing greater restaurant demand and indirectly causing the neighborhood parking problem. Perhaps the answer is for more offices to self-cater and reduce daytime demand for restaurants.


Posted by Parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 19, 2015 at 11:20 am

It makes zero business sense to chase away restaurant patrons. Do people not dine out in Paris, London, Tokyo, Hong Kong because it's hard to find parking? Moreover, restaurants generate sales tax revenue.

Ultimately, the solution is to invest in infrastructure so people here in the SF Bay Area can get to where they need to go, hopefully using public transit.


Posted by Rick
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 19, 2015 at 11:46 am

One of the reasons restaurant workers may drive alone and not use public transportation is that their hours tend to go quite late into the night when public transportation is not readily available at any reasonable frequency.


Posted by Longtime local
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 19, 2015 at 11:53 am

We need frequent, safe, reliable - and frankly, smaller like Margeurite - shuttles from one end of Palo Alto to the other so that people working across town can get around easily without a car. We have pretty well stopped going downtown to dine because of traffic and parking, but would take a shuttle.

Lived in the East Bay and commuted here - would have preferred transit but nothing was geared to make that trip fast and direct. When it was necessary to take public transit, it usually meant 5 hours total in transit per day, which was untenable. The biggest problems were systems issues, poor connections, too many transfers to different forms of poorly coordinated transit, etc. sadly, those problems seem to be perpetually unaddressed in Bay Area transit and regional planning. No surprise that people from the East Bay take cars whereas those who can take Caltrain dont.


Posted by Engineer
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 19, 2015 at 12:04 pm

Survey weenies love percentages. Percentages convey the impression of a high tech analysis to the non-technical reader, which are greatly in the majority.

They can be useful if properly interpreted. They can also obfuscate important facts. In this case the raw numbers are the real story. But we ain't got 'em.

Real cars need to be parked, not some percentage. An actual number of parking spaces are needed, not a percentage of, um. It's the NUMBER of solid metal cars clogging ECR, Middlefield, Page Mill/Oregon, Arastradero, Serra, Sand Hill, ... which determines the required road capacity, not some quotient multiplied by 100 (aka percentage).

Let's hope our policymakers can comprehend this, and that the survey's analysts have not trashed the actual data needed for intelligent, beneficial decisions.


Posted by Well-Travelled
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 19, 2015 at 12:21 pm

I have lived, worked, or vacationed in several countries.

What experience has shown me is that mass transit often runs in the red, even in highly populated areas. HSR is even worse for this ( look at the TGV).

The only places I have seen mass transit work are Paris, London, Munich, Zurich, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and NYC: in other wards, super-high-density megalopolises, too expensive for all but the wealthiest to live in and too congested to even walk on the sidewalks.


Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 19, 2015 at 12:59 pm

@Well-Travelled - highways, street parking (even with parking meters), and city-owned parking lots all run in the red, too. The recent Hwy 101 widening in Palo Alto cost $100 MILLION. A new parking garage downtown will cost $50 MILLION or more. None of this money comes from gas taxes. Are you advocating ending these handouts to car drivers?


Posted by TrainCommuter
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 19, 2015 at 2:28 pm

How do we explain that traffic increases several times when schools start? It appears is not only tech commuters to blame...


Posted by Mike
a resident of University South
on Aug 19, 2015 at 3:27 pm

TrainCommuter, "How do we explain that traffic increases several times when schools start?"

People with kids are back from vacation. You also see a drop in traffic when schools let out for the summer.


Posted by OldAlum
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 19, 2015 at 4:57 pm

City Council, Don't worry, I will reduce your traffic by never driving downtown again. Your merchants may not like that but who cares about them. Clearly not you.


Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 19, 2015 at 8:13 pm

SF restaurants are able to staff without making parking concessions. If local sales tax revenue doesn't pay for parking then we're subsidizing visitor meals by making Professorville and DTN less pleasant to live in. Does anyone who's not a landlord think this is a good tradeoff?


Posted by Well-Travelled
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 19, 2015 at 8:28 pm

@resident: please understand that with the exception of Hong Kong, most of the rest of the world is taxed within an inch of heir lives to pay for mass transit. And in all but the most huge cities, it still runs in the red!


Posted by sunshine
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 20, 2015 at 9:12 am

"The reality is that we have no integrated rail/bus transportation system as exists in Europe. The lack of infrastructure spending here over the 50+ years is showing up and putting us into a disastrous crisis situation which cannot be solved on the margin while land use policy ignores this reality."
There are many reasons that people do not take Caltrain to SF or SJ: 1. SF Caltrain station location is too far from where people want to go--it's in the middle of a wholesale district that is scary at night. 2. Caltrain is too slow. It took me 45 minutes to go from my house to my office at SJSU if I drove, 2 hours at least if I took public transit. 3. Caltrain does not run often enough, especially during off peak hours.
Compare this with the NY metropolitan area: 1. Trains from various areas around NYC run all night and frequently to NYC and reverse. They end in either Grand Central Terminal, a beautiful place in the middle of Manhattan and from which one can easily get a subway, bus, or taxi at any hour, or Penn Station, also in a busy area but less beautiful. 2. Subways in NYC run all night and run every minute or two during commute hours slightly less often during off peak, but continue all night. 3. Busses are also available into the late evening. They also run frequently, but less reliably than subways or trains to areas outside NYC.
Here there is no good cross bay public transit. The one Dumbarton Express does not connect to the Amtrak station in the East Bay. We need a good rail system across the Bay in the area of Dumbarton Bridge that connects Caltrain stations on each side of the Bay.
Unless you live on El Camino Real or within 1 block of the Caltrain station the local busses are useless for local residents to use when they want to shop for groceries or go out to a movie and lunch. The Palo Alto Shuttle does not serve neighborhoods west of El CAmino. Actually Stanford's Marguerite is more useful for us, but still not truly convenient. The Marguerite busses are also much nicer--better drivers, cleaner, smaller so they block other traffic less. Why do we run double busses for VTA during off peak hours, all they do is clog traffic on El Camino? Often there are at most 5-10 people of these busses.
We have a traffic problem because this area and CA as a whole has neglected its infrastructure for too long--at least 40 years in my memory. Compare France's TGV with Amtrak's Coast Starlight or any other nearby Amtrak route. Often you must take a bus for part of the route. Even Amtrak on the East coast, NYC to DC is far better, but no comparison to TGV. I haven't tried trains in other countries.


Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 20, 2015 at 9:36 am

Public transit should be geared towards commuters, rather than for shopping, recreation or medical appointments.

Public transit generally works for those who use it on a regular basis not an occasional basis.

For this reason, we should be looking at first/last mile, students (including children) and those that generally travel in regular commute hours as being those that will be served primarily. If we could get those people using commute transit options, we would be starting well. Unfortunately, our transit doesn't serve those with regular commutes well. If those people are not being served well, it doesn't bode well for those who work non regular hours, or occasional users.

Piecemeal solutions are not the way to go. Let's get commuters helped first, and then remember that no city is an island and all these various agencies are causing lots of headaches for regular commuters.

As an example, why should a Caltrain user from Palo Alto to Redwood City have to pay for two zones, but not a Sunnyvale to Palo Alto user?


Posted by Guy_Fawkes
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 20, 2015 at 11:03 am

Guy_Fawkes is a registered user.

The survey showed only 7% of commuters come to Palo Alto from the east bay. Why would we sink hundreds of millions of dollars on a dumbarton train that will be used by very few people? Let's complete BART to San Jose and get companies to locate more jobs in south county. San Jose has the housing, let's get them the jobs too


Posted by Survey Hater
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 20, 2015 at 11:23 am

Guy_Fawkes: Please re-read the writing of Engineer, above^^^^^^^**


Posted by Guy_Fawkes
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 20, 2015 at 11:34 am

Guy_Fawkes is a registered user.

Survey Hater

The NUMBER of commuters from East Bay is also pretty low relative to the other areas - SF, South Bay, Peninsula. We have so many transportation challenges, lets spend our limited funds to do the greatest good


Posted by Commentator
a resident of Professorville
on Aug 20, 2015 at 11:52 am

"More than anything else, I think this survey shows us where we need to improve the public transportation network."

Forget that. Won't happen anytime soon, if ever. $$$$$$$$$$, you know.


Posted by the_punnisher
a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 20, 2015 at 10:47 pm

the_punnisher is a registered user.

Back in the 1970s the plan was TO MAKE BART A COMPLETE CIRCLE THAT CONNECTED ALL THE CITES IN THE WHOLE SFBA. THAT IS WHAT THE " BART TAX " WAS LEVIED FOR! I paid my dues, knowing that SP could dump the job of moving passengers up and down the Peninsula. The RICH living in Menlo Park and Atherton made their money talk; NO BART IN OUR BACKYARD, the ultimate NIMBYS that created the word NIMBY.
Yes, that stopped the idea of the complete loop and started the " screw the general public " attitude of transit for the Peninsula. What should have happened is the proper use of " eminent domain " to seize the SP ROW to complete the loop FORTY YEARS AGO. ONE AGENCY HANDLING ALL THE SFBA COMMUTE ISSUES with the co-operation of Regional bus transit agencies.
Now you are just starting a link to San Jose? The cost will be that much more expensive now, which is to be expected for all the " head in the sand " people that didn't even EXIST forty years ago!
Think of what COULD HAVE BEEN IF THE BART LOOP WAS FINISHED. The SFBA WOULD have a transit system that could have ranked among the best in the world. Instead of that you got conned people! The shakedown artists are trying to raid your pocketbooks for more empty trains that go nowhere.
What MUST be done is to bite the bullet, swallow hard and admit the " intellectuals " in the SFBA got conned into paying into a system that is " half fast " at best.

You really want to get people to ride Mass Transit? Look at what RTD ( BUSES ) and RTD Light Rail has done to get people out of their cars when employed in the Downtown Business District. Get Mass Transit to have the RAILROAD UNION STATION become the traffic hub; Did you know that you can take the train to the West or East Coast from that hub? The Light Rail Connection to DIA makes it possible to board aircraft like the BART stop does with SFO!
Unless the VTA builds along the SP right of way, the VTA is still out to con people again. No VTA trains should just reverse directions in Mtn. View. They should stop at least at a Palo Alto endpoint. With help from the neighbor county, VTA could even go farther up the SP ( now Caltrain ) ROW
to Redwood City and ignore the NIMBY's who killed BART RAPID TRANSIT in the first place!

Admit your FORTY YEAR OLD FAILURE to make the BART LOOP. Then get to work to make it happen. Merge or let BART take over the VTA. Quit drilling holes in the keel of the transit solution boat to " let the water out ". Admitting the problem is half the battle. Solving the problem is the other half.


Posted by stanhutchings
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 21, 2015 at 8:01 pm

stanhutchings is a registered user.

I've traveled quite a bit in other countries, especially Japan. The train system connects outlying areas to central downtowns on a very frequent schedule, increasing during rush hours and decreasing during off-hours. Usually people don't even worry about the schedule - another train will be along in a few minutes. The trains run on schedule 99% of the time, so you know how long your trip will take. Also the trains run on multiple levels, from far underground to aerial tracks above the cities.
When I worked near Moffett field, I had a company-issued free VTA pass. But I found biking was faster by at least 20 minutes! And I did not have to worry about transfer VTA to bus. Caltrain would have been almost as fast as biking, but the schedule meant I had to leave work at a specific time to get to the station, first by bus to arrive before the train. Still longer than biking. By car was usually faster, but much more stressful with all the me-first drivers. As I see it, autonomous point-to-point vehicles will supersede people driving, and the safety, efficiency and cost will improve without needing to add lanes. Just use the existing infrastructure more efficiently.


Posted by Well-Travelled
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 22, 2015 at 8:59 am

This is true, Stan, and equally true of NYCand buses. However, both places are extremely densely populated.

Literally, if everyone in CA moved to Palo Alto, that would approximate the population of Tokyo. If everyone in the US moved to CA, that would approximate the population of Japan ( at least Honshu Island ).

Such transportation solutions are only viable and profitable in such dense populations ( ever watch Japanese conductors forcibly push people onto trains, so that they are squeezed into each car like sardines? ).

We lived in Tokyo for three years--it was miserable!


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