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By Diana Diamond

Why don’t city officials love my car?

Uploaded: Oct 29, 2019

I love my little hybrid gas-sipping silver car, but it’s unrequited love. City officials don’t adore my car the same way I do. They’d prefer to see me walk or bike; they keep on spending transportation money on more bike lanes and narrower roads, and once streets go on a diet, their attitude seems to be “problem solved!” – when it really isn’t (think Charleston and Arastradero roads in Palo Alto where commute congestion clogs intersections daily).

What brought this to mind was a recent discussion the Palo Alto City Council held putting strict limits on train commuter parkers on residential streets near the Cal Ave train station. Resident commuters have been parking on these station-adjacent streets so far years, but now the situation has worsened and the streets are mostly filled all day with parked autos.

So the council decided that all households in a designated residential preferential parking area can get residential parking permits (RPPs) -- after they pay $50 annually for the privilege. They can purchase an additional five at $50 per permit to park all day, even all night. The rest of us who want to park in the area are limited to two-hour on-street parking, if we can find a space. Obviously, this impacts commuters.

The council spoke little about what effect this would have on commuters – there were hints (but no data) that the Cal Ave station parking was not always full, and mention that a new six-story parking garage under construction will be ready maybe in mid-2020. No consideration of what those commuters will do in the interim. Garage parking is three hours, so commuters will have to pay to park.

Yet these “commuters” are us – we, the residents – not some unwanted aliens. If a person who lives near 101 wants to take Caltrain to work, she has to park her car near the station. I was told the lots charge $5 a day, or about $750 a year, in addition to Caltrain costs.

Ironically, this is the very same city that is urging us to “use public transit” instead of driving our cars. Taking away parking from one of two train stations is not the way to encourage residents to use public transit.

This isn’t the only way city officials evidence a slight disdain for my car. They are talking about charging for parking downtown – like parking meters. But this time the pay box, from what I read, would be at corners, which means park and walk to pay. The revenues would, of course, go to the city, possibly for the Transportation Management Program.

Ka-ching, Ka-ching for city coffers.

Just this week the city council members met with State Assemblyman Marc Berman, a former council member himself. He broached the idea of charging tolls to get into the congested areas in the city during peak periods, akin to what London does and NYC is considering. Councilmember. Adrian Fine thought it was an interesting idea to pursue.

Ka-ching, Ka-ching.

Traffic is a mess in this area, and it’s getting worse. I know city officials are struggling with the problem, trying to figure out what to do. But, also ironically, they caused a large part of the problem by allowing more and more offices to be built the last decade, and lowering the requirements for the number of parking spaces needed. So inevitably this town is getting more people, more cars, more, more, more.

The idea of halting construction of office buildings appeals to me, but it’s not a solution because the traffic problem already exists.

So council members are diligently trying to alleviate congestion, and convince me not to drive my lovely little silver car around or downtown. Unfortunately, most of us have bonded with our cars for years, and it’s a love tie that is going to be very difficult to divorce.