This week, we opened email correspondence with Aaron Aknin, the Assistant Director of the City of Palo Alto’s Planning and Transportation Commission. We have arranged to meet with Mr. Aknin on Thursday 2/6 at his office in City Hall. We hope to learn from this meeting more about the current TDM challenges the city faces as well as the steps that are being taken to resolve them. Any information that we can collect will have applications for the greater scope of our project. By learning from the TDM strategies that cities like Palo Alto are pursuing, we can begin to assemble a list of effective policies that other urban centers can implement as well.
On Wednesday 1/22, our group met up with Adina for a two-hour whole-class workshop on the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software. We learned how to use Google Earth and ArcGIS to read data from Excel spreadsheets, map data points, and generate interactive “tours” of the information. While Ma’ayan has used this software before, neither Adina nor Sam had much prior experience with either program. This session was particularly helpful for our group because the bulk of our final deliverable will require generating maps with the software.
After the workshop, we touched base with Adina before parting for the day. We informed her our our upcoming meeting with Mr. Aknin, and we are hopeful that she will join us on the 6th. She told us of two upcoming city council meetings that might be pertinent to our project. On Monday 1/27, the council will discuss Palo Alto’s proposed parking permitting project in the Downtown neighborhood. Early in February, there will also be a meeting to explicitly discuss TDM strategies for the city. While next Monday’s event might be too tedious for our purposes, we look forward to attending the latter. Additionally, we have tentatively set up a meeting with Adina for Thursday 1/30 to go over our Scope of Work and discuss our timeline for the rest of the quarter.
Lastly, Ma’ayan shared with Sam a chapter from an Urban Planning textbook, Sustainable Transportation Planning. The chapter, appropriately titled “Transportation Demand Management,” outlines the rationale behind TDM, lists the tangible benefits it can provide, and gives concrete examples of policies that urban centers have pursued to improve mode share. We hope to use this source as a springboard for later research into TDM policies and methods that we can provide for the cities and regions along the Caltrain corridor.
What We Observed and Learned
For Sam, becoming familiar with the GIS programs was a major eye-opener for the work that lay ahead. The sheer volume of data that will have to be fed through Google Earth and ArcGIS will take a long time to analyze, format properly, and map. Additionally, once our data is properly formatted in the program, we will have to develop a justifiable method for displaying it visually. For example, if we want to show Caltrain ridership by income level, we must decide on our scale and provide rationale for the decision. A lot of critical thinking as well as data entry will be required to produce the visuals we need for our final deliverable.
For Ma’ayan, the introduction to using the GIS Business Analyst tool was very eye-opening. Such a program that provides Census/ ACS Community Survey information for populations surrounding specific points (as in our case, the Caltrain Corridor) will be helpful for understanding the surrounding communities. Moreover, the visualization of distance that takes into account drive time and traffic is also a nice shortcut for an otherwise tedious task for our final deliverable.
Our immediate objectives are clear. Next Wednesday 1/29, our group is to present on our Scope of Work, a document that outlines our project and how we propose to produce its deliverables. In preparation for that presentation, Ma’ayan and Sam will meet on Sunday to prepare the Scope of Work and finalize our personal timeline for the rest of the quarter. At that meeting, we will also email Adina to fill her in on our situation, confirm our meeting time for next week, and ask about information on the two city council events that she brought up at our last meeting.
By this time next week, all of the preparatory work should be done, and our actual research will begin!
- Ma'ayan and Sam