Mid-Week Links: Build to the Boom


If you have 45 minutes, listen to Chris Leinberger’s presentation in Kansas City about walkable housing development. He makes a strong argument for building more walkable centers for those that want it – exactly the sort of thing Marin and Sonoma are planning around their SMART stations and exactly the way our towns were built a century ago. (SGA)

Marin County

Golden Gate 75th Anniversary Fireworks

Apparently I missed the best fireworks show ever. Happy 75th, GGB.

  • Caltrans has allocated another $112 million to widening Highway 101 between Sonoma and Marin, not quite enough to bridge the $177 million gap in its billion-dollar widening project, duplicating much of SMART’s future service. (NBBJ)
  • Golden Gate Ferry workers went on a surprise strike last Saturday to draw attention to stalled contract negotiations. Terminal attendants want a raise as compensation for new duties they took on after ticket takers were laid off, while sailors and captains want private quarters aboard the ferries, among other complaints. (IJ)
  • The Board of Supervisors spent $75,000 in discretionary funds this quarter on items ranging from high schools to the opera. Where did your Supervisor invest discretionary funds this quarter? (IJ)
  • As expected, Novato will move ahead with its downtown office plan, voting 3-1 to proceed with construction. (Pacific Sun)
  • The Drake’s Bay Oyster Company has been farming oysters in Drake’s Bay for over a century, but the National Park Service may not renew their lease. Though the arguments for and against renewal have revolved around science, the basic question is philosophical – whether a wilderness area should have commerce. (Pacific Sun)
  • A nifty tool developed by the Greenbelt Alliance shows the various greenfield developments on open space. Though it doesn’t seem comprehensive, for what it has it’s quite useful. (Greenbelt Alliance)
  • If your bike was stolen recently, it may be in police custody. Hundreds of bikes were found after SFPD busted up a ring of thieves, and they’ve released pictures of the merchandise. (SFist)

The Greater Marin

  • As it turns out, Marinites aren’t the only ones who value their walkable town centers. Homes in walkable neighborhoods command significantly higher prices than places that are not. Even Des Moines, IA, is getting in on the action. (NYT, Des Moines Register)
  • The explosive growth and new-found prosperity of Washington, DC, is based on childless singles and couples, who each net the District about $6,000 more per year than those with children. (These are the same folks Marin excludes due to density policies.) Now that these singles are getting married, can Washington adapt? (Atlantic Cities)
  • About 25,000 San Franciscans were forced off the road when a handful of people driving private automobiles, with police escort, pushed their way into a street fair on Sunday. The action ended the celebration and opened the way for through traffic. (Examiner.com)
  • The Golden Gate Bridge was never in danger of collapsing on its 50th Anniversary, despite the spooky sight of a bridge flattened by the massive crowd in the middle. (Mercury News)
  • How hard would it be to rebuild the Golden Gate Bridge were it done today? Given environmental review, agency oversight, and a more contentious political environment, it’s safe to say it would be tough. (IJ)
  • The tallest building in the West will redefine San Francisco’s skyline and serve as the centerpiece of the new Transbay Terminal. The building was approved over objections from people concerned about shadows. (Chronicle)
  • The sector plan for Santa Rosa’s northern SMART station is coming together nicely, with a great deal of effort to move people away from cars, reconnect the street grid, and apply the kind of density this sort of project can support. Not everyone is happy, however, with Coddington Mall managers especially concerned over new rights-of-way called for in the plan. (Press-Democrat)

Mid-Week Links: Build It and They Will Come

mill valley

Marin County

Well it looks like the other news organizations passed right on by the development news this week, and there’s no transit news to speak of. I suppose, then, these are the highlights from this week’s IJ.

  • The Grady Ranch debacle has reached New Yorker’s ears. The game of telephone, of course, has done wonders for our county’s image as an insular enclave for the granola-munching wealthy. Back in Marin, there is still debate as to whether opponents abused the system or not, or even whether they should be to blame. (NYT, IJ)
  • In the fallout of Grady Ranch, county staff want to create a panel to cut red tape and streamline permitting, and the supervisors seem to be on board. The results likely won’t mean much for developers in incorporated areas, who often need council approval to open a sandwich shop. (IJ)
  • Fully 85% of Marin’s land is protected from development, according to a new Greenbelt Alliance study, the most in any Bay Area county. Only 12.7% of our land is urbanized, and only 0.7% is at risk of development. (IJ)
  • Michael Rock, town manager and public works director of Fairfax, has resigned in order to pursue a position in what I can only presume is the far less interesting Lomita, CA. His last day as manager will be the June 22 budget meeting. (IJ, Fairfax)
  • Sausalito will not rezone a small area of old town for housing development after all. The two parcels in question could have accommodated 18 units of affordable housing but will continue in their role as offices. (IJ)
  • Under pressure from the feds, Novato’s remaining pot dispensary will close, leaving only one dispensary operating in the county. (IJ)
  • The $950 million Highway 101 widening project chugs forward, but the last $177 million hasn’t been found. At least CalTrans still has $20.5 million to repave 8.5 miles of the freeway from Vista Point to Lucky Drive. (Press-Democrat, IJ)
  • A San Rafael native has been enlivening the streetscape of Washington, DC, by playing the violin to passersby from his rowhome’s balcony. (Patch)
  • And…: Fifteen office buildings totalling about 710,000 square are up for sale in Marin. (IJ) … Terrorism, not the threat of bridge collapse, is the reason you can’t walk across the Bridge on its 75th. (IJ)

The Greater Marin

  • MTC and ABAG have approved Plan Bay Area. It now goes out for environmental review before final approval in April. (SF Chronicle)
  • The San Francisco Bay Area has a surplus of capital looking for new tech start-ups but restrictive housing policies drive up rents, which drive up wages, which inflates start-ups’ costs of doing business, which drives down the number of new start-ups to invest in, and that’s bad for everyone.  (Forbes via Planetizen)
  • The State Senate will vote today on the three-foot passing law, requiring drivers pass bikers with at least three feet of clearance. (Cyclelicious)
  • The neighborhood planning battles of Seattle bear a striking resemblance to the planning issues faced by Marin’s small towns. (Crosscut)
  • Young people are moving away from the car. Has the driver’s seat lost its old magic? (Washington Post)
  • BART’s long-term plans include express trains, better stations, and shorter headways. (Examiner)

Bikeshare Could Roll in Marin

This week TAM released a Request for Proposal allocating $25,000 to study whether Marin is suitable for a bikeshare system, and where it should go. If Marin eventually does develop its own system, it will join Montreal, London, Paris, New York, Minneapolis, and many other cities in implementing such a system.  

The RFP itself is not terribly interesting, though you can read it if you like.  It’s also not terribly intriguing that TAM is investigating bikeshare, as the authority has a history of investigating a wide variety of projects, no matter the project’s feasibility.  What is intriguing is that this comes as the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) is preparing to launch a bikeshare system with San Francisco, San Jose, Mountain View, Palo Alto, and Redwood City; as SMART is under construction; as the Plan Bay Area gets into full swing; and as a bikemaggeddon is preparing to land in Sausalito with the America’s Cup.  Each of these could push bikeshare to the front of Marin’s mind and make it likely the system will actually be built.

What the devil is bikeshare?

DC Capital Bikeshare - CaBi

By James D. Schwartz

The first successful system in the United States was Washington, DC’s Capital Bikeshare, or CaBi for short, and it’s been replicated across the country since its rollout in 2010.  Subscriptions are fairly cheap: $7 for a day, $15 for a week, $25 for a month, and $75 for a year.  A subscriber takes a bike out of a station and can dock the bike at any other station.  The trip is free for the first 30 minutes but there’s a fee if the bike is out for longer.  Although it starts fairly nominal, the fee increases quite a bit once a trip goes longer than an hour.  The point is to get the bikes circulating, to replace single trips that might be too short for transit or too long on foot.  DC’s tourists use the system all the time, and it’s quite common to see families riding along the National Mall atop the striking red bikes.

DC’s residents, including me, use the system all the time.  Riding a bike in the city is just as fast as using a car and, for short trips, faster than taking the subway.  It keeps me active, pays for itself after a month’s use, is flexible and efficient.  It reintroduced me to bicycling and opened the city in a way the bus and metro never had.  Now neighboring cities are clamoring to join the CaBi system, while neighborhoods in DC are constantly fighting for new stations.

Not to say that CaBi doesn’t have problems.  Bikeshare depends on users circulating the bikes around from station to station.  Nothing’s worse than finding an empty bikeshare station when you want a bike or a full station when you need to park (you can get your time extended if the station is full).  Stations, therefore, need to be tightly packed so that if one station is empty or full, the next one isn’t too distant.  In Paris, the stations are sometimes no more than a block apart and don’t dissipate into the suburbs – there’s a hard boundary.  In DC, the stations are rather further spaced apart, which works reasonably well though being “dock-blocked”, as its known, still happens with maddening frequency.  The city contracts with a company to manually move bikes from full stations to empty ones, but it’s not quite enough.  A more decentralized city would mean less strain on certain stations as people commute, but barring that more stations, bikes, and members would go a long way to improving circulation around the system.

The Bay Area’s plan

System overview. Click for PDF.

BAAQMD is spearheading the San Francisco plan to establish a bikeshare system in the northeastern quadrant of the city and in isolated pockets along the Caltrain corridor.  Its centerpiece is the downtown San Francisco segment, centered around Market Street, which will include 500 bikes at 50 stations spaced 300 yards apart.  It’s set to open this summer, just in time for the America’s Cup, which will bring a flood of tourists to the city – tourists that will undoubtedly flock to bikeshare.

The San Francisco pilot area. Click for PDF.

The District argues that bicycles can function as an extension of the transit network, but transporting them on regional transit agencies is discouraged.  Bicycles are not allowed on BART during commute hours, and are limited on Caltrain.  The Warm Planet bike shop at Caltrain’s Fourth & King depot is over capacity, and transit is largely maxed out around Market during the commute.  Marinites face similar problems on GGT’s commuter buses and ferries.  Having a bike ready for anyone in the commercial heart of the city (not to mention the other commercial hubs along Caltrain) will give commuters a solution, allowing them to easily transfer to bicycles in the city without the need to fret over getting a bike to and from work.  A bikeshare system would also free a commuter to bike to work but not from it, or vice versa, if they don’t want to arrive at either end a little sweaty.  This encourages more bicycle use, more transit use, and, therefore, less driving.

Eyeballing Marin’s Bikeshare Suitability

Marin’s central and southern cities are ideally suited to the bicycle.  Commercial districts are close to one another and housing, meaning most residents are well within biking distance of at least one downtown.  Bikes are also better suited than the bus to traverse sprawling Novato or Terra Linda and can be a car replacement for most trips elsewhere.

Yet Marin is not terribly dense and has fairly mediocre bicycle infrastructure.  More than almost any other place, Marin is linear, with valleys branching off the 101 corridor.  The ideal grid, with its redundancies and infinite rerouting, is impossible over Marin’s ridges.  This isolates communities to their benefit and detriment, and makes cycling more difficult than it is in DC’s suburbs – it’s fairly difficult to ride from Fairfax to Lucas Valley despite the fact that it’s only as far as downtown San Rafael, as the crow flies.  Marin is also incredibly car-centric, rendering some of the county’s major thoroughfares entirely inhospitable to bikes or pedestrians.

Marin’s employment corridor is Highway 101.  Though office and retail exist in the downtowns tucked away from the freeway, the highest density of employment is along that central spine.  Those that don’t work along the corridor probably work in San Francisco, also down the corridor.

Bikeshare needs strong bicycling infrastructure, to ensure there is a good way to ride from place to place; population density to keep the system running throughout the day; and decentralized commute patterns to ensure certain areas don’t get overloaded as everyone goes to them, or denuded as everyone leaves them.  At first blush, Marin misses all three of these criteria, but it’s not enough to convince me Marin is unsuitable to bikeshare.  Those well-spread downtowns lend themselves to bicycling, and other systems, like CaBi, have had success in areas similar to ours.

I also want bikeshare to succeed in Marin.  Beyond the health, environmental, cost, and traffic benefits, bikeshare would reap political benefits for the county’s urban cycling infrastructure.  Transportation debates in the county are dominated by the driver’s voice, as most Marinites are drivers first and cyclists second.  Bicycle improvements, then, play second fiddle to parking, roads, and other projects that maintain or strengthen our reliance on the automobile.  When bicycling does enter the debate, focus is often on its recreational aspects rather than its functionality as everyday transportation.  Since bikeshare is unabashedly functional, growing its membership means growing the political base advocating for cycling improvements.

I’m excited to see what TAM’s study will show – Marin could reap so many rewards with the system.  With luck, the study will recommend the system.

Mid-Week Links

Could you imagine something like this at Marin’s transit centers? With GGT’s long, long headways, it would make sense to have screens in local shops as well as more detailed information screens at the stops themselves, perhaps with an interactive map of the routes. Chicago’s Bus Tracker: Taking the Guesswork Out of Waiting for the Bus from Streetfilms on Vimeo.

Marin

This week, SMART went totally braindead and decided to play the villain.  The district, in defiance of the Secretary of State, passed an election ordinance requiring that RepealSMART include an unbiased statement with the repeal effort’s signature petition, the first step to getting its initiative on the ballot.  RepealSMART has chosen to ignore the directive.  In other news:

  • The County Board of Supervisors passed a fairly gentle plan to ease some of the barriers to affordable housing.  Brad Breithaupt thinks it’s going to be yet another target for anti-development rage.
  • Residents in Larkspur want to build a farm where the already-approved New Home Co. housing development is scheduled to be built.  They have little chance of success.
  • Another week, another total road closure: a flaming tractor-trailer crash closed southbound Highway 101, closing all southbound lanes for over two hours.  A shame there wasn’t some sort of rail-based mass transit alternative…
  • IJ endorsements are in for the Ross Valley School Board, College of Marin Board, Novato School Board, Reed School Board, and Mill Valley School Board.
  • Consolidation of emergency services in the Ross Valley continues, with Ross beginning to consider integrating its fire department with one of its neighbors.
  • Children and parents got outside and got some exercise this past week in Mill Valley, participating in International Walk (and Roll) to School Day.  The Feds noticed, too, and recently awarded San Anselmo and San Rafael $1.8 million to improve its sidewalks around three local schools as part of the Safe Routes to School program.
  • Homestead Valley will get a very, very narrow sidewalk on a very, very slow street.
  • The architecturally lazy Novato city offices move forward.
  • The San Anselmo Andronico’s will remain open after Renovo Capital completes its acquisition of the ill-fated company.
  • Patch’s Kelly Dunleavy goes over the Fairfax town budget with the city and opponents to its half-cent sales tax proposal and finds that numbers can be more than they seem to be.
  • San Rafael’s Corporate Center will likely be rezoned to allow for medical and research uses, eliminating 77 parking spaces in its gargantuan 1,323 space lot and allowing for a greater diversity of uses for the downtown office complex.

The Greater Marin

  • While Marin debates the value of SMART, Santa Rosa continues to move forward with renewal plans.
  • Washington, DC – the city, not the feds – has come a long, long way since the days of Marion Barry, with foreign investors flocking to sock their money away in a stable regional economy. Part of the reason: a strong Metro system.
  • Apparently, the only way to combat congestion is through congestion pricing.
  • If you’re going to build massive rail projects like BART, the best way to go is subterranean.
  • While I looked at the cost of driving alone on Marin and found it to be hideously expensive, it’s only one part of the whole economic puzzle, which apparently costs trillions to operate and maintain.  To save that money, we’ll need to spend trillions more on a total infrastructure overhaul.  Could be fun.
  • But in the meantime, the poorest places of the world are finding hope in good urban design.

ABAG Density and Affordable Housing: Neither Are What They Appear

Every seven years, the cycle returns.  The Association of Bay Area Governments, or ABAG, fulfills its California-mandated duty and examines the state of housing in the Bay Area, using the data to assign affordable housing quotas to its member cities and counties.  The following year or two sees each government in Marin haggle over where to wedge affordable housing zones without wrecking the neighborhood.  As Marin goes through this process yet again, it’s worth examining whether the process is really as bad as all that, and it’s worth wondering whether ABAG’s – that is, California’s – process even works.

Your Town Is Denser than You Think

Courtesy of Google

Rowhouses in Washington, DC: 22 to 44 units per acre

California mandates that all affordable housing zones meet one of two densities: 20 units per acre for cities smaller than 50,000 people, 30 units per acre for those larger than 50,000.  In Marin, some of the more partisan opponents to affordable housing use these density requirements to paint a picture of a Marin County overrun by poverty and crime, with apartment projects stretching into the skies.  They think of Oakland’s inner-city problems of the 1980s and believe that this is what will happen to Mill Valley and Novato if we allow any development.

It is clear from their imaginings that these partisans don’t realize how dense the mandates actually are or how dense their own city already is.  To imagine 30 units per acre, think of two-story rowhouses on a tree-lined street.  Each is a three bedroom, one bath home with a backyard, parking along a back alley, and a deck.  The example above is about 22 units per acre, more than the requirement.  This means the homes could be 10% wider, or could have small side walkways.

Duplexes in San Anselmo: 30 units per acre

The higher of the density requirements is 30 units per acre, we can look to duplexes with front garages.  These three-story duplexes on Forbes Avenue in San Anselmo count, and are about 30 units per acre.

If we want to go really crazy, take a look at those rowhouses above.  Each has what’s known as an English basement – a small, basement apartment, the equivalent of an in-law unit.  This 22-unit development is actually 44 units per acre!  Skyscrapers?  Hardly.  And if you think these are sardine cans, look at the profile local real estate blog DCMud did on a similarly-sized place near the Supreme Court: 3 bed, 2.5 bath.

California Mandates Explained

Although density itself should not be a problem, there’s a reason Marin has the mandates.  The State of California has mandated that regions “share the load” of accommodating for future population growth and has entrusted regional organizations, such as ABAG or the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), with determining how the region’s counties and municipalities will share.

In 2008, ABAG released its Regional Housing Needs Allocation, describing how much it believed the Bay Area population would grow and projecting regional demand for affordable housing.  (If you’re really curious about the process, you can read all about ABAG’s decision on their website.)  However, those mandates say that jurisdictions need to zone, not build, affordable housing of a certain type, with certain ratios for very low, low, moderate and above moderate income levels.  That means that a city can meet its quota by zoning that all new development in an area meet or exceed the ratios given by ABAG.

Does This Make Sense?

There is no doubt that the Bay Area is an expensive place to live.  Rents in Marin are as high as Washington, DC and parts of New York City, running about $900 per month per bedroom.  If one factors in the cost of car ownership and transportation, renting in Marin can easily be more expensive than San Francisco.  People, it seems, want to live here, but the price is too high for most.  At first blush, creating affordable housing seems to be a good answer.

Affordable housing does have a certain logic to it: prices are high, so control the price to make it lower so more people can afford it.  Unfortunately, what this really creates is a housing shortage, driving up the market price even further.

The economics of supply and demand say that when a commodity is scarce but demand is high, the price of the commodity goes up.  When the commodity is plentiful or demand is low, the price goes down.  In either case, there is enough of the commodity to go around among the people that can afford it; there is equilibrium.  When there is a cap on the price, it’s not as profitable to create the commodity so less is made, but it’s more affordable so more people can buy it.  With less being made and more being sold, there is a shortage.  This is what happens with affordable housing.

When San Rafael mandates that, say, 20% of a housing project must be below the market price, the developer has that much less incentive to build the project.  Often, the developer will entirely forgo the project and no housing is made, whether affordable or not.  This means that everyone that would have lived in that building has to look somewhere else for their housing, driving up competition, and therefore price, for those units that do get built, forcing more shoppers to the affordable housing alternative.  California’s mandates create affordable housing, but they also drive up the price of market-rate housing and increase the pressure to build more affordable housing.  It’s a vicious cycle.  The more demand there is for affordable housing, the higher the price goes.

Interestingly, affordable housing does serve one purpose well: income diversity.  Housing markets, if left alone, create affordable housing ghettos – think “the wrong side of the tracks”.  For the poor, the ghetto multiplies the problems of poverty and reduces opportunities for those that live there.  As well, ghettos are typically far from jobs, increasing the cost of transportation for those that can least afford it.  For the rich, their own wealthy areas insulate them from people unlike themselves, increasing prejudice against the chronically poor, such as new immigrants or minorities.  For both the rich and poor, the isolation means they cannot empathize with the other: the poor child can’t see herself being a doctor like her friend’s dad and the wealthy child can’t understand how much she has.  Economic segregation can be just as damaging to a society as racial segregation.

Affordable housing mandates are not the only tool in the legal toolbox to combat the problem.  Although California mandates affordable housing, it offers concessions to developers that do more than their mandated share, including increased units per acre variances from local zoning regulations.  California should replace the mandate system entirely in favor of a concessionary system, allowing developers to choose how much housing to make affordable and how much to make market rate.   A concessionary system would decrease the intensity of affordable housing construction but increase overall housing supply, driving down prices and affordable housing demand.

California’s mandates aren’t nearly as bad as they appear, but they are significantly more wrong-headed than one might imagine.  They won’t make Novato into the Tenderloin but they cannot solve our housing shortages.  That job is up to governments and developers; for the moment, though, the State is just getting in the way.

Mid-Week Links: And He Separated Water from Water

A beautiful video from Marin photographer Gary Yost shows everything I love and miss about my home: the nature, the towns, the Bay, the culture… I miss it all. On to the nitty-gritty of running all that.

Marin

SMART, once again, features prominently in local transit news this week.  Farhad Mansourian, interim General Manager of SMART, has been hired by the agency on a permanent basis.  Critics have addressed his pay – over $300,000 per year in compensation, comparable to other agency heads – and his credentials, although they’ve also stopped saying he duped the board prior to the MTC and TAM bailout hearings, as few boards would hire a man they felt had misled them.

The board also approved the new financial report, balancing the budget at about $360 million for the construction of the line which, at $9.7 million per mile, is by far the least expensive rail transit project in the country.  Local writer Steve Stein agrees, characterizing opponents as “nostalgic for a Marin County composed of mid-century ranch houses, suburban lawns and cul-de-sacs.”  In other news:

  • Cyclists and pedestrians got a major boost when the County allocated $8.8 million for pedestrian and bicycling improvements across Marin.  Among the projects: studying reopening the Alto Tunnel between Corte Madera and Mill Valley, improving sidewalk connections between the Canal and downtown San Rafael, and, in a major victory, constructing the Central Marin Ferry Connection.
  • In affordable housing news, Assemblyman and Congressional contender Jared Huffman’s bill to allow foreclosed housing to count against affordable housing mandates is on the Governor’s desk for signature.  The bill once allowed cities to appeal their density requirements, but it’s been pared down to just the foreclosed housing portion.  Meanwhile, Novato, which pushed most strenuously for reform, is following through on a 2008 development loan to expand Eden Housing, an affordable senior center home.  Critics contended that old folks will cause crime and join gangs.
  • Terrapin Crossroads, the Phil Lesh-led music venue, was discussed at length at a Fairfax Town Council meeting.  Critics were concerned about traffic and noise at the site, while supporters saw it as a fabulous opportunity for the town to improve nightlife and remove an abandoned, but prominently placed, gas station.  Lesh had put it on hold after signs opposing the project were placed along his walking route in Ross, spooking him and his wife.  Plans are available here (PDF).
  • The Marin Agricultural Land Trust purchased a large ranch outside Tomales recently, completing the greenbelt around the town and further ensuring that West Marin is off-limits to sprawl.
  • Speaking of sprawl, the proposed Hanna Ranch development in Novato passed the city’s Design Review Board, the first step towards project approval.
  • Some anti-sprawl might come to San Rafael, as local developer Monahan Parker is looking to build a four-story, 41-unit mixed-use building at 2nd & B Streets.  Two Victorian-era homes that have seen much better days would be demolished.  The project would also include a 57-space parking garage, which is one space above the minimum for a project of its size and totally out of whack with the overall setting.  It is currently before the Design Review Board, and you can watch preliminary comments here.

The Greater Marin

  • The debate over California High-Speed Rail is still a thing, and it’s making national news.  Ezra Klein of the Washington Post provides a good rundown of current thought on the subject, while CAHSR Blog looks to BART battles in Livermore for signs of things to come.
  • BART is still fighting protestors over police brutality and cell phone censorship.  It boiled over recently with multiple stations being shut down during rush-hour.
  • In case you hadn’t heard, there’s a battle brewing over transportation funding in Congress thanks to the soon-to-expire gas tax.  Mercury News wonders what it would do the Bay Area.
  • SMART isn’t the only transit agency facing problems: Vancouver’s TransLink has funding issues, Atlanta’s MARTA system is under fire from the car-dependent, and Washington, DC isn’t sure how it should align one end of its planned streetcar line.
  • Looking to the Old World for how to structure urban spaces.
  • Someone read the entire Seattle land use code and came away with some observations.  A braver man than I.

Mid-Week Links: Delay Delay

  • In SMART news, Farhad Mansourian released new numbers this last week showing an increase in costs, causing the MTC to delay and reevaluate the critical bailout that was contingent on costs remaining steady.  According to Mansourian’s analysis, the budget remains balanced, but overall construction costs increase.  The IJ keeps up its support, but it’s right that the system needs to get its act together.  Opponents say the numbers still aren’t right and begin gathering signatures for repeal while Mansourian blasted RepealSMART for arguing that the whole train project should be built at once or not at all, but made no comment on the numbers critique.  Also unknown is why the critical system continues to shoot itself in the foot.
  • In affordable housing, a new study out of the DC Office of Planning (for the municipality, not the feds) attempts to take transportation costs into account when analyzing housing affordability.  As intuition would have it, the further you travel from work the more expensive it is to get there, decreasing affordability.  Forbes’ Joel Kotkin declares that ABAG is conducting a war on the single-family home (nevermind the fact that rowhouses are single-family homes), saying people want to live in such homes but will pay a premium to live in urban areas, citing an old Chronicle article of how the middle class are priced out of San Francisco.  Nope, no contradiction there.  Oh, and he takes a few potshots at Marinites just for kicks.
  • By the way, Novato’s awesome.
  • Elsewhere in California, Jerry Brown vetoed a bill allowing local planning authorities to require businesses help cover transit costs of its employees’ commute; Larkspur will be timing its traffic signals to help car flow around, well, everywhere, although its pedestrian facilities could use some help; bike lanes are added to the Golden Gate Bridge’s Eastern walkway, although it’s still too crowded; the MTC’s impending move to San Francisco may not be so impending; San Diego gets a new growth plan; and Lawrence Berkeley National Labs wants to find new space near transit, causing East Bay councilmembers to salivate simultaneously.
  • In other news, Frank Gruber asks why Americans implemented policies that destroyed our cities, and Grist relays a grisly reminder of what happens when drivers don’t realize that bikers are vehicles, too.  San Francisco does its own cyclists well by prosecuting the alleged driver in a hit-and-run that killed a German tourist on a bicycle.

Mid-Week Links: Empty Inside

© Nathan Kensinger Photography

  • Nathan Kensinger took a fantastic photo essay of one of the Bay Area’s ghost towns: Drawbridge, Santa Clara County.
  • Density doesn’t have to be bad.  Here in Washington, DC, there have been a few particularly beautiful examples of rowhouses hitting the local blogosphere. (DCMud, DCMetrocentric)
  • Well, my Washington ties finally pay off.  The debt debate is all the town can talk about, and at least one outlet asks, What happens to transportation if we can’t borrow?  It turns out, not much.  In the mean time, the FAA still isn’t reauthorized. (Transportation Issues, Washington Post)
  • It looks like the Marin County Planning Commission is going to look at some zoning changes.  On the table: density and mixed use, among other things. (MCPC)
  • Some neighbors are filing suit against a planned expansion of Edna Maguire Elementary in Mill Valley over slightly more traffic and slightly more height. (IJ)
  • Fairfax could get some more night life, although a bit off the beaten track.  South downtown’s abandoned gas station might become a music venue.  Rockin’. (Patch)
  • For once, the IJ was full of constructive examination of SMART this week.  A veteran transportation planner takes a look at the SMART train and asks naysayers, “Can’t we now get on with this project?” while Dick Spotswood thinks it will be too successful for its rolling stock, which have a maximum capacity of 498 seats.  Personally I think his analysis is oversimplistic, as SMART’s corridor is hardly similar to CalTrain’s.
  • Just when you thought it was over, ABAG’s affordable housing saga rolls on, this time to Sausalito.  They’re just getting started, but so far the debate sounds rather more civil than Novato’s contentious debate.
  • Speaking of Novato, opinion on the new affordable housing plan keeps rolling in.  SUNN panned the site selections for being insufficient, the IJ editorial board congratulated the city for how far it has come since the start of the debate, Brad Breithaupt decryed the whole process, and the city itself, in an uncharacteristic bout of practicality, started to look at how to make  better use of the market to meet its affordable housing needs through second units. (Pacific Sun, IJ, Patch)
  • Late Edition: It’s been a long time coming, but the San Francisco bike share project marches forward by announcing next year’s pilot plans.  Other cities along the CalTrain corridor will also be part of the system which, in the Bay Area’s Balkanized transit system, is most welcome. (San Francycle, HuffPo)

Mid-Week Links: On Tenterhooks

NETWORK_LA transit has a wonderful video about moving LA from cars to transit.

Unlike LA, Marin might be stepping back towards the car if the Transportation Authority of Marin reverses last week’s vote to transfer $8 million to the SMART project at today’s meeting. (Marin IJ, Press Democrat)

The San Rafael mayoral race is already under way.  We’ll be watching this. (San Rafael Patch)

Limiting a parking lot to just the store’s customers is hugely inefficient.  Not only does it encourage people to drive fractions of a mile from lot to lot, but it creates redundant parking spaces, wasting land. (Reinventing Parking)

SMART will be a boon to downtown San Rafael, and that’s good for everyone in Marin. (San Rafael Patch)

Greater Greater Washington found that sometimes, people just don’t realize that bicycles are used for things other than recreation. (Greater Greater Washington)

Mid-Week Links: Coming to Earth

Paved paradise...

Good Earth and a parking lot

San Anselmo-Fairfax Patch reports that the Fairfax Council has approved Good Earth’s plans to move to the abandoned supermarket at the east end of town. It’s a great use of a dilapidated space, but couldn’t they have done something about that sea of parking? (Patch)

The IJ reports on the bizarre Transportation Authority of Marin meeting that first rejected, then accepted, the SMART fund bailout. Given that the public went home thinking the proposal failed, TAM will hold the meeting again and take a revote.  (Marin IJ)

The Washington, DC, Metrorail system is looking at expansion.  Local blog Greater Greater Washington argues that it should stay in the core.  BART, meanwhile, continues to push out into the suburbs. (Greater Greater Washington)

While Novato stews over its affordable housing mandates, the County is looking for affordable housing locations in its unincorporated areas.  A shame transit access and mixed-use development doesn’t play into much of the discussions. (Novato Advance, Marin IJ)

Be prepared: most of Marin’s first responders live hours from the County, meaning that, in the event of a major disaster, Marinites will be without aid for three to seven days.  Better be ready to hunker down for a while after the Big One. (Pacific Sun)

In a blast from the past, Fortune republished an article from 1958 detailing the politics and looming problems of the then-under-construction Interstate Highway System.  Most of the problems we deal with now were foreseen even then. (CNN/Forbes)

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