Silvestri ignores the implications of his own data

Recently, Bob Silvestri, a proponent of auto-oriented, low-density development, argued that auto-orientation is more energy efficient than person-orientation and, therefore, superior.

Yet his data, while implying that New York City or Paris are terrible polluters, does not support his thesis that Marin is the pinnacle of environmental quality. That’s not to say his data doesn’t have problems (it does), but let’s take the assumption that he’s measuring the right things and that the studies he cites are unimpeachable.

Houses, density, and greenhouse gases

Per-capita greenhouse gas emissions by development type. Image from Demographia.

Per-capita greenhouse gas emissions by development type. Image from Demographia.

Silvestri cites a (rather flawed) study (PDF) of greenhouse gas emissions per unit for a number of housing types, from high-rises to detached homes. Single-family detached homes were scored second best for all emissions in the Australian suburbs studied, with only town houses scoring better.

Simultaneously, Silvestri makes the quite important point that open space is a carbon sink. It’s undeniable that the more open space we preserve as a region, the better off we’ll be from a sequestration standpoint. The EPA says open space takes in 2.5 metric tonnes of CO2 per acre per year (MTCO2/year), agricultural or recreational land takes in 1.5 MTCO2/year, suburban land takes in 1 MTCO2/year, and urbanized land takes in 0.2 MTCO2/year. Town homes, which lie somewhere between urbanized and suburban land, still leave plenty of open space in the back yard (often 50 percent). We need to estimate, but let’s put that as 0.7 MTCO2/year. I will assume these numbers take into account commercial development patterns as well.

Silvestri measures San Francisco’s net emissions against Marin’s net emissions, but that’s not the way to evaluate optimal conditions. It unfairly punishes San Francisco for having small political boundaries and rewards Marin for having expansive boundaries. Rather, we need to establish a baseline of nature and determine how different methods of development will change the carbon status of the same land area.

Two towns

So, we have 640 acres (1 square mile) of virginal open space producing a net negative 1,600 MTCO2/year. We’ll people that with 100 households in a traditional suburban setting of about 4 homes per acre, which again will include commercial development. Using the average household size in the US, that means 259 people on 25 acres.

According Silvestri’s Australian data for per-unit emissions, people living in suburban areas emit about 2.5 MTCO2/year apiece. With 259 people, our little town emits 647.5 MTCO2/year. Subtracting our sequester, which is now 615 acres of virgin land and 25 units of suburban, our square mile goes from a net negative 1,600 MTCO2/year to a net negative 915 MTCO2/year. Not too shabby.

Next door, another 100 families has set up shop on another square mile of land, but, inspired by Europe, these guys want a village of town houses at a relatively loose 25 units per acre. Rather than 259 people on 25 acres, this village will only use up 4. Since town home denizens pollute less than suburbanites, they’re only emitting 518 MTCO2/year. Since they’re living on less than a sixth the land area, there’s more virgin open space to absorb their footprint. All told, the village goes to a net negative 1,075 MTCO2/year.

This other village, of course, will reap the other benefits of compact development. They will need to maintain fewer fire stations, fewer roads, fewer pipes, etc. Changes to travel patterns will mean less driving over the baseline and more walking, bicycling, and more transit users. That means they won’t have to maintain large parking lots or such wide streets (which means more environmentally friendly stormwater management), and the citizens won’t need to go to the gym to stay healthy.

As a bonus, with the money saved (and it would be substantial), they could electrify the whole transit system, rendering moot Silvestri’s argument that transit as too carbon-intensive. Then again, a townhome-style city is ideal for cycling and walking, so there wouldn’t be as pressing a need for transit anyway.

Far from supporting single-family housing, Silvestri should be supporting the kind of densities town homes provide, which can go as high as 60 units per acre. They are far more financially and space-efficient and less carbon-intensive than single-family homes. That’s in his data, clear as the day.

I don’t know why Silvestri would try to twist the data into saying something it doesn’t, but the study itself does the same thing. The author, Wendell Cox, has done some good research on cities but has come to some odd conclusions: that suburbia as we know it is the result of free-market choices (it isn’t, and is instead the result of $450 billion in annual federal subsidies) and that Seattle’s suburbs are growing much faster than the city proper (they’re not). I’ve found it’s best to approach anything associated with Cox or his firm, Demographia, with a healthy dose of skepticism.

I hope Silvestri will join me and other urbanists in support of the kind of infill development that he has championed in the past. It offers a much better path to lower greenhouse gases than the Santa Clara-style sprawl his ideas advocate in the farmland and open spaces of Napa, Solano, and Sonoma.

What’s the deal with San Rafael’s one-way streets?

One Way

by Matt Peoples, on Flickr

Downtown San Rafael must serve a dual purpose. On the one hand, it is the walkable urban core of Marin, a major center of retail, culture, religion, and office space. On the other hand, it is the gateway between Ross Valley and Highway 101, and it has turned two of its five east-west streets (Second and Third) into high-speed, one-way arterials for that purpose.

Though these streets are repellent to pedestrians and, therefore, retail, the one-way travel conversion allows speedy and efficient access to the freeway, so at least they function well as glorified on/off ramps.

So why are B, C, and D streets, which run north-south, one-way, too?

Stockton City Limits wrote about Stockton’s one-ways and offered up Jeff Speck’s rationale for converting back to two-ways:

One-ways harm downtown in several ways: First, as one-way streets are designed to get cars to their destination as fast as possible, increased automobile speeds create a more dangerous and uninviting environment for pedestrians. Second, one-way streets distribute traffic unevenly, negatively impacting surrounding commercial activity. Businesses along one-ways suffer from a lack of visibility as drivers can quickly speed by without even noticing that a business is there, or only drive by once a day, either on their way into work or on the way back home.

That last point – that businesses suffer – is especially true for businesses whose storefronts face away from oncoming traffic.

Now, Second and Third, unpleasant though they are, at least serve their (too-limited) purpose well. Traffic is heavy to and from Highway 101 along those routes. Folks who remember the one-way conversion some 40 years ago recall those roads as congested when they were two-way.

But the lettered streets are all pain with no gain. There’s no improvement to traffic flow because there is almost no traffic flow to improve. In the meantime, all they do is hurt business, confuse visitors, and provide a raison d’être to the ugliest Do Not Enter sign in the city.

Proposed Marin Transit signage a step forward

Bus stop signage is an important part of the transit landscape. It can offer a window into the often-opaque routes and numbers that can mislead or confuse inexperienced riders. To help make Marin Transit stops more accessible to the casual rider, MT has proposed a new set of signs for its shuttle stops, and the results are decent.

What’s proposed

Proposed signage (left) and existing signage (right). From Marin Transit.

Proposed signage (left) and existing signage (right). From Marin Transit. Click to enlarge.

At the moment, the bus stop signage is limited to route numbers and some branding. There’s a little bit of extra information, but for the most part it’s assumed riders will use the map that’s often on the flag to determine where buses go.

The proposed signage adds data and makes the route numbers more clear. Below the route is the destination, and below that are the service days. Though not frequency data – a valuable part of any bus map – it does allow a traveler to at least know that they shouldn’t bother waiting for a route if it doesn’t run that day.

Most importantly, the sign adds the stop ID and how to get real-time arrival information. Though GGT isn’t there yet, MT already has real-time arrival data for the bus fleet it operates.

These are all excellent ideas, but there are problems when incorporating GGT’s regional routes in the signage.

GGT’s regional routes, however, do not get destination or service information. On the sample image, routes 40 and 42 are just big numbers without any indication that they’re bound for BART. As well, the route number’s box isn’t colored blue, the color of Basic routes maps, which is out-of-step with coloration for the MT shuttles and GGT-operated local routes. While possibly a conscious decision, it is nevertheless the wrong one.

What have other bus systems done to aid riders with signage?

Practices elsewhere

KCM Flag

Seattle’s flag. Image from King County.

Seattle’s bus system underwent a similar redesign for its stop signage, and the result was similar, though there are differences. (See Seattle’s design manual here.)

Most significantly, the Seattle stop signs use tiles, which allows the system to easily take out or edit route information as needed. If a bus used to be routed to the airport and isn’t, Metro can just remove that tile from the route’s signs rather than order entirely new signs. And, at the stops the route no longer serves, Metro can just remove the line’s number. While more expensive than a typical sign, the tiles would save money over the long-term if service changes effect a large number of the metal signs.

Something else of note is the use of icons to show what services this particular route intersects. Marin’s transit system includes ferries and airport shuttles and will soon include a train. Designating transfers to alternative modes may be of use. Designating routes that intersect the 101 trunk lines may also be useful, though that would involve a unified brand for such service. A black highway shield may do the trick.

London’s bus stops use a similar design, but its bus stations do something a bit more horizontal, with more potential points of interest. If applied to Marin, Route 49 might list Civic Center, Lucas Valley, Hamilton, and Novato instead of just Novato. (You can find their design manual here.)

How’s the sign?

My principal concern with the MT signage as proposed is that it does not visually integrate with either the GGT system or the MTC regional hub signage standards. This is problematic, as a unified brand for the transit system is important to rider literacy, especially for the casual rider. It makes little sense for them to proceed, as they did yesterday, without first developing a unified standard.

Given the prominence of the San Rafael Transit Center to the transit system, it would make sense to take inspiration from the signage there, which will meet MTC standards, rather than to invent a new visual language from scratch.

From a physical design perspective, it may make sense to design these signs to be modular. That would decrease the cost of route changes, as new signs wouldn’t need to be stamped along with new route books.

Nevertheless, the new sign is still a step forward from what exists today. But it would be nice if MT would start thinking a bit more regionally.

If you want to offer input into the newly-approved signs, you can take the survey here.

Notes from Choosing the Future We Want

A week and a bit ago, I had the privilege of speaking on a panel entitled Choosing the Future We Want, thanks to a kind invitation from Sustainable San Rafael. I got to see a couple of the regular commenters beforehand, bust out some market urbanism and Charles Marohn afterwards, and talk about Marin’s history as a transit-oriented county on the panel itself.

Honestly, it was a whole lot of fun. It’s much more rewarding to talk with people who are skeptical of change than to comment at them online. I hope I sparked some interest in suburban urbanism and shed some light on where our county comes from. I hope I’ll have a chance to post about some of this in the future.

Below is the video in full. You can download Linda Jackson’s presentation here and mine here. You can also download the maps of the Interurban either in the Map Room or on the original post.

One point of clarification. The last commenter said that if the examples I gave were representative of the kind of affordable housing we’d get under Plan Bay Area she’d be all for it. Lucky for her, every one of the latter building examples are affordable housing. That’s not to say affordable housing is all grand in Marin (I’m hoping to write a piece highlighting some of the worst examples I came across while preparing for my talk), but it’s a representative sample. We need people like her fighting for good development, not fighting against all development because some will be bad. We can’t rely on design review boards and planning commissions to promote good design if all they hear from the public is negativity.

Okay, enough of my soapbox here. Go watch the video. I start at 50:22.

Bus load of route detours this weekend

Planning on using transit this weekend? You may want to take a look at Golden Gate Transit’s Detours page, because there is a ludicrous amount of stuff happening around Marin for the next couple of days. In short, routes 10, 19, 22, 70, 80, 101 will be effected at some point on May 18 and 19. Most of this will have tight parking or be in places where your car will turn into an oven, so transit will be the best way to get around, as long as you know where to go. And it might be a good idea to make Route 19 (or perhaps the ferry) your designated driver after the Tiburon Wine Festival. Here’s what’s up:

On Saturday, May 18, from about 6:30am to 1:30pm, GGT Routes 80 and 101 will operate on a detour in downtown Santa Rosa due to the annual Rose Festival Parde. During this time, the Santa Rosa Transit Mall will NOT be served. Customers are directed to temporary stops at Fourth Street & B Street.

On Saturday, May 18, from about 7am to 6pm, Tiburon Blvd will be partially closed due to the 29th Annual Tiburon Wine Festival. During this time, GGT Route 19 will NOT serve the stop at Tiburon Blvd & Main Street. Customers are directed to the nearby stops at Tiburon Blvd & Beach Rd or Tiburon Blvd & Mar West St.

On Saturday, May 18, from 6am to 11am, GGT Route 22 will operate on a detour due to the annual Marin-Sonoma Concours Tour d’Elegance. During this time, the southbound bus stop at Magnolia Ave & Ward St will NOT be served. Customers are directed to nearby stops at Magnolia Ave & Bon Air Rd or Magnolia Ave & Madrone Ave.

On Saturday, May 18, from about 5am to 10pm, GGT Routes 80 and 101 will operate on a detour around downtown Petaluma due to the annual Salute to American Graffit Celebration. During this time, the following southbound stops willNOT be served: E. Washington St & Gray CirFourth St & C StreetPetaluma Blvd South & F StreetPetaluma Blvd South & Mountain ViewPetaluma Blvd South & Crystal LanePetaluma Blvd South & US Hwy 101 On-ramp. Also, the following northbound stops will NOT be served: Petaluma Blvd South & US Hwy 101 On-rampPetaluma Blvd South & Crystal Ln,Petaluma Blvd South & Mountain View AvePetaluma Blvd South & G StreetFourth & C Streets, and E. Washington & Petaluma Blvd North. Customers are directed to the Copeland Street Transit Mall.

On Saturday, May 18, from about 5am to 9pm, GGT Routes 10, 70, 80 and 101 will operate on a detour in the SF Civic Center area. During this time, the following southbound bus stops will NOT be served: Golden Gate Ave & Polk StHyde St & McAllister St, and Hyde St & Grove St. Also, the following northbound stops will NOT be served: 7th Street & Market StreetMcAllister St & Hyde St, and McAllister St & Polk St. Customers are directed to nearby stops at Mission & 5th Streets or Van Ness Ave & Turk St.

On Sunday, May 19, from about 6:30am to 1:30pm, GGT Routes 80 and 101 will operate on a detour in downtown Santa Rosa due to the AMGEN Tour of California bike race. During this time, the Santa Rosa Transit Mall will NOT be served. Customers are directed to temporary stops at Mendocino Ave & College Ave.

On Saturday and Sunday, May 18 and 19, GGT will operate on separate detours in downtown San Francisco due to the annual Bay to Breakers 12K race:

  • On Saturday, May 18, from 9pm until about 3am on Sunday, May 19, the northbound stop at the Temporary Transbay Terminal and ALL southbound stops on Howard Street will NOT be served.
  • On Sunday, May 19, from 3am until about 12pmALL southbound trips will END at Golden Gate Ave & Polk St andALL northbound trips will BEGIN at McAllister Ave & Polk St. GGT will operate a shuttle between the Civic Center (Golden Gate Ave & Polk St) and Mission & 2nd Streets. The southbound shuttle will drop passengers off at Muni bus stops along Market Street; the northbound shuttle will pick up passengers at stops along Mission St. Fares will NOTbe collected on the shuttle. NOTE: during this detour, GGT will NOT operate on Folsom, Fremont or Howard Streets.


Parking is anything but free, even if O’Toole says so

In 2010, Streetsblog posted this response from Donald Shoup, a professor of urban policy at UCLA to a blog post by Randal O’Toole, a Cato scholar. Here, Shoup addresses that post’s arguments regarding the high-cost of free parking. Given that the Cato scholar will be speaking at a debate in Marin at the end of this month, it will be worth our time to explore some of the ways he has things wrong whether through error, incuriosity, or obfuscation.

O’Toole has written extensively on subjects beyond parking, including mass transit and urban patterns. We’ll explore those in time.

A fair warning: Shoup’s response is very long, so there is a jump. The rest, from here, is Streetsblog, Shoup, and O’Toole.

Shoup (left) and O'Toole (right). One of these gentlemen has written the definitive volume on parking policy. The other says he has yet to read it.

Shoup (left) and O’Toole (right). One of these gentlemen has written the definitive volume on parking policy. The other says he has yet to read it.

Dear Randal,

I would like to comment on your August 16 post on the Cato@Liberty blog about “Free Markets for Free Parking.”

You were responding to Tyler Cowen’s article in the New York Times, “Free Parking Comes at a Price,” in which Tyler explained some of the ideas in my book, The High Cost of Free Parking.In commenting on Tyler’s article, you made several mistakes in describing my ideas and proposals. I will explain these mistakes, and if you agree with the explanations I hope you will post corrections on Cato@Liberty.

Before I examine your misunderstanding of what I have written, I will first summarize the three basic parking reforms I recommend in The High Cost of Free Parking: (1) remove off-street parking requirements, (2) charge market prices for on-street parking to achieve about an 85-percent occupancy rate for curb spaces, and (3) return the resulting revenue to pay for public improvements in the metered neighborhoods.

I will quote ten extracts from your post, and comment on each of them. Read more of this post

Allow me to plan your Thursday night

Allow me to cut to the chase:

Come see me speak about transit-oriented development on Thursday, May 9, at 7pm! At Dominican University!

Okay, so my subject, “Marin Traditions and Models for Transit-Oriented Communities,” might not stir excitement in your heart, though it may if you’re a regular reader at TGM. Still, you should come. You’ll get to hear from experts from around Marin on what Plan Bay Area could mean for Marin, and how our county can approach that future without sacrificing our independence or character.

Still not interested? Then come for the Q&A panel discussion afterwards. We on the panel don’t agree on everything, so you’ll get a diversity of views on how Marin can approach the future in a positive way.

Still not interested? Then come to chat with me afterwards. I suspect that you may be able to sucker me into a post-panel beer.

Can’t come? The whole thing will be on MarinTV, Channel 26, though at a later date.

Hope to see you Thursday!