Imola Avenue Median Remake

Traffic on Imola Avenue in Napa.

Napa County’s congestion-clogged commute is going under the microscope in a $1 million-plus, private-public team effort to find solutions.

“It’s pretty clear when you drive north in Napa Valley at 7 a.m., you see a lot of single-occupancy vehicles, which is our workforce,” county Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza said.

The Napa Valley Forward effort will collect data from participating employees in the wine and hospitality industries about where they live and what times they commute. Then it will look for ways to break the solo-commute cycle, be it carpools, public or private buses or electronic bikes.

“We first need to understand the data before we start prescribing the solution,” said Pedroza, who is vice chair of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

MTC is providing $1 million for Napa Valley Forward. Napa Valley Vintners and Visit Napa Valley are each providing $125,000. The Napa Valley Transportation Authority is part of the collaboration.

Pedroza said perhaps the Meritage hotel, a local winery and Silverado among them have a few hundred employees. Perhaps 50 work from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and live in American Canyon. That might be the critical mass needed for a solo-driving commute alternative targeted to this particular workforce subset.

Key to the effort is working with Luum, a Seattle-based consultant that provides commute management technology. It has helped such employers as Kaiser Permanente and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation cut solo-driving trips.

“The challenge we have in Napa Valley is we don’t have one large employer that can move the dial,” Pedroza said.

Instead, the goal of Napa Valley Forward is to work with multiple employers that want to help solve traffic congestion.

Luum’s commute management platform provides employers with commute data, an MTC report said. Some Napa Valley employers previously offered incentives to encourage workers to carpool, but didn’t have the proper tools and data to deploy, monitor or evaluate the success of their efforts, it said.

Napa Valley Forward is a two-year pilot program. Pedroza said data gathered in the next six months should be enough to start looking at potential solutions and incentives.

If Napa Valley Forward is successful with the wine and hospitality industries, the effort could expand to include health care and other types of employers, Pedroza said.

Napa Valley Forward has its roots in a January 2018 meeting convened by Pedroza and MTC with leaders from local wineries and hospitality businesses. That led to the MTC Operations Committee considering and approving the agency’s $1 million contribution in November 2018.

Ashley Nguyen at that MTC meeting said a goal is to make traffic conditions on Columbus Day – a holiday for some but not for others—the norm. A 3 percent to 5 percent drop in traffic can reduce traffic delays by 50 percent to 60 percent, she said.

“Because of the rural nature of Napa Valley, the idea of fixed transit doesn’t make sense, because there is scattered origins and destinations,” she said.

But smaller transit vans might work, she said.

Napa County has done traffic studies before. In 2014, consultants used data from more than 200,000 mobile devices such as cell phones to see where people drove. Fifty-five percent of trips began and ended in Napa County, 36 percent passed through a county gateway and 9 percent passed through two gateways.

“We know there’s data out there that’s been done, but it’s general, it’s not specific enough to go into program solutions,” Pedroza said.

Local congestion-easing efforts have also been launched. In 2016, the Calistoga Chamber of Commerce for two months ran a bus from Santa Rosa to Calistoga for workers. Only a few people rode.

Pedroza said Napa Valley Forward will be cautious about implementing solutions. Data can show not only which ideas might work, but also which ideas might not work.

Napa Valley Forward partners offered comments on the effort in the press release.

“New technologies offer a cost-effective way to manage traffic and even incremental reductions in auto trips can provide significant reductions in congestion on Napa roads,” Napa Valley Transportation Authority Executive Director Kate Miller said.

Rex Stults spoke for Napa Valley Vintners.

“Traffic congestion is a chief concern for Napa Valley residents – according to many community polls, including NVV’s – and has been identified as a priority by NVV’s members as well,” Stults said.

Linsey Gallagher, CEO for Visit Napa Valley, said tourism in 2018 supported 15,872 local jobs and provided $85.1 million in tax revenue for local governments. Visit Napa Valley is proud to support the effort to find a traffic solution that benefits both visitors and residents.

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Napa County Reporter

Barry Eberling covers Napa County government, transportation, the environment and general assignments. He has worked for the Napa Valley Register since fall 2014 and previously worked 27 years for the Daily Republic of Fairfield.