The Downtown Neighborhood Parking Initiative


POLICY T-47:  Protect residential areas from the parking impacts of nearby business districts.

City of Palo Alto Comprehensive Plan, 2007 revision, p T-26

The Downtown Neighborhood Parking Initiative

Years of City parking exemptions to large downtown office developments have caused major commercial parking intrusion into the surrounding residential neighborhoods.

These parking-exempted developments continue.  The Downtown North group has developed an interactive, on-line model for forecasting the growth of the City's downtown parking shortage; anyone with a browser can try it (see left).

The nominal forecast is that the downtown commercial parking shortage will roughly triple, from 901 cars at the beginning of 2013 to over 2,500 cars by the end of 2016.   But try it yourself, using your own assumptions for employee density growth, percentage of employees using mass transit, and other factors.

This is what a 100% parked-out residential street looks like:
Palo Alto Avenue, May 2013

  • 100% parked-out streets are a safety problem
    • Residential streets/crosswalks are also used by bicycles, joggers, seniors, children, scooters ...
    • 100% parked-out streets are essentially 15 feet narrower (two car-widths), with poor visibility
    • 100% parking also brings substantial traffic into the residential neighborhoods
    • Emergency Vehicles:  California Fire Code sets 20 feet as the minimum unobstructed street width for emergency vehicle access.  Many 100% parked-out neighborhood streets now fail this.
      • How would a fire truck get through the street in the picture above?
  • It is fundamentally about zoning
    • The neighborhoods are zoned Residential --- not "Commercial Parking Lot"
  • It's getting worse, fast.  Try the model and run your own estimate.

  • The Goal:  eliminate the residential "Red Zones"

  • Parking Programs Work
    • The College Terrace neighborhood's parking program eliminated most all-day parking intrusion and re-established a residential-appropriate level

  • How did things get this way?
    • Since 1986, the city approved at least 44 University Avenue-area office developments without enough parking space for their tenants' cars
      • Those tenants park in the Neighborhoods
      • In addition, downtown tenants have increased employee density per square foot of office space
      • These "parking-exempt" approvals continue even now
      • A growing number of "outbound" train commuters park in the neighborhoods near the Caltrain station, in order to travel elsewhere for the day

"It encourages commercial enterprise, but not at the expense of the City’s residential neighborhoods."

- City of Palo Alto Comprehensive Plan (Revised 7/17/2007), Chapter 1, Page 3
  “Meeting Residential and Commercial Needs.”

    The Two Futures of Palo Alto

    Palo Alto's Comprehensive Plan and codes, driven by residents, were developed to maintain the city's character and sustainability, and to ensure its future as a great place to live, and with good schools.

    Rezoning Map of Palo Alto (click to enlarge)

    In recent years a competing vision has evolved, independent of residents:  a future of massive overdevelopment, density, traffic, parking debacles, giant fortress-like buildings, pollution, and overstretched city services and schools.

    However, regular city zoning does not allow these things; so it has been suspended via extensive "Planned Community" rezoning and other exemption mechanisms.
      The next wave of these (see chart above, from will dwarf all previous iterations.

    Where each of us stands on rezoning depends on which future we want for Palo Alto.

    "Planned Community" Development at 801 Alma Street

    University Avenue in Crescent Park, Weekday Afternoon