Mill Valley Herald April 7–13, 1993
Last week’s interview with Architect Peter Calthorpe touched on some of the economic consequences of short-sighted land use policy. This column touches on some political and policy problems.
We have no technological problems with providing the answers. Architects and engineers can design cost efficient housing and transit solutions. Build it and they will comeapplies as well to the heavy on the brown mustard, hot dog eating baseball fan, as to the American desiring enjoyable and affordable housing and transportation. The snobbish estate dweller, however, doesn’t want one blade of grass touched in his Fields of Green to allow Joe Sixpack to live nearby.
Houseboat liver Calthorpe’s architectural work hinges on the belief that:
“We need to design communities and housing for a more diverse cross section. We need to think about affordability in terms of transportation as well as mortgage and rental costs. This all adds up to design that is more integrated– mixed-use, walkable communities where every trip doesn’t have to be in an automobile.”
This week’s column refers to the decade long 101 Corridor Study Plan which, wounded from its Transit Tax defeat in 1990, stumbles along. That plan concluded that Rail/Highway & Bus/Highway transit alternatives would yield the most effective transit solutions for Marin and Sonoma counties.
Rail and Pedestrian Pocket developments offer an invigorating symbiotic mix for what ails our nation today. The diversity and self-sufficiency offered in Pedestrian Pockets is given environmentally sound travel mobility when built adjacent to a rail line. Being able to move from one PP to another, or to a shopping center while viewing patches of open space in between, or to work in the big city–offers economy, free time and pleasure– three gifts lacking when strapped behind a freeway wheel.
What hinders Pedestrian Pockets implementation?
Main hindrance is inertia. Inertia of: existing zoning regulations, existing vested land use designations, a financial community which feels safest repeating last year’s products, and developers who only want to deal with their isolated site rather. than regional concerns. And, quite honestly, the inertia of envinonnienta1ists who see their role in resisting any development rather than defining and advocating an ecological pattern of growth for an entire region.
The sum total of this inertia is what propels a pattern of growth which we know is bad for the environment, costly to communities, individually and socially stressful, and quite frankly, esthetically repugnant to most. But we do it anyway.
How do PPs fit with the 101 Corridor Committee’s two preferred alternatives — Rail/Highway and Bus/Highway?
A difficult question. I believe ultimately a healthy pattern of growth for a region will require and sustain light rail. If the BART study’s 40% utilization can be generated by PPs, this demand could only be satisfied by light rail. But it is a bit of the chicken and egg problem — how do we get there from here? If PPs are built without light rail, they would generate too much auto traffic. Without PPs, light rail would have a very low ridership and need to be heavily subsidized.
It is the transition time that is tricky. One scenario would use the right-of-way for express buses and carpools while the PPs are developing. When they mature and the ridership is high, a light rail should be installed. The danger, of course, is that it would never be installed and the pressures to turn the bus way into an auto expressway would be great. Although less efficient in the short run, I favor the light rail as a way of committing our growth to this compact transit oriented future configuration.
If we look 20-30 years down the road, we know we have to make such an investment. Even though it seems expensive now, it will be just more expensive later. I recently read that the CEO of Exxon expected to be out of the oil business by 2010 because US oil reserves would be depleted by then. We must plan our communities with that perspective in mind.
How much of Marin and Sonoma’s projected population do you believe could be housed in PPs?
Anywhere from 50-70% of the Association of Bay Area Governments’ projections could fit in viable sites for both counties. The numbers are much lower for Marin because we have only a few viable sites left. Sonoma, however, has a great capacity for this type of development. The Marin sites along the North West Pacific right-of-way are limited by their adjacency to wetlands. Sonoma really doesn’t have this limitation north of Petaluma.
So the concept is not to eliminate all of our single family subdivisions and office parks, but merely to create a land use pattern that offers an alternative to people in businesses seeking more convenient accessibility and more affordable options.
Does Marin still have time to do this?
Unfortunately, in Marin these sites are dropping by the wayside as they develop oriented toward the freeway or lower density single use activities. The fabric of these developments should be diverse–townhouses, condos, elderly and young, in-law and rental units. We don’t need to build isolated, segregated apartment blocks. We should be integrating our needs for private ownership with the need for affordable rental, housing for elderly and college students by allowing in-law apartments in our communities.
Mixed-use zones, where you have jobs and retail, must be the center these developments. Our current land use policies segregate our land uses, we must get away from that. Diversity is the idea. Ground floor retail. Second floor apartments.
Most popular office parks are now integrating retail and services. In the East Bay a lot of the areas that are being focused toward carpooling understand that if they want people to carpool they have to create a pedestrian environment for their mid-day and afternoon trips.