Pedestrian pockets

Mill Valley Herald  March 15–21, 1993

Meandering by Dwayne Hunn

This Is the first of a series, of columns on land use and transit problems facIng the North Bay, as well as the nation. Whether you live In San Rafael, Novato, Ross, Mill Valley or a big city, the way we use our most basic resource–the land– affects you, your loved ones and the environment. If you have comments, address them to Letters to the Editor or to the columnist.

 Across much of our nation short-sighted land use and transit planning burdens us with traffic congestion and longer commutes. In a failing economy, when the. full cost of car ownership is added to the cost of insufficient affordable housing not dependent on a car for work, the sum soon adds homeless, cardboard shacks and Safeway carts to the streets.

With one clogged artery running through its verdant body. Maria County frustrates workers pumping the North Bay’s economic life blood. With its penchant for downzoning developments to allow only pricey estates, Marin has a dearth of affordable housing. Each feeds off the other, sapping the diversity that provides quality and economic security to life.

Like the human body, what you put into the region’s body determines Its health. As one of the richest counties in the world, Marin fools itself by believing only exclusive estates and lack of diversity make a healthy economy.

Answers exist. Answer-givers live in our backyards. But politics and lack of visionary leadership, keep the answers out of town.

Sausalito architect Peter Calthorpe has been offering us an answer for more than 10 years, yet Marin politics has stopped him from doing a Pedestrian Pocket answer In his backyard. Recognized nationally, he is one of the members of the St. Vincent’s-Silveira Design Competition Review Board, which is looking across the nation for land use answers for one of Marine most significant pieces of land.

Marinites concerned about traffic, the environment and a jobs-housing balance should know the. benefits of Pedestrian Pocket development. The next three columns as. drawn from updated Interviews I did with Peter Calthorpe for our North Bay Transportation Management Association’s 1990 Land Use Conference.

What are Pedestrian Pockets?

 A simple and old strategy that builds communities around a mix of jobs,  housing and recreational activities. Our traditional towns were designed around pedestrians to provide a mix of walking, biking, mass transit, auto use and recreation. Recreating that mix Is the goal of pedestrian pockets. Beyond transportation, however, the goal of the pedestrian pocket (PP) concept is to cluster development and thereby save valuable open space and environmentally sensitive lands.

Hand in hand with transportation and land use objectives rides the Issue of affordability In housing end its corollary – a healthy regional economy. it has been shown time and time again — regions which do not balance jobs with appropriate and affordable housing lose their economic base. The loss occurs In both public services and in overall market place activity. Pedestrian pockets go a long way toward creating diversity and opportunity for affordable housing by creating more affordable life styles, as well as by reducing housing development casts.

PP’s three goals are: 1) support alternative transportation without denylng  the car; 2) cluster development to preserve open space/ag land and sensitive areas; 3) provide a development pattern which Is efficient and, thereby, affordable to a, broader range of citizens.

Physically, the PP is bounded by a .not-so-arbitrary 1/4 mille walking radius from the town’ center, which should include neighborhood retail, jobs and a transit station. Within the 14 mile, which is equivalent to about 100 acres of land, there could be 1,000 to 2,000 units of housing and up to 3,000 jobs. Beyond the simple mix and clustering of activities Is a critical design factor– design for the pedestrian.

In most of our suburban growth we seemed to have lost the talent for designing spaces, streets and plazas which are comfortable and enjoyable to walk in. It Is not enough to just have a destination within walking range. We must also begin to rediscover the scale and quality of our traditional pedestrian world. For example, a store or transit stop may be within walking distance, but if you have to cross a four-lane arterial and acres of parking to get there few people take the trouble. Therefore, the essential ingredient for a PP becomes a mix of uses and activities that results In a highly refined pedestrian environment. This pedestrian environment must also allow for free access of the auto in all areas.

Why did you develop the Pedestrian Pocket idea for the NWP right-of-way?

I had been working on the concept of ecological and sustainable communities for many years. Its so doing, It became apparent to me that no matter how efficiently or ecologically Isolated communities or stand-alone towns were designed, they would fail because It was unlikely that people would live and work in the same place.  So it occurred to me that we needed  a corridor of sustainable communities that were linked, so that people could get from one to the other without having to use their car. The North West Pacific right-of-way offered such an opportunity.

A very important study just completed on BART has documented that 40 percent of people who live and work within five minutes walking distances of a BART station, use BART. Only I percent of those who live outside of that five minute walking radius use BART. This Is significant because BART stations are not even designed to be walked to. They are designed for the car.

In a Pedestrian Pocket one may have 3,000 job opportunities, but if the NWP right-of-way were developed with a series of PP’s, one could have 60,000 job opportunities within walking distance of the transit line. Those numbers allow one to conclude that transit would become usable and convenient. So the guiding block of the concept has to be a transit corridor.

 What’s the benefit of PPs to Marin and Sonoma?

 Benefit would include: reduced traffic on 101, land use patterns would support and make viable a mass transit system, the preserving of open space and the opportunity to provide more affordable housing and more desirable job location. It’s becoming apparent that many businesses would rather locate in mixed use areas than in isolated office parks. They understand that areas In which people can walk for their midday errands are desirable. They also understand that a region which has a good balance between affordable housing and jobs provides them a better work force.


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