Microblogging, expanded

gum wall

by 1yen, on Flickr

Yesterday, I realized I have more ideas for blog posts than I have time to do them. I’m in the middle of a series of posts on Larkspur Landing – I have two more to go – and the issue of affordable housing has reared its ugly and nonsensical head once again in Marin. I’ve also started blogging about the broader region at our sister site, Vibrant Bay Area. Unless one of you wants to pay me, you’re probably not going to get as much analysis as you or I would like to see.

Thankfully, I’m on a microblogging site you may have heard of called Twitter, so I condensed them down into a series of hypotheses. Though I’m confident there is enough data to back up these statements, I haven’t investigated them to confirm that my hunches are correct.

Pardon the swear here. Bicycling, if it’s going to take off in the US, needs to be more than some paint on the side of the road. Known in California as the Class II bike lane, the bike lane is far better than nothing but far worse than ideal. To me, if you’re uncomfortable riding a cargo bike on it, or if you wouldn’t send your 8-year-old to school on it, then it’s not good enough to put cars and bikes at parity.

Cities are not isolated pockets around subway stations. They are integrated fabrics. San Francisco is walkable even far from BART stations, when the only transit is a bus. Since most of the Bay Area is designed around retail strips like El Camino Real, upzoning plans need to take that into consideration. Bubbles of walkability, like Santana Row in San Jose or the BART transit villages, don’t encourage people to live car-free lifestyles, only a car-free commute. By connecting high-density rail-oriented areas with moderate density bus-oriented areas, the Bay Area could improve its mode share mix immensely.

The term “hipster” has become so over-used it’s lost what little meaning it once had. Hipsters are supposed to save the city (a simplification of Richard Florida’s theory of the creative class) and destroy the city (a simplification of Joel Kotkin’s opposite theory). They’re poor and unproductive one moment, rich and entitled the next. The latest in this devolving debate has Richard Florida positing that a lot of creative class types in a single city lowers income inequality. Joel Kotkin responded with a glorified, Told you so, which led to a Florida response of, No, idiot.

Through it all, I just wish people would leave the poor/rich/entitled/gentrifying/unproductive saviors of our society alone. Income inequality is more complicated than theories of cities, and no single class of people is the salvation or damnation of our society.

And stop calling them hipsters.

Actually, it probably won’t. In occurred to me that urbanism was the pursuit of maximum efficiency of access within the constraints of the age. In our age, those constraints are principally about preservation of land, character, history, and preexisting residential neighborhoods. In other ages these were sunlight and fresh air; defensibility; or access to water.

I define access as the number of destinations within a given travel time by a given mode, and I define efficiency as minimizing negative externalities and maximizing positive externalities in the course of one’s daily routine. That’s too technical. In other words, how much does our urban design pollute? How much does it make us healthier or sicker? How much land does it use up? How much does it cost? And so on.

My definition could be rephrased. Urbanism is the pursuit of the most access at the least cost to ourselves and to our environment within a community’s chosen or necessary constraints. Decisions from transportation to zoning hang from this.

The East Bay has a wealth of rail infrastructure. It has two parallel passenger rail lines running from Richmond to Fremont and branches going in all directions, while the Peninsula has only one rail line going north-south. The Peninsula’s rail capacity will be constrained by the blended Caltrain-High Speed Rail plan, while the East Bay’s capacity will not be.

Rather than pursue BART expansions and inefficient ferry service to San Francisco, it should bolster its Amtrak and ACE service to be true rapid transit in parallel to BART and Caltrain. It should restructure its zoning to encourage new neighborhoods to develop for San Franciscans fleeing ludicrous rents. And it should invite tech companies to build new neighborhoods around their train stations instead of new office parks in the middle of nowhere.

Each of these ideas should be pursued, but I fear I must decline the call. That shouldn’t stop you from heeding the call, of course. If you agree, or even if you disagree, pitch me a story on one of these themes. I might end up running it.

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Mid-Week Links: Halls of Power

Marin County Civic Center

by Amanda Tomlin

Elections

It was a crazy night on Tuesday, if by crazy you mean “everyone stayed home.” Whether or not people had a say, the elections happened anyway and Marin’s incumbents did rather well.

  • Nationally, assemblyman and Woolsey-endorsed successor Jared Huffman ran away with first place in the 2nd District’s first round election. Still undecided is whether the centrist will run against liberal Norm Solomon or conservative Dan Roberts which could decide whether the race is quite difficult or quite easy for the former state assemblyman. (IJ, Press-Democrat)
  • In California, Assemblyman Michael Allen and San Rafael Councilmember Marc Levine beat the rest of the pack to  first and second place in the open primary for the 10th Assembly seat. The Democrat-on-Democrat battle promises to be bruising as both fight over who is more of a Sacramento outsider and genuine local of the North Bay. (Press-Democrat)
  • Marin County Supervisors Katie Rice and Steve Kinsey walked away with clear victories against their opponents, reflecting the prevailing feelings of contentment with the Board, if not the regional agencies it deals with. (IJ)
  • Locally…: Ross rejected the Measure C public safety tax while seeming to settle on three new councilmembers. (IJ) … Belvedere got three new councilmembers and renewed its public safety tax. (IJ) … Voters firmly rejected incumbent Ross Valley Sanitary District board member Marcia Johnson, who supported doubling rates in order for the district to fix its lines faster than once per century. (IJ) … The Ross Valley School District will get its parcel tax hike, which it said it needed to offset state budget cuts. (IJ) … Sausalito will join the Southern Marin Fire Protection District. (Marinscope)

Marin County

  • Hopes are running high that fans of the San Rafael Pacifics will become patrons of downtown businesses given Albert Field’s location only three blocks from Fourth Street. (NBBJ)
  • GGT fares are growing faster than tolls at the Golden Gate Bridge, creating a perverse incentive for people to drive rather than take the bus. Though politically easy, it’s the opposite of what the Bridge District should do. (Streetsblog)
  • Meanwhile, MT is wringing its hands over a 3.6% increase in operating costs, driven mostly by increases in its $16 million contract with GGT to provide local service. They want to renegotiate the contract, but it’s unclear whether GGT will budge. (IJ)
  • San Rafael’s Street Crimes Unit is up for disbandment as the council grapples with ongoing budget deficits. The three-member unit has two retirements this year and the council may not allow the police department to hire replacements. Given the high-profile crime push at the transit center earlier this year, ongoing gang activity in Terra Linda, the Canal, Novato, and the criminal problems downtown, I think this is an instance of eating your seed corn. (Patch)
  • All your transit needs will now be satisfied at the new GGT/MT customer service center at the Bettini Transit Center. GGT will move its customer service center to the center so it can be close to the people who actually use transit. (IJ)
  • Marin’s local agencies and districts should consolidate to avoid duplication of services and save money, according to a Grand Jury report on the subject. The overwhelming approval of fire consolidation in Sausalito this past week is a good start. One former councilmember wants us to go even further. (Patch, Marinscope)
  • A Corte Madera manufacturing company, EO Products, is moving to the Canal after an exhaustive search of the region. The site is near existing transit and within walking distance of much of the immigrant neighborhood. (IJ)
  • A year after Corte Madera Mayor Bob Ravasio and San Rafael Councilmember Damon Connolly got a tour of The Netherlands’ bike infrastructure, sponsored by the Bikes Belong Foundation, there seems to still be some behind-the-scenes movement towards bicycling. (Planetizen, Bikes Belong)
  • And…: The San Rafael Airport sports complex moves on to the council. (IJ) … Mill Valley approved some condos downtown over the objection of Streamkeepers. (IJ) … Who does the North San Rafael Coalition of Residents really represent? (IJ letter)

The Greater Marin

  • At least one West Sonoman wants the county to sell its western half to Marin. At least we maintain our rural roads, he says, while Sonoma is determined to turn its roads into gravel. In light of a massive road repair deficit and deadlock over taxes, though, who could blame them? (Press-Democrat)
  • The East Bay is working to promote transit-oriented living around its BART stations, something long lacking in the sprawl of the East. Not mentioned are updates to Richmond’s General Plan which attempt to make walkable the notoriously unwalkable city. (New Colonist, City of Richmond)