San Jose and Sunnyvale create new policies for parking and transportation demand management

This Tuesday,  November 29, San Jose City Council is scheduled to vote on approving a citywide update to its policies for parking and transportation demand management, which can have big impacts on the relative ease of driving and sustainable transportation.  

Meanwhile the City of Sunnyvale is working on a related set of policy updates for its Moffett Park Specific Plan which is aiming to transform a car-centric office park to a mixed use place with more transit, walking, and biking. 

San Jose’s policy will remove minimum parking requirements citywide, and will clarify and strengthen transportation demand management requirements for developments of all sorts around the city except for small ones (less than 20 homes).   San Jose’s policy goes further than the requirements of AB-2097, a new law that abolishes minimum parking requirements within a half mile of a major transit stop.

San Jose established minimum requirements for vehicle parking in 1949, during the post-WW2 car-dominated growth era.  These requirements expanded until November of 1965, when minimum parking requirements were adopted for nearly every land use.  But, San Jose, like many other places, came to realize that parking minimums tend to reduce density and increase the distance between land uses, making walking, biking, and public transportation less viable, resulting in more demand for driving.

The City’s Transportation Demand Management policy requires developments to add a mix of improvements such as transit subsidies, car and bike share programs, unbundling parking costs from rents, subsidizing public transit service upgrades, adding new street connections, bike network and sidewalk improvements. Projects can get points for joining a Transportation Management Association that manages programs for an area. For example, the Diridon/Downtown area is expected to have a TMA , as does the Berryessa BART Urban Village area.

Project characteristics can be TDM measures themselves, such as providing affordable housing or building less parking.   San Jose’s TDM policy uses a point-based system where developments get points for providing less vehicle parking and providing a customized set of other improvements.

A very good thing about San Jose’s TDM policy is that the specifics are included – not in the ordinance that the City Council has to vote on – but in the Transportation Analysis Manual that can be regularly updated by city staff as things change and as data shows the effectiveness of various measures.  So if and when there is a regionwide all-agency transit pass that helps reduce driving even more than single-agency passes, or better programs for micromobility and shared parking, those improvements can be added without the need for the City Council to approve an update to the law.

Sunnyvale Moffett Park Specific Plan

Meanwhile, Sunnyvale is pursuing a related set of mobility policy improvements for the Moffett Park Specific Plan. 

The Moffett Plan, which is expected to be approved in 2023, will include land use and transportation plans to transform a car-centric office park to a mixed use area including up to 20,000 homes and more transit, walking, and biking.

Sunnyvale is looking to set a strong goal to reduce solo driving to a maximum of 50% when the plan is fully complete. Google, a major employer in Moffett Park, already had a drivealone rate below 50%.

Unlike San Jose, Sunnyvale’s proposal still has some parking minimums, though significantly lower than current requirements. Also unlike San Jose, Sunnyvale is proposing parking maximums that gradually decrease over time, a step that San Jose has not yet taken.  And Sunnyvale is considering an overall parking cap for the area. 

Unbundled parking – providing car parking separate from the cost of purchasing or renting homes and offices, will reveal the cost of parking and allow residents and commuters to save money by choosing not to purchase parking if they don’t need it. This policy will be helped along by the recent passage of AB2206, which requires commercial buildings occupied by 50 or more people to list the parking costs as a separate line item leases.

As a plan for a part of the city with major employers that expects to see major developments, the Moffett Park Specific Plan is considering a Transportation Management Association that would manage incentives and benefits to drive less, and manage car parking permits and pricing. 

As the area redeveloped, Sunnyvale wants to transform large megablocks with surface parking into a finer grained network of streets and pathways.

Climate goals and regional transit needs

Both cities are strongly motivated by climate goals.  The Envision San José General Plan has a 2040 goal to reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT) by 45% by 2040 by improving transportation options beyond single-occupant vehicles.    Sunnyvale’s goal (lower than San Jose’s) is to reduce VMT by 25% per person by 2050. 

In both cities, the success at achieving these goals depends substantially on the success of the Bay Area in preserving and significantly improving the public transportation network.  Because cities aren’t in charge of public transportation but are major institutional customers, it is important for these cities to engage with the important transit planning and funding efforts under way, including the regional Connected Network Plan; VTA’s Visionary Network and regional efforts for transit fiscal gap funding and regional funding.