New site, new store, same stuff

With the successful completion of my Kickstarter, I've bought a new domain, opened a map store, and started cross-posting. This blog will stay open but I'll stop updating the site after next week. If you subscribe by email, you'll need to sign up again. If you subscribe by RSS you'll want to update your link, too.

While I am excited about the new format and domain - this one is showing its age, and I really hate the ads at the bottom of some posts - what I'm really excited about is the Map Store. While I've threatened to print my maps before, this time I'm actually doing it. While I'm mostly focusing on subway-style maps of historical rail networks, I have a few maps for the Marinites, notably the Interurban.

My mapping queue is full for the next few months (DC/Baltimore, then Saint Louis, then Toronto), but I'm starting to think about what comes next. Check the maps you might want to buy for yourself or someone else:

[polldaddy poll=8849707]

All of these, except for Highway 101, are for the 1921 versions. The Highway 101 strip map will include all service that runs on the freeway from Cloverdale to San Francisco. It would likely be a fold-out pocket map, a nice addition to your GGT transit guide.

It's been nice getting to know everyone on Wordpress, but Squarespace gives me much better commercial integration. See you over there.

Thoughts of a progressive urbanist

The author on a Citibike. When Citibike debuted in NYC in May of this year I happened to be visiting while on tour with a choir I sing in. As a pro-bicycle, three-year car-free San Franciscan I was giddy about the Citibike launch, I even posed for a photo on one out of sheer exuberance on the day before they were made available.

The Citibike launch is now history and the prediction of the streets of NYC running with the blood of neophyte bikers turned out to be overblown but one impression from that weekend has stayed with me: two of my friends there, both life-long New Yorkers, one progressive, one conservative, agreed: they hated Citibike.

The conservative friend parroted the Murdoch papers’ complaints: it will be a bloodbath, old ladies will be knocked over willy-nilly, cyclists are lawless, non-taxpaying “hipsters” and clueless liberals heedless to the safety of themselves and others. The progressive friend, equally scornful, rattled off the progressive objections; Citibank is the Great Satan; why are we plastering our city with ads to these robber barons? Why is this program confined to wealthy white neighborhoods?

These positions illustrate the extreme political poles of the urbanism debate Jason Henderson so brilliantly frames in his great book, Street Fight: The Politics of Mobility in San Francisco. The middle position or “third way “ not depicted in my representation of the Citibike debate is the neo-liberal position (pro-Citibike), with which I think most self-described urbanists would identify. David Edmondson [ed. - founder of this blog] is an example.

It’s doubtful conservatives in the US can be won over to some of the core tenants of urbanism. Automobility is a defining characteristic of American conservatism. Fears of Agenda 21 and “one world government,” hostility towards the nanny state, and climate change skepticism make urbanism anathema to even mainstream conservatives.

Progressives however, can and should be persuaded to support urbanism’s goals. While progressives and urbanists often clash, recently and most visibly in the Bay Area over the question of gentrification (the Google Bus phenomenon) and labor issues (the BART strike), I believe these two groups have much more in common than they have in conflict.

Progressives and urbanists are united over the urgency of climate change and environmental degradation. In general, progressives and urbanists can agree on the need for revitalized cities as a solution, but they often part company with how to get there.

Neo-liberal urbanists offer market solutions to these problems, and view “livability” as an urban quality best viewed as a commodity. Progressives stress state solutions and social justice as integral to the project of urbanism.

Many progressives perceive “livability” as synonymous with gentrification. These progressives see parklets, bike lanes, bike share and events like Sunday Streets in San Francisco as part of an insidious march towards a city of privilege, for the rich only. I have even encountered progressives who defend access to cheap parking and automobility for the poor and working classes as a social justice issue.

My experience with these issues comes from my perspective as a resident of San Francisco. As a progressive sympathetic to urbanist goals, my desire is to appeal to both sides in this debate and harness the energy of both groups to drive a move towards dense, low-carbon, livable cities. If I could talk to both sides in this debate in this moment I would say this:

To urbanists

Stop focusing your support on high-end development and be more sensitive to the problems caused by gentrification. Gentrification reduces economic and class diversity and decreases a city’s cultural capital by displacing the creative class that makes the city attractive to begin with.

As well, it displaces the poor and working class folks who are the perfect constituency for public transit. These people end up moving to the outer urban core and contribute to increased automobility as a result. Likewise, high-income folks are generally wedded to automobility, their injection into the urban fabric in parking intensive developments increases automobility in the city.

The optics of luxury developments, like San Francisco’s 8 Washington, further drive a wedge between progressives and urbanists.

Urbanists are part of a professional class (architects, planners) who are by their nature and training data-driven thinkers. This fact blinds urbanists to the importance and validity of emotional responses to the use of urban space. Nothing could be more emotional in some ways than an individual’s identification with the place they live.

Urbanists should be wary of their own predilection to dismiss and belittle emotional reactions to development and gentrification particularly when they enter the political realm (as through Proposition B, which would approve 8 Washington) to further their goals.

To progressives

Livability is not gentrification, and anti-growth is not anti-gentrification.

Improvements to livability in the public space benefit all classes. Stop singling out parklets and bike lanes as evil, and learn to support increased density near transit. Dense development will increase housing stock and drive down displacement, reducing dependence on automobility among the poor and working class by providing a more robust (and yes, partially higher-end) constituency for public transit.

Acknowledge that dense development is inevitable, and that some of it will be luxury. As Edmondson has written before, luxury developments can and do take pressure off the housing market by shifting demand from existing “low-end” housing stock, thereby easing the market and slowing displacement.

Opposition to automobility should be a progressive social justice issue. The primacy of cars in the city places undue strain on poor and working class folks. It clogs our streets and slows public transit. A bifurcated, inequitable system, where the poor depend on transit slowed and made unreliable by the rich driving around them, is the result. The costs of car ownership – insurance, maintenance, and parking fines – are all borne disproportionately by working folks. Freeing them from automobility will engender increased social mobility.

Poor and working class neighborhoods near freeways and high-traffic city streets disproportionately suffer the worst health effects of automobility’s pollution. High rates of cancer and respiratory problems are the result. Globally, the effects of climate change brought about largely by car- and carbon-intensive cities will hit the world’s poor hardest.

Mostly, let’s all break free of the zero-sum tenor of internet discourse. Stop yelling past one another and listen. If we agree to do that, progressives and urbanists working together can achieve the common goal of sustainable cities. The time to make history is now. Let’s be the change we want to see.

Cross-posted with Vibrant Bay Area.

Story update: San Rafael rescinds Civic Center PDA

As everyone no doubt heard, the San Rafael City Council voted last night to rescind the North San Rafael Priority Development Area (PDA) on a 3-2 vote. Mayor Gary Phillips and councilmembers Kate Colin and Damon Connolly voted to rescind. Councilmembers Andrew McCullough and Barbara Heller voted to keep the PDA. Slow-growth activists decried the PDA as a high-density housing plan that would burden the city’s schools and water supply while destroying the drivable suburban character in the neighborhood. Urbanists and environmentalists said the PDA carries no strings whatsoever, that the housing guidelines were nonbinding suggestions, and was a way to fund improvements for the San Rafael that exists today.

At a county level, eyes now turn to the Strawberry PDA, which has come under attack by critics for much the same reasons other PDAs have. The argument will likely take much the same shape as it did last night, though it remains to be seen whether Supervisor Kate Sears will propose to remove the PDA or not. Given that she has not come under the same withering criticism Supervisor Susan Adams did over the Marinwood PDA, it may remain intact for the foreseeable future.

At a city level, the downtown San Rafael PDA also remains intact. Mayor Phillips and others who opposed the Civic Center PDA have said the housing suggestions make much more sense downtown and that regional money would do more good in that area anyway. Still, slow-growth advocates, convinced that the PDAs constitute a mandate for housing, are likely to attack this PDA, too. Council candidate Randy Warren, for one, has argued this designation should be rescinded, too.

A future post will look at how San Rafael and TAM could make lemonade out of the situation and the barriers to getting PDA-designated funds from TAM’s account into projects on the ground.


BABS opens, the Bay Bridge closes: A guide

Traffic Big news in transportation, and both give you an excellent excuse to leave the car behind if you normally commute into San Francisco. For one thing, the Bay Bridge, the region’s busiest road, is closed for the long weekend, exposing drivers and bus riders to some pretty horrendous detours. Do you take the Golden Gate Bridge or the Dumbarton? Ferry or BART? Amtrak to Caltrain, or BART to GGT?

As might be expected, has some tips for your trip, with details on how to get around by transit (better!) or by car (only if necessary!). For Marin readers, there shouldn’t be much of a problem. However, given the long delays getting out of San Francisco during the BART strike, keep an eye out for traffic this evening. If it’s extremely heavy, you may do well to take BART to El Cerrito del Norte or Richmond and transfer to the 40/42 to San Rafael, rather than simply take your normal commuter route. Check out the 101 Bus Map for details on where to go from there.

Today will also be a great day to try out Bay Area Bike Share (BABS), which opens for business at noon. Apart from the launch parties, which will no doubt be kickin’ if your boss lets you out of the office at 10:00, the system is well-suited to the disruption.

If you were skeptical, you can give the bikes a try with a short-term pass, for sale at the kiosk. 24-hour passes are just $9, and a 72-hour pass is available for $22. Note that you’re still under the 30-minute limit even with the 24-hour pass. Tourists get confused by that all the time in DC. At the end of your trip, dock your bike. When you need a new one, insert the credit card you used to buy the pass and you’ll get a new code to unlock the next bike.

As someone who has ridden these bikes for years in DC, I can attest that they are very, very easy, so don’t be scared by their decidedly chunky look.

So who is this for? Well, Peninsula commuters, if your workplace is a bit further away than you’d like from the Caltrain station, take a look to see if it’s near a BABS station; it may be worth trying. And as for you, potential ferry commuters, look at whether your workplace is near a BABS station, too. If so, give the BABS station near your office a try.

This also goes reverse commuters. If you are one of the rare few who live in downtown San Francisco and work at the other side of the ferry terminal, it might be worthwhile to give the system a go, rather than bring your own bike or endure the Muni slog.

Of course, the experience may not be perfect. New York’s CitiBike, also operated by Alta, is plagued by technical problems that kept people from successfully docking their bike (wait for the chime!) or getting their bike.

If you do decide to give BABS a try, I highly recommend Spotcycle, a free app that shows where available bikes and open docks are. I've been using it for almost as long as I've been a member of DC's Capital Bikeshare and it is invaluable.

Good luck out there.

Round-up on the Hyperloop

On Monday, Elon Musk released details of his Hyperloop proposal for 780-mile-per-hour travel between Los Angeles and San Francisco, and it landed with all the hype and hyperbole expected from someone with such stature. While articles around the world oo'd and ahh'd over the proposal - it will only cost one-tenth of California High-Speed Rail (CAHSR)! And only 35 minutes from LA to San Francisco! - observers with experience in transportation approached the concept with a cold eye. Taking into mind that good transportation projects, like all good projects, start with goals rather than technology, the response from them was overwhelmingly negative on Twitter and on the blogs.

Roughly speaking, the sketch of the Hyperloop's operations are full of sleights-of-hand and outright falsehoods. Perhaps the best overall analysis of the project comes from James Sinclair of Stop and Move. Sinclair writes, "Problem is, taking a look at the documents that came with the announcement, it seems to be a fantastic joke. [The Hyperloop's] claims do not appear to be true - his own proposal doesn't even get close to supporting them. "

Foremost in Sinclair's list of six problems is the claim that the Hyperloop extends from Los Angeles to San Francisco. That, according to the maps provided with the proposal, isn't true. Instead, the Hyperloop goes from Hayward to Sylmar, about an hour's travel time outside either city's center.

So that 35-minute ride? It's actually about 2:35, 6 minutes longer than the travel time for CAHSR. While we could move the stations, that would dramatically increase the cost. Most of CAHSR's costs are in the approaches to each downtown, and there's no reason it wouldn't be the same for the Hyperloop.

Sinclair goes on to examine the political and cost assumptions, which is to say, Musk has made none. Musk builds his whole cost estimate on the assumption that, because the Hyperloop's tubes will be built on viaducts, people won't have a problem with them crossing their property. Sinclair goes on:

To assume that people will willingly grant your line of support columns an easement is an exercise in the absurd.  Worse is the assumption that an aerial structure is popular.

Remember Cape Wind? It was a Massachusetts proposal to build an off-shore wind farm. Far away from homes and property, way out in the ocean. It got held up for years and years and years by lawsuit after lawsuit.

You know what the problem was? Views. Aesthetics. People didn't want to look at these things way out in the ocean.

People love their views. Farmers love their views. To assume that an aerial structure is your golden ticket out of years in the courtroom is plain idiocy.

The technology, arguably the most difficult piece to evaluate, was tackled by Alon Levy, the author of Pedestrian Observations. Levy first examines the assumption that an all-elevated system would save money. In short, the answer is no, building a bridge across the entire state would cost at least 10 times as much as Musk says, or roughly $60 billion. While less than the $63 billion of CAHSR, it's not much cheaper. And, as far as comfort goes, the Hyperloop ride won't be all that grand.

The extremely high speeds of the vacuum-tube technology the Hyperloop is built on will impose some significantly uncomfortable sideways and vertical jerks over the course of the journey, up to about o.5 gs. This is far, far higher than the maximum on any train the world, something that will certainly spill your coffee. Levy summarizes by saying, "Motion sickness is still to be fully expected in such a case."

Matt Johnson, one of the writers for Greater Greater Washington, found yet another way the Hyperloop comes up short: capacity.

According to Musk, pods would depart LA and San Francisco every 30 seconds during peak periods. Each pod can carry 28 passengers. That means that under the maximum throughput, the Hyperloop is capable of carrying 3,360 passengers each hour in each direction.

For context, a freeway lane can carry 2,000 cars per hour. A subway running at 3 minute headways (like the WMATA Red Line) can carry 36,000 passengers per hour. The California High Speed Rail, which this project is supposed to replace, will have a capacity of 12,000 passengers per hour.

That means that Musk's proposal can carry only 20-25% of the passengers of the California High-Speed Rail under ideal circumstances. But are those ideal circumstances reasonable? Probably not.

The Hyperloop pods will travel at up to 760 miles per hour, just under the speed of sound, with pods traveling about 30 seconds apart in the tube. They will have a maximum deceleration of 0.5 gs, which is equivalent to 10.9 mph per second. At that rate of braking, it will take a pod 68.4 seconds to come to a full stop.

That's a pretty significant issue because safe vehicle operation means never getting closer to the vehicle ahead than the distance it will take you to stop. If pod A were to experience a catastrophic air-skid failure, crash into the tube wall, and disintegrate, pod B, 30 seconds back, would not be able to stop short of the wreckage. In fact, pod C would also likely hit the wreckage of pods A and B.

That means that the minimum separation between pods is probably closer to 80 seconds or more. Not a big deal. It still means 45 departures per hour. But that's only 1,260 passengers per hour in capacity. That's 10% of what the California High-Speed Rail can carry.

With a capacity of 1,260 passengers per tube, that means that the Hyperloop would need 10 tubes in each direction (not 1) to move the same number of passengers as the proposed high-speed line. And that would push the cost up by 10, which is actually more than the cost of the HSR.

If we factor in Levy's arguments about the cost of the Hyperloop's viaducts, we end up with a 100-fold increase in cost to have equivalent capacity to CAHSR. As a reminder, that rockets a sane $6 billion to an absolutely absurd $600 billion.

There are other problems with the proposal, too. Robert Cruikshank of California High Speed Rail Blog addresses some of the criticisms of CAHSR by Musk (which is to say, many of them are simply falsehoods), while Clem Tillier, of Caltrain-HSR Compatibility Blog, brings a list of 8 show-stoppers in a comment on the same post, including issues with branches and resetting the system.

But why would Musk, a successful engineer and entrepreneur, put forward such a proposal? Sinclair speculates that it is, in fact, an attempt to draw away support from CAHSR by presenting "the mother of all false choices." Levy speculates instead that it's an exercise in hubris:

It’s possible to discover something new, but people who do almost always realize the context of the discovery. If Musk really found a way to build viaducts for $5 million per kilometer, this is a huge thing for civil engineering in general and he should announce this in the most general context of urban transportation, rather than the niche of intercity transportation. If Musk has experiments showing that it’s possible to have sharper turns or faster deceleration than claimed by Transrapid, then he’s made a major discovery in aviation and should announce it as such. That he thinks it just applies to his project suggests he doesn’t really have any real improvement.

I write this not to help bury Musk; I’m not nearly famous enough to even hit a nail in his coffin. I write this to point out that, in the US, people will treat any crank seriously if he has enough money or enough prowess in another field. A sufficiently rich person is surrounded by sycophants and stenographers who won’t check his numbers against anything.

Yet Musk, he says, is one of the people who are constantly told they don't need to build on the successes of others, and "that they’re smart enough they can reinvent everything and that the world will bow to their greatness."

To me, the Hyperloop is, as I said at the outset, an example of people putting technology before goals. We want to move a lot of people quickly between California's major population centers. High-speed rail, not Hyperloop vacuum train technology, is arguably the most cost-effective and safest way to do this.

Hyperloop technology may have use elsewhere, perhaps as point-to-point very-high-speed travel between two far-removed destinations, but, with only as much capacity as the Larkspur ferry (and a far less comfortable ride), it does not meet the needs of California. There can absolutely be improvements on CAHSR. Its alignment to enter the Bay Area and LA Basin is poor, it will likely restrict Caltrain operation, it's overpriced, the Transbay Terminal is a mess, and more. But at least it accomplishes the goals it sets out to do. The Hyperloop, as presented, cannot.

Construction's high carbon cost shouldn't stop smart growth

In the aftermath of Plan Bay Area's passage, development skeptics in Marin have circulated a study showing that new construction gives of much higher levels of CO2 than renovating existing buildings even if that new construction is done in a very ecologically-friendly way. This, they say, is evidence that encouraging new construction will only increase our carbon footprint, and so Plan Bay Area, not to mention smart growth itself, is a sham. While the study, from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, is accurate in its assessment, skeptics are on shaky ground with this line of reasoning.

The study tries to answer the question, "Is new environmentally friendly development as greenhouse-gas efficient as renovating old development?" The answer, as common sense and the study say, is an almost* unequivocal yes. Construction is remarkably energy-intensive, and on its own is not a good way to improve our environment. We need to retrofit our existing structures as much as possible, adapting our old, underused buildings for a more urban future.

However, in the small towns most opposed to Plan Bay Area, this won't happen. The Bay Area just is not a rust belt area that underwent the kind of decline whose aftermath this study tries to examine. Were we Baltimore or Cleveland, our conversation would be much different, as we'd have bountiful abandoned buildings to repurpose. This is happening now in downtown Detroit. But we're not Baltimore, Cleveland, or Detroit. Our most bountiful development resources are not derelict industrial park brownfields. They are our grey fields, the monumental wastes of space that are our office park and mall parking lots. That will necessarily mean new construction.

Development skeptics purport the two alternatives are Grow or Don't Grow, like their towns are islands, but that's not a good understanding of our region. Instead, the alternatives are Grow or Grow Elsewhere. Marin did wonders by protecting its greenbelt and is in many ways a precursor to Plan Bay Area and the urbanist movement. However, the result has been - as the veterans of those fights say - a chronic housing shortage, displaced growth into Sonoma and Contra Costa, and a steady loss of those counties' farmland and greenbelt. Nobody wants Marin to look like Walnut Creek (at least, I hope not), but Walnut Creek is in part a result of Marin's development policies, as are Rohnert Park and the Oakland Hills.

While we could give up and do the minimum in the name of reducing our CO2 footprint, in reality we would just push people further out from the City and cause more greenfield development. Just because the lost greenbelt is outside our county borders doesn't make the loss any less a tragedy. Even if that new construction were built to smart-growth standards, it would still be built, so the CO2 will be emitted no matter what we do.

It's a preposterous argument to make that we shouldn't build anything because it would add to our county's CO2 footprint. It's just tricky accounting, offloading the problem to other cities and counties.

A far better approach is to view these mandates as opportunities to make more small-town greatness. Our downtowns are the heart and soul of our towns, but between them is bland nothing. That we keep our density in safe downtown boxes but call it evil if it ever tries to escape is a profound disservice to our cities, region, and the environment development skeptics argue we should save.

Why is 34 unit-per-acre housing in downtown San Anselmo quaint but "stack & pack housing" just a mile east? Why is 40-unit-per-acre housing "San Jose-style massive apartment block" in Corte Madera when 89 110-unit-per-acre housing is a centerpiece of downtown San Rafael? Downtown Mill Valley could colonize its strip-mall-dominated flats, downtown Sausalito could grow into Marin City, downtown Novato could transform the North Redwood corridor a place worthy of Marin's second-largest city, and each move would make these great towns and cities even greater. This is the essence of smart growth

And the benefits of smart growth go beyond simply reducing CO2 emissions from travel. Smart growth positively affects public health, public safety, town budgets, water pollution, greenbelt preservation, farmland preservation, housing affordability, and beyond. Yes, repurposing emits less CO2 than new construction, but this is a horrible reason to halt all growth in small town Bay Area. Not only would the growth would just happen elsewhere, but we'd be throwing away a chance to make our towns even better and stronger. That would be a tragedy.

*The exception to this is renovating warehouses, which are so energy-inefficient it's best to just knock them down and start over.

A version of this post was cross-posted with Vibrant Bay Area.

Golden Gate Ferry promotes reverse travel to Larkspur

In an attempt to get more reverse travel from San Francisco to Larkspur Landing’s Marin Country Mart, Golden Gate Ferry is giving away tickets for some of its trips* for the month of August. Here’s hoping this will lead to more reverse-ferry trip promotions. It’s no secret that counter-commute ferry travel is, well, sparse. Survey show that some trips in the middle of the day have as few as 10 passengers for ferries equipped to carry 350. While this monumental waste of capacity won’t be solved entirely until Larkspur develops the Larkspur Ferry Terminal (LFT) parking lot, that doesn’t mean Larkspur Landing is only a desolate parking lot.

Marin Country Mart is the principal destination for the neighborhood. For a long time it was just another outdoor mall, but now the shopping center is trying to transform itself into a hipper destination, with jazz on Fridays and the Folkish Festival and food trucks on Sundays. The beer snobs among us have the always-wonderful Marin Brewing Company to visit, too.

People who want to participate print off an SF-Larkspur ticket (PDF click on the big image of a ticket on that page) at home, take one of the off-peak trips to Larkspur,* and get a return ticket from a Marin Country Mart retailer for an off-peak trip home.

All in all, it’s an ingenious way to get more reverse travel. It’s easy to think of Marin as Over There, out of reach for most people. By lowering the cost barrier, GGF could attract more regular riders and bring Larkspur Landing into the imagination of San Franciscans as a place they can actually go. There's no guarantee these new passengers will stay with the ferry after the promotion is over, but some may start to think of Larkspur Landing as someplace as close as another San Francisco neighborhood.

Other promotions should draw in employees of Larkspur Landing businesses, who may drive today but could take the ferry instead. This promotion would help workers that commute north in the morning, provided they get something at Marin Country Mart before heading south.

GGF's promotion, combined with the ferry shuttle, paid parking, and the new 7:30am departure, shows that GGF understands the challenges faced by its Larkspur ferry service and isn’t afraid to be creative in its solutions. I only wish its bus service was so bold.

*On weekdays, its any northbound departure between 8:30am and 3pm, and any southbound departure between 10:10am and 8:50pm. On weekends, it's the northbound 12:40pm and southbound 4:45pm.

Demographically-mixed housing plans still draw opposition

Monday's post on sister blog Vibrant Bay Area addressed the politics of affordable housing, especially in Marin. Author Dave Alden's thesis, in short, was that the wealthy are happy to welcome those of lower incomes into their neighborhood as long as they only work there. To actually allow them to live there raises the heckles of the wealthy whether it's in Marin, or Portland, or LA. Pundits and activists in Marin have struggled to come up with reasons why that aren't inherently offensive. Development liberals often blame their opponents of racism or classism. While there may be some strains of this in the debate (a recent comment about how Strawberry "already looks like the UN" implied, perhaps inadvertently, that more affordable housing would mean more minorities, for example), prejudice is too simplistic to be an adequate explanation for Marin's opposition. Development conservatives claim they are the vanguard against rapacious developers and out-of-touch bureaucrats, who will end up destroying Marin's small-town character in pursuit of profit, social experimentation, or political power. This, too, is overly simplistic, again painting opponents as devils, though with a different set of horns.

Marin's debate has suffered from this mutual vilification. Our shields and swords are out when we should be learning and listening. It's tough, even for me, to swallow my pride and listen to those who have called me a utopian fascist (right) or naive (left). But I need to listen if I'm going to fulfill the role I set out to do in this blog: to educate people on best practices found elsewhere and advocate for their implementation. There is always common ground, provided I am more interested in finding it than kicking my opponent in the teeth.

Alden's point, in this light, is that wealthy areas don't know how to have this debate and never have. He's worth reading.

Bay Area Bike Share is for the suburbanite, too

Annual memberships for Bay Area Bike Share (which will probably end up being known as BABS) went on sale this week for $88. The bike-sharing service, which will launch in San Francisco and along the Peninsula this year, could dramatically change how the western Bay Area moves around. For those in the North and East Bay commuting to San Francisco, you might want to take notice. Even without stations of your own, a membership could still be worth the price. During rush hour in downtown San Francisco, getting around by transit can be… difficult. BART and Muni Metro run well but trains are beyond crowded. Buses and cars get stuck in gridlock, and so biking is really the only way to move through the City with any speed. But getting your bike to San Francisco can be exceptionally difficult, too. That’s where BABS comes in.

BABS will let a commuter move easily from bus or ferry to someplace far from their stop. If you need to get to anywhere in downtown, you won’t be by what’s within walking distance of the Transbay Terminal or the Ferry Building. Ferry commuters and East Bay bus riders could benefit immensely from membership, as their transit choice doesn’t cover much of the City’s core.

A potential weakness, of course, will be that the central commuter hubs in San Francisco (namely the Ferry Building, the Transbay Terminal, and 4th & King Caltrain) will experience demand that outstrips the available BABS bikes and docks. Encouraging counter-commuters to use those hubs to leave the city would help balance the load. BABS should advertise heavily on the north side of ferry stations and look at expanding into ferry origins, like Vallejo, Jack London Square, and Central Marin, to encourage in-commuter membership and counter-commuting.

During your term of membership, you get unlimited free 30-minute rides. The next half-hour will cost you $4, and each subsequent 30 minutes will cost you $7. The point is to get you to dock your bike at a BABS station, not keep it all day. You’d be surprised how far you can get in 30 minutes.

An annual membership will set you back $88 (which will eventually pay for itself if you usually transfer to Muni), but if you just want to try, a 3-day membership is $22 and a one-day membership is $9. You can sign up today. Are you going to take the plunge?

A fare hike, a toll freeze

Five years ago, the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway, and Transportation District (GGBHTD) considered varying bridge tolls based on demand, with higher prices during peak demand times. The concept, called congestion management or congestion pricing, didn't go anywhere. Then-San Rafael mayor Al Boro torpedoed it, labeling the proposal an unfair "Marin commuter tax." San Francisco was outraged, but at least they got a pioneering new parking system that varies the price of on-street parking by demand instead. Meanwhile, GGT's often-high fares have gone up by 5% every year on July 1. If congestion management is a "Marin commuter tax", surely annual fare hikes well above inflation are the same thing. While the purpose is to try to keep fares in line with costs, the hikes aren’t targeted well enough to either manage congestion or improve the agency’s financial standing.

Better than blanket hikes would be targeted hikes to ferry fares and bridge tolls paired with bus service improvements. GGBHTD should use its monopoly power to maximize the infrastructure it has at its disposal.

Ferry ridership has proven to be extremely robust and can likely absorb the hikes, increasing its farebox recovery. For bridge tolls, the stretch of Highway 101 between Sir Francis Drake and Tiburon boulevards is about 800 cars over-capacity in the evenings, or roughly 2/5ths of a freeway lane. Adjusting tolls and bus service to shift some of demand to buses would open up the northbound direction. Trunk line bus service would be more reliable and less expensive to operate, and drivers would save 20 minutes of time every night.

Yet with a blanket 5% hike on regional and commute buses, GGBHTD is actually exacerbating its bus ridership problems. It shifts demand from a mode with excess capacity to one that is already over-capacity. This is not smart management but political management, and the outcome is worse service and worse traffic.

GGBHTD responds to my series on ferry parking

A couple of months ago, I wrote a four-part series on Larkspur Landing's parking and access problems. I discussed the possibility of a parking district, a shuttle, transit-oriented development, as well as the constraints on the terminal's passenger capacity. When the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway, and Transportation District (GGBHTD) called for comment on access to the ferry terminal, I summarized the first two into a two-page letter, complete with cost/benefit table, and sent it to the Board and staff. Last week, I got a response from GGBHTD responding to some of my proposals. Here's what they sent me:

Dear Mr. Edmonson [sic]:

The Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District (District) is in receipt of your letter, dated April 23, 2013, addressed to the members of the Board of Directors, expressing your concerns relative to the "Strategic Vision for the Golden Gate Ferry Larkspur Service (Strategic Vision." Staff has researched the issues you raise din your letter regarding your assessment of unused parking in the vicinity of the larkspur Ferry Terminal, and your interest in a shuttle from San Rafael Transit Center (SRTC) to the ferry terminal.

With regard to parking in the vicinity of the Larkspur Ferry Terminal, the Larkspur Station Area Plan did identify a large amount of surface parking at the various parcels within a radius. However, the examination of that parking was looking in the context of increasing the density of the existing surface spaces. These surface parking spaces were identified for future opportunities to provide for mixed use development and structured parking opportunities. Presently, these parking spaces are needed by the various commercial tenants on these properties. Staff has communicated with various property managers in the area who indicated that their office occupancies are in the low ninety percent range and rising. Although the District did lease some surface spaces many years ago, property managers indicated that they could not consider that possibility at this time, due to their rising demand.

With regard to the shuttle form the SRTC to the Larkspur Ferry Terminal, limited parking in the vicinity of the SRTC would be a barrier to its use. The District operated a midday ferry shuttle from the SRTC to and from the Larkspur Ferry Terminal during 2007 as a demonstration project that, unfortunately, was not successful. Among the reasons cited for passengers not using this service were lack of parking in the vicinity of the SRTC and the inconvenience of using other Golden Gate Transit routes to access this shuttle, due to the need to transfer twice to reach the ferry.

As you may be aware, the Board of directors (Board) approved adoption of the Strategic Vision at its meeting of May 10, 2013, with the understanding that staff would bring individual projects forward to determine cost, feasibility and implementation on a case-by-case basis. The Strategic Vision includes both near-term strategies to address current increasing demand, as well as longer-term strategies to allow for the capacity for ridership to continue to increase. Both parking considerations and a possible demonstration project to test the reinstatement of a ferry shuttle route in the Sir Francis Drake Boulevard corridor will be brought back to the Board for review and possible action this summer.

Thank you for taking the time to express your concerns and for your interest in the District’s Strategic Vision.


James C. Eddie President, Board of Directors

I'm glad they took the time to talk with local parking owners, as that would be the easiest way to address the parking crunch, but it's a disappointment that they were asked whether they'd be willing to lease spaces to the District instead of participate in a parking district. A parking district gives owners control over how many spaces to have available on a daily basis, whereas a lease locks up spaces for years. Though the SMART parking survey showed there would be enough space even with 100 percent occupancy, it's understandable that parking owners wouldn't want to risk their parking spaces with a lease.

The 2007 shuttle from SRTC failed not because of little parking, though that would be a problem for some, but because it competed with free parking at the ferry terminal. But no matter. Marin Transit will service the Ferry Terminal via SRTC come next year, and the ferry shuttle along Sir Francis Drake will be accompanied by paid parking at Larkspur Ferry Terminal.

Overall, I'm happy the staff took the time to look into the issues I raised, or at the very least to draft a coherent response. It means they are taking public input seriously, and it validates citizen technical activism. That's a pattern other agencies, especially SMART, should take note of.


Loving the city we can't stand

Sometimes, I wonder at my fellow urbanists, especially those who can live wherever they like. They have chosen, for whatever reason, to live in certain places and write sometimes deeply critical things about those places. It seems incongruous. Why would someone choose to live somewhere frustrating? Why live under bad leaders with bad judgment? Or, to paraphrase something often heard from an opponent, if we dislike our home so much, why don't we leave it? Anthony Cardenas, who was arrested for painting a crosswalk in Vallejo last Thursday, reminded me that often it's not a rational decision but a fundamentally, gloriously irrational decision. He and urbanists in other deeply dysfunctional cities love their places. And when you love a place, just as when you love a person, there's nothing you won't do to fight for their well-being.

G. K. Chesterton, a wonderful British author from the turn of the 20th Century, believed this love was vital to the health of a city. In Heretics, a collection of essays skewering the thinkers and authors of his day, Chesterton devotes a chapter to Rudyard Kipling. Kipling's practical, rational love of England, he writes, is no love at all. It is appreciation. Kipling flirts with England, just as he flirts with China and Venice, but he has never married her.

In Orthodoxy, the follow-up to Heretics, Chesterton expands the value of loving a place and a city to which you belong.

My acceptance of the universe is not optimism, it is more like patriotism. It is a matter of primary loyalty. The world is not a lodging-house at Brighton, which we are to leave because it is miserable. It is the fortress of our family, with the flag flying on the turret, and the more miserable it is the less we should leave it. The point is not that this world is too sad to love or too glad not to love; the point is that when you do love a thing, its gladness is a reason for loving it, and its sadness a reason for loving it more. All optimistic thoughts about England and all pessimistic thoughts about her are alike reasons for the English patriot. Similarly, optimism and pessimism are alike arguments for the cosmic patriot.

Let us suppose we are confronted with a desperate thing—say Pimlico. [In Chesterton's day, the London neighborhood of Pimlico had fallen far from the glory of its construction and was in a state much like many of America's urban cores.] If we think what is really best for Pimlico we shall find the thread of thought leads to the throne or the mystic and the arbitrary. It is not enough for a man to disapprove of Pimlico: in that case he will merely cut his throat or move to Chelsea. Nor, certainly, is it enough for a man to approve of Pimlico: for then it will remain Pimlico, which would be awful. The only way out of it seems to be for somebody to love Pimlico: to love it with a transcendental tie and without any earthly reason. If there arose a man who loved Pimlico, then Pimlico would rise into ivory towers and golden pinnacles; Pimlico would attire herself as a woman does when she is loved. For decoration is not given to hide horrible things: but to decorate things already adorable. A mother does not give her child a blue bow because he is so ugly without it. A lover does not give a girl a necklace to hide her neck. If men loved Pimlico as mothers love children, arbitrarily, because it is THEIRS, Pimlico in a year or two might be fairer than Florence. Some readers will say that this is a mere fantasy. I answer that this is the actual history of mankind. This, as a fact, is how cities did grow great. Go back to the darkest roots of civilization and you will find them knotted round some sacred stone or encircling some sacred well. People first paid honour to a spot and afterwards gained glory for it. Men did not love Rome because she was great. She was great because they had loved her.

The activist in the place where they are constantly stymied, where the newspaper is nothing but bad news for their cause, remains because of love. The activist works and cries and paints crosswalks because she love her place. We'd all move to London or Rome if we just wanted a more comfortable place to live. Even I, in Washington, cannot help but love that marvelous county. Marin is in my bones, as much a part of me as my family. How could I not write?

Chesterton goes on to write about the nature of conflict over a place. There are the jingoists, who say everything's fine in order to save their city's honor; there are the pessimists, who love to criticize because they get a thrill out of it; and there are the rational optimists, who love a place for a specific reason, never letting go of that reason despite all facts.

And there are those opponents of ours who are no less irrationally in love with the place. We should not fight with any less conviction, but we should give respect. We are lovers of the same place; there ought to be a kinship that colors our fights.

Anthony Cardenas, I'm sure, is disheartened and angry at Vallejo and Caltrans for how he's been treated. But he will probably stay because he loves his neighborhood and city. Perhaps, one day, West Vallejo will rise into ivory towers and golden pinnacles because of people like him. Maybe, too, will Cleveland, and Detroit, and Stockton, and Fresno, and...


Silvestri ignores the implications of his own data

Recently, Bob Silvestri, a proponent of auto-oriented, low-density development, argued that auto-orientation is more energy efficient than person-orientation and, therefore, superior. Yet his data, while implying that New York City or Paris are terrible polluters, does not support his thesis that Marin is the pinnacle of environmental quality. That's not to say his data doesn't have problems (it does), but let's take the assumption that he's measuring the right things and that the studies he cites are unimpeachable.

Houses, density, and greenhouse gases

Per-capita greenhouse gas emissions by development type. Image from Demographia.

Silvestri cites a (rather flawed) study (PDF) of greenhouse gas emissions per unit for a number of housing types, from high-rises to detached homes. Single-family detached homes were scored second best for all emissions in the Australian suburbs studied, with only town houses scoring better.

Simultaneously, Silvestri makes the quite important point that open space is a carbon sink. It's undeniable that the more open space we preserve as a region, the better off we’ll be from a sequestration standpoint. The EPA says open space takes in 2.5 metric tonnes of CO2 per acre per year (MTCO2/year), agricultural or recreational land takes in 1.5 MTCO2/year, suburban land takes in 1 MTCO2/year, and urbanized land takes in 0.2 MTCO2/year. Town homes, which lie somewhere between urbanized and suburban land, still leave plenty of open space in the back yard (often 50 percent). We need to estimate, but let's put that as 0.7 MTCO2/year. I will assume these numbers take into account commercial development patterns as well.

Silvestri measures San Francisco's net emissions against Marin's net emissions, but that's not the way to evaluate optimal conditions. It unfairly punishes San Francisco for having small political boundaries and rewards Marin for having expansive boundaries. Rather, we need to establish a baseline of nature and determine how different methods of development will change the carbon status of the same land area.

Two towns

So, we have 640 acres (1 square mile) of virginal open space producing a net negative 1,600 MTCO2/year. We'll people that with 100 households in a traditional suburban setting of about 4 homes per acre, which again will include commercial development. Using the average household size in the US, that means 259 people on 25 acres.

According Silvestri's Australian data for per-unit emissions, people living in suburban areas emit about 2.5 MTCO2/year apiece. With 259 people, our little town emits 647.5 MTCO2/year. Subtracting our sequester, which is now 615 acres of virgin land and 25 units of suburban, our square mile goes from a net negative 1,600 MTCO2/year to a net negative 915 MTCO2/year. Not too shabby.

Next door, another 100 families has set up shop on another square mile of land, but, inspired by Europe, these guys want a village of town houses at a relatively loose 25 units per acre. Rather than 259 people on 25 acres, this village will only use up 4. Since town home denizens pollute less than suburbanites, they're only emitting 518 MTCO2/year. Since they're living on less than a sixth the land area, there's more virgin open space to absorb their footprint. All told, the village goes to a net negative 1,075 MTCO2/year.

This other village, of course, will reap the other benefits of compact development. They will need to maintain fewer fire stations, fewer roads, fewer pipes, etc. Changes to travel patterns will mean less driving over the baseline and more walking, bicycling, and more transit users. That means they won't have to maintain large parking lots or such wide streets (which means more environmentally friendly stormwater management), and the citizens won't need to go to the gym to stay healthy.

As a bonus, with the money saved (and it would be substantial), they could electrify the whole transit system, rendering moot Silvestri's argument that transit as too carbon-intensive. Then again, a townhome-style city is ideal for cycling and walking, so there wouldn't be as pressing a need for transit anyway.

Far from supporting single-family housing, Silvestri should be supporting the kind of densities town homes provide, which can go as high as 60 units per acre. They are far more financially and space-efficient and less carbon-intensive than single-family homes. That's in his data, clear as the day.

I don't know why Silvestri would try to twist the data into saying something it doesn't, but the study itself does the same thing. The author, Wendell Cox, has done some good research on cities but has come to some odd conclusions: that suburbia as we know it is the result of free-market choices (it isn't, and is instead the result of $450 billion in annual federal subsidies) and that Seattle's suburbs are growing much faster than the city proper (they're not). I've found it's best to approach anything associated with Cox or his firm, Demographia, with a healthy dose of skepticism.

I hope Silvestri will join me and other urbanists in support of the kind of infill development that he has championed in the past. It offers a much better path to lower greenhouse gases than the Santa Clara-style sprawl his ideas advocate in the farmland and open spaces of Napa, Solano, and Sonoma.

Proposed Marin Transit signage a step forward

Bus stop signage is an important part of the transit landscape. It can offer a window into the often-opaque routes and numbers that can mislead or confuse inexperienced riders. To help make Marin Transit stops more accessible to the casual rider, MT has proposed a new set of signs for its shuttle stops, and the results are decent.

What's proposed

Proposed signage (left) and existing signage (right). From Marin Transit.

At the moment, the bus stop signage is limited to route numbers and some branding. There's a little bit of extra information, but for the most part it's assumed riders will use the map that's often on the flag to determine where buses go.

The proposed signage adds data and makes the route numbers more clear. Below the route is the destination, and below that are the service days. Though not frequency data - a valuable part of any bus map - it does allow a traveler to at least know that they shouldn't bother waiting for a route if it doesn't run that day.

Most importantly, the sign adds the stop ID and how to get real-time arrival information. Though GGT isn't there yet, MT already has real-time arrival data for the bus fleet it operates.

These are all excellent ideas, but there are problems when incorporating GGT's regional routes in the signage.

GGT's regional routes, however, do not get destination or service information. On the sample image, routes 40 and 42 are just big numbers without any indication that they're bound for BART. As well, the route number's box isn't colored blue, the color of Basic routes maps, which is out-of-step with coloration for the MT shuttles and GGT-operated local routes. While possibly a conscious decision, it is nevertheless the wrong one.

What have other bus systems done to aid riders with signage?

Practices elsewhere

KCM Flag

Seattle's bus system underwent a similar redesign for its stop signage, and the result was similar, though there are differences. (See Seattle's design manual here.)

Most significantly, the Seattle stop signs use tiles, which allows the system to easily take out or edit route information as needed. If a bus used to be routed to the airport and isn't, Metro can just remove that tile from the route's signs rather than order entirely new signs. And, at the stops the route no longer serves, Metro can just remove the line's number. While more expensive than a typical sign, the tiles would save money over the long-term if service changes effect a large number of the metal signs.

Something else of note is the use of icons to show what services this particular route intersects. Marin's transit system includes ferries and airport shuttles and will soon include a train. Designating transfers to alternative modes may be of use. Designating routes that intersect the 101 trunk lines may also be useful, though that would involve a unified brand for such service. A black highway shield may do the trick.

London's bus stops use a similar design, but its bus stations do something a bit more horizontal, with more potential points of interest. If applied to Marin, Route 49 might list Civic Center, Lucas Valley, Hamilton, and Novato instead of just Novato. (You can find their design manual here.)

How's the sign?

My principal concern with the MT signage as proposed is that it does not visually integrate with either the GGT system or the MTC regional hub signage standards. This is problematic, as a unified brand for the transit system is important to rider literacy, especially for the casual rider. It makes little sense for them to proceed, as they did yesterday, without first developing a unified standard.

Given the prominence of the San Rafael Transit Center to the transit system, it would make sense to take inspiration from the signage there, which will meet MTC standards, rather than to invent a new visual language from scratch.

From a physical design perspective, it may make sense to design these signs to be modular. That would decrease the cost of route changes, as new signs wouldn't need to be stamped along with new route books.

Nevertheless, the new sign is still a step forward from what exists today. But it would be nice if MT would start thinking a bit more regionally.

If you want to offer input into the newly-approved signs, you can take the survey here.

Parking is anything but free, even if O'Toole says so

In 2010, Streetsblog posted this response from Donald Shoup, a professor of urban policy at UCLA to a blog post by Randal O'Toole, a Cato scholar. Here, Shoup addresses that post's arguments regarding the high-cost of free parking. Given that the Cato scholar will be speaking at a debate in Marin at the end of this month, it will be worth our time to explore some of the ways he has things wrong whether through error, incuriosity, or obfuscation. O'Toole has written extensively on subjects beyond parking, including mass transit and urban patterns. We'll explore those in time.

A fair warning: Shoup's response is very long, so there is a jump. The rest, from here, is Streetsblog, Shoup, and O'Toole.

Shoup (left) and O'Toole (right). One of these gentlemen has written the definitive volume on parking policy. The other says he has yet to read it.

Dear Randal,

I would like to comment on your August 16 post on the Cato@Liberty blog about “Free Markets for Free Parking.”

You were responding to Tyler Cowen’s article in the New York Times, “Free Parking Comes at a Price,” in which Tyler explained some of the ideas in my book, The High Cost of Free Parking.In commenting on Tyler’s article, you made several mistakes in describing my ideas and proposals. I will explain these mistakes, and if you agree with the explanations I hope you will post corrections on Cato@Liberty.

Before I examine your misunderstanding of what I have written, I will first summarize the three basic parking reforms I recommend in The High Cost of Free Parking: (1) remove off-street parking requirements, (2) charge market prices for on-street parking to achieve about an 85-percent occupancy rate for curb spaces, and (3) return the resulting revenue to pay for public improvements in the metered neighborhoods.

I will quote ten extracts from your post, and comment on each of them.


"Shoup’s work is biased by his residency in Los Angeles, the nation’s densest urban area. One way L.A. copes with that density is by requiring builders of offices, shopping malls, and multi-family residences to provide parking. Shoup assumes that every municipality in the country has such parking requirements, even though many do not."

Does the Antiplanner, who is “dedicated to the sunset of government planning,” really believe that government planners know exactly how many parking spaces to require for every economic activity at every site in every city?

Even Houston, which does not have zoning, has minimum parking requirements, and they resemble the parking requirements in almost every other city in the United States. Houston requires 1.25 parking spaces for each efficiency apartment in an apartment house, for example, and 1.333 parking spaces for each one-bedroom apartment. Here is the link to the minimum parking requirements in Houston’s municipal code.

Does the Antiplanner, who is “dedicated to the sunset of government planning,” really believe that government planners know exactly how many parking spaces to require for every economic activity at every site in every city, no matter how much the required parking spaces may cost and no matter how little drivers may be willing to pay to use them? Does the Antiplanner really support Houston’s minimum parking requirement of 1.333 spaces for each one-bedroom apartment because he believes that Houston’s government planners can accurately predict the “need” for parking at every apartment to one-thousandth of a parking space?

Since you say that many cities do not have minimum parking requirements, can you provide a list of some of these cities?


“Shoup assumes that . . . without such requirements there would be less free parking. This last assumption is extremely unlikely, as entrepreneurs everywhere know that (outside of New York City) 90 percent of all urban travel is by car, and businesses that don’t offer parking are going to lose customers to ones that do.”

Removing a minimum parking requirement means that a city will never force developers to supply more parking spaces than are profitable, but developers would be free to provide as many parking spaces as they like. If developers did always voluntarily supply at least as many parking spaces as cities now require, the minimum parking requirements would be unnecessary. The only research I have seen found that developers usually do not provide more parking spaces than cities require (pp. 78–84 of The High Cost of Free Parking). Recent econometric research also strongly suggests that minimum parking requirements force developers to provide more parking spaces than they would voluntarily provide in a free market [PDF].


“Shoup portrays such free parking as a ‘subsidy’ because not all people drive and so the ones who don’t drive end up subsidizing the ones who do. But any business offers a variety of services to its customers and employees, and no one frets about subsidies just because they don’t take advantage of every single service. How often do you actually swim in the swimming pools or work out in the exercise rooms of the hotels you stay at?”

Every person plays many different roles in life -- tenant, homeowner, worker, consumer, investor, and motorist. With bundled parking, we pay for parking in all these roles except, usually, as motorists.

You use swimming pools and exercise rooms as examples of bundled services at hotels, but cities do not require hotels to provide swimming pools and exercise rooms. Suppose, however, cities did require all hotels to provide swimming pools and exercise rooms, perhaps as a part of a public health campaign. Cities could require all these swimming pools and exercise rooms to be of at least a minimum size related to the number of rooms or gross floor area in a hotel. For example, cities could require every hotel to provide a swimming pool with at least 2,500 gallons of water per guest room. If cities did have minimum pool requirements, I expect that almost all hotels would bundle the use of the pools into the room rents. Would you then say that all these swimming pools are the result of free choices made in a free market? Would you say the market had demonstrated that hotel guests like to swim? Would you say the minimum pool requirements do not subsidize swimmers at the expense of nonswimmers? But let’s get back to parking; even swimming pools have parking requirements, and here is the minimum parking requirement for swimming pools in one city: 1 parking space for every 2,500 gallons of water in a swimming pool (Table 3-4 in The High Cost of Free Parking).

Every person plays many different roles in life -- tenant, homeowner, worker, consumer, investor, and motorist. With bundled parking, we pay for parking in all these roles except, usually, as motorists. Because we pay for parking indirectly, its cost does not deter us from driving. Because off-street parking requirements force up the supply of parking spaces, they “externalize” the cost of parking by shifting it to everyone but the parker. Only if we pay for parking directly does its cost affect our decisions whether to drive or not.

If cities require an ample supply of parking spaces for every building, this saves everyone the trouble of thinking about parking -- or its cost. Parking appears free because its cost is widely dispersed in slightly higher prices for everything else. Because we buy and use cars without thinking about the cost of parking, we congest traffic, waste fuel, and pollute the air more than we would if we each paid for our own parking. Everyone parks free at everyone else’s expense.

The issue is not simply whether parking is subsidized. Even without minimum parking requirements some firms would choose to offer free parking, just as some hotels offer swimming pools and some coffee shops offer wi-fi. The real issue is whether the government should mandate the parking supply.

When the US Census Bureau surveyed owners and managers of multifamily rental housing to learn which governmental regulations made their operations most difficult, parking requirements were cited more frequently than any other regulation except property taxes.

If a city like Houston will not allow any developer to build a one-bedroom apartment without also providing at least 1.333 parking spaces, is it any surprise that most landlords bundle the cost of parking into higher rents for housing? As a result, we have free parking and expensive housing. Cars are more affordable but housing is less affordable. When the US Census Bureau surveyed owners and managers of multifamily rental housing to learn which governmental regulations made their operations most difficult, parking requirements were cited more frequently than any other regulation except property taxes. (p. 141 in The High Cost of Free Parking).

Off-street parking requirements collectivize the cost of parking, because they allow everyone to park free at everyone else’s expense. American drivers park free at the end of 99 percent of all their automobile trips. If the cost of parking is hidden in the prices of other goods and services, no one can pay less for parking by using less of it. Off-street parking requirements thus change the way we build our cities, the way we travel, and how much energy we consume. All the required parking spaces spread the city out, and the greater travel distances make driving almost a necessity. Free parking also reduces the price of driving wherever we want to go, so the increased travel distances combined with the reduced price of driving make cars the obvious choice for most trips: 87 percent of all trips in the U.S. are now made in personal motor vehicles. (pp. 621–625 in The High Cost of Free Parking)

Off-street parking requirements produce the free parking that everyone wants, but ubiquitous free parking helps explain why American motor vehicles, by themselves, consume one-eighth of the world’s total oil production. We import two-thirds of this oil and we are paying for it with borrowed money. America’s extravagant consumption of imported oil to fuel our cars is not sustainable, economically or environmentally, and anything that is not sustainable must eventually stop.


“Shoup also supposes (and Cowen accepts) that universal parking fees would greatly reduce the amount of driving people do. ‘Minimum parking requirements act like a fertility drug for cars,’ Cowen quotes Shoup as saying.”

Please cite any occasion on which I have recommended “universal parking fees.” I am not even sure what you mean by this term. If you mean all parking everywhere must have a substantial price at all times, I most certainly do not recommend that.

Figure 12-1 in The High Cost of Free Parking shows what I mean by the right price for parking, and the right price will often be zero. For example, if half of all the parking spaces at a suburban shopping mall are empty even when parking is free, it would not make sense to charge for parking. On the other hand, if all of the curb parking spaces in a congested business district are occupied and drivers are circling every block in search of a vacant curb space, the price of curb parking is too low. Here is the link to a video that shows how to set the right prices for curb parking.


“Shoup claims that a single parking space costs, on average, 17 percent more than the cost of an average car, and as a result, the cost of parking greatly exceeds the value of all automobiles in the country. This is ridiculous... Even structured parking typically costs only about $10,000 a space.”

Table 7-3 in The High Cost of Free Parking shows that parking spaces built on the UCLA campus have cost, on average, 117 percent of the price of a new car in the years that the parking spaces were built, but I did not rely on this figure to calculate that the cost of parking exceeds the value of all automobiles in the country.

Using data on the capital and operating costs of parking lots and parking structures, I estimated that the subsidy for off-street parking in 2002 was between $127 billion and $374 billion, or between 1.2 percent and 3.6 percent of the gross domestic product. In comparison, in 2002 the federal government spent $231 billion for Medicare and $349 billion for national defense.

I relied on Census data to estimate that the cost of all parking spaces exceeds the value of all the automobiles in the country. The Department of Commerce estimated that the average value per vehicle was $5,507 in 1997. This average value may seem low, but the average age of all vehicles in 1995 was 8.3 years, and 62 percent of all vehicles were more than five years old. The depreciation of the older vehicles explains the low average value of $5,507 per vehicle. (Table 7-2 in The High Cost of Free Parking)

There are more parking spaces than vehicles because drivers must be able to park wherever they go, and many parking spaces are vacant much of the time. Cities typically require enough parking spaces to satisfy the peak demand for parking at every land use -- at home, work, school, restaurants, shopping centers, movie theaters, and hundreds of other places -- so that drivers can have convenient access to all addresses at all times. To see the result, think of what happens when almost all vehicles are parked at home in the middle of the night: almost all the spaces necessary to meet the peak demand for free parking at all other land uses are empty.

Cities require a specific number of parking spaces for every land use, but no city collects data on its total parking supply. No one knows the total number of parking spaces in the US, but the eminent land-use planner Victor Gruen estimated that every car has at least one parking space at home and three or four waiting elsewhere to serve the same car. More recently, Davis et al. (2010) used detailed aerial photographs to estimate the number of parking spaces in surface parking lots in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Parking lots were identified as paved surfaces with stripes painted on the surface or where more than three cars were parked in an organized fashion. Although the estimates did not include any on-street parking spaces, or any parking spaces in structures (other than the top floor if the structure has an open roof), or any residential parking spaces that are not in parking lots, the total area occupied by parking lots in the four states would cover about half the state of Rhode Island. In two cities in Indiana for which there were detailed observations, parking lots covered three times more land than parks.

Using this limited category of parking spaces (only the spaces in off-street surface parking lots), Davis et al. estimated that the parking supply ranged between 2.5 spaces per car in Indiana to 3 spaces per car in Michigan. Presumably, most cars also have one parking space at home, and many more parking spaces are on the streets and in structures.

To be extremely conservative, suppose there is one parking space at home for every car and only two additional parking spaces elsewhere (at work, school, supermarkets, and so on), for a total of three parking spaces per car. Let us also take your back-of-the-envelope estimate of $2,200 for the land and construction cost of a surface parking space, an extremely low value. The cost of the parking spaces available per car would be $6,600 (3 spaces per car x $2,200 per space). In this case, the per-car cost of parking exceeds the average value of a car ($5,507). If so, the total cost of the parking supply exceeds the total value of all cars. And this estimate does not include the cost of any parking spaces on the streets or in structures.

Please cite the source of your statement that “Even structured parking typically costs only about $10,000 a space.” The national average construction cost for an above-ground parking structure in 2010, according to Carl Walker Associates, is just over $16,000 per space (excluding land value). Underground parking structures are even more expensive. The most recent underground parking structure built at UCLA, for example, cost $31,500 per space (Table 6-1 in The High Cost of Free Parking). Yale is about to spend $20 million to build a 200-space underground parking structure for its new School of Management, which is a cost of $100,000 per space. Your rough estimates of $2,200 per space for surface parking and $10,000 per space for structured parking are probably far too low for parking lots and structures in many cities.

If the total cost of all parking spaces in the US exceeds the total value of all the cars parked in them, and if drivers park free for 99 percent of all their trips, the total subsidy for parking (the total cost of parking not paid for by drivers in their role as parkers) is huge. Using data on the capital and operating costs of parking lots and parking structures, I estimated that the subsidy for off-street parking in 2002 was between $127 billion and $374 billion, or between 1.2 percent and 3.6 percent of the gross domestic product. In comparison, in 2002 the federal government spent $231 billion for Medicare and $349 billion for national defense. (Chapter 7 in The High Cost of Free Parking)

Free curb parking may be the most costly subsidy that American cities provide for most of their citizens.

In addition, there is the subsidy for all the on-street parking spaces. Consider a 36-foot wide residential street with two 10-foot-wide travel lanes and two 8-foot-wide parking lanes: curb parking takes up 44 percent of the roadspace. Clearly, curb parking spaces account for a significant share of the total cost of roads, and an accurate estimate of the total subsidy for parking would take curb parking into account. The US Department of Commerce estimates that the value of roads is 36 percent of the value of all state and local public infrastructure (which also includes schools, sewers, water supply, residential buildings, equipment, hospitals, and parks). Because curb parking occupies a substantial share of road space, it must be a substantial share of all state and local public infrastructure. Drivers do not pay gasoline taxes while their cars are parked, except perhaps on the gasoline lost through evaporative emissions, which pollute the air. Since drivers do pay gasoline taxes while they are driving, curb spaces are subsidized much more than the travel lanes are. Free curb parking may be the most costly subsidy that American cities provide for most of their citizens. (p. 206 in The High Cost of Free Parking)


“Strangely, one of the examples Cowen uses in his article is Manhattan, where (he claims) ‘streets are full of cars cruising around, looking for cheaper on-street parking, rather than pulling into a lot.’ Give me a break! I defy Cowen to find any free parking anywhere in Manhattan, where ownership of a single parking space can cost more than a median home in other parts of the country.”

I see that you retracted this no-free-parking-in-Manhattan claim in a later post.

Unfortunately, this retraction includes several new errors of fact.


“Many streets in Manhattan offer free parking, albeit often with the caveat that you have to move your car from one side of the street to the other every night.”

New York does not require owners who park on the street to move their cars every night. It requires owners to move their cars twice a week so the city can sweep the streets under them. Most of the curb parking spaces in Manhattan are free, on some of the most valuable land on earth. As you say, a parking space in Manhattan can cost more than a house in other parts of the country, so these free curb spaces must provide an awesome subsidy for cars. And the competition for this awesome subsidy requires cruising to find a rare vacant space. This cruising for free parking wastes time and fuel, congests traffic, and pollutes the air.

A study of cruising in one 15-block business district in Los Angeles found that, over the course of a year, the search for underpriced curb parking created about 950,000 excess vehicle miles of travel—equivalent to 38 trips around the earth, or four trips to the moon. And here’s another inconvenient truth about underpriced curb parking: cruising those 950,000 miles wastes 47,000 gallons of gasoline and produces 730 tons of carbon dioxide. If all this happens in one small business district, imagine the cumulative effect of all cruising in throughout the United States. (Chapter 14 in The High Cost of Free Parking)


“But this doesn’t change my main point, which is that it is one thing for Cowen to argue that cities should not price parking below market rates where there is a market for parking. I have no problem with this. But it is quite another thing to argue, as many urban planners following the Shoup model do, that private businesses should be required to charge for parking (or be limited in how much parking they are allowed to provide) in areas where the market rate for parking is zero.”

Please cite the source of a Shoup model that would require businesses to charge for parking. Opposing minimum parking requirements is very different from proposing minimum pricing requirements.

I have supported the policy of “parking cash out” whereby employers who offer commuters free parking at work also offer commuters the option to choose the cash value of a parking space if they do not take a free parking space at work. This policy does not mandate parking charges because commuters who choose to drive can still park free. Parking cash out gives the same subsidy to every commuter, regardless of travel mode choice, while free parking gives a subsidy to drivers and nothing to other commuters.

Case studies of employers who offer parking cash out in Southern California show that it reduced vehicle travel to work by 12 percent -- equivalent to removing one of every eight cars from the road during peak commute hours. Parking cash out cost the employers only $2 a month per employee because they saved almost as much on parking subsidies as they paid in cash to commuters. Federal and state income tax revenues increased by $65 a year per employee because many commuters voluntarily traded their tax-exempt parking subsidies for taxable cash. Employers said that parking cash out is simple and fair, and that it helps recruit and retain workers. Parking cash out thus produces benefits for commuters, employers, taxpayers, cities, and the environment. It accomplishes all these goals simply by letting commuters choose how to spend their own money.

Can you tell me if the Cato Institute offers free parking for its employees? If so, does it also offer commuters the option to cash out their parking subsidies?


"Cowen’s complaint about Manhattan is not about free parking but that the government is pricing on-street parking below the market. If that were the extent of Shoup’s argument, I would have no problem, as I noted in my blog last week. But Shoup’s goal isn’t market pricing of public parking; it is to create artificial shortages of private parking. He doesn’t want to simply eliminate the minimum-parking requirements that are found in many zoning codes; he wants to replace them with maximum-parking limits so that places like WalMart will not be allowed to provide their customers with as much parking as they like."

You have misunderstood what I recommend. Here are four quotes about parking requirements in The High Cost of Free Parking:

“Most markets depend on prices to allocate resources -- so much so that it’s hard to imagine they could operate in any other way. Nevertheless, cities have tried to manage parking almost entirely without prices. . . cities have without a second thought imposed planning requirements to ensure affordable parking. Rather than charge fair market prices for on-street parking, cities require ample off-street parking for every land use.” (page eight)

Why do you say that planners are annoyed when developers voluntarily provide more parking than zoning codes demand? Most off-street parking requirements are a minimum with no maximum. Minimum parking requirements imply that planners care only about having enough parking spaces, and that there can never be too many.

“Planners cannot even agree on whether to require or restrict off-street parking. Consider the diametrically opposed approaches in the Los Angeles and San Francisco CBDs: Los Angeles requires parking, while San Francisco restricts it. For a concert hall, Los Angeles requires, as a minimum, 50 times more parking spaces than San Francisco allows as the maximum. . . If some physicians prescribed bloodletting and others prescribed blood transfusion to treat the same disease, everybody would demand to know what is going on. But when city planners do essentially the same thing, nobody questions the contradiction.” (p. 121)

“Despite their ambivalence on whether to require or restrict parking, planners always regulate it. This behavior recalls a Soviet maxim: 'What is not required must be prohibited.'” (p. 121)

“Although market prices can allocate parking spaces fairly and efficiently, cities now require off-street parking everywhere -- imposing enormous costs on the economy and the environment. Cities can and should regulate off-street parking to improve its quality, but they should deregulate its quantity and instead charge market prices for curb parking. If cities deregulate off-street parking and charge the right price for curb parking, market forces will improve transportation, land use, the environment, and urban life. You will not pay for my parking, and I will not pay for yours. Instead of planning without prices, we can let prices do the planning.” (p. 499)

I did not mention WalMart anywhere in The High Cost of Free Parking.


“The empirical question is: do shopping malls, office parks, and companies like WalMart provide parking for their customers and employees because of zoning mandates, as Shoup claims? Or would they and do they provide parking just because it is good for their businesses? Texas counties are not allowed to zone, yet shopping centers and office parks in unincorporated Texas still provide plenty of parking. Much to planners’ annoyance, many developers elsewhere routinely provide more parking than zoning codes demand. This suggests that free parking is a free-market choice, and Cowen, who generally supports free markets, should have no objection to it.”

Your “empirical question” attacks a straw planner. I have never said that developers provide parking only because of zoning. I have said that zoning often forces developers to provide more parking than they would voluntarily choose to provide in a free market, where they take into account both the cost of providing the parking spaces and the revenue the spaces will generate. So please cite the evidence for your statement that many developers routinely provide more parking than zoning codes demand.

Why do you say that planners are annoyed when developers voluntarily provide more parking than zoning codes demand? Most off-street parking requirements are a minimum with no maximum. Minimum parking requirements imply that planners care only about having enough parking spaces, and that there can never be too many. Furthermore, the planning approvals for specific projects often require developers to provide more parking spaces than the zoning code requires. Few planners are annoyed when developers provide more parking than the code requires; they are annoyed when developers try to provide less parking than the code requires.

All the evidence I have seen suggests that developers often request planning variances to provide fewer parking spaces than the zoning codes require, because these requirements can seriously overestimate the peak demand for free parking. Developers must commission expensive transportation studies to justify a planning variance. Consider the results in a study commissioned by Home Depot for of the peak parking occupancy at its stores in the Southwest United States. The Parsons Transportation Group observed the parking occupancy at hourly intervals at 17 Home Depot stores on a Saturday, the busiest day of the week, and found “no correlation between the square footage of a store and its resultant peak parking demand.” Parsons used the sales data at each store to predict its peak parking occupancy on the 5th-busiest day of the year, which was selected as the “design day” for the parking supply. As Parsons explained, “Choosing the 5th-busiest day as the design day would mean that some customers may not be able to find a parking space immediately during the peak hour of the busiest four or five days of the year; however, they should have no problem finding a parking space in the lot at any other time.”

Parsons then compared these estimates of peak parking occupancy with the number of spaces that cities typically require at the rate of 5 spaces per 1,000 square feet of floor area. The average municipal parking requirement based on floor area was more than double the estimated peak parking occupancy on the 5th-busiest day at a Home Depot store. That is, the study commissioned by Home Depot found that cities required twice the number of parking spaces needed to meet the peak demand for free parking at Home Depot stores at the busiest time of the year. (pp. 35–37 in The High Cost of Free Parking)

City planners have no training that would enable them to estimate the demand for parking, and no financial stake in the success of a development. They know much less than developers do about how many parking spaces to provide for each project. Planners may, at best, know a little about the peak demand for free parking at a few land uses, but they know nothing about the marginal cost of parking spaces at any site, or about how to estimate the demand for parking as a function of its price. Markets will quickly reveal the demand for parking if cities cease requiring off-street spaces. Developers, landlords, and residents will all be able to make their own independent decisions about the right number of parking spaces. Market-priced parking will allow cities to evolve naturally in response to developers’ costs and citizens’ preferences, while minimum parking requirements force evolution toward car dependency and sprawl. In planning for an uncertain future, flexible prices are far better than rigid requirements. Could things be any worse if there were no planning for parking at all?

The vision behind most planning for parking is a drive-in utopia, and cities legislate this vision into reality for every new building, regardless of the cost. Off-street parking requirements that satisfy the peak demand for free parking are, in reality, free parking requirements. Planners may believe in the immaculate conception of parking demand, and economists may believe that market choices reveal consumer preferences for travel by car. But the demand for parking was not immaculately conceived, and it does not result from consumer preferences revealed in a free market. Free parking is not always a free-market choice. Instead, governments and the market coupled long ago to produce today’s swollen demand for cars and parking.

After he has studied the evidence and reconsidered the issues, I hope the Antiplanner at the Cato Institute may decide to condemn rather than condone a complex web of wasteful and harmful minimum parking requirements that severely restrict the use of private property.

Well, that’s about it for pointing out mistakes in your blog post. Because you have said that you did not read The High Cost of Free Parking, I can understand why you have some misconceptions of what is in it. If you had read the book, you would probably have found much with which you agree. I do not expect that you will want to read a 733-page book on parking, however, so here are the links to a few sites that will give you a quick view of what’s in the book.

I did not spend all this time simply to send you a personal message about your blog post. If you take responsibility for the accuracy of the facts you have confidently stated on Cato@Liberty, and if the Cato Institute stands behind the accuracy of what its staff members post on its blog, I hope you will use the information in this message to correct all the errors in your original post. If your post is so careless with the facts and so filled with errors, and it is not corrected or retracted, what should one assume about all the other posts on Cato@Liberty?

Donald Shoup

Department of Urban Planning

University of California, Los Angeles

Original post by Randal O’Toole on CATO@LIBERTY:

Free Markets for Free Parking Posted by Randal O'Toole August 16, 2010 @ 7:49 am

I am disappointed that the distinguished George Mason University economist, Tyler Cowen, has fallen for the “high-cost-of-free-parking” arguments of UCLA urban planner Donald Shoup. Shoup is an excellent scholar, but like many scholars, he has the parochial view that the city that he lives in is a representative example of what is happening everywhere else.

Should free parking be a thing of the past?

Shoup’s work is biased by his residency in Los Angeles, the nation’s densest urban area. One way L.A. copes with that density is by requiring builders of offices, shopping malls, and multi-family residences to provide parking. Shoup assumes that every municipality in the country has such parking requirements, even though many do not, and that without such requirements there would be less free parking. This last assumption is extremely unlikely, as entrepreneurs everywhere know that (outside of New York City) 90 percent of all urban travel is by car, and businesses that don’t offer parking are going to lose customers to ones that do.

Shoup portrays such free parking as a “subsidy” because not all people drive and so the ones who don’t drive end up subsidizing the ones who do. But any business offers a variety of services to its customers and employees, and no one frets about subsidies just because they don’t take advantage of every single service. How often do you actually swim in the swimming pools or work out in the exercise rooms of the hotels you stay at?

Shoup also supposes (and Cowen accepts) that universal parking fees would greatly reduce the amount of driving people do. “Minimum parking requirements act like a fertility drug for cars,” Cowen quotes Shoup as saying. Metro, Portland’s regional planning agency, submitted this question to its transportation model and concluded that requiring all offices, shopping malls, and multi-family residences to charge for parking would reduce driving by about 2 percent. The model showed that charging for parking has a greater effect on driving than spending billions on light rail, building scores of transit-oriented developments, or increasing the urban area’s population density by 20 percent. But 2 percent still isn’t going to do much to relieve congestion or solve any of the other problems Cowen associates with driving. Plus he never really explains why he thinks reducing mobility is a good idea in the first place.

Shoup claims that a single parking space costs, on average, 17 percent more than the cost of an average car, and as a result, the cost of parking greatly exceeds the value of all automobiles in the country. This is ridiculous. Most free parking is surface parking, which costs about $2,000 a space plus the cost of land. In areas that have not used urban-growth boundaries and similar tools to create artificial land shortages, vacant suburban land with urban services typically costs about $20,000 an acre. Since each acre can hold about 100 parking spaces, the total cost is about $2,200 per space. From the point of view of a business owner, this cost can be amortized over 30 years at 6 percent, for an annual cost of about $160. If that parking space is used by just two customers a day, the cost is about 22 cents per customer. That’s pretty trivial, and the costs of collecting fees for such parking would probably be greater than the parking itself. Even structured parking typically costs only about $10,000 a space (or, using the above assumptions, $1 per customer), but structured parking is rarely provided for free.

Strangely, one of the examples Cowen uses in his article is Manhattan, where (he claims) “streets are full of cars cruising around, looking for cheaper on-street parking, rather than pulling into a lot.” Give me a break! I defy Cowen to find any free parking anywhere in Manhattan, where ownership of a single parking space can cost more than a median home in other parts of the country.

Cowen’s complaint about Manhattan is not about free parking but that the government is pricing on-street parking below the market. If that were the extent of Shoup’s argument, I would have no problem, as I noted in my blog last week. But Shoup’s goal isn’t market pricing of public parking; it is to create artificial shortages of private parking. He doesn’t want to simply eliminate the minimum-parking requirements that are found in many zoning codes; he wants to replace them with maximum-parking limits so that places like WalMart will not be allowed to provide their customers with as much parking as they like.

The empirical question is: do shopping malls, office parks, and companies like WalMart provide parking for their customers and employees because of zoning mandates, as Shoup claims? Or would they and do they provide parking just because it is good for their businesses? Texas counties are not allowed to zone, yet shopping centers and office parks in unincorporated Texas still provide plenty of parking. Much to planners’ annoyance, many developers elsewhere routinely provide more parking than zoning codes demand. This suggests that free parking is a free-market choice, and Cowen, who generally supports free markets, should have no objection to it.

Randal O'Toole • August 16, 2010 @ 7:49 am Filed under: Energy and Environment

Microblogging, expanded

gum wall 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.

Make your own streets in Abu Dhabi

If you're like me, you've often looked at a street and thought, If only I could make a lane diagram that didn't look terrible. Though I don't think many people are like me, I have some friends at heart in the Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council. The ADUPC has made an online tool so you can make your own street cross-sections, and I am a fan. Expect to see a lot more of these diagrams from here on. The key to building a good cross-section is flexibility. A planner needs to show sidewalks, street furniture spaces, bike lanes of all classes, curbs, medians, transit-only lanes and, of course, regular traffic lanes. These need to be adjustable to any width, and we need to be able to show accessories. The ADUPC tool lets you adjust down to a tenth of a meter and add trees, grass, light poles, coloration, and patterns.

I don't like that I can't show the results in feet. American planners of the professional and armchair variety know their lanes in terms of feet: 12 feet for a freeway lane, 10 feet for a surface street lane, etc. It's an adjustment to go metric, and it adds an unfortunate barrier to what is otherwise straightforward.

Yesterday I posted about a short stretch of Second Street. While it was easy see from Google Streetview how small a space we'd reserved for pedestrians, I didn't describe the width of the lanes. Even if I had, the point can be lost in a cloud of numbers. A diagram presents all that information in a much more concise fashion.

Second Street as it is now, with widths in meters. The lanes vary a bit through this block, but not much. Image from ADUPC.

At the top is the total width of the right-of-way, 16.9 meters. Below each element is its width in meters: the three lanes, the dirt path on the south side of the street and the grassy filler space in the north side. The widths are approximations from the tools on Google Maps.

Now we can easily see that this bit of road is actually quite wide. Since lane widths on a surface street are usually only 10 feet (3 meters), we have quite a bit to work with.

Using the same tool, I can reconfigure how much space is dedicated to what. I came up with the cheapest solution: add a 6.5 foot (well, 2 meter) sidewalk to the existing road. To accommodate, I narrowed the lanes to 3.5 meters apiece. It's above average, but it's a difficult curve and drivers might need a bit more wiggle room as they come off Miracle Mile.

It's really easy to add a sidewalk.

But maybe you'd like to do something else with this stretch. Perhaps you want to move the planter to be a space between the road and the sidewalk. Perhaps you'd like to narrow all the lanes to 3 meters and widen the sidewalk. Or perhaps you'd like to widen the lanes a bit more, maybe squeeze in another travel lane through there. That's the wonderful thing: you can easily show us what you'd like to build on this roadway, or any roadway.

So go to it.

The federal transit tax benefit returns

Light orange cells aren't covered fully by the federal benefit but are covered by federal + state benefits. Dark orange cells aren't fully covered by either. Lost in the madness of last night’s fiscal cliff vote were a slew of earmarks, including a provision reinstating the $240 transit tax benefit, and that’s fantastic news for Golden Gate Transit commuters.

The new benefit means the total cost of all but the furthest trips will be covered by a federal tax benefit. Those who are not fully covered – namely commuters between San Francisco/Southern Marin and Sonoma – will see more money in their pocket.

If large employers tacked on California’s $75 transit benefit to the federal benefit, rather than overlapping the two, only the Santa Rosa-San Francisco commute will remain partially covered.

Somehow, this benefit is retroactive to the start of 2012, though it’s unlikely anyone will be able to claim tax relief for those months gone by, as it’s unclear how that would work in reverse.

This is the first time the transit benefit has been in alignment with the parallel $240 parking benefit. Though the old and expired $230 benefit approached the parking benefit, it still needlessly biased federal policy towards driving at the expense of transit.

Alas, the benefit isn’t permanent. Unless Congress renews it, the benefit will revert back to its previous $125 level.

Well, that SMARTs a little...

On December 10th, 2012, the Sonoma County Transportation Authority Board of Directors approved programming $6.6 million of the County’s $9.9 million pot of federal Congestion Mitigation Air Quality (CMAQ) funds to Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) for the purchase of an additional train set. We know you are probably having some feelings about this decision, among them anger and confusion.

SCBC’s here to provide for you some context, describe the circumstances around the vote, explain what the vote means for bicycling in Sonoma County, share our position on the vote, and our strategy moving forward.

The Context

Sonoma County Transportation Authority (SCTA) coordinates transportation planning and funding throughout the County. Most of the transportation funding that SCTA receives is programmed through the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), SCTA’s Regional counterpart, which manages transportation planning and funding for the 9 Bay Area Counties.

SCTA works to bring to Sonoma County funding for highways, roads, transit, and bicycle and pedestrian projects. This is a complex and wonky process comprising many pieces. There are various “pots” of federal and state money that filter through MTC to SCTA.

One of these pots is CMAQ. These federal funds can be used for projects that help reduce traffic congestion and air pollution. A variety of project types are eligible for CMAQ funding, including, but not limited to, transit, bicycle, and pedestrian projects. In Sonoma County, CMAQ has historically been a significant (if not the top) source of funding for bicycle pedestrian projects. SCTA programs these funds to eligible projects through a competitive process in 2-4 year cycles.

The concerned $9.9 million pot of CMAQ funding (mentioned in the introduction) is for projects through 2016, and is set to be programmed starting in 2013. Over the past year, each of the nine cities in Sonoma County, the County of Sonoma, and SMART itself, have been able to submit projects to be considered for CMAQ funding. These jurisdictions submitted to SCTA by a November 30th deadline $38 million worth of projects deemed eligible for CMAQ funding. Under the normal SCTA process, these eligible projects in 2013 would have to compete for shares of the $9.9 million of available CMAQ funding.

The Vote

On Thursday, December 6th, Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition learned that SMART was to make a special request to the SCTA Board of Directors at the latter’s December 10th meeting. Based on our understanding, other stakeholders and the members of the SCTA Board of Directors learned of this request the same day as did SCBC.

SMART’s request was that the SCTA Board agree to put ahead of all other CMAQ-eligible projects its own eligible request for $6.6 million to purchase an additional train set. The SCTA Board was asked to vote on whether to program this funding without putting SMART ‘s request through SCTA’s regular competitive process.

SMART asserted that it needs the train set in order to provide full service to the North Santa Rosa station at the time the Initial Operating Segment (the “IOS” – North Santa Rosa to San Rafael) opens in 2015 or 2016. SMART asserted that full service to this station (rather than the 2/3 service possible without it) is critical because North Santa Rosa station represents 80% anticipated ridership for the Sonoma County portion of the IOS.

SMART argued that going outside the normal SCTA process was necessary because SMART must order the train set by the end of 2012 for two reasons: 1) SMART will be able to get the additional train set for the same price as those it has already ordered; and 2) If SMART does not order now, the new train set will not arrive until 2018, well after SMART begins service on the IOS.

After asking some good questions, hearing public comment by 7 people (including SCBC Outreach Director Sandra Lupien), and a good amount of discussion, the SCTA Board voted 10-2 to approve SMART’s request. Almost every member of the Board said they were unhappy with the ramifications of their decision for available bicycle/pedestrian funding, and expressed that it was a very difficult decision to make.

What it means for bike/ped

By approving SMART’s request for $6.6 million, the SCTA Board has left just $3.3 million in CMAQ funds available for about $31 million in CMAQ eligible projects. It is hard to tell based on the project list overview what portion of the projects submitted by cities and the County are bicycle projects. It looks like most of them are multi-use projects that include some combination of roadway improvements that may include bicycle lanes, sidewalks, and crosswalks. There are a few multi-use Class I projects on the list. The largest share of bike/ped projects on the list are segments of the SMART Multi-use Pathway.

These bicycle-pedestrian projects will, through SCTA’s normal process, have to compete against each other and the other eligible projects for a much smaller pot of money. That could mean that important bicycle-pedestrian projects could be more likely to be delayed until a later funding cycle.

When voting on SMART’s request on December 10, several members of the Board expressed hope that SCTA would prioritize the bicycle-pedestrian projects for the remaining $3.3 million in funding. The Board also directed staff to allow jurisdictions to re-submit their CMAQ-eligible projects to enable jurisdictions to prioritize projects based on the smaller pot of money.

Finally, SCTA staff did mention that there is $1.4 million in potential bike/ped funding through the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP), and $11.4 million available in Surface Transportation Projects (STP) funding that can be used for bike/ped.

SCBC’s position

This decision SMARTs for sure, but we want to be sure that SCBC’s position is clear. There are parts of this whole situation that we don’t like, parts we think are not a huge deal, and parts that we think need a little clarifying.

What we really don’t like

1. SMART jumped the queue with an 11th hour request – Based on the conversation on December 10th, SCBC can understand why SMART needs to buy the train set by the end of the year, particularly because a 2018 arrival of the train set would be too late. What we don’t understand is why SMART waited until the last minute to make the request. When SMART announced in early 2012 that it was able to add the North Santa Rosa Station to the Initial Operating Segment, it announced that it could only offer 2/3 service to that station with its budgeted equipment. That left nearly a year to figure out how to get the train set needed to offer full service to North Santa Rosa. A few months – rather than a few days -- lead time on SMART’s request would have allowed the SCTA Board of Directors to make a more well-reasoned decision, explore other options, etc.

2. SMART did not notify stakeholders (other agencies, public works departments, SCBC) that it planned to make this significant request. The lack of communication left SCBC – and probably other stakeholders – feeling blindsided.

3. This process has made clear that SCTA’s CMAQ-eligible project list does not include a satisfactory number of competitive, deliverable bicycle projects. This, in spite of the fact that each municipality has excellent bicycle/pedestrian projects planned. This means that jurisdictions are not submitting their bike/ped projects for funding.

4. This vote by the SCTA Board threatens to delay some projects for several years. We don’t like to see any bicycle/pedestrian project delayed. We think that the need to increase safe bicycle access must be prioritized and that jurisdictions must build out their bike/ped plans.

What is not that big of a deal:

1. Using CMAQ money to support important transit project in our County -- SMART -- is a legitimate use of this funding source.

What is worth noting:

1. The availability of the $1.4 million in TAP funds is a good thing, and so is the potential availability of $11 million in STP funds. Both of these funds are also competitive and by no means limited to bike/ped projects.

What SCBC is going to do

1. Status of the Multi-use Pathway (MUP) Many people appear to be under the mistaken notion that this decision somehow means that SMART has cut the multi-use pathway from the project. This decision is not related to the MUP in any way. That said, SCBC does hear concerns from the bicycle community as to whether SMART does in fact intend to build the pathway as planned. While we are aware that segments of the MUP are currently under construction, and more will be under construction in the Spring, we believe that SMART owes the bicycle community a strong and direct commitment. Therefore, we will meet with SMART next week and demand that SMART provide public assurances that the MUP is, was, and always will be a part of the SMART project. We will also urge SMART to make a public statement as to the status of the various segments of the MUP and when they’re expected to be completed.

2. SMART as a community partner We will explain to SMART that the agency must be a transparent, communicative community partner that engages key stakeholders in key decisions.

3. Urge SCTA to prioritize bike projects As noted above, some members of the SCTA Board expressed hope that bike/ped projects would be prioritized for the remaining CMAQ money. We will push SCTA to honor this sentiment with action. We will also push SCTA to fund bike/ped projects with the $1.4 million in available TAP funds, and with some of the $11m in available STP funds.

4. Push for more, deliverable bike projects As noted above, this decision has made clear that for some reason, the various jurisdictions are not submitting their compelling bike projects for CMAQ funding. We are going to work with public works departments to find out why they’re not bringing forth their bike projects, and to provide support and encouragement to help them do so moving forward. Every community in Sonoma County has great plans for bikes; we need the jurisdictions to prioritize getting those projects funded, implemented, and open to the public!

Thank you for taking the time to read and understand this situation. Here is what you can do to help:

1. Join Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition. We are your voice! We’re here to fight for bicycle projects. Your membership makes SCBC more influential.

2. Get everyone you know to join Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition.

3. Make an end-of-the-year donation to Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition. We’re not kidding around. Donations and membership dues make it possible for us to represent the bicycle community. We get grants for programs like Safe Routes to School, but grants are not available to fund our advocacy efforts. It’s up to you!

4. Write to your elected officials, to the SCTA Board of Directors, and to the SCTA Executive Director. Let them know you want them to prioritize funding for bicycle projects in Sonoma County and in your city. If you need help finding these email addresses, please contact SCBC.

Please call us at 707-545-0153 if you have any questions. You may also email

SCBC is here to fight to create the safe, accessible, amazing bicycle community we want to see; together with you, we’re making it happen!

This piece was cross-posted from the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition blog.

Marin Trolley should start with goals

Road rage Over the past few weeks, the prospect of a trolley running from Manor to San Rafael has become a bit more real. San Anselmo, Fairfax, and San Rafael all asked TAM to authorize a study of the corridor, and the county released $10,000 to do just that.

Even before the study has been completed, however, it's possible to analyze what the trolley would cost and whether a streetcar would be the best way to meet the goals of supporters and the travel demand of the corridor itself.

The plan as presented

The Marin Trolley project envisions the 5-mile Manor-San Rafael line as the first of a comprehensive streetcar system through central and southern Marin. Though the precise technologies haven't been determined yet, Marin Trolley has been boosting battery-powered streetcars running with traffic. Unlike the old Interurban or SMART, the system would not have its own right-of-way – it could get stuck in car traffic, just as buses currently do. Headways would be about 20 minutes during regular service and presumably less during rush hour, compared to 15-45 minutes along the corridor today.

Using similar systems as a guide, we can broadly estimate the cost of this first segment to be between $50 million and $220 million, which would include the cost of vehicles, maintenance facilities, rails, and battery recharging at stations.

That the trolley would need to compete with traffic is not a problem unique to Marin. The DC Streetcar system is planned to run with traffic for much of its route, to the chagrin of many transit supporters. The Muni Metro system gets stuck in traffic at times, too, despite dedicated lanes that make it illegal for cars to use the same lane.

Start with goals, not technology

Marin Trolley has outlined five goals for the system:

  1. Increase frequency of transit service
  2. Make transit more accessible to seniors by removing stairs (“level boarding”)
  3. Convey a sense of routing and permanence
  4. Spur economic development
  5. Provide a viable alternative to driving

Whenever doing strategic planning, it's important to examine the goals first and create a solution that best meets those goals. Transit is no different, though often planners – especially in the US – put technology first and try to fit goals to it after the fact. It seems as though Marin Trolley may have fallen victim to this unfortunate tendency, as four of these goals are possible with buses today while the fifth, economic development, requires land-use policy changes unlikely to pass any of the three towns.

  1. None of the three regular bus lines serving the Manor-San Rafael corridor are terribly high-frequency. Route 29 runs hourly except on Sundays, when it doesn't run at all. The first four southbound departures of Route 22 turn into Route 18 at College of Marin. Route 23 doesn't always run east of Greenfield Avenue. Giving the corridor 15 minute headways would require some scheduling changes and possibly adding service, but is far cheaper than a new service.
  2. Level boarding is a common feature on buses, and Marin Transit has been building up its fleet. Adjustments to stops – raising the curb slightly and creating “bulb-outs” so the bus doesn't need to pull out of traffic, which often places the bus at weird angles – would allow a roll-on, roll-off service for those who need it.
  3. Nothing beats a rail in the ground, but better communication through mapping, branding, and real-time arrival information can make bus lines feel almost as permanent.
  4. Economic development happens around bus rapid transit lines that don't have to mix with traffic and streetcar lines that do. However, streetcars similar to Marin Trolley have typically happened in blighted areas that have huge untapped development potential, such as the H Street Corridor in Washington, DC.The Manor-San Rafael corridor lacks abandoned buildings and underused potential with the current zoning that characterizes other corridors. Without land-use policy changes that increase the density of trip origins and destinations (i.e., more homes, offices, and shops), the development potential is limited. Given how skeptical Marinites are of development and increasing density, I'd be surprised if the necessary zoning changes would get out of committee, much less passed by any of the councils.
  5. A viable alternative to driving is one that is faster and more efficient than driving. By mixing with cars, a streetcar cannot provide improved speeds over either traffic or the bus. According to Marin Trolley, 45% of travel along the corridor is two miles or less, which is within the range that bicycling is most competitive against driving. Pushing half of those trips to walking and biking would take a great deal of cars off the road.

Trolleys do provide capacity improvements to buses, but there isn't a capacity shortage. Ridership on the 23 is about 930 per day. Since more people also take the 22 and 29, I'd generously guesstimate that no more than 1400 people per day use the bus system along the Manor-San Rafael corridor. Many of those that do are students going to White Hill, meaning they would not be regular riders for the summertime.

A viable trolley

While I am skeptical of the plan as proposed, I do believe there is a chance to make the trolley a viable alternative to the car, but it involves a much more comprehensive intervention than the Marin Trolley proposal. In essence, the trolley would need to be mass transit along a pedestrian-oriented boulevard rather than a car-oriented strip.

For the trolley to become mass transit, it would need to run in dedicated lanes. While it wouldn't need the whole right-of-way that existed for the Interurban, it would need two traffic lanes in either direction. Center Boulevard, part of Broadway, and Miracle Mile would all be reduced by two lanes. In Center's case, that would mean eliminating it as a roadway entirely. This would allow the trolley, as well as commuter buses, to beat traffic along the corridor, enticing ridership away from the roads. It would be speedy and convenient in a way that Marin's transit hasn't been in 70 years.

To make Miracle Mile into a walkable boulevard would require traffic calming and upzoning to at least match downtowns. At the moment, San Anselmo and San Rafael have their portions of Miracle Mile zoned as “highway commercial”, which forces development to be deliberately auto-oriented. The high parking minimums would need to be eliminated, while floor-area ratios and height and density limits would need to be raised. Thankfully, the tall hills that hem in Miracle Mile means 4-6 story buildings would be able to rise without impeding views.

The Marin Trolley proposal, as currently formulated, would dramatically overbuild the corridor's transit system. Only by boosting the density and transit-friendliness of the corridor and isolating the trolley from traffic would that capacity be met.

More modest interventions, such as traffic calming, Class I bicycle lanes, wider sidewalks, and replicating Fairfax's successful elimination of highway zones, are called for along the corridor. The goals Marin Trolley outlines are best met by bolstering the existing system. At the moment, there's no need for another one.