Microblogging, expanded

gum wall

by 1yen, on Flickr

Yesterday, I realized I have more ideas for blog posts than I have time to do them. I’m in the middle of a series of posts on Larkspur Landing – I have two more to go – and the issue of affordable housing has reared its ugly and nonsensical head once again in Marin. I’ve also started blogging about the broader region at our sister site, Vibrant Bay Area. Unless one of you wants to pay me, you’re probably not going to get as much analysis as you or I would like to see.

Thankfully, I’m on a microblogging site you may have heard of called Twitter, so I condensed them down into a series of hypotheses. Though I’m confident there is enough data to back up these statements, I haven’t investigated them to confirm that my hunches are correct.

Pardon the swear here. Bicycling, if it’s going to take off in the US, needs to be more than some paint on the side of the road. Known in California as the Class II bike lane, the bike lane is far better than nothing but far worse than ideal. To me, if you’re uncomfortable riding a cargo bike on it, or if you wouldn’t send your 8-year-old to school on it, then it’s not good enough to put cars and bikes at parity.

Cities are not isolated pockets around subway stations. They are integrated fabrics. San Francisco is walkable even far from BART stations, when the only transit is a bus. Since most of the Bay Area is designed around retail strips like El Camino Real, upzoning plans need to take that into consideration. Bubbles of walkability, like Santana Row in San Jose or the BART transit villages, don’t encourage people to live car-free lifestyles, only a car-free commute. By connecting high-density rail-oriented areas with moderate density bus-oriented areas, the Bay Area could improve its mode share mix immensely.

The term “hipster” has become so over-used it’s lost what little meaning it once had. Hipsters are supposed to save the city (a simplification of Richard Florida’s theory of the creative class) and destroy the city (a simplification of Joel Kotkin’s opposite theory). They’re poor and unproductive one moment, rich and entitled the next. The latest in this devolving debate has Richard Florida positing that a lot of creative class types in a single city lowers income inequality. Joel Kotkin responded with a glorified, Told you so, which led to a Florida response of, No, idiot.

Through it all, I just wish people would leave the poor/rich/entitled/gentrifying/unproductive saviors of our society alone. Income inequality is more complicated than theories of cities, and no single class of people is the salvation or damnation of our society.

And stop calling them hipsters.

Actually, it probably won’t. In occurred to me that urbanism was the pursuit of maximum efficiency of access within the constraints of the age. In our age, those constraints are principally about preservation of land, character, history, and preexisting residential neighborhoods. In other ages these were sunlight and fresh air; defensibility; or access to water.

I define access as the number of destinations within a given travel time by a given mode, and I define efficiency as minimizing negative externalities and maximizing positive externalities in the course of one’s daily routine. That’s too technical. In other words, how much does our urban design pollute? How much does it make us healthier or sicker? How much land does it use up? How much does it cost? And so on.

My definition could be rephrased. Urbanism is the pursuit of the most access at the least cost to ourselves and to our environment within a community’s chosen or necessary constraints. Decisions from transportation to zoning hang from this.

The East Bay has a wealth of rail infrastructure. It has two parallel passenger rail lines running from Richmond to Fremont and branches going in all directions, while the Peninsula has only one rail line going north-south. The Peninsula’s rail capacity will be constrained by the blended Caltrain-High Speed Rail plan, while the East Bay’s capacity will not be.

Rather than pursue BART expansions and inefficient ferry service to San Francisco, it should bolster its Amtrak and ACE service to be true rapid transit in parallel to BART and Caltrain. It should restructure its zoning to encourage new neighborhoods to develop for San Franciscans fleeing ludicrous rents. And it should invite tech companies to build new neighborhoods around their train stations instead of new office parks in the middle of nowhere.

Each of these ideas should be pursued, but I fear I must decline the call. That shouldn’t stop you from heeding the call, of course. If you agree, or even if you disagree, pitch me a story on one of these themes. I might end up running it.

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About David Edmondson
A native Marinite working in Washington, DC, I am fascinated by how one might apply smart-growth and urbanist thinking to the low-density towns of my home.

3 Responses to Microblogging, expanded

  1. Stephen Nestel says:

    Lot’s of good material here Dave. Can’t wait to hear these ideas fleshed out. Would love to read your thoughts on bicycling to boost Eco-Tourism in Marin. While I agree that a bike friendly environment is a desirable enhancement of the urban landscape, I disagree that it can be anything more than a secondary form of utility/commuting transportation for most people. Our lives move too fast. High speed Internet access that keep us connected to worldwide business partners is the greenest form of “transportation”. One of the most frustrating aspects of the affordable housing mandates is that it completely ignores economic development that will make these green urban hubs “sustainable”. I believe eco-tourism is Marin’s economic future. A network of bike paths joining the wine country, west Marin and San Francisco could be a worldwide eco-tourism draw.

    • It’s not “most people” I’m aiming for, it’s the “some people” who could bike but drive because they feel it’s unsafe or too inconvenient to bike with the current infrastructure.

      Bicycle mode share is huge in Copenhagen and Amsterdam, even in the lower-density parts, because of high-quality bicycle infrastructure. That doesn’t mean cars or transit are absent – every photo and video I’ve seen of their bike lanes includes people driving – but it does mean that cars are used by those who most need to or want to drive.

      To use an economic example, it segments the travel “market”. Those who used to drive and now bike are no longer in the way of those who continue to drive (because they need the big trunk, or they’re physically unable, or they need to get across town, etc), and they’re getting a workout in the process. Even if 80 percent of trips now made by car are still made by car, it would result in a dramatic reduction in carbon emissions and congestion.

      I firmly believe that safe, separated areas for bicyclists along rural and urban thoroughfares would be just the tourist draw you say. It would get bikers out of the way of drivers along the uphill climbs, give more casual bikers a way to get around rural Marin, and attract tourists to see our world-class bike paths.

      By the way, it would cost between $200 million and $300 million to outfit the entire county with Copenhagen-class bicycling infrastructure, including the rural areas.

  2. Stephen Nestel says:

    Oh.. some people would use it… you mean the “hipsters” :) ? JK. I am a cyclist but it is illegal for me to wear spandex. I peddle my “dutch cruiser” 8 speed to the markets on the weekends. During the week, I just don’t have the time.

    There are thousands of cyclists in Marin every weekend. I think we could develop a nice eco-tourism trade around it. The city of Sonoma has a wonderful (flat) bike path through the center of town, joining wineries. It really is a fun outing. Why not encourage more of this activity around Marin? A network of bike paths could draw people to our businesses.

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