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Transportation Commission Questions Facebook EIR Traffic Analysis

Commissioners asked tough questions of city staff in an effort to understand if Facebook's proposed measures and vehicle trip cap will be effective in mitigating traffic congestion.

The Menlo Park Transportation Commission reviewed the Facebook Campus Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) Wednesday night at its regular monthly meeting.

Commissioners dug into the technical details of the EIR, focusing mostly on the assumptions related to the distribution of vehicle trips and Facebook's proposed employee trip cap.

Commissioner Charlie Bourne asked why the current distribution of where Facebook employees live wasn't taken into account.

"If you’ve got the demographics for all the existing employees, why can’t you use that as a basis for projecting the traffic into the street network to see where it goes? You used a model for trip generation that’s independent," he stated.

Senior Transportation Engineer Atul Patel answered that the city's Circulation and System Assessment model was used instead, "which has different percentages than what Facebook currently has for employees, because we’ve been using this same model for all our other EIRs." 

Commissioner Shiu was also curious about using actual Facebook employee residence location data. "Did anyone look at or survey [the residence locations of] current employees?" he asked.

Patel answered no, explaining that as employees get older, they may look for housing that's closer to the Menlo Park Campus, and that more would probably live in the East Bay than currently do.

Facebook's proposed vehicle trip cap (actually three separate trip caps) was also discussed. Vehicle trips are to be limited to 2,600 trips during both a morning two-hour period and an evening two-hour period, with a total of 15,000 trips per day.

Commissioner Shiu questioned why the same vehicle trip generation rate that was assigned to Sun Microsystems when it occupied the campus is also being proposed for Facebook.

"I really don't know what [Facebook] is giving to the city so that they can double the number of employees on the East Campus with the same trip generation rate," he said.

In fact, the proposed vehicle trip cap only limits Facebook to the same number of vehicle trips if it simply maintains the same mode share it had already acheived at its former Palo Alto campus - 59% drive-alone and 12% carpools. The vehicle trip caps were determined based on traffic data recorded in July 2010 by consulting firm Fehr and Peers at the 1601 California Ave and 1050 Page Mill Rd locations.

That analysis (Appendix 3.5-E of the EIR) found that, on average, Facebook employees generated 2.22 vehicle trips per day (that's including all employees - those who drive and those who don't). So with the same 59% drive-alone and 12% carpool mode shares, 6,600 employees at the East Campus would generate 14,652 vehicle trips (6,600 x 2.22 = 14,652). That number was then rounded to 15,000 to get the proposed daily vehicle trip cap. The 2,600 morning and evening peak period (two-hour) vehicle trip caps were determined using the same method.

Since Facebook needs to reduce the number of employees who drive-alone from 59% to about 50% to avoid filling up the 3,700 parking spaces available at the East Campus, the trip cap won't be effective as an enforcement mechanism. What will require Facebook employees to shift from driving to shuttles, bicycling, and walking is actually just the number of spaces in the parking lot.  

Commissioner Penelope Huang wondered how the city would ensure that the ambitious Transportation Demand Management (TDM) programs proposed by Facebook would actually work.

"I would like to know how these alternative measures are going to be monitored. It's all good in theory but if it doesn't work in practice we've got a lot more problems. Sitting on the freeway, trying to get across Menlo Park, trying to get across to the East Bay - that's further impacted by this development," she said.

Two brand-new members of the Commisson, Nathan Hodges and Bianca Walser, who were both appointed by City Council on Nov 15, also weighed in on the transportation impacts of the Facebook development.

Commissioner Hodges challenged the Menlo Park staff and Facebook team to think creatively to get Facebook commuters out of their cars to avoid the expected traffic problems.

Commissioner Walser criticized Facebook's proposal for not improving bicycle access for crossing Highway 101.

"I didn't see anything in the EIR to really facilitate getting across 101 on a bicycle, and bicycles seem to be the ideal way to get people out of cars," she said.

That sentiment was echoed by several members of the public at both the  and  meetings, and by Environmental Quality Commissioner Adina Levin, one of the public speakers who commented last night.

Ms Levin explained that since so many Facebook employees live south of Menlo Park, they'll need improvements to University Ave and a completed Bay Trail through Menlo Park in order to bicycle to work.

"Finishing the missing section of the Bay Trail woud enable [it] to become a major commute route here as it is becoming further south with the completion of the missing segment down by Moffet [Federal Airfield]," Levin said.

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Next up in the Facebook EIR review process? On Dec 15 Menlo Park Green Ribbon Citizen's Committee will host a community forum to learn more about the Facebook Campus project and its environmental impact. It will include the topics of energy efficiency, alternative energy, greenhouse gas emissions, and alternative transportation.

The meeting will be held from 6:30-8:30 p.m. in the Elm Room of the Arrillaga Community Center, which is located at 600 Alma St, Menlo Park.  City of Menlo Park and Facebook staff will be at the meeting to answer questions from community members.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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