Stanford's new P&TS director talks peak-hour traffic, "green" Marguerites, parking
Reducing peak-hour vehicle trips remains a top priority for Stanford, and for the university's new transportation director.
Brian Shaw, the new director of Parking & Transportation Services at Stanford, has a master's degree in city planning, transportation and traffic engineering, and a bachelor's degree in history.
But what he really wants to talk about these days is math – the math of the drive-alone commuter.
Nearly half of the people who commute to campus – 48 percent – drive alone.
While that's an impressive number, well below comparable employers nearby, the steady downward trend of Stanford's drive-alone rate could be at risk of stalling.
"We're doing well, but we're reaching a plateau," Shaw said.
"It took a lot of work to get us to this low drive-alone rate, including alternative transportation programs, such as the free Caltrain pass and VTA Eco Pass, and expanding the free Marguerite Shuttle. But Stanford continues to grow. If we add more people, even at the current drive-alone rate, that's going to increase the number of trips coming to campus. That's just doing the math."
The calculation is important because Stanford agreed to keep the number of vehicles entering and exiting campus during peak commute hours – 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. – below the number recorded in 2001, under the General Use Permit (GUP) approved by Santa Clara County in 2000.
"In order to continue to accommodate campus growth, we need to figure out ways to motivate more people not to drive alone and to address the reasons they need to drive," said Shaw, who has more than two decades' experience in transportation planning and leadership, including 14 years at universities in Philadelphia, Chicago and Atlanta.
The approach dovetails with Stanford's commitment to sustainability, since limiting the number of vehicle trips during peak commute hours helps reduce carbon dioxide emissions, helps improve air quality, reduces the need for parking and helps reduce traffic in surrounding communities.
Under GUP, every trip counts
Santa Clara County performs "cordon counts" on campus every year, recording the number of vehicles that enter and exit campus at 16 locations.
While Stanford has achieved its trip-count goal during the morning commute by a comfortable margin, the afternoon commute has always proved more challenging. During the last cordon counts, spring and fall 2013, the county tallied 3,744 vehicles leaving campus between 5 and 6 p.m. – which is 153 trips over the limit.
Stanford can apply "credits" earned primarily through Marguerite Shuttle ridership outside the cordon count area – taking hospital employees to the train station, for instance – to reduce its trip count. In 2013, those credits enabled the university to stay within the GUP limits, but Stanford tries to accomplish the goal without credits.
"We're running up against the trip count limit," Shaw said.
Shaw doesn't own a car. He rides Caltrain to the Palo Alto station from San Francisco, then takes a Marguerite Shuttle to his office in Bonair Siding. He said the personal benefits to people who bike, walk or share the ride – via bus, train, carpools or vanpools – are easy to enumerate.
Some Commute Club members say it improves fitness. It reduces stress, because they don't have to hunt for parking and can use their commute time to do something enjoyable or productive, such as reading or catching up on emails. It saves money, including the cost of a parking permit, gas or bridge tolls, and wear and tear on a car.
"I used our Commute Cost and Carbon Emission Calculator, and it showed that if I drove to work from San Francisco, it would cost me an average of $7,150 a year," Shaw said. "I use the Go Pass on Caltrain and take the Marguerite and it doesn't cost me a dime."
Transportation management plan 2.0
Currently, Shaw and his staff are conducting additional analytics on the results of the 2014 commute survey, as well as assessing the effectiveness of existing programs.
They also are considering how to modify future surveys to collect more detailed information about commuting attitudes and behavior, with questions such as, "What is it about other modes of transportation that precludes you from using them – schedule, proximity, family commitments, time – or other reasons entirely?"
He said employees with children may not be able to use alternative transportation, because they need to drive children to and from day care or school.
Some employees may be able to get to campus in far less time if they drive, rather than taking public transportation.
"There's not much we can do about that," Shaw said. "But then we have to think,
'Are there other ways to address that situation, for example, by letting them know about our carpooling and vanpooling programs?'"
Currently, there are four Stanford vanpools that bring employees to campus from Berkeley, San Francisco, Santa Cruz/Scotts Valley and Tracy. Each passenger van holds seven to 15 commuters, and the Stanford vanpools can request free, reserved parking on campus.
While that is a premium incentive on campus these days, Shaw said P&TS hopes to make Stanford's vanpool program even more enticing by providing new options to employees – smaller, easier to handle minivans or crossover SUVs that would qualify for incentives with only four or five commuters.
Encouraging more people to carpool in their own cars is another option. Carpoolers have reserved access to any carpool space on campus until 10 a.m.
Changing face of campus parking
Stanford recently eliminated street parking on Santa Teresa Street – west of Lomita Drive to Campus Drive West – to help improve pedestrian and bicycle circulation in the area and to provide an extra measure of safety as construction ramps up in that neighborhood.
Stanford also recently closed the Roble and Lagunita Court parking lots on Santa Teresa Street to make way for new dorms.
The university is building a new underground parking structure on Santa Teresa Street below Roble Field. Parking Structure 10 is expected to open in 2016 and will provide approximately 1,100 parking spaces.
Over the past year, the university added two new parking options that are open for commuters: a new parking lot on Searsville Road at Campus Drive West and a new parking garage, Parking Structure 9, on Quarry Road near Hoover Pavilion.
The new Searsville parking lot, which is paved and lighted, has 600 spaces.
The new Hoover Pavilion Garage, which is officially known as Parking Structure 9, has more than 1,000 spaces, including 403 patient/visitor spaces and 675 permit spaces for commuters. The entrance for commuters is located on the south side of the building on Sweet Olive Way.
"These new parking facilities have spaces readily available throughout the day, and Marguerite service to bridge the distance to campus destinations," Shaw said.
"Another option is to consider leaving cars at home and taking alternative transportation instead. The Marguerite buses have stops that are often much closer to campus destinations than driving and parking."
Shaw and his staff are considering other ways to reduce demand for parking in congested areas of campus and to shift demand to less crowded areas, a feat he achieved at the University of Pennsylvania, where he oversaw parking and transportation services from 2010 to 2014.
"When I was at Penn, I was able to curb the high demand we were experiencing in some areas of campus and shift it to other areas," he said.
Shaw said Stanford will need to look at the issue in a comprehensive way, considering all options, and may need to move to a system of managing parking on a district level.
Marguerite buses go electric
This summer, Stanford increased its fleet of zero-emission, battery-electric Marguerite transit buses to 13, up from three. As Stanford retires up to 15 buses that are less fuel-efficient and more costly to maintain, the university is "greening" its fleet with electric vehicles.
In the coming year, 10 more electric buses are on their way. Once they join the fleet, battery-electric buses will account for more than half of the 1.1 million miles Stanford's free shuttle service travels annually.
The 10 new electric vehicles will be smaller – 30 feet long – than earlier models, which are 40 feet long. Stanford will reduce its kilowatt-hours per mile by operating the smaller electric vehicles on routes with lower ridership.
"We're not just running buses, we're leveraging cutting-edge technologies and running clean, quiet electric buses," Shaw said.
Stanford, which is considered a leader in transportation management, frequently receives calls from other universities about its successful programs.
"We have to keep trying to do better to maintain that vanguard position," Shaw said. "People are always asking: What is Stanford doing now?"