Needs, Opportunities, and Challenges
Mobility options are changing rapidly today with the advent of ridesharing services such as Uber and Lyft, bikesharing options such as Lime, micro-mobility services such as shared electric scooters, and smart parking technology such as Smarking. Walnut Creek has an opportunity to leverage these technologies to manage historic mobility challenges, including traffic and parking. The objective of Rethinking Mobility: A Transportation Strategic Plan for the City of Walnut Creek, is to set a vision for how to reduce automobile trips, manage parking demand, and support a variety of mobility options by leveraging new technologies.
How Walnut Creek Moves Today
Currently, most people drive for work, shopping, and other types of trips. Driving alone is the primary means of transportation for people traveling to work, both for those who live in Walnut Creek and for those who work in Walnut Creek and live elsewhere. For other types of trips, Walnut Creek residents are more likely to carpool, walk, or bicycle. Understanding how people travel for different types of trips will help determine what strategies may be most effective in shifting drive-alone vehicle trips to public transportation, walking, or bicycling.
Most People Are Driving: What Do Current Travel Patterns Tell Us About Opportunities for Reducing Automobile Trips?
Walnut Creek is an employment hub in Central Contra Costa County, and more workers commute into the city than commute out. Most workers are driving from other parts of Contra Costa County into Walnut Creek. Walnut Creek is also a retail and entertainment center for the region, and many residents and visitors drive to downtown for shopping, dining, and entertainment.
The limited alternatives to driving from some locations, such as eastern Contra Costa County and the Tri-Valley area, is a potential challenge in shifting automobile trips to other more sustainable transportation modes. However, there is an opportunity to shift more local driving trips to bicycling or public transit (such as buses or shuttles), and to shift longer distance trips from outside Walnut Creek to carpooling, BART, and buses.
Is Parking Part of the Problem, a Potential Solution, or Both?
The City of Walnut Creek has already implemented a number of best practices for parking management, including demand-based pricing and the provision of real-time occupancy information. Parking management is one of the most powerful transportation demand management tools available. The City has the opportunity to build on its successful parking management policies and programs, such as the free Downtown Trolley connecting downtown with the Walnut Creek BART station, to help further its goals of reducing automobile trips and supporting alternatives to driving.
Public Transit Options in Walnut Creek
Walnut Creek is served by two BART stations (Walnut Creek and Pleasant Hill/Contra Costa Centre) as well as local and express bus routes. Three free bus routes provide key links between the BART stations and downtown, the Creekside neighborhood, and the Shadelands business park. The free bus routes in Walnut Creek are the most frequent citywide, and they have the greatest number of passengers per service hour of all County Connection bus routes.
The popularity of the City’s free bus routes demonstrates that public transit can result in shifts away from driving when it provides a free or lower-cost option that enables people to travel when and where they want to go. The primary challenge to providing additional bus service, either by increasing frequency on existing routes or by expanding service to additional areas, is available funding.
Bicycling in Walnut Creek
Despite a moderate climate and relatively flat terrain, relatively few people bicycle for work and non-work trips in Walnut Creek. A key missing element is a well-connected network of low-stress bicycle facilities that people of all ages and abilities feel safe and comfortable using. Regional multi-use paths and trails, including the Iron Horse and Canal trails, provide a backbone of low-stress bicycle facilities that the City of Walnut Creek can build upon.
Walking in Walnut Creek
The City of Walnut Creek has invested significant resources in improving its walking environment, particularly in downtown. There is a well-connected network of safe and comfortable walkways in many of Walnut Creek’s neighborhoods and commercial areas. However, pedestrian connections between these areas and to public transit stops and stations are often limited by the need to cross major roadways with multiple lanes of traffic and high volumes of fast-moving vehicles. Improving pedestrian safety and comfort at key locations may enable more people to make local trips on foot, as well as improve access for those using wheelchairs and other mobility devices.
How is Mobility Changing?
The rise of on-demand ride services from transportation network companies (TNCs) such as Uber and Lyft, micro-transit companies such as Chariot, and dockless bikeshare and electric scooter services from companies such as Lime and Bird is altering the future of mobility. While the outcomes, benefits, and drawbacks of the rising role these companies are playing is still being evaluated, there has been a large increase in the demand for TNCs and other on-demand services in urbanized areas, including Walnut Creek. Autonomous vehicles are also on the horizon, and will have an even greater effect on the way we travel. It will be important for the City to take steps to ensure that these services are implemented in ways that work toward achieving its goal of reducing single-occupant automobile trips.
Walnut Creek’s Current Mobility Goals
The Walnut Creek General Plan, Climate Action Plan, Bicycle Master Plan, and Pedestrian Master Plan include transportation-related goals, policies, and recommended actions that emphasize the importance of transportation demand management; namely, decreasing the number of trips made by single-occupant automobiles and increasing transit use, ridesharing, walking, and bicycling. These existing City policies provide the basis for the goals, objectives, and performance measures for Rethinking Mobility.
What is Walnut Creek Already Doing to Manage Automobile Trips?
Contra Costa County and all of its municipalities are required to have a TDM ordinance or resolution which includes a commitment to promote alternatives to the single-occupant vehicle in order to reduce vehicle miles traveled. 511 Contra Costa provides TDM programs on behalf of the cities and Contra Costa County, and is overseen by the Contra Costa Transportation Authority and its respective regional transportation planning committees. Additionally, all Bay Area employers with 50 or more employees are required to provide their workers with one of four commuter benefit options. These options include a pre-tax benefit, an employer subsidy, employer-provided transit, or an alternative benefit that is effective in reducing single-occupant vehicle trips. While these programs provide a basic level of support for those who are interested in alternatives to driving, there are opportunities to provide additional incentives for using public transit, bicycling, walking, and ridesharing to further reduce automobile trips.