Mar 102014

Barron Park is known as a walking and cycling community within a city regionally known for forward-thinking bicycle and pedestrian planning.  We enjoy the outdoors in our neighborhood- we walk with friends and family and bicycle to our schools and local convenience stores.

We’ve taken initiatives to reduce car use at our schools, mainly for safety and traffic purposes.  The number of bikers counted at Gunn High School has increased from 166 in 2002, when Gunn’s GO-FAST Program was established, to 836 in 2013, and the number of drivers dropped accordingly.  It is a part of the PAUSD Safe Routes to School Program to reduce vehicle usage throughout the district.  Our most effective car-use reduction programs target students, not their parents, nor their neighbors who lack school-age children.

That Barron Park and Palo Alto are recognized as among the most bicycle and car alternatives-friendly neighborhoods and cities in the state speaks more to the dismal quality of the average California transit system than the modernity of ours.  Most of us consider driving a necessity to get anywhere outside of our neighborhood, especially for routine trips.  According to the Palo Alto Transportation Survey, two-thirds of Palo Altans who are employed commute to work in single-occupant vehicles; two-thirds of Palo Altans are employed in Stanford, Palo Alto, Mountain View, and Menlo Park.  80% of the trips we make to the local shopping districts are made by car.  This doesn’t come cheaply either- car usage cost the average California household $5,800 in 2009.  That figure does not include the health and environmental costs that come from the car and small truck emissions that contribute 75% of the Bay Area transportation sector greenhouse gas emissions.

The 2012 Palo Alto Transportation Plan that is being implemented certainly will greatly improve pedestrian and cyclist infrastructure provide access to bike share stations.  While leadership from city staff will improve our physical infrastructure, we are the only ones who can change our transit culture.  We need to make the transition from our typically Californian car-centered suburban transit culture into a model suburban mixed-transit community.  Our safety, environment, pocketbooks, and quality of life are at stake.  If Stanford can do it, so should we!

Street parking and traffic are two perennial problems that fuel our opposition against higher-density developments in Palo Alto.  However, if driving and car use was an exceptional convenience rather than a vital need, then maybe we could allow the development of enough residential units to accommodate the many people who want to move here!

That is why I am starting the Barron Park Car Use Reduction Working Group.  I invite you to participate in identifying and realizing car use reduction practices and policies.  Send me an email to participate in this working group!

  2 Responses to “Car Use Working Group”

  1. This is a perfect tie-in with the work we are doing with Nielson Buchanan, Eric Filseth and several others on residential parking problems.
    High density development with inadequate parking has definitely exacerbated the problems but reducing the dependence on cars would be an ultimate goal that would go a long way to solve both the spatial (traffic, parking) and environmental (air quality) problems.
    Clearly, as you suggested, the job will be to change human nature and mindset. We need to make it both economically and psychologically palatable to the majority of people. We need to think ‘outside the box’ (the one with 4 wheels). As someone said “You are not stuck in traffic. You are traffic.”

  2. I hope this group will do some effective work, but it’s difficult to say at this point. We haven’t even met yet!

    I think smart public planning & development and effective public education can reframe our approach to this problem.

    One reason I have difficulty getting onto the road these days is that “you are the traffic” guilt complex. If I get on the road, I am contributing to traffic, smog, and sometimes occupying a desirable parking spot. I bus and bike, rather than drive. Hopefully in the future I will be an example of the norm rather than remain exceptional.

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