Alameda Point Explained: Taming traffic (part two)
Alameda Point Explained: Taming traffic (part two)
In her State of the City speech Tuesday, Mayor Marie Gilmore signaled her eagerness to start redeveloping the Alameda Naval Air Station after a 17-year wait. While the city has secured the deeds to hundreds of acres of land and cleared a slew of planning hurdles in an effort to speed development, a key task remains: Figuring out how to tame the traffic that 1,400 new homes and hoped-for new businesses, shops and restaurants could create.
City staffers have proposed to blunt traffic by redeveloping Alameda Point in a more urban fashion that discourages people from driving solo. They are also putting together a transportation demand management plan that will detail a series of steps, from building bike paths to limiting free parking and launching shuttles, intended to limit the rise of car traffic to and from the Point; a draft could come in March or April.
Similar plans have been implemented across the country, with varying degrees of success.
“Where appropriately applied they have often proven to be quite successful at changing affected travel,” said Todd Litman of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, a Vancouver-based think tank.
The Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s Randy Rentschler says the traffic reduction efforts are worthy, even if the goals are challenging to attain. In order to succeed, he said traffic reduction plans need to be well designed, offered in tandem with developments designed to designed to encourage alternatives to driving alone and tailored to individual communities’ needs.
Shared parking, dedicated transit and bike lanes are some of the elements that can help a plan succeed in Alameda, he said.
“That is all good,” said Rentschler, who is the regional transportation, planning and funding agency’s director of legislation and public affairs. “And we need more of it.”
The Alamedan researched transportation demand management efforts in Cambridge, Mass.; Boulder, Colo.; Arlington County, Va.; and the state of Washington, whose leaders passed a commute trip reduction law in 1991 aimed at reducing traffic congestion, greenhouse gases and fuel consumption. All four efforts succeeded in reducing solo driving, though studies of each detailed challenges the efforts faced, and at least two of the four studied are falling short of traffic reduction goals.
Planners in Cambridge, for example, reportedly managed to effect a traffic reduction of up to 14 percent on some major streets in the midst of developing Kendall Square, a 10-acre development that includes 321 luxury apartments and a trio of office a laboratory spaces that includes Genzyme Corporation’s headquarters.
But Washington’s effort to reduce solo driving trips by 10 percent and the number of vehicle miles traveled by 13 percent at a targeted group of work sites across the state between 2007 and 2012 fell far short of those goals, a new report shows; the final tally for those years showed a solo driving trip decline of 3.1 percent and 4.6 percent fewer miles driven.
The concept of encouraging people to drive less arose in the 1970s, as an oil crisis drove up gas prices and created long lines at the pumps. It gained currency in the late 1980s and early 1990s as planners sought strategies for taming traffic and reducing pollution.
California implemented trip-reduction rules following the 1988 passage of the California Clean Air Act, but lawmakers curtailed their use a few years later as employers complained about their cost. But a 2008 state law aimed at reducing greenhouse gases by tying development and transportation planning efforts together is bringing efforts to reduce car use – which have been shown to be cheaper for businesses than providing parking – back into vogue.
Even without the law, major local universities and businesses have mounted successful efforts to cut car traffic at the behest of local policy makers. Genentech, which initiated car trip reduction efforts in 2004, now runs a fleet of buses and offers hundreds of parking spaces for cyclists; more than 44 percent of the company’s workers on its South San Francisco campus have forsaken their solo drive to work, the company’s 2013 annual report on its master plan says.
Faced with the choice of halting the rise of peak-hour car trips or paying for intersection improvements as its campus expanded, in 2000, Stanford University embarked on a wide-ranging program of car trip reduction strategies that included improvements to its existing campus shuttle service, regional transit subsidies, incentive programs, bicycle facilities and a marketing effort. Between 2002 and 2007, solo car use among employees dropped 20 percentage points, while workers’ use of Caltrain more that quadrupled.
Some of the programs The Alamedan researched, like those in Cambridge and Washington, put the onus for reducing traffic on businesses. A 1998 Cambridge law, for example, requires commercial property owners who choose to add parking beyond a registered amount to implement car trip reduction strategies that include hiring local workers, providing showers and other facilities for cyclists, offering transit subsidies or shuttles or charging for parking. Washington’s plan is also employer-based (the state provides technical assistance).
Cambridge requires commercial property owners with trip reduction plans to file annual reports showing whether they were successful in their efforts to reduce solo car trips. Of the 37 projects that submitted reports in 2011 – a list that covered about 27,000 workers and 8,500 students and included 14 of the city’s top 25 employers – 62 percent succeeded in reducing solo car trips to goal levels.
Others, like Arlington’s, are much broader. Initiated in 1989, Arlington County’s efforts include walking and biking programs, marketing and research arms, a commuter store and personalized planning services for businesses. Those efforts are used in tandem with development policies that support alternate commute modes and transit improvements.
The trip reduction efforts took an estimated 41,000 cars off the road per day during the 2012 fiscal year, said Stephen Crim, director of Mobility Lab, Arlington County Commuter Services’ research arm – the same number of cars a pair of major freeways into Arlington carry during a typical morning commute. Future goals include maintaining peak-hour car travel near 2005 levels and shifting 10 percent of peak-period trips to non-peak hours by 2020.
Boulder, whose leaders are seeking to reduce solo car travel to just 25 percent of residents’ and workers’ trips by 2025, has developed a robust public transit network; it also has a transit pass program supported in large measure by the University of Colorado, Boulder, whose roughly 30,000 students all pay for an annual pass. An estimated 95 percent of the city’s major streets offer bicycle access, and the city has a separate maintenance crew to clear snow from bike paths after it falls; for pedestrians, the city has a program for bridging gaps in its sidewalks system.
The city saw solo driving fall from 45 percent of trips in 1990 to 37 percent in 2010, and the percentage of people who walk or bike to work there is several times the national average; bus ridership rose 300 percent between 1991 and 2009, a 2012 progress report says. While the city is meeting its goal of holding the line on the number of miles cars travel, though, it will need to see its average annual reduction in solo car use double in order to meet its 25 percent goal, the report says.
Barriers to success included limited or reduced access to transit and a proliferation of free parking that supports solo driving, reports tracking the progress of some of the programs found. Boulder’s transit service, for example, experienced cuts when the recession hit, its 2012 progress report says; Cambridge’s review of local businesses’ efforts found that most of the ones that failed to meet car trip reduction goals more either more than a quarter of a mile from transit connections or surrounded by too much free parking.
Alameda could face an uphill challenge in its quest to limit the growth of traffic on, off and around the Island. While the city has long had a traffic reduction plan on the books, its effort to reduce car trips has been limited. The city is offering some limited shuttle service and bike access on some city streets (a cycle track is planned for Shoreline Drive), but data collection on those efforts is slim.
And while programs that help people get around without a car are available – including a guaranteed ride home program offering emergency trips that’s run by the Alameda County Transportation Commission and a private City Care Share Program – few people know about them, a draft trip reduction plan for Alameda Point released by the city in 2012 found.
The 2012 study found it unlikely the city would be able to meet its citywide goal of reducing solo vehicle trips for work by 30 percent and other solo vehicle trips by 10 percent. More of the 955 workers it surveyed had access to a car than a bicycle, the study says.
But Alameda Point could realize those goals, it says.
Alameda Point offers a relatively blank canvas, onto which city leaders hope to paint a mixed-use community that is pedestrian and bicycle friendly and well served by transit. City Planner Andrew Thomas has said development there will be designed to appeal to people who don’t want to drive; residents and businesses will be charged fees to fund services designed to get people out of their cars. And the city plans to exert control over parking availability and pricing – city in many plans as a key element for success.
But how much funding those programs will get isn’t yet clear, Alameda Point Chief Operating Officer Jennifer Ott told the Planning Board in January, because those who populate the Point will have a lot of other things to pay for, too.
There are a number of variables the city doesn’t control, including the frequency and location of transit service and the traffic Oakland could see as that city’s leaders seek to develop areas adjacent to the Webster and Posey tubes. AC Transit – which is Alameda’s major service provider – experienced major service cuts during the recession. And the decision about whether Alameda’s Main Street ferry terminal will move to Alameda Point residents with a regional board with a long list of terminal requests from bay-side cities.
The success of programs at the Point could also be predicated on who chooses to live and work there.
Even if efforts to reduce traffic from Alameda Point are successful, drivers could face gridlock in the future, the report says: Conditions on major arterials are expected to worsen over the next 15 years even without development at Alameda Point.
Ott said the city will monitor the progress of its traffic reduction efforts at the Point and impose more stringent – and costly – traffic management solutions of initial efforts don’t prove fruitful. She said the plan will be designed as a flexible “framework” that evolves as things change in an effort to guarantee success.
“Giving up is not an option,” she said.