Reducing Car Traffic With Transportation Demand Management

Summer 2016
Stanford University operates a free public shuttle system that transports staff and students the “last mile” between the campus and local transit, parking, shopping and dining destinations. Steve Castillo, Stanford University

Developers, building owners and operators may chose — or be required — to use TDM.

TRANSPORTATION DEMAND management (TDM) embraces many different types of efforts, from freight and delivery logistics to employee commuting. Much of TDM involves incentives for reducing car travel, especially single-occupancy vehicle (SOV) travel, to a building or complex.  

A commercial property owner or operator may want or need to use TDM for a variety of reasons, including the following:  

  • The local or regional entitlement process may require commitments to reduce and manage car traffic for traffic congestion, air quality or climate change reasons.  
  • The building or site may operate better if it can help related and adjacent traffic to flow better. Reduction of traffic congestion may result in more customers and/or help attract and retain tenants.
  • The owner’s or primary tenant’s institutional policies or branding efforts may call for such an effort.
  • Neighboring property owners may convince local lawmakers to require reductions in traffic to the property.
  • Design goals (LEED or other certifications; awards submissions; architects’ or planners’ specifications) may call for TDM.  
  • Younger tenants and customers may be interested in transportation alternatives to cars.

What are some of the most effective and reasonable things a developer, property owner or operator can do to reduce excessive car travel, particularly SOV use, to a building or complex? While the answer to that question will vary depending on the type of building as well as its location, owner, operator and tenants, it includes the following:

Location: Design for Transit

A good first step is to consider location. One way to limit car use and traffic congestion is to build on top of or close to a rail transit station or other busy transit stop. If your site is adjacent to a transit station or stop, negotiate with the transit authority to extend the stop or the platforms for better access to your site. Build sheltered walkways (covered or underground) from your building to the transit stop. (These passages can create opportunities for retail development; see “Retail in Transit Stations.”)

Other options include providing heated and air-conditioned bus and rail shelters at your building or on your site; make them revenue generators by leasing out space in shelters and walkways to coffee and snack vendors. Consider installing electronic readouts in these spaces that show when the next bus or train will arrive. (See “Display Real-Time Transit Information in Your Lobby.”)

If your site or building isn’t near transit, provide or sponsor transit shuttles, intracampus shuttles, park-and-ride facilities and/or express bus service.

Design for Walking, Biking, Car-sharing

Property owners may be able to make a location more accessible to pedestrians by installing attractive, right-sized sidewalks; short, safe street crossings; sidewalk furniture; shade trees and other landscaping; street-facing shops and restaurants; and sidewalk cafes and kiosks.

To encourage tenants to commute by bicycle, consider providing safe, easy, clean and secure bike parking as well as bike repair facilities and showers and lockers for employees. These can be included as part of a fitness center or provided by arrangement with a fitness center tenant.

Spaces for Zipcars or other car-share services and bike-share docks on the property can encourage tenants to use these services.


Developers can negotiate a reduction in the amount of parking the municipality requires in new construction; in some cases, they can avoid including any parking. (See “Smaller Cities Lighten Up on Minimum Parking Requirements.”) In any case, avoid building too much parking, which encourages SOV use. Design garages to accommodate vans and provide “preferred” spaces for carpooling and vanpooling vehicles. Unbundle parking from residential and office space sales or leases; charge market prices for parking space. In short, use the market and allow for choice.

Install electronic signs directing drivers to the nearest lots, garages or levels with available spaces. Finally, design and build parking garages so they can be retrofitted as commercial or residential space, if and when residents, employees and customers start driving less.

table with facts

Other Incentives

Urge tenants to allow and encourage telecommuting, flextime, staggered shifts and compressed work weeks for their employees. Provide online and printed information about transit options; biking, walking and running; and financial support for these options. Rideshare, carpooling and vanpooling e-bulletin boards as well as a non-SOV listserv can be useful ways to disseminate this information. Printed information is especially effective for new tenants and residents. Finally, create support groups or “clubs” for residents and tenants who use alternative commuting modes.

The Benefits

According to the Seattle Urban Mobility Plan, many employers have found that “it costs less to pay employees not to drive than it does to provide them with free or cheap parking spaces. Offering cash to employees who choose not to drive alone to work can amount to significant reductions in parking acquisition and maintenance costs. … Many TDM strategies are essentially employee benefits that add to a company’s appeal to potential and current employees. These benefits can also help hiring managers attract a broader range of job candidates, including working parents, students or individuals without a car who require flexible schedules and commute options.”

When a property owner uses TDM, whether voluntarily or because of a mandate, the owner is recognizing “destination responsibility.” This is the principle that traffic — with all of its consequences, including congestion, carbon emissions and smog — doesn’t just happen. Nor is it only the responsibility of customers, employees, tenants or city planners. It is not inevitable. Traffic exists in part because property owners and their architects design buildings and complexes in certain ways, and owners and tenants operate them, and shape commuter, customer and resident behavior, in certain ways. These things can change.

Stanford University’s TDM Program

In 2002, Stanford University launched a vigorous campaign to encourage employees to switch from single-occupancy vehicle commuting to other modes of transportation. Since then, the campus has reduced SOV commuting from 72 to 50 percent. Stanford offers cash payments to non-SOV commuters to defray transportation costs and provides employees who commute by transit with free transit passes.

The university also operates a shuttle system for employees and students that serves, among other routes, “last mile” travel to a nearby transit center, parking facilities and some off-campus destinations. Stanford gives stipends to carpool and vanpool participants, features 60 Zipcars on campus, sponsors a non-SOV “Commute Club,” provides extensive TDM information services and charges, via payment machines or permits, for most on-campus parking.

Ramses Madou, an associate director, parking and transportation services, at the university, explains that “We have actually eliminated some parking spaces in recent years due to the construction of new teaching, research and patient care facilities.”

Madou adds that Stanford is evaluating car-sharing services and self-driving cars carefully from the commuting point of view: “What is their potential effect on the number of trips to and from campus, the type of parking spaces needed and emissions? If hundreds of self-driving vehicles or car-share commuters show up at the same time at the same facility, where is the curb space to allow them to stop?” (Some observers think that self-driving cars could dramatically increase vehicle miles traveled and traffic congestion.) Stanford offers telecommuting, flextime, staggered shifts and compressed work weeks. The League of American Bicyclists named the campus its first Platinum Bicycle-Friendly University in 2011.