Thursday, December 21, 2006
Monday, December 18, 2006
Monday, December 04, 2006
Deep in a discussion of bad movies and freaky fans was this interesting little tidbit on technology and manners:
|Lowtax||People on the internet, there's something on there, as soon as you log on, that gene inside of you that makes you argue over unimportant really trivial things just kicks in and takes over your brain I think.|
|Nelson||It's like climbing in a car. I used to commute by bike to work. And I was convinced, if people were driving convertibles, and you could actually look into their eyes, they would not do the things that they did, to nearly kill me every time. It's just you're in your little isolated bubble, and you have all the power, and nobody will know when I cut you off.|
You can listen to the whole interview, and learn Mike's nominee for absolutely worst movie of all time, here. (Be warned if you start getting drawn into SomethingAwful that there's a lot of not-work-safe material over there).
Thursday, November 30, 2006
If you'd like to vent a bit about that ticket price, enter www.cable-car-guy.com's contest to complete the sentence "San Francisco with a $5 cable car fare is a city...".
Send your entry in an email to email@example.com with the subject "Contest: San Francisco With a $5 Fare".
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
You will find that discussion is both intelligent and civil--quite a rarity on the internet.
The list is run by motorman/scholar/photographer Peter Ehrlich, a.k.a. "Milantram".
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
NIMBYs weigh in on project
I read an article in the Palo Alto Daily News titled, and I had to laugh.
As with any project which benefits the population at large, "local" residents are singing the tune, "Not in my backyard." It seems like Palo Alto and Menlo Park residents think that they have purchased some kind of inalienable right to remain insulated in their idyllic lives, while the rest of us shoulder the burden of maintaining it.
Expanding public transit directly benefits most Bay Area residents. Except, of course, those who don't commute to work and those who send the domestic help out to do their errands. It indirectly benefits all of us as it reduces the number of cars on the road, thereby improving our air quality, which isn't exactly great.
I live in Redwood City, I know how much of an inconvenience trains can be. Noisy? Yes. A safety issue? For the careless, again, yes. However, with an ever-growing population in the Bay Area, expanding the public transit system is necessary. In this case, the corridor is already in place. If they indeed can get 6,300 riders a day, it's a no-brainer.
Sometimes, you have to take one for the team. Even if you don't consider yourself part of it.
I was going to write something to that effect, but don't think I can top that. Rock on, Mr. Paul!
Friday, November 17, 2006
Thursday, November 16, 2006
Sunday, November 12, 2006
or something hip and pseudo-cryptic
or geographically improbable
or just plain juvenile.
My kid did that one. That's my story and I'm sticking with it.
Thursday, November 09, 2006
|There was good news and bad news in the last election, but to me, the narrow defeat of SMART was a bitter disappointment. My visions of riding train-to-ferry-to-train to kick off a weekend trip to Petaluma will have to be deferred.|
Some background: The Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit system is envisioned to run commuter trains (a.k.a. diesel light rail) between Cloverdale in northern Sonoma County and the ferry docks at Larkspur in Marin, via Santa Rosa, Petaluma, and Novato, reopening the long-idle Northwestern Pacific Railway Line. It was to be funded by a new 1/4 cent sales tax in the two counties, which required approval of 2/3 of voters in both, and came up short by about 1%. It had solid support in Sonoma county, but was less popular in Marin.
It strikes me as ironic that it only takes 50% of the vote to approve paying for infrastructure by running up billions in debt, while a financially responsible proposal that includes a tax to cover its expenses takes a 2/3, but that's the topsy-turvy world we live in.
Time is on the side of SMART. In a few years, traffic will likely be just enough worse to convince that last percent or two of voters that they need this train. But instead of just waiting for opinions to come around, SMART-proponents should be using this time to take a serious look at the objections that have been raised by detractors, and tailor their proposal to answer them next time around.
|Bus Rapid Transit would be cheaper||Real BRT, with service that would not get stuck in traffic, would require new bus-only lanes on the 101. This would could easily cost as much as rehabilitating an existing railway line.||The BRT alternative should be seriously studied. The advantages of rail should be demonstrated, not assumed.|
|Trains won't connect well with ferries||This is true, and to be honest, something that us boosters knew and hoped to work out after the system was up and runnig. Even though the proposed Larkspur station is only a theoretical five minute walk from the docks, probably 15-20 minutes would have to be allowed for a whole trainload of passengers, of various levels of mobility, to make the connection.||If possible, move the station closer to the docks. At the very least, put some thought into streamlining the connection: eliminate any street crossings or steps, make it wide enough for bikers and fast and slow walkers to get around each other safely, and make sure the gangplank to the ferry does not become a bottleneck. Also make sure that ticketing does not slow things down (sell tickes on board, rather than at a gate).|
|It will only benefit:||These are fair criticisms, and have their parallels throughout our region. Take a ride on CalTrain, and one on SamTrans, and you'll notice a definite demographic difference between the people who get to ride a train and the ones stuck slogging down El Camino on a bus.||SMART should be better integrated into existing transit, for example with free transfers between train and local busses. It should be bundled with other transportation improvements, such as speeding up bus lines (through dedicated lanes, or traffic signal pre-emption), and improving pedestrian friendliness of station neighborhoods. If carefully chosen, additions like this would not up the cost of the overall package too much, but would broaden its appeal--and "synergy" between busses, walking, and trains would boost SMART's ridership.|
|It will promote growth||Indeed, good transit promotes responsible growth, encouraging reuse and revitalization of existing cities over suburban sprawl. But there is a breed of "environmentalist", prevalent in places such as Marin County and Santa Barbara, to whom any growth is bad, not so much for its effects on the Earth but because it might make their own small piece of it more crowded.||These people are assholes, and there's no point reasoning with them, but emphasizing the ecological and economic benefits of transit will help undermine them. This is an area where support from the business community would help a lot--not in the usual form of campaign contributions, but by making pledges to put new places of employments near SMART stations instead of paving over farmland.|
|It will not relieve traffic congestion||This is true. Traffic always rises to meet the available supply of pavement. Transit doesn't really solve traffic problems, but it does solve transportation problems, by vastly increasing the overall capacity of the whole system.||Be upfront about this, and describe the benefits of transit in simple terms that are actually true: for example, that a single track railway can move as many people as ten lanes of a freeway--and that as more people ride trains, service actually becomes better and more cost effective, whereas more people driving just makes traffic suck even worse.|
The SMART board has vowed to take their case to voters again in 2008. Even changing nothing, their chances of a win are good--continued growth and economic upturn are likely to make traffic just that much worse, and a presidential election will probably bring more transit-friendly voters to the polls. Still, it would be a shame if they didn't take the next two years to actually listen to their opponents and make their proposal a little SMARTer.
Monday, November 06, 2006
Before you even think about the merits of what these propositions are purported to pay for, do some simple math: How much money are we talking about borrowing, and how many people live in California. Now imagine that your share of this debt, over $1000, was personally yours. This is a bit sobering if, like most of us, you've wrestled with credit card debt sometime in your life. And don't forget, if you're married, that's a cool grand of debt for each of you--not to mention your kids, who'll have to do their part to pay it off, even though they probably won't see any benefit. Certainly, any traffic relief that 1B will pay for will be long erased by the time my 6-year-old daughter will be old enough to drive, but she'll be paying off these 30-year bonds out of taxes from her first couple of jobs.
The claim that we can spend money on capital projects without raising taxes is only true if we take that money from somewhere else, like education, law enforcement, or (ironically) from the operating budgets of transportation systems. Duh!
Now turning to the proposals themselves--beyond being fiscally irresponsible, they are downright insulting. Through numerous means, our state leadership had led us to our current quagmire of un-affordable housing, smog, and nightmare commutes. Commercial and residential zoning policies have made long, solo drives to work the only commuting options available to most Californians. And now we're being asked to pony up to perpetuate this mess.
Even if some good may come from this spending (1B throws a few bones to transit, 1C will give cheap digs to a few needy souls), I'm urging you to vote no on all of this crap, and tell our state government to actually fix what's broken: incent employers to make workplaces accessible without driving, force cities to allow enough housing to meet demand, and make drivers pay for the real cost of highways on a miles-driven basis.
Sunday, November 05, 2006
Don't people usually make knockoffs of good movies?
Anyway, what's really funny here is, if you look closely, you can see it's a CalTrain engine pulling that train!
Here's the IMDB Article for Snakes on a Train.
We've paid good money to see worse...
Oh, MST3K, where are you when we need you?
Monday, October 30, 2006
There's lots of well-paved paths through nice scenery with enough ups and downs to give you a workout. You can eventually work your way over to the main gate on Junipero Serra/Foothill.
I was a chilly morning, and the only people I saw were a totally indifferent groundskeeper and a few golfers who waved as they went by in their cart.
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
Fortunately we brought reading material to pass the time til our train,
and some yogurt to eat on the trip.
She got to hold the camera too:
Monday, October 23, 2006
Today I walked around Mountain View--I walked, instead of biked, because I'm still a little dizzy from a bonk I got last night ice-skating. Generally, when I fall skating, it's forwards, which can hurt a bit, but usually I just end up polishing the ice with my shirt, like some sort of human Zamboni. Last night I tried to learn t-stops, which involves leaning backwards, and clearly I don't have it quite down yet. I wasn't in a hurry anyway, so I took a walk through the decidedly non-creepy back alleys of Mountain View.
There were a few interesting architectural oddities along the way, which I'll take pictures of sometime and post on my nkncat blog, like a rustic garage with cow skull over the door. Yee haw! Eventually I ended up at the California Street Market at California and Mariposa, and picked up a lunch that's a bit of a compromise between the yummy but not so healthy stuff I used to eat, and my current palate: one tamal, a large V8, and a banana. All very portable, so I dined al fresco and continued my tour, looped around more quaint neighborhoods, and eventually back to work.
Monday, October 16, 2006
First, here's a useful figures on what a good ratio of employment to housing should be. Nationwide, the Census counted 281,421,906 residents, of whom 128,168,928 were enployed; that's 2.19 residents per employee. In California, the figures were 33,871,648 residents, 14,506,499 emploeyees, or 2.33 residents per employee.
So that means that cities should, on average, provide room for 2.33 residents per person they create space for the employment of. How do local cities measure up? I looked at a sample of cities starting with San Francisco, and working down the Hwy 101/CalTrain corridor. I took population and employment figures from the Census spreadsheets, figured a population need based on the employment figures times 2.33, and a housing surplus/deficit by subtracting the actual population:
It's not surprising that San Francisco has a housing deficit, since its downtown has been developing as a commute destination from surrounding cities for over a hundred years now. But, whereas in times past, suburban "bedroom" communities provided enough of a "housing surplus" to offset the "housing deficit" of core cities, it's clear the peninsula and valley cities don't come close, and some--especially quintissential "Silicon Valley" cities like Palo Alto and Santa Clara, have developed into major commute targets themselves, while adding very little in the way of new housing. The result is a huge, region-wide, deficit of housing.
How big is the problem? Let's take a look at figures for the five counties that make up the urban core of the Bay Area:
So the Bay Area basically is short of housing to the point of needing to make room for about a million and a quarter more people. The average household in California (according to the Census Bereau again) is 2.93 people, so that works out to about a half million housing units.
If you're wondering where you can move to get away from this mess here's some figures for counties in the "greater Bay Area":
These figures reflect decades of bad planning and willful blindness to a growing problem. The result for most of us is choice between exhorbitant housing costs and nightmare commutes, or some "compromise" between them. As I wrote in the manifest that I opened this blog with, a solution to this problem will require leadership beyond the parochial interests of individual cities. Our state government should incent cities to provide housing proportionate to their commercial space--by whatever carrots or sticks will get the job done.
Monday, October 02, 2006
The other day I was riding around my neighborhood on my bike with a camera. I have the (in my opinion) misfortune to live one block away from Atherton, a township with super-rich residents. The minimum size of a housing lot is one acre, and in the Bay Area, that's unusual. There's also absolutely zero commercial zoning, nor do they have a public school. I don't know how they swing that legally, but they do. I live in your typical middle class suburb; it's an immediate transition from regular folks to the likes of the CEO of Google.
So here's my bicycle tour of Atherton.
First, they have this sort of nonsense. I'm convinced it's so you can't give easy directions so it cuts down on the riff raff.
Oh look, it's greenery recycling day! They get pickup once a week in Atherton, which is a good thing, because it takes this many containers to clear those lawns of pesky leaves every week. To be fair, this is for two houses, so that's only 6-7 containers each per week. We barely fill up one container every two weeks, and we have a big oak tree in our yard.
Then there's the creative folks, like these people, who have TV screens in their outside property wall. They turn them on at night - I've seen vacation photos, regular TV shows, and weird art shots of bloodshot eyes. Oddly, all the TV screens have been bombed by birds. Why? A mystery for the ages.
See? It's a pretty house, except for the color. It's not really showing how putrid it looks in person in this picture. It's stucco - yellowish, greenish, brownish stucco.
Now here's a little fixer-upper.
You can't really see it in the picture, but the windows are broken out and it's obviously been abandoned for a long time. Gotta love the fake timber x's and all that. What would you pay for this little home improvement project?
A cool 3.9 million and it's yours. It's not like this is on the bay, or the Pacific, or even on top of a hill. There is no awesome view, it's just a big lot on a quiet street, in the "right" neighborhood.
Construction is always going on in Atherton. There's more home improvement permits issued in Atherton than there are lots. On this bike ride I passed seven of those portable taco trucks -- I counted. There's that many crews at work on any given day.
The funny thing is you're probably thinking this is for a basement, right? Well, basements are pretty rare in California, but I have seen this more than once in Atherton. My guess is that this is for the underground garage. Probably so that the owner can house his or her classic car collection.
So a little closer to the polo fields is this little gem, which made me laugh out loud. It just looked funny to stick some cheap patio furniture in the middle of a vacant lot, but I suppose it makes sense. The realtor has to have somewhere to sit on Open House day.
How much would you pay for this landlocked, middle-of-nothing-special lot? There's plenty of room for your 10,700 square foot dream house. You'll only have to be paying property taxes on this amount, though:
I can't diss Atherton, though, because it gives me a flat, nearly carless place to ride my bike as fast as I want. Wee!
Friday, September 22, 2006
Nattering with my wife on the way to Menlo Park, where she swims & I catch the train.
Eating a yogurt at the station.
Drawing model railroad trackplans, in PowerPoint, on the train.
To the conductor who announced Palo Alto by singing it (terribly), and Kalifoania Ahvenue in an impersonation of Arnold Schwarzenegger: thank you!
It was a nice day for a bike ride across Sunnyvale, on the way to the bank.
It was also a nice surprise to find, in the soulless wasteland of office parks we call Silicon Valley, a hole-in-the-wall used book store, that's really cheap!
And biking parallel to the 101 on a frontage road, and easily beating everyone stuck in traffic. Ha! Server you right, you Earth-hating bastards!
Getting on the Stevens Creek Trail, not getting a flat tire, and stopping for a drink of water and a Key Lime Luna Bar (yum, and thanks, Hon!) on the Central Expwy/CalTrain/VTA overpass. Where else can you get such a good view of all the cool eletrical stuff on the roof of those light rail trains?
Picking up Tamales for lunch (to be suitably balanced with salad) at a muy autentico Mexican market in Mountain View.
Don't worry, I'll be w@h later tonight.
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
It is clear by now that global warming is real, and that its effects, such as the innundation of lowlying cities, and desertification of farmland, may be catastrophic. Probably millions of lives are in the balance. This network of charlatans has slowed down honest debate about this problem for over a decade. Like pirates or torturers, they are enemies of all mankind, willing to betray their species' future for cash. They need to be called out and publicly shamed.
Years of dry academic writing leave me ill-fit for over-the-top speechifying, but I would tell them something to the effect of this speech from Roger Corman's It Conquered the World:
| ||This is your land, your world. Your hands are human but your mind is enemy. You're a traitor... The greatest traitor of all time. And you know why? Because you're not betraying part of mankind - you're betraying all of it.|
A local (that is, S.F. Bay Area) historical preservation agency is choosing projects to fund by letting people vote for them on the internet.
I'm voting for Market Street Ry. car no 798, and encourage my fellow trolley fans to log in and do so too!
To vote, go to the Partners in Preservation website (you will have to register). 798 is listed as "San Francisco Streetcar 798" in the pulldown list ballot.
For more info on car 798, take a look at the (modern) Market Street Ry.'s website (the new MSR is a streetcar restoration group which works with San Francisco's MUNI to support the F line; they are named after the historical MSR, a former, privately-owned streetcar company, originally a competitor to the MUNI and later merged into it).
As you might guess from the checkered MUNI/MSR logos I'm using as my background on this blog, this is one of my favorite streetcars. If it wins this grant, we might all be able to take a ride on it someday soon!
Monday, September 11, 2006
The trouble turned out to be a grade crossing accident, in which an ice-cream vendor rode his tricycle ice-cream/elados cart around lowered crossing arms, and was hit and killed by a train. Typically between one and two dozen people are killed by CalTrain each year. Strictly speaking, railroad crossings are very safe. If you go when you're supposed to, you'll be fine--with considerably more certainty than you can say that about crossing a busy street. With almost no exceptions, people hit by trains either wanted to be, or were being incredibly stupid.
When these things happen, transit riders and railway boosters have a tendency to mutter cynically about Darwin awards, but these lives have value, and anyone who likes trains should be concerned with making them a safe part of the environment, even if that means protecting people from themselves. And there are reasons to pay attention to this problem beyond the purely humanitarian. First of all, let me tell you that as a passenger, these accidents can really mess up your day, both in terms of your schedule and mood. Second, we should have some sympathy for the crews that have to deal with them; consider that: an Engineer is likely to kill someone within their first year on the job, and they say that suicides often make eye contact just before impact (yikes!); conductors, on the other hand, get the job of walking the length of the train to find the victim. Finally: the perceived danger of trains is a major political obsticle to extending rail transit.
Complete grade separation is the ultimate solution to this problem, but on obscenely expensive one. If we make it a requirement for new transit projects, we run the risk of turning worthwhile simple projects into expensive boondoggles, choosing suboptimal routes to avoid expense, or killing them altogether. BART, which must be 100% grade separated because of its third-rail electrification and automatic train control, provides several good examples from recent or proposed extensions:
- SFO: Although the line was built using an existing railroad grade, the need for grade separation meant that it was tunnelled under this right-of-way the whole difference, at a cost of $1.5 billion. The rather lower-than-predicted ridership makes this heavy investment look like a foolish one. For comparison, Los Angeles' new Orange Line busway was also built recycling an old railway right-of-way, for about a third the cost of BART's SFO extension, has about the same daily ridership, and is considered a resounding success.
- San Jose: The cost of this line, $6 billion (the VTA and the Merc keep saying 4, but the FTA estimated 6, and I figure when it comes to public works projects, you should take the highest estimate and then add some), has just about killed it. It's not like there are any geographical barriers between Fremont and San Jose; in fact, there are already several railways between them. The expense of this project is purely due to the requirement that the line be elevated or tunnelled the entire distance.
- Livermore: BART gets to the edge of Livermore, and ends with a station in the 580 median. It would be nice to extend it downtown, where it could connect with ACE and a few people might actually live within walking distance of the station, but locals doesn't want elevated tracks and the idea of building a subway in Livermore is just silly. Likely the line will be extended farther east, in the conveniently grade-separated but inconveniently located freeway median, competing with ACE instead of connecting with it.
- Fence right-of-ways wherever possible: As a bare minimum, people should kept away from tracks in places where there is no legitimate reason to be on them.
- Elimenate little-used cross-streets: People can drive a few extra blocks to the next street that goes through. If it's too far to walk, build a pedestrian bridge.
- Red-light-cameras at all crossings: Snap a picture of anyone who drives around crossing gates, and send them a hefty ticket. Repeat offenders, or anyone stupid enough to do it in a truck, should be instantly and permanently stripped of their license.
- Near-side-stopping: Arrange platforms so that trains stop to pick up passengers before crossing a street, not after. That way they'll naturally be moving more slowly, and under better control, as they cross, to the extent that less obnoxious warning devices than the usual bells and horns might be used.
- Use less scary vehicles: I'm not kidding. People don't seem to kill themselves by jumping in front of light rail trains, probably because they don't look as lethal. And being less threatening, they'd likely be more welcome in the community.
These are cheap measures that could save a few lives. Of course, as trains increase in speed and number, there comes a time where the cost of grade separation becomes necessary. Even then, there are several approaches to choose from, with different tradeoffs of cost and effect on the environment. I'll look at some of these in a future post.
Sunday, September 10, 2006
I ♥ poop
As I've mentioned, my daughter is 6, and I think this may have been the highpoint of the trip for her.
Unfortunately other bits of the graffiti were gross in less child-appropriate ways, so we found another place to sit.
Monday, September 04, 2006
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
After a pleasant evening of bike maintenance I found myself in this predicament, much too late to run to the store for soap.
On a vague hunch that it would be slightly abrasive, I tried washing my hands with toothpaste.
I can report that they are thoroughly degreased, and minty fresh!
Sunday, August 20, 2006
Goddamn NIMBYsI misremembered the train schedule the other morning, and passed some time waiting for the actual time of my train at Crêpes Café in Menlo Park (I will definitely add this place to my "where to eat" list below) with a cup of coffee and a local paper.
The top story in the Palo Alto Daily News was the organization of a new NIMBY group to fight for reduced housing in the to-be-redeveloped Alma Plaza shopping center. This comes after the P.A. city council has already convinced the developers to put in fewer housing units and more parking (you would think it was cars that vote in elections, not people).
I've seen NIMBY's in action, and it's not pretty. At a Mountain View council meeting I spoke at a few years ago on redevelopment of Mayfield/HP site at San Antonio CalTrain, they came out in force carrying signs with EIR in the universal circle-and-slash symbol for "no"--meaning that the city should refuse to do an environmental impact report, to prevent even consideration of the project--essentially, because didn't want it, no other arguments needed.
|It's the same story up and down the Peninsula. Last year Redwood City voters stopped a new bayfront development that would have "sacrificed the character of the community" (the site is currently filled by a junkyard). As the no-on-Q graphic to the left makes clear--there is a breed of suburbanite NIMBY that loathes anything urban, and insists that residency gives them absolute veto rights over any development in their vicinity that does not meet their vision of suburban idyll.|
And pretty much, our political system gives it to them. Zoning laws give a city's current residents control over what gets built, and no voice whatever to those who might want to live there, even if they work there, perhaps commuting long distances. And lest I bash the burbs too much, residents of cities like San Francisco and Berkeley have been just have adamant, and just as successful, in opposing development that would make them any more urban or denser.
Economic DownsidesThe result is the extreme shortage of housing we now face. It's really quite striking how consistent the cities of our region are in their opposition to new housing. Where densification is allowed, it is always winnowed down, constrained and held up by years of review. The simple and sobering fact is, the Bay Area needs several million more housing units just to meet current demand, let alone allow predictable growth, but every community seems to hope that it will get built somewhere else.
It's important to remember that the high price of housing here is entirely artificial. Land, of course, is limited, and it's reasonable to expect that amenities such as large houses or yards should be expensive. But the scarcity of housing units--even ones that take up less land, like rowhouses, condos, or apartments, is simply due to cities refusal to allow more to be built.
The result is a distorted marketplace where the price of any unit is inflated. Recently, two houses on my street sold in the $700-800k range. Strangely, one was nearly twice as big as the other, and on twice as big a lot, but this didn't make that big a difference in the price--because the it's not land per se, or square footage of house that's in scarce supply--it's legally sanctioned housing units. Thus a shack on half-size lot has almost as much value as a big house on a double-sized one, even though, zoning aside, the latter could be split up into two of the former.
For a more methodical study with the same conclusions as my two-house anecdote, read here.
RemediesThe result is a form of economic discrimination which makes cities and whole regions unaffordable to ordinary, working people. It's a subtler form of exclusion than, say, burning crosses on folks' lawns, but just as effective. It also appears to be legal. Discrimination in housing, as in other areas of life, based on race, creed, etc is against civil rights laws (see, for example, this Department of Justice webpage). Discrimination based on wealth is not. Capitalism would collapse if it were.
But shelter is widely recognized as a basic human right, for example in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Laws that create artifical shortages of the basic necessities of life are a grave injustice. But is this an injustice that our legal system offers any remedy for?
There is at least one precedent. In New Jersey, the state supreme court has declared exlusionary zoning illegal. The original case overturned the zoning ordinances of the city of Mount Laurel Township, a suburban community which had previously allowed only suburban-style, detatched housing to be built. At the same time, the city did all it could to encourage commercial development, but made no effort to ensure sufficient housing for employees of the new businesses it attracted. The court ruled this violated the New Jersey state constitution, which gives municipalities power to control land use "for the general welfare". Exclusionary zoning violates this principle both in that is denies people their basic right to housing, and because it means a city is shirking a responsibility to the greater region to take on its fair share of population.
I can't really comment on what the long term effects of this have been on the availability of housing in New Jersey. It appears that the state's reaction to this ruling has been to create processes that allow cities to avoid lawsuits by providing nominal affordable units, but probably slow down the pace of development enough to ensure a continual shortage. (See this Wikipedia Article for discussion). The original ruling is worth a read, though, especially the opinion of Judge J. Pashman, who urged the court to go farther:
With this decision, the Court begins to cope with the dark side of municipal land use regulation -- the use of the zoning power to advance the parochial interests of the municipality at the expense of the surrounding region and to establish and perpetuate social and economic segregation...Turning back to california, state law (search here for "housing") actually puts a very specific requirement on cities' land-use planning:
(These practices) are inconsistent with the fundamental premise of the New Jersey zoning legislation that zoning is concerned with the physical condition of the municipality not its social condition. In a deeper sense, they are repugnant to the ideals of the pluralistic democracy which America has become...
A homogeneous community, one exhibiting almost total similarities of taste, habit, custom and behavior is culturally dead, aside from being downright boring. New and different life styles, habits and customs are the lifeblood of America.
Local and state governments have a responsibility to use the powers vested in them to facilitate the improvement and development of housing to make adequate provision for the housing needs of all economic segments of the community.a requirement which most California cities are in blatant violation of. Most make no pretense of trying to comply. The city of Laguna Niguel, which I'm only picking on because they put their zoning objectives on the web, lists as goals that they will "secure social and economic benefits for residents", "ensure adequate offstreet parking", and "protect and enhance real property values", but nothing about providing adquate housting. To the contrary, Laguna Niguel strives "to prevent undue intensity of land use or development," and "to avoid population overcrowding", or put more plainly, to keep any more people from moving there.
As someone who's knowledge of the law comes mostly from high school civics and TV (and I don't think Law & Order has done an episode about zoning yet), how cities get away with what seems to be such obvious diregard for state law is a mystery to me. No doubt, other legislation sets up a process by which a few token "affordable" units are considered satisfactory; but the spirit of the law is clear enough, as is the fact that it's being broken.
Who you can Write ToEvery month, millions of Californians write rent checks, and silently fume. Citizens who suffer for the lack of affordable housing, sinking obscene portions of our income into rent or enduring marathon commutes, or both, are a huge potential consituency that politicians seem profoundly disinterested in appealing to, or eveng seeing. Then again, even the victims generally don't see this as a political issue, probably buying the line that high housing costs are the result of natural market forces, and inevitable.
Most groups and individuals advocating for affordable housing seem to share this view, at least implicitly, and favor the approach of charity, proposing that the government or non-profits should provide below-market housing to the most needy. Few seem interested in addressing the underlying causes of the problem, and there are almost no proponents of a radical anti-NIMBY, or TWAYBYB (The World Ain't Your Back Yard, Bitch!) position. Here's a few good guys I've managed to find:
- The (Bay Area) Transportation and Land Use Coalition
- The California Housing Law Project
- State Senator Tom Torlakson (Antioch)
Thursday, August 17, 2006
Our basic objective was the California Academy of Sciences, where my mother is a volunteer docent. The academy, while it's usual digs in Golden Gate Park are being rebuilt from the ground up, has set up shop South of Market. The temporary location is actually quite a bit easier to get to by transit, being a quick walk from Powell & Market, or a slightly longer one from 4th & King. We set out from Millbrae BART (I advise parking on the 4th floor of the garage, since that puts you on the same level as the station mezzanine).
Meanwhile, more of our family were over in Berkely, visiting the Cal campus. The night before I worked out an itinerary for them, starting at Daily City, where they could catch a Richmond line train directly. They could have started at Millbrae, but would have needed to change trains twice--and those timed transfers at 12th St. Oakland are not something you should send BART newbies through without supervision! After the tour, we all met up downtown in the City.
Overall, things went surprisingly smoothly. Here's some more specific observations:
- One member of our party uses a wheelchair. BART and the Muni Metro Subway, with their high level platforms, are basically 100% accessible. You do have to go a long ways around to get to elevators at some stations. On Muni Metro surface lines, select stops have small but workable ramps and platforms squeezed into the passenger waiting islands. It takes some careful work by operators to make sure everything works, but the ones we rode with were quite conscientious about making sure we all got on and off safely.
- BART theoretically has discount tickets for kids and seniors, but you can't buy them at stations, either from vending machines or station agents. You're supposed to get them in supermarkets. That sucks.
- Muni was punctual, but BART slowed way down south of Balboa Park. Go figure.
Learning about rocks
Riding the J Church
Wednesday, August 09, 2006
I've gotten off the train enough times in Palo Alto to know how about the "secret" bike bridge over San Francisquito creek, a back door connection between Menlo Park and Palo Alto. This gets you as far as the Stanford Shopping center, which you can skirt by without too much traffic, and get to fairly good bikeways through Stanford campus.
From there to Mountain View, I tried to plan a route with the VTA's online bike route map, which showed me what I had already noticed, that there's a decent bike path parallel to the CalTrain tracks (on the SW side) starting at the Palo Alto station. This connects to Park Blvd, which also Parallels the tracks, and gets you through almost, but not quite to California Street in Mountain View.
Alas, there seemed to be a disconnect where I'd have to jog over several blocks and ride on El Camino (ick). Google Maps to the rescue--on the satellite view, I could just work out that there would be some way to get through the gap, maybe by going through a parking lot.
In fact, there's a creek there, named Adobe Creek. But unmarked on any of the maps I'd seen, including the VTA's bike map there's a nice ped/bike bridge over it, connecting the gap between "Wilkie Way" and "Miller Ave".
In no time at all I was at San Antonio road, only blocks from work, but on a sudden impulse stopped at Dittmer's, a German Sandwich Shop/Deli/"Wurst-Haus" where I used to go for lunch in less health-conscious days. The aroma of tasty sandwiches was a temptation (I recommend the BLTA; "A" being for avocado), but I stuck to my mission and got a couple of cans of pickled herring. I don't know why, but a craving for pickled fish has been overtaking me lately, and this is the only place I can think of to get it. Anyway they're safely stashed in my desk for future lunches (my wife thanked me for indulging this craving at work instead of at home where she'd have to smell it...).
So here's my updated bike ride map, with my third route in red:
As an aside--I knew Palo Alto was posh, and I thought I knew how much, but I was wrong... this route takes you through the really nice parts, which has the advantage for biking that it's not really on the driving route to anywhere, and pretty much traffic free.
It also goes right by Fry's and Know Knew Books on Cal Ave... something to keep in mind for next time!
Tuesday, August 01, 2006
I decided to try another RWC→MV bike ride, but taking a little bit less scenic route.
I originally planned to go straight down Middlefield, but found a better route through back streets along the "inland" side of the 101.
Today's route is in purple
These are kind of interesting neighborhoods that actually still feel a little more rural than suburban; part of the way is along a creek.
Eventually I ended up in Mountain View, came over Central Expwy and the CalTrain tracks on the Shoreline Overpass (if you approach the overpass the right way, aiming to go on the East/South side of the roadway, the side facing downtown, you can find a "secret" bike path that goes through trees and tunnels and avoids the whole Shoreline/Central half cloverleaf).
Sunday, July 30, 2006
Last thursday I did something I've been talking about for a long time, and biked the whole distance. Actually, I did this about three years ago, and had some mechanical issues en route, and ended up making a slow detour to Home Depot in East Palo Alto to pick up some tools to make it the rest of the way. Having been up late wednesday catching up on deferred maintenance on my bike, and with a pretty good assortment of tools in my backpack, I set out hoping for better luck.
I actually had a bit of a head start, since my wife and daughter were going ice-skating, and I rode along with them with my bike in the van, which cut off about two miles from what I otherwise would have ridden. The rink is near the intersection of Marsh Road and the Dumbarton rail line, perhaps the site of a future station of Dumbarton Commuter Rail.
Stately Marsh Manor
A few blocks away I left the road and started pedalling down the bayfront bike trail.
Along the Bay
The path goes along the Salt Flats for about a mile and a half or so.
If it could rain on the moon, it might look something like this
Eventually you reach the approach to the Dumbarton Bridge, and cut through a bit of East Palo Alto. The route's not clearly marked, but eventually you can work your way through to more marshlands on the other side.
Some of the trails are paved, some are not
Some go through, others are dead ends, but at least the dead ends have nice views
Occasionally you see wildlife
Or other points of interest; this is an abandoned club house from the long-silted-up Palo Alto Yacht Harbor
A truck school was testing students on the back streets of Mountain View
Eventually the trail leads to Shoreline Park in Moutain View, where it connects with the Stevens creek trail. About this time I was starting to get hungry, and noticed a mother and kid picking blackberries. I stopped a ways down the path and followed suit. I must have ridded up a little to close to the bramble, because as I started up again, I noticed my back tire was getting a little squishy. It was a slow leak, but not too slow, and a patch kit was not one of the tools I had in my backpack. I originally planned to take the Stevens Creek trail all the way to downtown, crossing over the tracks on that cool bike bridge, but took the next exit to Moffett Drive, and hoofed it while I still had air. I started hearing the klunk-klunk-klunk that means you're really out of air and need to start walking just about as I reached the Mountain View CalTrain station, and walked the last two blocks to work.
Moffett Blimp Hangar
Thursday, July 13, 2006
When it comes to Bay Area transit, it's always good advice to bring exact change and something to read.
But to me, something that really drives home how totally uncoordinated our area transit agencies are is this: you can't even get a map that shows them all. Try Google, try the official Bay Area Metropolitan Transportation Authority ("...coordinating transportation for the nine county San Francisco Bay Area") website; I defy you to find one.
Perhaps this is where the geniuses at the MTA, who seem totally incapble of coordinating schedules, or coming up with a unified ticketing system (no, TransLink is not a solution, just a kludgy workaround) might try to take their first "baby steps" towards building an actual integrated regional transit system: print a damn map of what we have now.
Wednesday, July 12, 2006
- Peet's Coffee has set up shop in a lot of great transit-watching locations, such as the Ferry Building, Market between Church and Castro (watch the F line), and across the street from CalTrain in Redwood City. There are also Peets's easy walks from the Belmont and San Mateo CalTrain stations.
- The Old Spaghetti Factory in San Jose is really only ho-hum, but it's near Diridon station and if you have some time to kill (say, for example, you're getting on a bus to L.A. at the nearby Greyhound station and it doesn't leave til 11 P.M.) downtown San Jose doesn't give you many other choices. Plus they have an old Birney streetcar inside the restaurant.
- Mitchell's Ice Cream is just fantastic. I mean, I've seen lines out the door on rainy nights. If you want to try something exotic, get ube (which is bright purple), but really, even their vanilla is pretty damn good. It's about a block from the Muni's J Church.
- Top Dog Hot Dogs is yummy and a block from downtown Berkely BART.
- Fremont Wienerschnitzel; hey, Wienerschnitzels are getting hard to find these days. This one is half a block from the Fremont Centerville Amtrak/ACE station, which has a coffee shop with outdoor seating, which also happens to be closed on weekends, making it a pretty good place to eat a hot dog and watch trains.
- Food court, Hillsdale Mall; acros El Camino from Hillsdale CalTrain (walk north from the station, past TGI Friday's, enter the mall through Sears--just crossing El Camino the most direct and obvious way kinda sucks. I recommend the hybrid Chinese/Cajun place (not kidding here).
- Popeye's Chicken, 22nd & Mission, two blocks from 24th St. BART. I never actually made it to this one, and now I'm on a diet. Argh! Go and eat a biscuit for me.
- Franklin St. Cafe at Redwood City CalTrain, right by the tracks.
- Downtown San Mateo has lots of good eats within an easy walk from CalTrain. North Beach Pizza and Pizza My Heart are pretty good, but we seem to keep going back to Mr. Pizza Man.
- Cafe Maison coffee stand at Mountain View CalTrain; many times I haven't gotten enough breakfast and picked up a croissant and a hard boiled egg for $2.00. At lunchtime the hotdogs are ok too.
- Crêpes Café at Menlo Park CalTrain. The crêps are yummy, both savory and sweet, and the coffee's good; plus they have free wi-fi, and it's close enough to the station that you can sit on the deck until you hear the crossing bells, and still run over in plenty of time to catch your train (going southbound, anyway).
- Cramer's Bagels; Silicon Valley is full of these Bagelwich places, usually run by Vietnamese immigrants. This one is particularly good, and happens to be in a strip mall across the street from the Santa Clara CalTrain station--where you might happen to find yourself hungry and with time to kill, if, for example, you just flew in at SJC on a weekend, when trains run hourly (take the VTA's #10 bus, which is free, from the airport to the station). Be warned the bagels are big; as I write this, I am fighting off a case of the post-lunch drowsies from eating there.
- Indulge Asia Buffet, across the street from Belmont CalTrain. "A lot of commuter trains and SamTrans bus traffic in this corner! Makes for an enjoyable scenary while getting a bite to eat!" -- George G.
- Yumi Yogurt across the bus circle and parking lot from Sequoia Station, Redwood City. The low calorie/carb/fat flavors are yummy and good for you!
- MiMe's Cafe in downtown Redwood City. Actually part of a culinary arts training program for young people--who are really nice and make, imho, the best lunch in Redwood City. Sometimes you get free dessert, too!
A satisfied Mitchell's customer enjoying a cone of ube ice cream.
Friday, June 30, 2006
Thursday, May 25, 2006
If you got to be dictator of the Bay Area Metropolitan Transportation Comission, what would you build?
Think big and be imaginitive, and put your ideas in a comment!
You'll still be hard pressed to come up with anything as absurd as speding $7 billion to extend BART to San Jose...
Tuesday, May 23, 2006
Doesn't Look Like itAs our governor and legislature hash out a deal on infrastructure bonds, the conventional wisdom is that we'll converge on a win-win scenario: democrats will temper Schwartzeneger's all-roads vision of transportation with funding for transit and affordable housing, and everyone will be happy.
But will any of this really fix anything? No city has ever actually "solved" its traffic problems by building more roads. On the other hand, the cost effectiveness of many new transit projects (measured, say, in cost per new rider) is frankly embarassing.
Why Not?The CalTrans/Dorito-Chip philosophy of "drive all you want, we'll build more roads" serves no-one except the construction industry. The same can be said of investment in transit as a "greener alternative" to driving, if few people actually choose it. So before spending any more money, we should think hard about getting better use out of our transportation infrastructure.
Wisdom cannot be legislated, but wise use of resources can be encouraged with financial incentives. In short, users of transportation infrastructure should pay for it, and at rates reflecting the demands they put on it.
But who are these users? An obvious place to start is with us individual commuters, who have some choice in where we live and how we get about. But this is where most efforts to change travel habits--carpool lanes, silly campaigns like "bike to work" and "save the air" days--stop, and that is a mistake. It's really our employers who determine whether taking transit to work is a realistic alternative to driving, simply by whether they set up shop anywhere near a station. And whether we can afford to live anywhere close to work depends on whether the city it's in has allowed enough housing. All too often California cities are eager for commercial development, to draw business and sales tax revenue, but are loathe to allow new housing, lest density disturb their suburban tranquility, or at best allow a few pockets yuppie condos in trendy locations. So local government and business effectively become "users" of transportation infrastructure, by deciding where we should live and work, and how we can get between them--generally with no regard to the strain this puts on the system.
What Might WorkIf we want to encourage more efficient use of transportation resources, we need to give all three types of users incentives. Raising the gas tax would incent individuals to try alternatives to driving, and while it would certainly be better to pay for highway costs that way than by raiding education, etc. for state funds, individuals already have strong financial incentives to cut down on driving, but usually little choice. Anyway, rather than asking ordinary folks to pay more taxes, it might be more productive to charge existing fees and expenses on a more per-mile basis; for example, make the interval to pay registration, get your car smogged, pay insurance, etc every x-ty thousand miles, instead of by the calendar. After all, it's use of a car, not the mere ownership, that adds to traffic and pollution.
To motivate a more transit-friendly attitude in business, I suggest a simple solution: tax parking. A parking space in front of a place of work is an expectation that someone will drive there; and as individuals fulfill it by the millions, the cost to the public is gridlock, smog, and the need to spend billions on new and wider freeways. It's only fair to send a bill, and allow businesses that save the public money by making transit work for their employees to save money themselves.
As to how to motivate cities to allow more housing; I don't know the best answer, but considering how much local government relies on the state for revenue, it shouldn't be hard to come up with something. The goal should be to get cities to provide housing in some reasonable ratio (like 1:1) to the employment capacity of it's commercial space; a good incentive would be to withold all transportation funding til they do so--no new housing, no help with potholes.
Enough Ranting for NowAll of these proposals are likely to meet with some resistance, since they make some assumptions that run against the grain of modern American life: that roads are a resource, and you should pay to use them, that business should pay for its use of public infrastructure, and that communities have an obligation to take in newcomers. And since I'm writing this as an "unfunded think tank of one", I'm sure there's plenty of holes that can be poked in all this. Still, it's a place to start, and ideas that might work are a better place to begin discussion than a status quo we all know doesn't!