For the 2022 Palo Alto City Council election we put together an Active Transportation Questionnaire and shared it with all the candidates. Below you will find the questions and their responses. We hope this will help you in your decision making process.
Please enter your name
What are your primary and secondary choices for daily transportation in and near Palo Alto?
FORSSELL: I am lucky to live in the Community Center neighborhood, which is very walkable. It is an easy stroll to the Rinconada Library and Children’s Library, the Rinconada Pool, the Community Center, and Eleanor Pardee Park. I want this level of access for every neighborhood in Palo Alto.
I like to ride my bike whenever I can in Palo Alto. The main obstacle I personally encounter is lack of bike parking at my destination.
My day job is located 13 miles from my home, a good distance to bicycle twice per week. However, unfortunately, there are no safe routes and I commute by car.
LAUING: Auto and bike. I only put about 5000 miles a year on my car, as I have worked from home for the last 12 years. My wife works at Stanford so has a 1.5 mile commute. Bike is more often for pleasure or a ride to get a coffee.
LYTHCOTT_HAIMS: I’m sad to say it, but the honest answer is: car. I’m self-employed and work from home so I don’t go out and about all that much, frankly. But when I do I drive a gas-powered stick shift Jeep Wrangler. We also have an electric car in our family (owned by my 83-year-old mother Jeannie) and a hybrid (owned by my partner Dan). But yep, I drive the bad one. I used to bike to my office at Stanford, but that feels like a lifetime ago. I have a bad knee now, which makes mobility harder. I’m clearly not a role model on this!
But perhaps you were asking about my preferred choices for our community broadly? I think one of Palo Alto’s best features is its bike-ability. In addition to making our community greener and more active, easily accessible bike lanes also make the city safer by taking more cars off the road. This, of course, also helps traffic and congestion, which are perennial problems for our town. I think for the city’s bike lanes to be most effective, we also need to supplement them with a shuttle system. Prior to the pandemic, Palo Alto did, in fact, have a shuttle system. While this system provided essential services to seniors, students, and those with disabilities, it was also notorious for being unreliable due to high driver turnover and a general lack of funding. Though the system was scrapped during the pandemic due to revenue losses, we have received roughly $2,000,000 from the VTA to revitalize our public transportation options (nearly four times the budget of the old shuttle system). I would love to see the shuttle system reinvigorated, restoring an essential service to the seniors and students of our town. I think Palo Alto’s pre-existing cycling infrastructure, coupled with reinvigorated shuttles, could seriously reduce existing traffic and parking problems in the town. Not to mention a serious reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
SUMMA: Walking and driving
The 2016 Sustainability and Climate Action Plan (S/CAP) framework states a 2030 goal to “Increase bike mode share, including work commute trips, from 7% to 25%”. What kinds of programs and/or infrastructure improvements will you support to help our city reach this ambitious goal?
FORSSELL: I think Palo Alto has done amazing work with its safe routes to school program, and it’s time to expand our programming to encourage adults to consider cycling as a serious commuting alternative. Today, cycling in Palo Alto to work and to the grocery store is an act of bravery. It requires navigating busy roads and parking lots built for cars. We need to make modest, affordable infrastructure improvements to protect cyclists and show that they are welcome around town, similar to what we have near schools such as Greene. We should also expand access to our BikeLove incentive program, which is a very straightforward way for us to directly incentivize cycling for commuters. Currently the program is limited to downtown, but we could expand the program to include Stanford research park as a way to cut down on car trips through Palo Alto.
LAUING: Lead the City Council in adopting a Safe Systems approach to transportation planning so that everyone feels safe using active modes of transportation.
Revive attention on the Bicycle + Pedestrian Transportation Plan (BPTP) adopted in 2012 and cited in Palo Alto’s Comprehensive plan. Track progress City progress vis-a-vis the BPTP.
Improve safety on our streets, and continue the Planning and Transportation Commission’s efforts to track and improve the most dangerous streets/intersections in Palo Alto, particularly given new school start times and commuter patterns post-COVID. Furthermore, because near misses and many relatively minor pedestrian and bike accidents are not reported to the authorities, conduct a city-wide survey to ask residents to report where they think the most dangerous areas are for pedestrians and bicyclists.
Plan for active travel as new housing is built, keeping in mind efforts like a possible bike superhighway on the Peninsula when it comes to the way development takes place on El Camino and Middlefield. Within individual housing developments, encourage sufficient bike parking and attention to entries/exits to bike paths. For areas that will likely include significant new housing, ensure that area plans are created that link new communities to amenities and schools with bike paths and pedestrian routes.
Continue supporting education programs like Bike Palo Alto and Bike to Work day
LYTHCOTT-HAIMS: To achieve this, we need to expand our bicycling infrastructure. This mostly means establishing more separate bike lanes on major roads as much as possible, and improving intersections. One major obstacle to cyclists are shared biking/driving lanes, which slow traffic and can also present serious safety risks. Truthfully, some of our roads are simply too narrow to accommodate a separate bike lane, especially when the side of the road is often used for street parking. However, by establishing new bike lanes wherever we can, I hope that we can incentivize a greater proportion of Palo Altans to begin cycling to work.
We also need neighborhoods that are bikeable (and walkable) to jobs and transit which means having more mixed-use developments downtown, on CalAve, and parts of El Camino.
SUMMA: More cross town bike /pedestrian connections, more electric vehicles, and I support a shuttle especially to serve seniors, disabled people, and young people
Safe Routes to School is a partnership between the City of Palo Alto, the Palo Alto Unified School District and the PTAs, whose mission is to promote safe walking and rolling to school. This program has been a huge success, with recent counts showing 60% of middle and high school students biking and walking to school. If elected, what would you do to support this program and build on its success?
FORSSELL: I think the next step for the city in this partnership is to continue planning and making bicycle safety improvements to our most popular routes to school. The Charleston / Arastradero project has been a major improvement in safety, but we can do more. Every day, thousands of students cross Alma and the train tracks on the way to our high schools. We need to do more to protect our vulnerable road users from car traffic. I will make sure our students are prioritized in our plans for grade separation.
LAUING: This program is absolutely phenomenal in that it teaches kids how to bike safely when young and builds a habit of active transportation. Everything from the third grade bike rodeos, to 5th grade refresher before middle school, to the 8th grade Safe Routes to high school events to Walk and Roll days are instrumental to building the skills and habits needed for for active transportation. Safe Routes is supported by the Palo Alto Office of Transportation with staff members, and if elected I would ensure that the City continues to provide the funds so that the program can be properly staffed. Furthermore, there has been a huge drop in biking because of lack of training and practice during pandemic–essentially two years of students who have not built the habit of going to school in an active mode of transportation. We need to do “remedial” training–bike rodeo for 5th and 4th graders who missed the training as third graders, and find a way to provide a temporary boost of funding so that we can play catch-up with these student residents of our city. I would also ensure that the Capital Budget continues to fund Safe Routes to School capital improvements.
Finally, I think it would be a great idea to migrate this program to adults and seniors. Not only is that good for our environment; it is great for community building and simply meeting new people!
LYTHCOTT-HAIMS: Competitions between schools could be fun and help get the numbers up. Also putting imagery of kids on bikes around the district would be great. But we also need to educate parents on why walking/biking is not just safe, but actually important for kids’ developing autonomy. This issue (kids’ developing autonomy) is an issue I know a lot about as the author of a New York Times bestselling book How to Raise an Adult. Biking/walking to school helps delineate the line between a parent’s role and a child’s both when it comes to transportation and to the school experience itself. School is for kids. Kids can get themselves to school. Parents can take pride in their kid becoming more independent while getting precious time back for themselves to work or care for younger children or other family members.
If elected I plan to try to bring back the city shuttle and expand it to be a safe route to school for the many students who cannot walk or bike due to disabilities or distance from school. While establishing shuttles may not increase the amount of students who bike/walk to school, the shuttles will makes biking/walking routes substantially safer by taking cars off the road and replacing them with a compact shuttle system.
SUMMA: Safe routes to school is so important, and a huge sucess. We must continue to educate and enforce and engineer the best solutions.
The City of Palo Alto has signaled its support for Vision Zero in various documents, but this has yet to be translated into a coherent set of design standards to reduce the risk of car/bike and car/pedestrian crashes in Palo Alto. What policies will you support as a City Council member to achieve this vision of zero fatalities?
FORSSELL: As a council member, I will prioritize the development of new road safety guidelines for future projects here in Palo Alto. Charleston-Arastradero is much safer since it has been redesigned, but we need to translate the lessons from that project into a set of standards and best practices that we can apply going forward. Every road in Palo Alto has an expected useful life and will eventually need to be repaved. When that time comes, we need to be ready with standards so that we can quickly come up with a plan for repaving and updating road safety features at the same time. CalTrans is repaving El Camino, but Palo Alto did not have a plan or standards in place to request new road safety features on El Camino.
LAUING: This seems like this is a priority issue more than a policy issue. Certainly as a policy we must keep our residents safe!
As mentioned above, lead the City Council in adopting a Safe Systems approach to transportation planning so that everyone feels safe using active modes of transportation.
Also as mentioned above, continue the Planning and Transportation Commission’s efforts to track and improve the most dangerous streets/intersections in Palo Alto, particularly given new school start times and commuter patterns post-COVID. Furthermore, because near misses and many relatively minor pedestrian and bike accidents are not reported to the authorities, conduct a city-wide survey to ask residents to report where they think the most dangerous areas are for pedestrians and bicyclists. With specific input from your group and others we should prioritize the intersections to be inspected in order of probable risk. Then our transportation office can move down the list one by-one and make recommendations to council on what to do in order to increase safety. (Some may not need council approval). It is easier for the city to spend money on projects that protect citizens or increase safety than any other type of issue.
LYTHCOTT-HAIMS: I have been told that the family whose child was struck by a car at Cal Ave/El Camino and died are dissatisfied with how the city responded to the situation. Specifically, I’ve been told that the family feels that our city leaders did not do enough to address their pain. I would be the kind of leader to show up at the doorstep in sorrow and express my condolences. Palo Alto has a history of sweeping the death of children under the rug (here I’m thinking about suicides). I believe that instead we must hold space for these tragedies to be properly processed.
To your question, I want to emphasize the importance of public transit and shuttles. To me, this is a simple math problem; if you have a lot of cars and a lot of bikes on the road, there will be collisions. To reduce these collisions, we need to tackle the “car” end of the problem. While creating more bike lanes may incentivize some people to bike/walk instead of drive, I think re-establishing our shuttle system is just as important. Issues such as disability and distance make walking/biking unfeasible for many Palo Altans. The only way to get those cars off the road, and thus reduce the likelihood of collision, is reinvigorating the shuttle system.
SUMMA: I believe that we should not accept fatalities at any time, including now! We need to make sure we have the best separations for bike routes and rethink where right turns on red are safe.
An example of my concern is about right turn on red at very busy bike /ped intersections like
California and El Camino Real.
New developments that include safe and convenient connections to common destinations like school, work or local stores encourage more residents or employees to choose walking, biking, or transit instead of driving. How would you propose to change our land use planning policies to make active and shared transportation options more appealing?4 responses
FORSSELL: Neighborhoods aren’t complete without amenities a like neighborhood serving retail, parks, schools, and grocery stores. As we follow the plans outlined in our Housing Element, I will advocate to adjust our zoning requirements to site new housing close to those amenities so that new residents have the option to walk and ride to their everyday destinations.
LAUING: As was already done with the latest draft Housing Element, we should be planning higher density in areas that are close to transit. However, the large number of new housing units mandated by the state will lead to the creation of new neighborhoods, and as a result, we need to modify zoning in advance to ensure that new neighborhoods have the same amenities as the rest of Palo Alto so that residents don’t have to commute across town to address their needs.
LYTHCOTT-HAIMS: Since I have already mentioned my support for a shuttle system, I’ll pivot into talking about my housing policies. Many of our retail/service workers, city staff, and teaching staff cannot afford to live in Palo Alto, forcing them to make longer commutes from other towns. I want to build more housing in Palo Alto, especially affordable workforce housing, near transit centers. This will give our essential workers the opportunity to actually live in the same place they work, making biking/walking a much more feasible option. By building housing around transit centers, we can even further incentivize the use of public transit rather than driving.
SUMMA: I am strongly in favor of more cross-town bike /ped crossing options across the city ; especially across the train corridor.
Grade separation for Caltrain is one of the largest infrastructure projects in the history of our city. For Palo Alto to remain a walking and bicycling friendly city, the new walking and bicycle routes must be direct, well-designed, comfortable, and safe, both during construction and in the completed project. This is especially important for south Palo Alto, where no grade-separated crossings exist today. As a council member, how will you ensure that our walking and biking residents can safely cross the train tracks during grade separation construction?4 responses
FORSSELL: The rail crossings in South Palo Alto are absolutely critical for many of our high schoolers, who ride to and from school every day. I believe any future grade separation project must ensure that there is a safe, protected, and direct route for students. We need to create a route, either temporary or permanent, during grade separation construction, which will be lengthy. We should review our Bike & Ped Transportation Plan, which proposes constructing a trail connecting Loma Verde to Matadero Ave.
LAUING: I support continuing the refinement of the Partial Underpass for Churchill because it addresses the vehicular needs without moving cars into another neighborhood. The bicycle/pedestrian portion specifically needs further refinement and I support a robust outreach process working closely with stakeholders including PAUSD, PABAC and Stanford.
Caltrain is upgrading their technical standards and the geotechnical work underway will help continue to inform the alternatives for Meadow/Charleston. In the meantime, we must prepare for years of construction. That’s why I support additional bike/pedestrian rail crossings in the area of Loma Verde/Matadero Creek, near Adobe Creek/Alma and at Seale/Alma, before the grade separations are built, to provide safe passage during the expected years of construction. This has been a priority for years in the Comprehensive Plan, the Bicycle Transportation Plan and the Rail Corridor Study as well as XCAP.
How can we actually get this work done?
+ Caltrain needs to finalize their decisions. They continue to study and review their technical and operating standards being used on the railroad corridor. That is good because with a new technological approach we can LOWER the estimated cost of grade separations. But for certain decisions of our own, including construction cost estimates, we remain dependent on what they eventually decide.
+ For the Palo Alto Ave./Alma crossing we need to fund the work needed for a Downtown Coordinated Area Plan to consider transportation and land use in a cohesive and cost-efficient manner.
Palo Alto will receive $350 Million from Measure B. That money requires a local match.
An approved business tax by voters would provide an estimated $3.3 M per year for 35 years =$115m.
State and federal grants. In order to obtain those, we need the local and county funding in hand. But the Biden administration has billions available for grade separations
LYTHCOTT-HAIMS: Grade-separation is absolutely necessary and something that affects everyone of us Palo Alto residents. I live on the South Side so I care greatly about what’s going to happen at Meadow and Charleston. Once the caltrain electrifies (end of 2024 predicted) and trains come more frequently during peak commute hours, we will have a huge traffic/gridlock problem on our hands. In addition to the added traffic, the trains also pose a substantial safety risk to our youth and experts in youth mental health say that if the train is separated from the road we will greatly reduce the likelihood of suicides there.
I am in favor of the “viaduct” option which puts the train 20 feet in the air and would allow us to reclaim the current tracks running alongside Alma as a pedestrian and cyclist boulevard complete with green space, trees, murals, cafes, and dog parks. Although this option has been ‘taken off the table’ I’d like to see us reconsider it. In my view, a bold vision for the future is what our city needs, and a train in the air and away from the day to day lives of children, walkers, cyclists, and drivers, fits that vision beautifully. It will also take far less time to construct, I’m told, resulting in far fewer years of gridlock compared to what will happen if we build the hybrid or underpass.
If we DO do the hybrid or underpass, we need to do a safe bike/ped tunnel first so kids can get to Gunn!
SUMMA: I believe that the bike pedestrian crossings across the train track identified in the Bike Pedestrian Master Plan from years ago, and restated in rail committees recommendations are essential to provide the cross town connections we need and will be crucial connectors during the grade separation construction
Can you name a Palo Alto street where changes have been made to support comfortable and safe bicycling or walking? Describe these changes and where else you think such changes might be appropriate in Palo Alto.
FORSSELL: The street that comes to mind for me here is Ross Road. The major takeaway from Ross Road is that the city needs to work on a better community engagement. Residents on Ross Road provided lots of critical feedback after the project broke ground. Going forward, if we want to do more road safety projects, we need new community engagement mechanisms to get this feedback earlier. I think the best way to gather feedback from residents is to prototype the project with affordable materials like paint and plastic. Most families don’t have time to read all of our city literature or attend meetings, so we need to put the project in front of them in order to get input. Once we have input, we need to incorporate it and ensure that residents and road users are heard.
LAUING: The Charleston-Arastradero corridor has made a number of recent changes that greatly improve conditions for pedestrians and bicyclists. These include additional traffic lights at busy intersections (e.g., Montrose/Louis and Charleston, which formerly only had a crosswalk), buffered bike lanes, a center median to prevent cars from making U-turns that encroached into bike lanes, widened sidewalks for pedestrians, and numerous traffic calming measures to reduce vehicle speeds.
Park Boulevard near Oregon introduced green painted bike lanes and sharrows several years ago, which greatly improved bike safety.
Middlefield north of Oregon has also changed, including protected bikeways in front of Greene Middle school.
The intersection at Charleston and San Antonio desperately needs changes for safer pedestrian crossings and the entire intersection is dangerous for bicyclists. I would also like to see the implementation of the South Palo Alto Bikeways project (which has been delayed) as soon as possible, especially buffered/protected bike lanes for the section of East Meadow between Alma and Middlefield, along Fabian, and improvements to the Waverley path next to JLS and Hoover to improve crowding and reduce accidents.
LYTHCOTT-HAIMS: Arastradero comes to mind. One of the busiest roads in town, Arastradero serves Gunn HS, Fletcher MS, as well as connecting the town to 280 and 101. Thus, the road is crucial to students, workers, and residents. The city has recently installed some minor driving barriers, forcing cars to drive more slowly and giving cyclists a protected lane on many parts of the road. While not a perfect solution (and certainly not a solution applicable to every road in PA) I do believe this solution represents an innovative way to make our roads more cycling/walking friendly. I think other roads that tend to get heavy cycling and driving traffic may benefit from a similar treatment. Roads like Charleston, Meadow, Park Blvd, may be good candidates for this type of renovation. We have Bryant and Ross going North/South, so it would be great to have more roads that are perpendicular to these made bike-safe in order to facilitate biking throughout the city safely.
SUMMA: I think the underpass and bike /ped path at Alma and Homer is a great example of a successful improvement to bike/ped circulation.