How we allocate street space

A painting that has been going around the internet for the past week dramatizes the pedestrian view of our streets and how we allocate space.

Image by Karl Jilg

Image by Karl Jilg

The drawing, by Swedish artist Karl Jilg and commissioned by the Swedish Road Administration, was forwarded to me by a friend (who found it on Vox). Streets, it says, are yawning chasms of death, no-go zones with only thin strips along the edges where we can exist as people on foot rather than people sitting behind the wheel.

It makes sense, then, that a barrier of parallel-parked cars would make us feel safer (as Jeff Speck notes in his book Walkable Cities), and that very wide streets with a lot of road frontage taken over by car space would feel very unwelcoming.

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New on the IJ: Housing close to transit hubs is a time-tested model

Last week, IJ columnist Dick Spotswood wrote that he had a revelation: The best ways to provide new homes in Marin are to add housing to downtowns, emulate downtown forms, and add second units.

It may have been a revelation to him, but it’s not news to the Coalition for a Livable Marin — CALM. We’ve been advocating for just such an approach since we were founded.

Spotswood wrote the foreword to Bob Silvestri’s pro-sprawl manifesto, but he’s starting to understand the wisdom of Marin’s small, dense, rail-oriented downtowns.

Up until the 1940s, Marin was built to maximize ridership on our old light-rail system, the Interurban. Planners put high-density commercial and residential buildings right up next to stations and less-dense homes farther out.

The layout was deliberate. While people today often drive from parking space to parking space on their way home to run errands, yesteryear’s Marinites would walk from shop to shop to run errands on the walk home.

People taking Golden Gate Transit can often still do that, especially at one of the downtown hubs. Take the 27 from the Financial District to San Anselmo, pop into Andronico’s or Comfort’s for the night’s dinner, then walk home.

Most wonderful about this sort of development is how it’s used when people aren’t commuting. Kids can stop by the doughnut shop on a Saturday, parents can watch the street from the coffee shop, and seniors can live their days seeing neighbors and family without ever setting foot in a car.

Marin ought to encourage people to live in places like this, not just for the sake of affordable housing or greenhouse gas emissions but for the health of the town.

Continue reading on MarinIJ.com

RVSD board member pushes parking in Larkspur

According to a source trusted by The Greater Marin, Ross Valley Sanitary District (RVSD) Board Member Frank Egger wants to convert RVSD-owned land at Larkspur Landing from a 120-unit residential area to a 600-space parking lot, presumably to serve the Larkspur Ferry Terminal (LFT). To make this possible, Egger is pressing Larkspur officials to change the zoning on the RVSD parcel.

While it’s no great secret that LFT has a parking shortage, Egger’s idea is exceptionally foolish from almost any angle.

District Finances – RVSD has a crushing maintenance backlog and huge financial problems. Developing its residentially-zoned property for either sale or lease would provide a much-needed cash influx to the agency. While parking fees would generate some income to the district, it is significantly less than what 120 homes could bring in. Parking simply doesn’t generate the income development does, and that’s not to mention sales or property taxes to Larkspur.

Traffic – A new lot of 600 parking spaces would generate as many as 600 extra rush hour car trips. A development of 120 new homes would generate, at most, 240 rush hour car trips, though likely much less given the proximity to the ferry. If Egger is concerned about traffic, parking will be worse than homes.

Ferry Ridership – The new lot would generate up to 600 peak-period, peak-direction ferry trips, precisely the sort of trip the system has little capacity to accommodate. The 120 homes would generate up to 120 (more likely less than 100) similar trips. However, if built to attract visitors, the homes could complement future new development that would attract reverse-peak and off-peak trips. Golden Gate Ferry desperately needs people to commute from San Francisco to Larkspur Landing for the service’s sustainability.

Frank Egger has led the charge against the Fairfax Housing Element, especially against allowing the downtown to expand into areas now dominated by parking (an idea that even Dick Spotswood endorsed). From his perch on the RVSD Board, Egger is continuing to push a cars-first ideology. He wouldn’t phrase it this way, but it’s clear he’d rather build homes for cars instead of homes for actual people.