BABS opens, the Bay Bridge closes: A guide

Traffic

Westbound Sir Francis Drake at 7:20 this morning, the only way to get from westbound 580 to southbound 101. Traffic was stopped. From @FrankieFrost1

Big news in transportation, and both give you an excellent excuse to leave the car behind if you normally commute into San Francisco. For one thing, the Bay Bridge, the region’s busiest road, is closed for the long weekend, exposing drivers and bus riders to some pretty horrendous detours. Do you take the Golden Gate Bridge or the Dumbarton? Ferry or BART? Amtrak to Caltrain, or BART to GGT?

As might be expected, 511.org has some tips for your trip, with details on how to get around by transit (better!) or by car (only if necessary!). For Marin readers, there shouldn’t be much of a problem. However, given the long delays getting out of San Francisco during the BART strike, keep an eye out for traffic this evening. If it’s extremely heavy, you may do well to take BART to El Cerrito del Norte or Richmond and transfer to the 40/42 to San Rafael, rather than simply take your normal commuter route. Check out the 101 Bus Map for details on where to go from there.

Today will also be a great day to try out Bay Area Bike Share (BABS), which opens for business at noon. Apart from the launch parties, which will no doubt be kickin’ if your boss lets you out of the office at 10:00, the system is well-suited to the disruption.

If you were skeptical, you can give the bikes a try with a short-term pass, for sale at the kiosk. 24-hour passes are just $9, and a 72-hour pass is available for $22. Note that you’re still under the 30-minute limit even with the 24-hour pass. Tourists get confused by that all the time in DC. At the end of your trip, dock your bike. When you need a new one, insert the credit card you used to buy the pass and you’ll get a new code to unlock the next bike.

As someone who has ridden these bikes for years in DC, I can attest that they are very, very easy, so don’t be scared by their decidedly chunky look.

So who is this for? Well, Peninsula commuters, if your workplace is a bit further away than you’d like from the Caltrain station, take a look to see if it’s near a BABS station; it may be worth trying. And as for you, potential ferry commuters, look at whether your workplace is near a BABS station, too. If so, give the BABS station near your office a try.

This also goes reverse commuters. If you are one of the rare few who live in downtown San Francisco and work at the other side of the ferry terminal, it might be worthwhile to give the system a go, rather than bring your own bike or endure the Muni slog.

Of course, the experience may not be perfect. New York’s CitiBike, also operated by Alta, is plagued by technical problems that kept people from successfully docking their bike (wait for the chime!) or getting their bike.

If you do decide to give BABS a try, I highly recommend Spotcycle, a free app that shows where available bikes and open docks are. I’ve been using it for almost as long as I’ve been a member of DC’s Capital Bikeshare and it is invaluable.

Good luck out there.

The zoning board should not be our nanny

2701 Shattuck

2701 Shattuck. Image from the developer.

There’s an apartment building being debated in Berkeley, and it’s not a bad proposal. At 60 feet tall, it would be about as tall as other buildings facing Shattuck. 2701 Shattuck would include 70 studio apartments (PDF), ranging in size from 307 to 344 square feet. It’s close to UC Berkeley, walking distance to Telegraph and BART, and adjacent to major bus routes. It will be built on what is now a fairly ugly vacant lot, and contribute $1.4 million to the city’s affordable housing fund.

Fifteen neighbors nearby aren’t happy with it. They cite the height and the proximity to detached housing nearby, common stuff. But they also cite on the size of the units and the relative lack of activities in the neighborhood. A zoning commissioner, Sophie Hahn, concurred, comparing the units to “penitentiary housing” and said there wasn’t enough room for “intimacy.”

Though I don’t want to speculate more on the concerns of massing and proximity, the others strike me as a damaging sort of condescension.

When I choose where I want to live, I look at a number of factors: price, transit options, proximity to my friends, job, and favorite neighborhood. As a single person who spends most of his time out at work or at some other hangout, I’m not so concerned about my home’s size. I need a bed, a desk, and a place to make and store food. A studio apartment in the right location will do me fine.

I am representative of one particular niche of potential renters. Other renters will be more concerned about proximity to transit, others about price, and others will want the space to entertain. As we grow our cities, developers should have the flexibility to build units and buildings that cater to the various niches of the rental market. Not everyone wants to live on a Mill Valley hillside, and not everyone wants to live in a high-rise off the Embarcadero.

We have our reasons for choosing the places we do, but it’s the height of arrogance to assume that our preferences apply universally. So when citizens say that studio apartments are “a new style of tenement housing,” I get upset. And when a policymaker (Sophie Hahn) says of studio apartments, “It’s a bleak, lonely, unhealthy life that I would have a lot of trouble endorsing,” that offends me, because she thinks that about my life.

The purpose of any market is to allow people to make their own decisions about what they want. I think beef tongue is disgusting. I have no idea why anyone would want to eat it. I mean, there must be something wrong with someone who wants to chew on something that has the texture of their own tongue. I also hate cilantro; it tastes like someone made nausea into a flavor and called it an herb. But advocate to ban these foods? Limit them to certain designated Mexican restaurants, perhaps, Vietnamese restaurants be damned? Of course not; it’s preposterous to even consider. I can make my own opinions without asking others to agree with me. That’s freedom.

So it’s not the place of any zoning commission to pass judgment on the lifestyles of the people who live in certain kinds of housing. Their purpose is to determine whether a project meets the zoning code, whether its visual and traffic impacts will unduly harm surrounding neighbors, and whether it will be a safe and sanitary place to live. Nor is it their purpose to determine whether a project is financially viable or not. It’s the developer’s job to determine that. And, in a free society, it’s nobody’s job but mine to determine whether my lifestyle is a bleak and lonely one or not.

Once government steps into personal preference, it becomes a nanny, tut-tutting our choices of home and neighborhood. Sophie Hahn, and the neighbors whom she agrees with, should stick to a critique of the building itself, not the people, like me, who they think are too depressed to live anywhere else.

Cross-posted with Vibrant Bay Area.

A new 101 bus map for a revised bus system

In case you missed it, Marin Transit, in partnership with Golden Gate Transit, has made some changes to Marin’s bus system. The changes to existing routes saved enough money that they were able to add about 15,000 more service-hours to the system, meaning people around the county have better transit.

The changes inspired a second look at my 101 corridor bus guide, and the result is here.

101 Buses-Weekday 2013.08-x

Click for PDF

While the guide, technically called a “strip map,” reflects the changes to bus routes, I’ve also added non-GGT and Marin Transit routes to the map. Greyhound’s once-per-day north-south Arcata-SF service, Sonoma County Transit’s express services, and Mendocino Transit Authority’s service from Fort Bragg to Santa Rosa all made it onto the map.

It’s much less Marin-centric as a result, but no detail has been lost. Instead, Sonomans can know their options, Marinites can know their options, and all users get an expansive view of where they can go by transit in the North Bay’s 101 corridor.

This is the sort of map GGT needs to have at every bus pad and every transit center along its route. I created the original 101 bus map because I couldn’t visualize how all the lines interact and work together, nor could I tell what buses served which bus pad.

My home church, for example, is located off Smith Ranch Road, so it’s off the Lucas Valley bus pad. Since the 49 is the only bus whose schedule said it stopped at Lucas Valley, I’ll probably take it, turning what should have been a 15 minute ride into a 35 minute tour of Terra Linda.

With this map, I know I can have take the 70, 71, or 80. On a weekday evening, I might take the 44. But the 49? While it does serve the bus pad, it’s a local bus serving Terra Linda and the Civic Center, so it’s not the best idea.

A pocket version will be available in the next few weeks.

Round-up on the Hyperloop

On Monday, Elon Musk released details of his Hyperloop proposal for 780-mile-per-hour travel between Los Angeles and San Francisco, and it landed with all the hype and hyperbole expected from someone with such stature.

While articles around the world oo’d and ahh’d over the proposal – it will only cost one-tenth of California High-Speed Rail (CAHSR)! And only 35 minutes from LA to San Francisco! – observers with experience in transportation approached the concept with a cold eye. Taking into mind that good transportation projects, like all good projects, start with goals rather than technology, the response from them was overwhelmingly negative on Twitter and on the blogs.

Roughly speaking, the sketch of the Hyperloop’s operations are full of sleights-of-hand and outright falsehoods. Perhaps the best overall analysis of the project comes from James Sinclair of Stop and Move. Sinclair writes, “Problem is, taking a look at the documents that came with the announcement, it seems to be a fantastic joke. [The Hyperloop’s] claims do not appear to be true – his own proposal doesn’t even get close to supporting them. ”

Foremost in Sinclair’s list of six problems is the claim that the Hyperloop extends from Los Angeles to San Francisco. That, according to the maps provided with the proposal, isn’t true. Instead, the Hyperloop goes from Hayward to Sylmar, about an hour’s travel time outside either city’s center.

So that 35-minute ride? It’s actually about 2:35, 6 minutes longer than the travel time for CAHSR. While we could move the stations, that would dramatically increase the cost. Most of CAHSR’s costs are in the approaches to each downtown, and there’s no reason it wouldn’t be the same for the Hyperloop.

Sinclair goes on to examine the political and cost assumptions, which is to say, Musk has made none. Musk builds his whole cost estimate on the assumption that, because the Hyperloop’s tubes will be built on viaducts, people won’t have a problem with them crossing their property. Sinclair goes on:

To assume that people will willingly grant your line of support columns an easement is an exercise in the absurd.  Worse is the assumption that an aerial structure is popular.

Remember Cape Wind? It was a Massachusetts proposal to build an off-shore wind farm. Far away from homes and property, way out in the ocean. It got held up for years and years and years by lawsuit after lawsuit.

You know what the problem was? Views. Aesthetics. People didn’t want to look at these things way out in the ocean.

People love their views. Farmers love their views. To assume that an aerial structure is your golden ticket out of years in the courtroom is plain idiocy.

The technology, arguably the most difficult piece to evaluate, was tackled by Alon Levy, the author of Pedestrian Observations. Levy first examines the assumption that an all-elevated system would save money. In short, the answer is no, building a bridge across the entire state would cost at least 10 times as much as Musk says, or roughly $60 billion. While less than the $63 billion of CAHSR, it’s not much cheaper. And, as far as comfort goes, the Hyperloop ride won’t be all that grand.

The extremely high speeds of the vacuum-tube technology the Hyperloop is built on will impose some significantly uncomfortable sideways and vertical jerks over the course of the journey, up to about o.5 gs. This is far, far higher than the maximum on any train the world, something that will certainly spill your coffee. Levy summarizes by saying, “Motion sickness is still to be fully expected in such a case.”

Matt Johnson, one of the writers for Greater Greater Washington, found yet another way the Hyperloop comes up short: capacity.

According to Musk, pods would depart LA and San Francisco every 30 seconds during peak periods. Each pod can carry 28 passengers. That means that under the maximum throughput, the Hyperloop is capable of carrying 3,360 passengers each hour in each direction.

For context, a freeway lane can carry 2,000 cars per hour. A subway running at 3 minute headways (like the WMATA Red Line) can carry 36,000 passengers per hour. The California High Speed Rail, which this project is supposed to replace, will have a capacity of 12,000 passengers per hour.

That means that Musk’s proposal can carry only 20-25% of the passengers of the California High-Speed Rail under ideal circumstances. But are those ideal circumstances reasonable? Probably not.

The Hyperloop pods will travel at up to 760 miles per hour, just under the speed of sound, with pods traveling about 30 seconds apart in the tube. They will have a maximum deceleration of 0.5 gs, which is equivalent to 10.9 mph per second. At that rate of braking, it will take a pod 68.4 seconds to come to a full stop.

That’s a pretty significant issue because safe vehicle operation means never getting closer to the vehicle ahead than the distance it will take you to stop. If pod A were to experience a catastrophic air-skid failure, crash into the tube wall, and disintegrate, pod B, 30 seconds back, would not be able to stop short of the wreckage. In fact, pod C would also likely hit the wreckage of pods A and B.

That means that the minimum separation between pods is probably closer to 80 seconds or more. Not a big deal. It still means 45 departures per hour. But that’s only 1,260 passengers per hour in capacity. That’s 10% of what the California High-Speed Rail can carry.

With a capacity of 1,260 passengers per tube, that means that the Hyperloop would need 10 tubes in each direction (not 1) to move the same number of passengers as the proposed high-speed line. And that would push the cost up by 10, which is actually more than the cost of the HSR.

If we factor in Levy’s arguments about the cost of the Hyperloop’s viaducts, we end up with a 100-fold increase in cost to have equivalent capacity to CAHSR. As a reminder, that rockets a sane $6 billion to an absolutely absurd $600 billion.

There are other problems with the proposal, too. Robert Cruikshank of California High Speed Rail Blog addresses some of the criticisms of CAHSR by Musk (which is to say, many of them are simply falsehoods), while Clem Tillier, of Caltrain-HSR Compatibility Blog, brings a list of 8 show-stoppers in a comment on the same post, including issues with branches and resetting the system.

But why would Musk, a successful engineer and entrepreneur, put forward such a proposal? Sinclair speculates that it is, in fact, an attempt to draw away support from CAHSR by presenting “the mother of all false choices.” Levy speculates instead that it’s an exercise in hubris:

It’s possible to discover something new, but people who do almost always realize the context of the discovery. If Musk really found a way to build viaducts for $5 million per kilometer, this is a huge thing for civil engineering in general and he should announce this in the most general context of urban transportation, rather than the niche of intercity transportation. If Musk has experiments showing that it’s possible to have sharper turns or faster deceleration than claimed by Transrapid, then he’s made a major discovery in aviation and should announce it as such. That he thinks it just applies to his project suggests he doesn’t really have any real improvement.

I write this not to help bury Musk; I’m not nearly famous enough to even hit a nail in his coffin. I write this to point out that, in the US, people will treat any crank seriously if he has enough money or enough prowess in another field. A sufficiently rich person is surrounded by sycophants and stenographers who won’t check his numbers against anything.

Yet Musk, he says, is one of the people who are constantly told they don’t need to build on the successes of others, and “that they’re smart enough they can reinvent everything and that the world will bow to their greatness.”

To me, the Hyperloop is, as I said at the outset, an example of people putting technology before goals. We want to move a lot of people quickly between California’s major population centers. High-speed rail, not Hyperloop vacuum train technology, is arguably the most cost-effective and safest way to do this.

Hyperloop technology may have use elsewhere, perhaps as point-to-point very-high-speed travel between two far-removed destinations, but, with only as much capacity as the Larkspur ferry (and a far less comfortable ride), it does not meet the needs of California. There can absolutely be improvements on CAHSR. Its alignment to enter the Bay Area and LA Basin is poor, it will likely restrict Caltrain operation, it’s overpriced, the Transbay Terminal is a mess, and more. But at least it accomplishes the goals it sets out to do. The Hyperloop, as presented, cannot.

A measure of Marin’s development politics: Development

One Bay Area, the organization behind Plan Bay Area, surveyed the region’s opinions on the built environment. What kinds of transportation investments do we want? What kinds of cities do we want to live in? What would get you to take transit or ride a bike more? Though the survey has problems, it gives us the most comprehensive look at the Bay Area’s support for urbanism.

Last time, we looked at Marin’s support for regionalism. (There was a lively discussion on this post’s Patch incarnation.) Though there was was strong support for the underlying assumptions around Plan Bay Area, Marinites were far more divided on these issues than any other county in the region. A large minority was strongly negative about any regional planning. Today, we examine Marin’s perspectives on the specific policies that shape Plan Bay Area. As a reminder to readers critical of Plan Bay Area, this will not address the underlying policy successes or failures of Plan Bay Area, only the opinions of its assumptions and how local and regional plans match those opinions.

Survey responses

The survey asked people three questions about development policy. The first was about funding priorities, and it began, “Next I will read you a number of items that may be considered as part of this Bay Area plan. For each, please tell me whether whether funding should be a high priority or not a priority. Use a 5-point scale where 5 means ‘High Priority’ and 1 means ‘Not a priority.'”

After a number of questions about transportation, the survey asked about the policy, “Provide financial incentives to cities to build more multi-unit housing near public transit.”

The next questions were about support for policies, and they began, “Next I will read you a list of specific strategies being considered to reduce driving and greenhouse gases. Indicate whether you would support or oppose each using the same 5-point scale.”

The two policies were, “Build more housing near public transit designed for residents who want to drive less,” and, “Limit urban sprawl by requiring most additional housing and commercial buildings be built within current city or town limits.”

On all three Marinites answered more negatively than the region as a whole, and neither opponents nor proponents make up a majority of opinion on any of the questions.

The first asks a question nearly mimics the rhetoric of development skeptics, and so is probably the best measure of their influence in the county. In response to the question of whether the region should provide subsidies to cities to build more multi-unit housing near transit, Marinites were deeply divided. Though 39.9 percent were in favor, fully 30.8 percent were opposed, with 28.9 percent in the middle. This is the most opposition to the program in the region, which was otherwise 51.2 percent in favor and 20.9 percent opposed. The standard deviation, a measure of disagreement, was 9 percent higher than the rest of the region, too.

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Notice that, though Marin’s support is fairly close to that of Solano, and its opposition is close to that of Contra Costa, our opposition is much stronger than anywhere else in the region. Contra Costa, the most similar county to Marin, has softer opposition and more support overall. Napa, another similar county, has a much more robust middle than Marin, with less strong opinions on either side.

On the second question, Marin again bucks the region, though not nearly as much. On the question of whether you support building more housing near transit for those who want to drive less, Marinites were 59.7 percent supportive and 20 percent opposed, versus 65.4 percent and 12.1 percent, respectively, for the rest of the region. We also had nearly twice as many people answer that they were strongly opposed than moderately opposed: 9.5 percent versus 5.3 percent.

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Again note the strongly negative opposition in Marin, a full 4.4 points higher than Napa, which also has marginally more support than Marin.

On the final policy question, whether development should be limited to only areas within existing city limits, Marin again answers more negatively than the region as a whole, though here it has company. A strong minority, 31.2 percent, opposes this policy, the most in the region. Joining it are Contra Costa (29.7 percent) and Santa Clara (28.2 percent). This question also trigged a very strong negative response, with 18.7 percent reporting that they are strongly opposed. Intriguingly, Marin’s support lines up with the rest of the region exactly: 41.6 percent of the region and the county support this policy.

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Marin’s opposition here, while higher and deeper than the rest of the region, is not as glaringly different, though the question makes it difficult to know what people think they are opposing or supporting.

I did not expect this last result. Marin’s urban growth boundaries are a cherished part of our civic lore, as the continuing success of Rebels with a Cause shows. Indeed, this is so unlikely I suspect the problem lies with the question.

“Limit urban sprawl” may have been interpreted as razing the suburbs, a fear I’ve heard in community meetings and read in online comments. The question also talks about additional housing and commercial buildings, which suggests new growth. The strong negative reaction may have been more against any new housing and commercial buildings, not just those outside of existing municipal boundaries. In any case, there is too much wiggle room in how one could understand the question to glean much useful information from it.

These responses reflect Marinites’ opinions about what makes a good home and a good town. A plurality thinks high-density transit-oriented development would ruin our town character (41.7 percent vs. 36.9 percent). A similar plurality would not move to a more densely-populated area to live near amenities (42.3 percent vs. 38.8 percent). On these questions, Marin is more strongly negative than any other county in the region.

How does our planning stack up?

Keep in mind that, although each of the policies addressed in the above questions has stronger opposition than anywhere else, they each have plurality or majority support. Even subsidized housing, which has the weakest support, has a 9 point advantage over the opposition. Where opponents find strongest ground is in home preferences. A plurality believes high-density development would ruin town character, and a plurality wouldn’t trade higher densities for more amenities. Combine the two measures (give people choice to drive less but don’t increase density) and you get a no-change, slow-growth status quo, which is what planners have largely given Marin in the past few decades.

Plan Bay Area, which encourages localities to focus growth by pledging to focus planning and transit funding, does not fit this status quo. While most of Marin got by on its RHNA mandates by pledging to zone for housing growth, very little of it was actually built in part because of a lack of investment from host cities. Focusing investment could mean real changes.

This is best seen in the eastern half of the Civic Center Station Area Plan. Planners and proponents wanted to focus growth into an area that would, they hope, give people a choice to use the car less. But, for some residents, four- and five-story buildings where now there are parking lots means living in a higher-density area at least some are trying to avoid.

The flip side is also true. While Marinites favor giving people a choice to live car-free or car-lite lifestyles, there is little support in city or county plans. In downtown San Rafael, Marin’s urban core, new developments are subject to parking minimums, tight density limits, and inconsistent floor-area ratios. These restrictions discourage developers from creating apartments designed for those who choose to live car-free or car-lite. For example, a proposal for for-profit apartments by Monahan at 2nd & B streets was 10-20 units smaller than it could have been without those restrictions.

The Downtown SMART Station Area Plan gets closer to lifting these restrictions by eliminating density limits in favor of a hard height limit, but planners left parking minimums in place. Renters, whether car-free or not, will need to pay for a space in their building. Developers will need to dedicate floor space to parking instead of rent-paying uses, like apartments or retail.

The debate itself

They survey also begins to shine some light on the structure of Marin’s development debate.

Rhetorically, opponents’ language (“high-density San Francisco-style stack-and-pack housing”) is ideally suited to play on Marinites’ general distaste for density. As well, the policy environment, with its focus on RHNA mandates and affordable housing, keeps the conversation on a policy with a meager base. Opponents will win as long as they can tie a development policy to RHNA, affordable housing, Plan Bay Area, and the like, forcing proponents to scramble to the defense of relatively unpopular policies.

Yet the broad popularity of subsidized housing and higher densities in the region at large means opponents have an uphill battle if they want to move beyond the development politics that has dogged Marin for the past three years.

I suspect that one reason for deepening divide in this policy area in Marin is that it is just incessant. Just as we start wrapping up one RHNA cycle, Plan Bay Area begins. Just as that is settling down next year, the next RHNA cycle will come about. Marin’s development skeptics rightly feel under siege, as every victory is fleeting.

Proponents, meanwhile, are destined to continue to lose as long as the conversation is about affordable housing and housing units per acre. Unfortunately for them, they’ll get no favors from the regional housing process, which will keep shifting the conversation back to opponents’ favored ground. Instead, proponents need to talk about choice and character. Urbanist lawmakers need to say, “We need to give choices to our young people. We need to give people the option to drive less.”

The right policy package could also cut the legs out from opponents’ ground. A for-profit-friendly zoning code, sold as bringing choice, town character, and less driving could get some easier play in town meetings. If passed, it would bake into the zoning code the growth RHNA asks for, rendering future development debates much less contentious.

The takeaway

If there is a theme to this data, it is that Marin is deeply divided on issues of development. Though, again, there are no areas where Marinites are more against than in favor of a policy, those on the negative end of the spectrum are rather more strongly negative, with more 1s than 2s, than those on the positive side are positive, with more 4s than 5s.

It doesn’t hurt that in the Bay Area as a whole, likely voters are more strongly negative on these issues than unlikely voters. While we don’t have data on Marin’s likely voters, the region’s broader trend seems to reflect what we see in the county: civically engaged and organized opponents against much less visible and seemingly rudderless proponents.

Overall, Marin has played to stereotype so far, at least to some degree. Its residents have strong views on development policy that are both more negative and more divided than those in the rest of the region. Intriguingly, this includes the rest of the North Bay: both Sonoma and Napa are more positive than Marin on development policy.

Of course, land use policy is only one side of the planning coin. Transportation policy is intimately linked with development policy, and will be discussed next time.

Construction’s high carbon cost shouldn’t stop smart growth

In the aftermath of Plan Bay Area’s passage, development skeptics in Marin have circulated a study showing that new construction gives of much higher levels of CO2 than renovating existing buildings even if that new construction is done in a very ecologically-friendly way. This, they say, is evidence that encouraging new construction will only increase our carbon footprint, and so Plan Bay Area, not to mention smart growth itself, is a sham.

While the study, from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, is accurate in its assessment, skeptics are on shaky ground with this line of reasoning.

The study tries to answer the question, “Is new environmentally friendly development as greenhouse-gas efficient as renovating old development?” The answer, as common sense and the study say, is an almost* unequivocal yes. Construction is remarkably energy-intensive, and on its own is not a good way to improve our environment. We need to retrofit our existing structures as much as possible, adapting our old, underused buildings for a more urban future.

However, in the small towns most opposed to Plan Bay Area, this won’t happen. The Bay Area just is not a rust belt area that underwent the kind of decline whose aftermath this study tries to examine. Were we Baltimore or Cleveland, our conversation would be much different, as we’d have bountiful abandoned buildings to repurpose. This is happening now in downtown Detroit. But we’re not Baltimore, Cleveland, or Detroit. Our most bountiful development resources are not derelict industrial park brownfields. They are our grey fields, the monumental wastes of space that are our office park and mall parking lots. That will necessarily mean new construction.

Development skeptics purport the two alternatives are Grow or Don’t Grow, like their towns are islands, but that’s not a good understanding of our region. Instead, the alternatives are Grow or Grow Elsewhere. Marin did wonders by protecting its greenbelt and is in many ways a precursor to Plan Bay Area and the urbanist movement. However, the result has been – as the veterans of those fights say – a chronic housing shortage, displaced growth into Sonoma and Contra Costa, and a steady loss of those counties’ farmland and greenbelt. Nobody wants Marin to look like Walnut Creek (at least, I hope not), but Walnut Creek is in part a result of Marin’s development policies, as are Rohnert Park and the Oakland Hills.

While we could give up and do the minimum in the name of reducing our CO2 footprint, in reality we would just push people further out from the City and cause more greenfield development. Just because the lost greenbelt is outside our county borders doesn’t make the loss any less a tragedy. Even if that new construction were built to smart-growth standards, it would still be built, so the CO2 will be emitted no matter what we do.

It’s a preposterous argument to make that we shouldn’t build anything because it would add to our county’s CO2 footprint. It’s just tricky accounting, offloading the problem to other cities and counties.

A far better approach is to view these mandates as opportunities to make more small-town greatness. Our downtowns are the heart and soul of our towns, but between them is bland nothing. That we keep our density in safe downtown boxes but call it evil if it ever tries to escape is a profound disservice to our cities, region, and the environment development skeptics argue we should save.

Why is 34 unit-per-acre housing in downtown San Anselmo quaint but “stack & pack housing” just a mile east? Why is 40-unit-per-acre housing “San Jose-style massive apartment block” in Corte Madera when 89 110-unit-per-acre housing is a centerpiece of downtown San Rafael? Downtown Mill Valley could colonize its strip-mall-dominated flats, downtown Sausalito could grow into Marin City, downtown Novato could transform the North Redwood corridor a place worthy of Marin’s second-largest city, and each move would make these great towns and cities even greater. This is the essence of smart growth

And the benefits of smart growth go beyond simply reducing CO2 emissions from travel. Smart growth positively affects public health, public safety, town budgets, water pollution, greenbelt preservation, farmland preservation, housing affordability, and beyond. Yes, repurposing emits less CO2 than new construction, but this is a horrible reason to halt all growth in small town Bay Area. Not only would the growth would just happen elsewhere, but we’d be throwing away a chance to make our towns even better and stronger. That would be a tragedy.

*The exception to this is renovating warehouses, which are so energy-inefficient it’s best to just knock them down and start over.

A version of this post was cross-posted with Vibrant Bay Area.

Golden Gate Ferry promotes reverse travel to Larkspur

In an attempt to get more reverse travel from San Francisco to Larkspur Landing’s Marin Country Mart, Golden Gate Ferry is giving away tickets for some of its trips* for the month of August. Here’s hoping this will lead to more reverse-ferry trip promotions.

It’s no secret that counter-commute ferry travel is, well, sparse. Survey show that some trips in the middle of the day have as few as 10 passengers for ferries equipped to carry 350. While this monumental waste of capacity won’t be solved entirely until Larkspur develops the Larkspur Ferry Terminal (LFT) parking lot, that doesn’t mean Larkspur Landing is only a desolate parking lot.

Marin Country Mart is the principal destination for the neighborhood. For a long time it was just another outdoor mall, but now the shopping center is trying to transform itself into a hipper destination, with jazz on Fridays and the Folkish Festival and food trucks on Sundays. The beer snobs among us have the always-wonderful Marin Brewing Company to visit, too.

People who want to participate print off an SF-Larkspur ticket (PDF click on the big image of a ticket on that page) at home, take one of the off-peak trips to Larkspur,* and get a return ticket from a Marin Country Mart retailer for an off-peak trip home.

All in all, it’s an ingenious way to get more reverse travel. It’s easy to think of Marin as Over There, out of reach for most people. By lowering the cost barrier, GGF could attract more regular riders and bring Larkspur Landing into the imagination of San Franciscans as a place they can actually go. There’s no guarantee these new passengers will stay with the ferry after the promotion is over, but some may start to think of Larkspur Landing as someplace as close as another San Francisco neighborhood.

Other promotions should draw in employees of Larkspur Landing businesses, who may drive today but could take the ferry instead. This promotion would help workers that commute north in the morning, provided they get something at Marin Country Mart before heading south.

GGF’s promotion, combined with the ferry shuttle, paid parking, and the new 7:30am departure, shows that GGF understands the challenges faced by its Larkspur ferry service and isn’t afraid to be creative in its solutions. I only wish its bus service was so bold.

*On weekdays, its any northbound departure between 8:30am and 3pm, and any southbound departure between 10:10am and 8:50pm. On weekends, it’s the northbound 12:40pm and southbound 4:45pm.

A measure of Marin’s development politics: Regionalism

For decades, Marin has cultivated a reputation as a firmly anti-development county, most recently in vehement protestations against affordable and medium-density housing. This would certainly be a fair assessment if one simply attends or watches government meetings about development policy or read the IJ’s op-ed section. But survey data from One Bay Area shows Marin to be a much more nuanced, and rather divided, place.

This is the first in a four-part series on One Bay Area’s (OBA’s) survey and will examine the survey’s shortcomings as well as Marin’s responses on questions of regionalism. Subsequent installments will address Marin’s views on development, quality of life, and transportation.

On the survey

One Bay Area interviewed respondents in all nine Bay Area Counties and released the cross-tabs back in June. While the survey as a whole was informative and solid, there were some questions that were poorly worded and so tested messaging rather than policy.

“Do you support reducing driving to reduce greenhouse gas emissions?” was my least favorite. The Bay Area is strongly liberal and firmly convinced in the reality of global climate change. Of course we want to reduce greenhouse gases. Tying driving to such an obvious outcome doesn’t allow urbanists, who seek to reduce driving for a host of other reasons, to know whether driving reduction can resonate.

Another, “Do you support expanding commuter rail, like BART, to the rest of the Bay Area?”, conflates BART with commuter rail. Rather than focus on our real commuter railroads – Caltrain, SMART, ACE, and Amtrak – the question brings it back to everyone’s favorite transit system. The extremely strong positive response to this question is useless to planners outside BART who need to gauge public opinion on the subject. While it would be informative to SMART planners to see if their advertising campaign is successful in Marin and Sonoma, Napa and Solano are considering their own commuter rail system using light rail technology. Gauging support for such a system would be invaluable.

Regional planning

Notice how high Marin’s “Not at all important” response is. Responses to the question, “A long-term strategy for the entire bay area is currently being developed. The idea is to successfully plan the region’s housing and transportation needs for the next 30 years. This plan is focused on: improving the local economy, reducing driving and greenhouse gases, and providing access to housing and transportation for everyone who needs it. In general, how important do you think it is to establish this type of a regional plan?”

Marin’s sharp divisions are first seen in a question with overwhelming support in the county: do you support a regional plan? Fully 81.5 percent of Marinites think it’s a good idea, with only 10.7 percent who say it’s not important.  However, Marin has a far higher rate of response for those who answered that it was not at all important than the rest of the region, 8.6 percent in Marin vs. 2.8 percent for the whole region.

We further deviate from the region when discussing priorities. OBA asked whether a regional plan should focus on the economy, the provision of housing and transportation for all, or the reduction of driving and greenhouse gas emissions. Marin sided with the rest of the Bay Area in labeling the economy as the top priority, but was the only county where a plurality of people put greenhouse gas emissions in second place, slightly ahead of housing and transportation.

Answers the question, Which part of the plan is most important to the bay area's future: Improving the local economy, reducing driving and greenhouse gases, or providing access to housing and transportation for everyone?

Notice that Marin is largely in line with the rest of the region on the first question. Answers to the question, Which part of the plan is most important to the Bay Area’s future: Improving the local economy, reducing driving and greenhouse gases, or providing access to housing and transportation for everyone?

Asks what about the next most important priority. Notice here, Marin deviates from the rest of the region.

Asks what about the next most important priority. Notice here, Marin deviates from the rest of the region.

This is at odds with Marinites’ statements on the availability of affordable housing. Fully 67 percent of respondents said they believed the availability was either somewhat poor or poor. Only San Mateo residents were more negative on their affordable housing supply (71.2 percent). Perhaps some Marinites think that the lack of affordable housing isn’t a problem for solving. This sentiment has been expressed often in public testimonies: I scrimped and saved for a house in Novato even though I’d like to live in Tiburon. Why should someone else get taxpayer help when I got none*?

Marin is largely in line with the rest of the region on the subject of whether the region or local governments should plan development. Bay Area-wide, local planning wins out over regional planning by a large margin, 53.3 percent vs. 43.6 percent. Marinites responded 57.7 percent and 38.1 percent, respectively.

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No county in the Bay Area supports regional planning above local planning.

The sharp disparity between answers to this question and answers to the first question – whether or not a regional plan was a good idea – implies that Bay Area residents have separated in their minds a regional plan from local planning. Though it would be reasonable to think that they perceive regional plans as coordinating documents and local plans as visceral zoning documents, there’s not enough data to be sure. They could equally have a classic not-in-my-back-yard sentiment: we need affordable housing, just not here. Further studies are needed to clarify just what people think they’re supporting and opposing.

These questions on regionalism begin to explain the unease and rancor in Marin’s development politics. Marinites have a small but determined isolationist streak, and they are a bit more concerned about environmentalism than equity. When issues of affordable housing come up, arguments about social justice and social equity simply won’t hit as hard in San Rafael as they would in San Francisco. And when issues of regional mandates arise, this crosses into dangerous territory for those who are opposed to regional coordination and regional development planning.

But we need to look at how Marinites respond to specific development policies, and we’ll tackle that next time.

*As an aside, all homeowners get taxpayer help in the form of federal and state tax breaks, from the mortgage interest tax deduction to the stabilizing influence of Proposition 13.

Cross-posted to Vibrant Bay Area and Patch.