Back in January 2009, the City adopted a Transportation Element requiring developers to adopt “transportation demand management” programs designed to reduce the additional “peak hour” traffic generated by new commercial developments by 30 per cent and new residential developments by 10 per cent.
Alameda Landing was the first project for which a TDM plan was prepared and approved, and the project’s commercial developer – Catellus – began to implement the plan in October 2013. Now, 17 months later, and two months after it was due, the first report about how the program is working has been made public.
So how well is the Alameda Landing TDM plan doing in meeting the stated trip-reduction goal?
Apparently, nobody knows (or bothered to find out before the report was presented to the Planning Board two weeks ago).
This is not just the Merry-Go-Round’s reaction after watching the video of the March 9 Planning Board meeting. Having reviewed the Alameda Landing TDM report and heard the staff presentation, two Board members who are not known always to see eye-to-eye reached a similar conclusion.
Board member Dania Alvarez spoke first. She noted that the report attached a table showing 11,139 “boardings” from April through September 2014 on the shuttle running between Alameda Landing and the 12th Street Oakland BART station. Was this a lot? she wanted to know. A little?
City Planner Andrew Thomas quickly responded that he was “pretty impressed” by the figure. Ms. Alvarez responded that it “didn’t seem like a lot” to her. And then she got to the heart of the issue: The report didn’t include any goal for the number of shuttle riders. But the lack of a target (so to speak) “makes it difficult to evaluate whether the [impact of the shuttle] is positive or negative.”
When Board member John Knox White got his turn, he made the same point in perhaps a more precise way.
Mr. Knox White began by enumerating the items required by the TDM plan that hadn’t been done yet, such as a survey of commercial tenant employees about how they got to and from work. Then, like Ms. Alvarez, he turned to the lack of data about whether the plan was meeting its goal.
The analysis was really pretty simple, he suggested. Compute – using the “ITE trip generation rates” – the number of trips that could be expected from the employees working at Alameda Landing. Compare that with the number of shuttle riders. If the latter was 30% of the former, the program was working. (And, although Mr. Knox White didn’t say it, if the number was less than 30%, it wasn’t).
But that task hadn’t been performed, either. Because of this and the other omissions, “we can’t accept” the TDM report, Mr. Knox White concluded. “All of the information is out of context, and [it] doesn’t tell whether we’re succeeding or not.”
On Mr. Knox White’s motion, the Board passed a resolution declaring that the report was “not in compliance” with the TDM plan, and recommending that staff inform the Transportation Commission and Council of the shortcomings he identified.
The reason we tell this story is not to condemn Catellus (or staff) or to commend Mr. Knox White (although we seem to be doing an awful lot of that lately). The TDM plan doesn’t require the type of trip reduction analysis desired by Mr. Knox White until the fifth annual report. And Mr. Thomas assured us that the report will be revised before it is presented to Council to include the information requested by the two Planning Board members.
No, our purpose is to draw a connection between the release of the Alameda Landing TDM report and the discussions about a City-wide TDM plan. (A special Council meeting on the topic is scheduled for April 1). During the last two years, as the Planning Board and/or Council approved TDM plans for Alameda Point and the Del Monte warehouse project, the skeptics kept pointing out that TDM had no local track record: We’ve heard all of your assurances about how well TDM has worked in Boulder and Palo Alto, they’d say. But will it work in Alameda?
The Alameda Landing TDM report offered the first opportunity to get an answer, albeit a preliminary one, to that question. It’s undoubtedly too soon for a definitive evaluation of the effectiveness of the shuttle. After all, commercial tenants are still moving in and houses are still being sold. But the Target store has been open for 17 months, and the shuttle is hardly a novelty anymore. Not having presented any evidence of success, the TDM advocates find themselves in the position of a baseball manager insisting that he’s still certain the rookie prospect can hit major-league pitching – even though he doesn’t know what happened in the kid’s first at-bat.
Another aspect of the presentation to the Planning Board was equally troubling. The report stated that the shuttle provided 10 round trips during morning commute hours and 11 during evening commute hours – covering fewer total hours than the TDM plan required, Mr. Knox White noted – but it did not disclose how full the buses were. So Board member Stanley Tang asked.
John Atkinson, the part-time “coordinator” hired by the “Transportation Management Association,” replied that ridership on the shuttle had “jumped” after the new Safeway store opened, but that, even with Target, Safeway, and a handful of other retail stores now doing business, the buses “probably” were running at only 35-40 percent of capacity.
What explains the low ridership? Mr. Knox White criticized the marketing efforts done to date. “From what I can tell from the report,” he said, “we’re not doing the one thing that this TDM plan actually requires, which is marketing to the employees so that they know these shuttles exist.”
Mr. Atkinson in turn expressed exasperation about the employers. It had been “challenging,” he said, to get Target to take any action to promote the shuttle. “All this is somewhat new to Target,” he said. “They’re from Minnesota, and they’re not used to a lot of TDM requirements.” Ya, sure, you betcha.
Safeway, whose headquarters are in Pleasanton, presumably doesn’t suffer from Scandinavian stubbornness. Nevertheless, Mr. Atkinson lamented that the grocery chain had not even mentioned the availability of the shuttle amidst the “fanfare” with which it announced the opening of its new store.
Whoever is right, maybe once people start moving into homes at Alameda Landing, the new residents will fill up the empty seats on the bus. Or maybe not. After all, each residential unit comes with parking spaces for two cars.
All in all, it wasn’t a report card one would want to take home – or present to Council. Both Mr. Thomas and Mr. Atkinson remained confident that the results would improve as the project got built out and the TDM program took hold. As the report itself opined, “The goal to create a consistent/daily transit ridership will likely be met once future residents and tenants actually move into the project.”
We wonder whether Council will share their optimism, and, if not, how the Alameda Landing experience will affect the planning for a City-wide TDM plan. At the least, we would expect that Council will insist on setting specific goals and requiring annual (or more frequent) reports containing hard data about projected and actual trips.
The more difficult issue is what to do if the goals aren’t being met.
Councilman Tony Daysog has floated the idea of penalizing the developer if the TDM plan is falling short. But his suggestion to that effect during the hearing on the Del Monte warehouse project was not warmly received. Moreover, some developers – like Catellus – have negotiated provisions in their development agreements prohibiting the City from imposing any “penalty, fine, or other consequence (whether financial or otherwise)” if “any monitoring reveals that the TDM Program has not met any established goal.”
In such a case, the TDM advocates prefer to follow the advice of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and treat the crisis as an “opportunity”: if the current TDM tools aren’t working, it’s time for sterner measures.
We have a pretty good guess of what additional TDM strategies Mr. Knox White, for one, would like to see employed at Alameda Landing. At present, “parking management” is not a part of the TDM plan, and the project provides 1,117 parking spaces for the retail stores as well as the two parking spaces per residential unit (and another 195 “guest” spaces). As an ardent antagonist of the automobile, Mr. Knox White surely would relish imposing restrictions on the parking available to shoppers, employees, and residents.
When Council considers a City-wide TDM plan, it will have to decide whether an action like this is indeed a card it wants to see played if the original deal turns out to be a bust.
As the first development to implement a TDM plan, Alameda Landing bears close watching. As we have previously observed, TDM plans take a carrot-and-stick approach toward achieving their goal of reducing automobile usage: Provide incentives for people to modify their behavior, but also make it more difficult and expensive for them to persist in behaving badly. How tasty a carrot do the planners need to offer to get shoppers, employees, and residents at Alameda Landing to stop driving and start using the shuttle? How nasty a stick are the planners willing to wield if employees or residents won’t bite at the carrot? (Or if it turns out that the skinflint Minnesotans won’t pay for it).
Of course, if neither approach works at Alameda Landing, Council may have reason to doubt that it will work anywhere else in Alameda. And then what?
Alameda Landing TDM plan: 2015-03-09 Ex. 3 to staff report to PB – 2007 Alameda Landing TDM Plan
Alameda Landing TDM report: 2015-03-09 Ex. 2 to staff report to PB – Catellus TDM Plan Annual Report
Transportation Element: Transportation Element