On Narrow Streets

Let’s think of every amazing city you’ve been to, at least the ones that have been amazing for their form and dynamism. Imagine a streetscape, and think about its form. How wide are the streets? How tall are the buildings? Are there a lot of cars, or a lot of pedestrians? Let’s also think of the ideal, the city you always wanted to visit. Venice comes to mind, as do Paris and Jerusalem. Odds are, these cities look a bit like this:

Courtesy of Google

What I love about the streetscapes above is that I get an overwhelming sense of home from them, but I’ve never lived anywhere but the suburbs. Then again, the downtown streetscapes of San Anselmo, Fairfax, and Mill Valley are pretty impressive:

And places are still being built that look like those quaint French villages we pay so much to visit, although these are called slums:

The Dharavi Slum, Mumbai, India

Sousceyrac, France

The elements in each of these are very similar: narrow streets, active pedestrian life and slow or no cars. I point this out not to be sentimental but because although this is one extreme, it is the one that is the most healthy, the most economically viable, the most environmentally sustainable. Marinites bemoan our car-centric attitudes and look with a little bit of aloof sadness at the state of obesity in Middle America, but we ought to always be wary of making the same mistakes that led our Middle American fellows to their current sorry state.

We’ve looked at some plans for redeveloping the eastern end of downtown San Rafael, and I suspect the Civic Center plans will be similarly ambitious and potentially transformative. Yet there is so much to get wrong: developers building fortress apartments, city staffers choosing cars over people, focusing on more and more parking rather than things that engage our hearts and make us feel at home, not interlopers in an automobile’s world. I hope instead we take inspiration from the best places in the world, to make Marin the greater place it could be.


Mid-Week Links: Good Times

10000 trips through 10000 points

Image from Eric Fischer.

Local techno/transit geek Eric Fischer wrote a program to approximate travel routes from geotagged Twitter posts, revealing the desire lines of area.  Looks like he forgot Marin is there, but apparently we don’t have a whole lot of Twits to track anyway.


  • Glad that’s over with: The RepealSMART effort failed to meet its minimum signature requirements and will not be on the next ballot.  This frees SMART to use $171 million it had in escrow, although the effort may return for November. (Press Democrat)
  • Then again…: Whistlestop has filed suit against SMART over the loss of its parking spaces and the effective loss of its building.  SMART and San Rafael are reportedly willing to strike a deal to solve the problem, but there are no details yet. (IJ)
  • Novato will give up its affordable housing oversight role to Marin Housing Authority, as it cannot afford the administrative costs without redevelopment funds. (IJ)
  • Today, Novato will unveil a model of its new downtown offices, which are proceeding despite newly-elected Councilmember Eric Lucan’s opposition. (IJ)
  • The Marin History Museum has received an anonymous 1 to 1, $50,000 matching gift pledge to restore the Boyd House.  If you care at all about Marin’s history, and about San Rafael’s old housing stock, this is your time to donate. (IJ)
  • The Muir Woods Shuttle, aka the 66 bus, is slated for a fare hike, but the exact details aren’t known yet.  A $5 round-trip fare, complete with bus day pass, is the likely outcome. (IJ)
  • SMART and California High-Speed Rail are getting their knocks, sometimes deservedly so, but they’re nothing new: BART faced similar criticism before it opened, and Marin lost out as a result. (IJ)
  • Marin will upgrade its library lobbies into “market places” for its most popular material. I’ve always figured, though – if Border’s died because people treated it like a library with a coffee shop, why not get coffee shops in the libraries? (IJ)
  • San Quentin, currently zoned for 1,500 new homes, could get “priority status” in order to deflect ABAG mandates elsewhere in Marin.  It doesn’t change the fact that adding 1,500 homes at San Quentin is, to put it mildly, a little daft. (IJ)
  • Marin tweaked its zoning rules, adding an exemption from affordable housing requirements for some unincorporated communities, including Strawberry. Other changes were made to permitting and smart growth planning areas. (Pacific Sun)
  • Sausalito will include some of their harbor docks as affordable housing in their Draft Housing Element, as live-aboards pay significantly less rent than their land-lubbing fellow Sausalitans. (IJ)

The Greater Marin

  • Windsor has approved their downtown station-area plan, although they won’t see any train service until after 2015. (Press Democrat)
  • The House and Senate are moving forward with their respective Transportation Reauthorization bills.  Activists, including myself,  aren’t so keen on the House version. (The Hill, Streetsblog)
  • Nationally, the number of renters has grown significantly, while the number of homeowners has declined, meaning cities are likely well-equipped for the demand.  (Atlantic Cities)
  • The BART extension to Livermore is giving voice to an existential question facing the system: should it expand ever outward, or should it keep what it already has?
  • Mountain View rejected bus rapid transit because it would have taken up left-turn lanes.  This is a step back for the city’s efforts to put moving people, not cars, first.

And…: A beautiful new subway in Kazakhstan. (Architizer)… One Bay Area falls flat in San Ramon, too. (San Ramon Express)… Stockton Street survived just fine without any parking for a week. (Streetsblog)