Transportation is a field full of acronyms. Some of the acronyms make simple ideas sound more important and impactful than they actually are. (RRFB merely means a light that flashes asking motorists to, pretty please, let a pedestrian cross in a crosswalk.) Some of the acronyms hide big ideas within drabness. TMA and TDM are two in this latter category. They're creations of the Carter years — inflation and oil crises — so the bland bureauocrateze is in keeping with the context.
But there's more to these acronyms than a Sunday school teacher nagging you to put on your sweater and turn down your thermostat. Here in Alameda, the TMA is performing TDM by giving us nice, free, and useful things.
TDM refers to transportation demand management. TDM also refers to the end of an era: the end of cheap oil, the end of the quick commute, the end of unconstrained flat sprawling suburban growth, and the end of obliviousness to the environmental consequences of all of the above.
While the post-World War II status quo had been to automatically build capacity for private single-occupancy auto drivers — to meet all demand by building more "free" roads and more "free" parking lots at offices, stores, schools, and stadiums — TDM asks places and institutions to actively and systematically manage their transportation demand.
Think of an airport, a stadium, a university campus, or a major hospital complex. These are all types of places that have successfully adopted TDM practices. Everyone now expects to pay a premium price to park their car near an airport terminal or near a pro sports stadium — and they also expect to be able to compare that cost against a range of other options like a trip entirely by public transit, a shuttle from a remote parking lot, or a benefit for carpooling with others.
Thanks to TDM, these places are able to do more with less — less on-site parking, less access roads, and less cost to maintain all of that auto infrastructure. A portion of the saving are redirected to programs and benefits that make it easier and cheaper for employees/visitors/customers/patients to arrive by transport modes other than single occupancy vehicles.
Sometimes TDM is conducted by a single entity — like the Chase Center sports complex in San Francisco or Stanford University's campus straddling Palo Alto and unincorporated Santa Clara County. Sometimes TDM is conducted for an area with multiple neighboring employers, retailers, or residential complexes. In the latter case, a TMA refers to a transportation management association — a non-profit organization that collects some financial contributions and administers some TDM programs for the organizations in that area.
Now that we've gotten the acronyms out of the way, what does this actually mean for Alameda?
As Alameda has permitted new developments at Alameda Point, along the Northern Waterfront, and in-fill in West Alameda, the city has required that those projects commit to limiting the number of new residents/customers/employees traveling along by car. Each project has filed a TDM program plan and each project pays into a TMA on an ongoing basis.
Somehow the city ended up with two TMAs: the "West Alameda TMA" just managing TDM programs for the Alameda Landing (Target) shopping center and the "Alameda TMA" managing TDM programs for most every other development at Alameda Point and along the Northern Waterfront.
Some of the TDM programs may look good on paper but may be little used in practice. I would be very curious to know how many people actually ride the West Alameda TMA's shuttle between the Alameda Target and the 12st St. BART Station in downtown Oakland.
However, as more developments, residents, and employers buy-in, what the TMAs can provide is expanding. The Alameda TMA is now especially active with two new programs:
- Estuary Water Shuttle: A free boat going back and forth between Alameda and Jack London Square. Should be a great way for cyclists to connect to downtown Oakland. Led by the City of Alameda, to be operated by WETA, but also closely involving the collaboration of the Alameda TMA (plus a bit of money from the West Alameda TMA, as best I can tell). A step toward a permanent bike/ped connection across the Oakland estuary.
- Clipper BayPass: The Alameda TMA has offered AC Transit passes to all its residents/employees. Now thanks to a new pilot program from MTC called Clipper BayPass, residents/employees will instead get a special Clipper card that works for free unlimited trips on all Bay Area transit agencies. Well, there's one exception: No free trips on San Francisco's cable cars — but everything else is "all you can ride."
The Clipper BayPass benefit does make me jealous and almost want to move across town. But even without directly receiving the benefit, it's also designed to help me — and other Alameda residents. The more residents of the Alameda TMA who take advantage of these benefits, the marginally fewer people are driving solo in their cars through the tubes to Oakland. The same is true of the Estuary Water Shuttle — which will be free to all, not just to TMA members. The water shuttle will help to marginally reduce solo drives through the tubes.
Framed as being a means to reduce solo drives through the tubes, the Carter-era origins of TDM do show through. Yes, there is an element to all of this of trying to "nudge" our way toward good behavior, toward turning down the thermostat, toward putting on a sweater.
But aside from the Carter-era vibes, there are also some nice things becoming possible now that Alameda Point and the Northern Waterfront are filling out and the Alameda TMA is getting even more members. There's nothing stopping those with a Clipper BayPass from using them for purely fun outings to San Francisco or another tourist destination — more transit use is the overall goal of the program, not only reducing the number of solo drivers in the Webster/Posey Tubes between specific morning hours.
And, even if I won't have a Clipper BayPass of my own, I will look forward to riding the Estuary Water Shuttle as often as possible — probably sometimes with my bike on the way to BART, sometimes with my kids as an outing, and sometimes with all of the above.