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By Steve Levy

Smart Growth, Commuting and Non Commute Travel Options

Uploaded: Jun 27, 2014

Many households include multiple workers who often work in different directions from where they live. What are the "smart" locations for these households to minimize total commuting time and convenience? Of course people may have reasons for living in other locations but here let's look at locations in terms of commuting convenience.

The criteria are pretty straightforward—access to close by commute options for as many different work locations as possible. This includes freeway, bridge and transit options.
Fremont seems like a good choice. It is near BART going north and south and even into SF and near 880 going north and south and close to the Dumbarton Bridge. Oakland and Berkeley are good choices. They are accessible to the East Bay and San Francisco by BART and freeway and accessible to Silicon Valley, which will get easier as the new BART stations are opened south of Fremont.

San Francisco is a good location for many. It has access to the East Bay and the Peninsula with both public transportation and freeways.

And Palo Alto is a smart choice for maximizing commute options. Palo Alto is in the center of Silicon Valley with Caltrain and freeway (two freeways actually) north and south. And Palo Alto sits near the entrance to the Dumbarton Bridge and has public transit access to the Fremont BART station and East Bay as well.

It is hard to name another mid-Peninsula city with greater commuting flexibility. Some locations in Palo Alto have better commute access than others, which is why many residents at the last alternative futures meeting this week talked about having new housing focused around the Caltrain stations but most locations in the city offer commute options for households with workers heading in different directions.

Of course Palo Alto is an expensive housing market and households should be free to locate in more distant communities with longer commutes if they want that choice.

Smart growth also focuses on reducing the need for non-commute trips. The idea is to locate housing near services. So our location in downtown Palo Alto does that for our family. We walk to nearly everything we do on most days—shopping, eating out, doctors and dentists and wide variety of other activities and so do the families in our building with children. It is a lifestyle that many enjoy. And it does reduce total car trips and parking needs. There will still be car trips but fewer.

Many people at our table at the city's alternative futures meeting and at other tables wished they could reduce the housing growth in Palo Alto. On the other hand many in the room wanted to make more housing available with a focus on maintaining some diversity in our expensive city.

But all the groups as in the prior city Our Palo Alto meeting were consistent in identifying the smart growth locations within Palo Alto for future housing growth with a dual focus of 1) reducing or eliminating growth within existing single family neighborhoods and 2) focusing growth near shopping and services. So locations like the downtown/Stanford Shopping Center area, California Avenue, parts of El Camino, parts of the research park (if possible) and the Fabian Way area had substantial support.

The next step for the city staff is to flesh out some alternative land use patterns with more detail on the housing and other options and implications.

The most difficult challenge is that there are always different perspectives in Palo Alto as in most communities—the perspective of residents feeling the pressures of growth, the perspective of property owners and their legal rights to develop their properties, the perspective of businesses and the University and the perspective of new residents to the region who want to join the Palo Alto community.