[I wrote this up in 2018 but never posted it. Since then, we have added bike lanes on Maude and approved bike lanes on Sunnyvale Ave. I think the contrasting approaches to street design are still really interesting. -danny]
I thought I would catch up on a little reading. I skimmed this article about an intersection in the Netherlands where a distributor road with bicycle lanes intersects smaller roads. The main road is similar in form and function to Maude between Mathilda and Fair Oaks: it is a local distributor with one lane in each direction and a speed limit of 30mph. The Dutch street has curb-separated bicycle lanes and no parking. Maude is slated to eventually receive bicycle lanes, and City Council decided to retain parking.
Graafseweg, as featured in Bicycle Dutch. This is what Maude might look like under Dutch design standards: bicycle lanes are buffered from traffic, and traffic lights are avoided in favor of clear markings and buffers for turning vehicles.
Here’s a look at these streets on a map.
E Maude Ave, in Sunnyvale
Graafseweg, in ‘s-Hertogenbosch
Both streets pass through a residential neighborhood with small businesses. There’s a main road to the West, and most intersections with the collector road are Ts. Because the bicycle lanes and sidewalks are separated from Graafseweg by parkways, the Dutch road looks much bigger on the map. If you zoom down on the satellite view, the roads, especially the travel lanes, are comparable in size. If you drop street parking and narrow the parkways, this design could fit in the Maude corridor.
Here’s a rough overlay of the intersection of Graafseweg and Pater van Den Elsenstraat overlaid at Maude and Sunnyvale Ave.
Maude and Sunnyvale Ave: Current Version
Maude and Sunnyvale Ave: Dutch Version
The street itself lines up perfectly, but the park strip would need to be trimmed to fit. The first difference you notice is the absence of slip lanes, which Sunnyvale plans to remove from this intersection. (The Dutch intersection does have a slip lane on the lower right for bicycle traffic.) The next difference you notice is the absence of turn lanes. There is no signal in the Dutch intersection: vehicles turning left pull into a succession of buffer zones yielding to oncoming traffic.
Consider the pedestrian experience: right now, pedestrians crossing Sunnyvale or Maude must press a “beg button” and wait a minute or two for a walk signal. (This can feel like an eternity and is especially infuriating when there is no oncoming traffic. This is why people “jaywalk.”) In the Dutch version, pedestrians make a series of crossings: a one-way bike lane, then a one-way vehicle lane, then a one-way vehicle lane, and a one-way bike lane. Each crossing is much simpler, and pedestrians complete each crossing in a few seconds.
Motorists also experience a series of simpler crossings. For example, a left from Sunnyvale onto Maude would require a yield to the pedestrian and bicycle lanes, then a yield to Eastbound traffic on Maude, and then a yield to Westbound traffic.
One distinction from the Netherlands is that in California, without a signal, pedestrians have the right-of-way at intersections. In this Dutch intersection, bicycles and pedestrians have the right of way across Sunnyvale Ave but would be obliged to yield to traffic on Maude. You can parse this out by looking closely at the placement of “shark tooth” triangle markings on the pavement to see who is being told to yield. I don’t know if that would be allowed under existing state law.
If you look closely at the Dutch analog of Sunnyvale Ave, you see something very interesting.
Many wish to see a cycle track along Sunnyvale Ave, Sunnyvale’s principal North-South bicycle route. The Dutch street looks like a parkway, but the street to the left is a separate street. The street on the right is narrow and two-way. The bicycle lanes are just under 5′ wide, and between those lanes is a 15′ wide road for two-way traffic. The standard speed limit for this road would be 30mph, but drivers likely slow down because they don’t have much room to maneuver. Also, check out that sweet bus shelter! Compare this with the scene on Sunnyvale Ave at Hazelton. Can you spot the bus stop?
What about parking? The American approach seems to be “put in as much road as possible, and use the sides for parking.” The Dutch approach seems to be “put in less road, more landscaping, and sidewalks, then carve out parking spots where you need them.”
Yes, that mom has enough confidence in the safety of this street to have a young child riding on the back of her bicycle.
The Right-of-Way for these streets is comparable, but the Sunnyvale Ave roadway is 40′ wide. The Doctor Poelsstraat roadway is 25′ wide. The Dutch street still accommodates parking, but the overall experience is more pleasant: pedestrians can cross a narrower street, and the narrow street is a cue for drivers to slow down.
The Dutch have also found a convenient use for their wide, separated bicycle lanes: they can double as parking lanes! Let’s take another look at the Dutch version of Maude Ave.
The 10′ bike lane has car parking along the sides. The nearest car on the right is a reserved spot for a disabled resident. Maude is 50′ curb-to-curb and could fit a 20′ roadway, two 10′ bike lanes, and parking on one side of the street. Parking on both sides might fit at the cost of removed park strips or smaller lawns. The parking-versus-landscaping tradeoff could be made at the block level by local property owners.
We have young children, which makes travel expensive and cumbersome. I traveled alone, arranging my flights in order to minimize disruption to the family routine. Thus, instead of flying through Long Beach airport, I went through LAX, on Southwest, because the flights worked out to allow me to participate in morning drop-off and return to San Jose to be picked up just after the baby finished Daycare.
The conference was held at the Queen Mary, which is a classy 1930s era cruise ship now moored permanently at the Port of Long Beach. Lyft gave me a discount on a direct ride to the Queen Mary, compared to a shared ride, so I took it. The driver was a Kenyan, who told me that the countries of East Africa were making steady progress towards open borders and economic union. He explained that the Chinese were building a network of passenger railroads in the region. He was in town for a while to help his brother with some personal affairs, and in the meantime he was able to make some money driving for Lyft. The car, he explained, was rented through Hertz or somesuch, who had arrangements for Lyft drivers. He said the rate wasn’t great, but it suited his needs better than buying his own car.
I arrived in time to catch the opening afternoon session. Jason Roberts, an IT Guy living in Houston, shared stories of his unorthodox methods of community improvement. He is an inspiring guy and these are some notes I scribbled down:
“There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.”
A typical response to folks who want to promote outdoor activities is that the idea might work better in some other city with a more agreeable climate . . . but “not here.” For example, in Houston, it is really hot. So, he cited the above proverb and then shared pictures where people manage to enjoy the outdoors in all kinds of weather, including New Orleans, which I guess might be hotter than Houston. As a man who recently discovered the miracle of Rain Pants and how they can make a bicycle commute decently comfortable in the rain, I agree.
He arranged to get the kids in the local school punch cards: each day they rode their bike to school, they got another hole punched in their card. He didn’t mention any rewards for filling out a card, but he said this simple program got a lot of kids riding to school.
He detailed several instances where instead of waiting on the city to conduct a traffic study, &c. to put in a crosswalk or a bike lane, folks in the community would build their own such infrastructure. White duct tape is an excellent stand-in for white thermoplastic. They did some illegal street narrowing and then hosted a festival, making sure to invite the mayor.
“Break every law possible; document it; invite the mayor”
“Wear an orange vest.”
I can vouch for this. When I encounter vehicles obstructing the bike lane, I place a flyer under the windshield, hand a flyer to the driver, and if there’s been a lot of violations that day, I tweet a note to the local police. On more than one occasion, folks have come back to their cars in a panic, assuming the man in the bright yellow jacket slipping a paper under the windshield is a cop.
betterblock.org details his efforts and ideas, and wikiblock is a resource for 3D printed furniture, which can be used to provide street furnishings on the quick and inexpensive. His topline advice:
1) Show up at every community/organization meeting. Meet the folks who are out for civic improvement. 2) Give your idea a name, a logo, and a web site. 3) Set a Specific Date in the Near Future: say there’s a meeting in 2-3 weeks and the objective is to build something within 2-3 months. Having a deadline forces action.
I next attended a session on the Nuts and Bolts of Planning. I noted that California Cities are required by the state to have a General Plan for the next 20-30 years and that the General Plan is composed of various Elements, like the Housing Element, which are each revised every several years. Then there are more specific Specific Plans and zoning standards . . .
I did appreciate learning that “Euclidian Zoning,” where zoning is separated by use (Residential vs. Commercial, &c.) was not, in fact, a reference to Geometry, but a reference to a court case where one of the parties was named Euclid. An alternative to Euclidian zoning is to define the allowable form of buildings without prescribing their use.
I sought a late lunch. Dining options are limited on and near the Queen Mary. I finally settled on an overpriced cheeseburger, which was dry, and had an egg that had been thoroughly fried, so the yolk did not run. This was sad. After this I drifted back to the conference, hearing a bit about the basics of CEQA, the California Environmental Quality Act.
Finally, on my third attempt at check-in, the staff of the Queen Mary agreed that my room was at last available, but first they had to hammer away on the computer for several minutes and take my keys in the back. It wasn’t personal: the place was filled up and everyone’s check-in was an exercise in patience. I suspect the place is run by folks who are more excited at the prospect of managing a historical ship than they are with efficient hotel logistics, or the correct preparation of overpriced cheeseburgers.
The room was spacious, by the standards of a contemporary American hotel built near the freeway, and especially in comparison to my limited cruise ship experience. Not all of the ship is in use as a hotel, and I assume they took the higher-class rooms for this purpose. On a modern cruise ship, a patio seems standard fare, but in the 1930s all you got was a porthole. Because all of the room lights are on a single switch, I used the porthole as a night light. I was charmed by the vintage desk that folded flat against the wall.
I considered skipping dinner, by subsisting on some dry chicken skewers, vegetables, and cheese from the networking event. The wife suggested I find a way to town and I found that there is a free bus that departs every fifteen minutes. I hiked up Pine Street a ways, past the light rail that was closed for reconstruction. I found an inexpensive but tasty Indian kebab place which seemed a good choice because last time I was alone roaming the streets of a foreign city at night after a conference, I was in Dublin, where they were also building light rail, and where I also ended up eating inexpensive Indian food.
The return bus was delayed, so I signed up for the Razor scooter service. The app made sure I was wearing a helmet, as everyone who rides a rental scooter always does. I felt a little shaky at first but got the hang of it, and before long I was back at the Queen Mary for under $5. The app warned me that I shouldn’t park in forbidden zones: apparently, the area around the Queen Mary is forbidden, but if you park next to the ship you’re okay. Other scooter services do not have this restriction.
The Razor scooter was the nicest I tried during my trip: the deck is wider, and the tires are fatter than the competition. My only grouse is that the handles are lower than is comfortable for a tall guy like me.
Upon returning to my room, I opened the door and heard a young boy sigh or mumble. This was most likely one of the ghosts who reside upon the Queen Mary. I concede that an alternate possibility is that when I opened the door, it created negative pressure in the room, and the air made a funny noise squeezing through the porthole.
Although the walls on the ship are thin, and engines no longer muffle the neighbors who inhabit the ship’s various astral planes, I slept well. Throughout the morning, my brain adjusted to the idea of inhabiting a cruise ship while not feeling the movement of the sea.
Breakfast was rich in protein, and I chatted with a Planning Commissioner from Solvang. He explained that they were working to fix up the business district, which I have heard is a Swedish-themed tourist town. He hoped they could get an Apple Store since the nearest is a 40-minute drive. An Apple Store strikes me as an odd thing to wish for. I tried to adapt my impression of a glass cube to Old-Timey Sweden Town. He explained that the building codes would continue to specify a particular architectural style, but some of the run-down hotels could be replaced with nicer amenities.
Later the notion of autonomous personal passenger aircraft came up. The same Planning Commissioner was excited at the idea that people would prefer to own a private plane, maybe a sporty cherry red Jetsons car that could take off from the back-yard heliport, take them directly to work, then return home to park. Someone suggested the FAA might be slow to embrace this vision. Another suggested that folks might be happy to trade off the safety implications for the incredible convenience. I shared a criticism I have seen of the Boring Company, which so far hasn’t seemed to account for safety. In the hyper tunnel, a wheel may come flying off someone’s private car. The vehicles behind would have to break at eight times the force of gravity. The result could well be a Lithium Fire in a tunnel which has no emergency access, that kills a few hundred people, and burns for a week or two. People might accept that as the price for convenience, even if a government regulator might find the idea to be insane.
The morning session covered the legal powers and obligations of Planning Commissioners. The big idea to understand is that there are contexts where Planning Commissioners help to set policy, but that much of the time, Planning Commissioners are tasked with reviewing projects and applications within the context of the policies. You may not like what you see, but the job isn’t to approve of things based on personal opinion, but because the plans comply with policies.
There was also a fair amount of the Brown Act, which is always a concern for any public official in California. We touched again on avoiding closed meetings, where a quorum of a public body ends up discussing an issue outside of a public meeting. The bottom line is to make the decision-making process open to the public at large, to disclose any meetings, typically with an applicant, that have taken place, to provide a fair process, and not to demonstrate bias in decision-making.
The next session was the relationship between the Planning Commission, City Council, and city staff. The City Council decides what policy should be, and the staff determines how to achieve that policy. The Planning Commission serves in between, giving advice on policy to the City Council, and deciding whether applications which the city staff have worked on comply with the policy.
Next, I attended a panel discussion on Building Density.
If you have a single family neighborhood, of one and two-story homes, an apartment complex at 4x the density doesn’t mean four to eight-story buildings. An apartment building fits units closer together than single-story homes, and the units are usually smaller than comparable single-family homes. Scott Lee, from Livermore, showed a housing complex developed there at a higher density, that ran two and a half stories, with the height stepping down further towards the neighborhood. The development was an example that we see in Sunnyvale sometimes, where the middle of the building is a parking garage, and then the housing units are built around the garage so that, from the street, all you see is housing. He called that style a “Texas wrap.”
Peter Noonan, of West Hollywood, then dove deep into the economics of providing higher density housing to accommodate mixed incomes. My notes may not be accurate here, but West Hollywood has been pretty successful at rent stabilization, and they require new development to provide 20% of units to be affordable to families at 80% of the Area Median Income. (Many jurisdictions have had some success at providing housing at the market rate, and for the poorest residents, while missing targets for middle income.) He explained that their inclusive housing requirement triggers State Density Bonuses that permit developers to build additional units, which means that West Hollywood’s Inclusionary Housing Requirement ends up forcing developers to build more market-rate units than they would otherwise.
He then went on to illustrate how building denser developments brings down the per-unit cost of building new housing, which is critical to our ability to meet the housing needs of California’s residents.
Lunch was good. The salads came wrapped in a shaved cucumber. The chicken was somewhat dry but came with a sauce. The dessert was a form of Black Forest Cake, of which, thanks to a couple of Folsom Planning Commissioners, I had three servings. I chatted with a Yuba City Planning Commissioner. They are housing refugees from Paradise, and she shared word of another town that is housing refugees, that has sought a share of Paradise’s Property Tax revenue, in order to pay for the increased city services from housing Paradise residents. Our mutual feeling was sympathy towards the plight of a town that needs to cover unavoidable new expenses, but less sympathy for the strategy of trying to shake down a town that is in crisis.
There was a Survival Guide for using Twitter and Social Media. As my city’s resident Tech Savvy, Scooter-Renting, Millenial-by-Proxy Planning Commissioner, I went ahead and tweeted my notes. Here is the thread:
So, what has two thumbs and likes to geek out on the methodology of studying the Environmental Impact assessment on traffic flow? This guy!
Let’s talk internal combustion. When a vehicle is moving along at a steady rate, the engine helps to keep the wheels turning, and a relatively modest amount of energy to maintain speed. When a vehicle stops, the engine has to burn more energy than when it is cruising, because the wheels aren’t helping the engine move. Thus, if you want to maintain air quality, you need to design streets to keep cars moving. Therefore, the traditional approach to measuring the Environmental Impact of traffic is a metric called “Level of Service” (LOS) which measures the delay imposed on traffic by different types of development. As development increases, you can mitigate negative impacts on Level of Service by adding more lanes of traffic. Once you run out of room for building roads, any further development incurs a negative impact on LOS that cannot be mitigated.
What could possibly go wrong with this approach?
LOS is a recipe for sprawl. Adding a new greenfield development on an underutilized country road has no negative environmental impact as measured by LOS. Building denser in town where there is no room to add more lanes means the project’s Environmental Impact is Significant and Unavoidable.
Over time, the LOS approach becomes self-defeating. To keep traffic moving, we need to limit the density of development, which means people have to drive further and further to avoid getting stuck in traffic, so they spend more time stuck in traffic.
Because the right-of-way of the roads is built out to support only motorized vehicles, the population density is too low to support mass transit, and the commutes are long, the population loses opportunities for Active Transportation, and the death rates from sedentary lifestyles increase. (Note: in my experience, an e-bike can help make longer-distance commute through The Sprawl more possible, if you can find a sufficiently safe route.)
California has mandated a switch to evaluate Environmental Impact by measuring Vehicle Miles Travelled (VMT) which is cheaper to figure out. First off, if a project is near public transit, the VMT impact is “less than significant” because folks can take the bus. Overall, if a project is going to shorten or reduce trips, it has a favorable Environmental Impact. A greenfield development outside of town where folks are going to have to drive everywhere for jobs and services is going to have a negative evaluation in terms of VMT.
As our development shifts to VMT evaluation, we should be able to save money on road infrastructure, shorten commutes, and improve health by reducing automobile collisions and making Active Transportation a more practical option.
Next, we learned to Make Findings that Stand Legal Challenge. This can be summed up as “show your work” and when making findings, cite policies and explain how a project complies or does not comply.
That was too easy. How about a session on City Finances? I think this session might have gone down better with a beer, but Michael Coleman dove right in.
Thanks to Prop 13, Property Taxes are fixed at 1% of assessed value, and can not increase faster than the Consumer Price Index. The assessed value is reset to market value only when the property is sold. This is why one neighbor’s property tax might be $300, while the young family next door owes $20,000. Also, California has to offset its inability to fund government through Property Tax with high Sales Tax and Income Tax.
Prop 13 also provides an incentive to cities to approve new development, since new development pays property taxes at a contemporary rate, and also contributes substantial fees to cover infrastructure and services.
He also explained that the long-term decline in Sales Tax revenue has less to do with e-commerce and more to do with a broader cultural trend of spending money on services instead of goods. Sales Tax applies only to tangible goods, and not to services. So, there you go.
Then, he dropped a truth bomb on those of us who favor higher-density residential development. On the one hand, higher-density developments bring in more revenue than lower-density properties. But, the costs of providing residential services to the larger population can incur an overall budget deficit. The tax revenue from a family in an apartment comes out to less than a family living in a single-family house, but both families need the same city services.
This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t build higher-density housing, but we need to be mindful of the impact on City Finances and balance development with other, more profitable development. (I love “Mixed Use” residential-over-retail, myself.) In the longer term, I like to think that California’s approach to funding government will evolve to the needs of higher density living.
Then there was an explanation of how the lack of a Vehicle License Fee replacement means that annexation and incorporation of cities in California are no longer fiscally viable. Without risking anyone’s sanity trying to explain it, I think it is enough to understand that that problem exists, and that you should support AB 2268.
After trying to understand the implications of the VLF backfill on incorporation and annexation, I decided to take the free bus and a rented scooter over to the Yard House and have a beer, and a cheeseburger with several fellow Planning Commissioners. We had a chance to talk about each other as people instead of the vagaries of government policy. The cheeseburger was juicy and delicious, and I took that as representative of how much better Thursday had gone than Wednesday.
The conference breakfast was a slight improvement on the day before, featuring home fries instead of hash browns, and granola-yogurt cups in addition to the eggs-sausage-bacon-pastries spread. I ate two servings at breakfast, the second one to serve as lunch. They tried to do a Q&A during the breakfast, which didn’t go so well because breakfast is also an excellent time to chat with people at the table. Much of the discussion at the table centered around how the Q&A wasn’t working well, and that this year’s conference had more challenge to it than previous years, because they had fewer rooms available for sessions, because they had had to move hotels at the last minute because the original hotel had construction going on.
Then it was time to go downstairs for the legislative update. We braced ourselves, as the California legislature has 2,700 bills to consider this year. That sounds like a lot, and Jason Rhine, of the League of California Cities, reassured us that this is indeed a lot for a non-election year. 200 bills focus on Housing and Land Use, and another 500 bills are placeholder “spot bills” which will be filled in by their sponsors as the process rolls along.
There was mention of the CASA Compact, which is a policy collaboration in the Bay Area, but most of its suggestions apply to the state in general. (CASA is a whole topic unto itself.) Here are various incomplete notes that I took:
AB 275 is looking to limit new developments to not more than 20% single-family homes.
AB 1279 seeks to identify “high resource” communities, with good schools, plentiful jobs, and mostly single-family homes, and in those communities grant developers “by right” approval for affordable housing projects of up to 100 housing units up to 55 feet in height. This would help bring lower-income folks into more upscale and exclusive towns.
SB 4 would allow up to four-plexes on empty lots near transit, and an additional story of height.
SB 50 is Scott Weiner’s bill. Last year he introduced the controversial SB 827 which did not make it out of committee. This is the sequel to that bill, which would up-zone around transit, put limits on Single Family zoning, increase density based on form, which I understand as “you can build the building to the size allowed in the zoning code, and house as many families as you please, so a 6-bedroom McMansion could just as well be a three-plex.” SB 50 would limit or eliminate parking requirements, and introduce additional Density Bonuses.
Jason Rhine noted that this year, Scott Weiner chairs the committee, so SB 50 would likely make it to a floor vote, and Democrats are generally reluctant to shoot down their colleagues in the same house. Upon arrival in the Assembly, some negotiation could take place. Most of the bills in process are consistent with Governor Newsom’s ambitious goals for housing production, so he’s likely to sign them.
SB 330 would declare the state to be in a Housing Crisis until 2030. During this period, there could be no downzoning, no (new?) parking requirements, no increases to impact fees, no (new?) fees for affordable housing, no housing moratoria, no new design standards that increase construction expense, and no limit on the number of conditional use permits. The gist of this being that for the coming decade, we will make it somewhat easier to build.
AB 11 would bring back the Redevelopment Agencies that were axed during the Financial Crisis.
SB 5 would allocate up to $2 billion for redevelopment.
ACA 1 would be a ballot measure to reduce the threshold for bonds for affordable housing and infrastructure to 55%.
SB 128 would reduce the threshold for EIFD bonds to 55%. (Enhanced Infrastructure Financing Districts . . . wonky enough for ya?)
AB 68 and 69 would repeal the minimum lot size requirements for folks who want to build an ADU. (Sunnyvale has a minimum lot size of 6,000 square feet, so my lot is 300 square feet shy of being allowed an ADU.)
AB 36 is a “spot bill” for “tenant protections” and may be the vehicle for enacting some form of statewide Rent Control this year. This would probably be more permissive than traditional local rent control ordinances and focus mainly on limiting the year-over-year increases that can so easily force long-time tenants from their homes on short notice.
AB 1110 would increase the notice period for rent increases. (You get more time to prepare to pay more rent or move.)
AB 1483 would require cities to post all of their fees on their web site.
AB 1484 would not allow a city to charge a fee not posted on their web site.
AB 891 would require cities over 330,000 population to provide Safe Parking areas for people sleeping in vehicles by 2022.
The last session of the conference was on Land Use and Emergency Preparedness in our new age of increasing disasters. I made a note that 30% of California housing stock is at the Urban Interface Area and that this area is seeing 40% of the growth of housing stock. I then noted “emergency preparedness is YIMBY” as I think it was Eric Nickel, Santa Barbara’s new Fire Chief, who was explaining that folks concerned with fire safety would prefer transit-oriented development in town over sprawl.
As my town is not in the Urban Interface Area and I am already a fan of transit-oriented development, my thoughts drifted to trying out LA’s transit infrastructure to get to the airport. Google was saying 2+ hours by transit compared with a 40-minute Lyft, so I left the Emergency Preparedness session to enact my own study of alternative transportation services in the LA area.
I could have taken the free bus, but I thought I should try a non-Razor scooter. There was a Lime nearby, but some hipster snatched it up before I could get to it. Then I saw a Bird. I signed up, deposited $10, and took off. I made it a couple blocks and just started up the overpass over the water to the main part of Long Beach when the scooter slowed to a crawl and stopped entirely. I laughed at the thought that it lacked the power to bring me up the hill, but the app reported that in the space of two blocks the battery had gone from 20% to empty. I had killed the Bird.
I walked up over the bridge, probably faster than any scooter could get me uphill, and picked up a Lime scooter on the other side. I really appreciated the height of the handlebars! I took it a block or two, and the ride seemed to get bumpier and bumpier. The wheels were either too small or damaged. The ride was awful, so I ditched my tall boy at a rack of Razor scooters, and rode a wide, thick-tired Razor the rest of the way to the bus stop. There was one block with a steep uphill, and the Razor managed to drag me up that hill. Near the end, it had slowed to such a crawl that a tortoise passed me up, with a comment on the side about my lazy character. I couldn’t help but grin at my own absurdity.
Ordinarily, a transit ride from the Queen Mary to LAX is a reasonably straightforward shuttle bus to train to train to shuttle bus. Unfortunately, the Blue Line that runs to Long Beach is shut down for repairs. In its place, I took a free bus, which very slowly made it to the stops served by the Blue Line. The trip counted as scenic if you’re the sort who appreciates a look at lower-income residential and industrial neighborhoods adjacent to freeways. After Martin Luther King hospital we passed a Denny’s, and I got off at the Rosa Parks Metro stop. I didn’t see any ticket machines, so I followed everyone else through the open fare gate and past the sign that said we needed Proof of Payment.
I caught a Green Line train toward the airport. It was the most overtly drab utilitarian train I can remember riding. It felt like Ronald Reagan had tried to describe Socialism and the designers built to his specification. I appreciated the huge windows, which afforded an excellent view of the highway, as we zipped efficiently along to the Airport stop, where we all went down to wait for the bus.
There was nowhere to buy a bus ticket, and no fare posted, just that you needed to have proof of payment for the Green Line. Of course, since it is an airport shuttle bus, everyone got on and off at both doors, and nobody bothered about proof of payment. The end result is that had I not bothered with the scooters, my trip from the Queen Mary would have cost me nothing, aside from the risk of a fine. (For what it is worth, I also experimented with an alternate bus along the way, and so paid $2 of the $1.75 standard Metro fare, so my conscience is clean on that account.)
The flight home was delayed a bit, but my family picked me up at the airport, and we had Birthday Cupcakes when we got home.
The gist of this is: restrictive zoning makes housing more expensive. The folks who can afford expensive housing tend to be college educated. College educated people tend to be more liberal, and vote Democratic.
If you restrict the amount of housing that can be built in a city, you squeeze out poor folks, and the folks who can afford to buy in are the “Liberal Elites.”
More restrictive counties tend to shed Republicans and become more Democratic over timeâ€”a pattern that seems to have accelerated since 2012. And, more restrictive counties tend to gain more college-educated people and shed fewer educated ones, which contributes to their partisan shift. As Sorens notes, college education may causally mediate a substantial part of the relationship between zoning and partisanship at the county level. In other words, a countyâ€™s becoming more educated as a result of building restrictions makes it more Democratic.
I think our policies, especially in the privileged suburb where I live, need to allow and facilitate more housing. As a Liberal Democrat, I do not want to live in a bubble community. While I take some pride in the idea that education leads to progressive politics, I am disappointed that a party that prides itself as a champion of the working class and the poor, gains a partisan advantage when the working class and poor get squeezed out of our communities.
As a Democrat in a Blue City, I think we owe a debt to our communities to correct restrictive zoning in order to redress the damage done to our own working class, who can not afford to live here.
I have spent some time of late working on the “family cycling” problem. I would like to get my kids around town without a car. I would also like to bike to work, which is 10+ miles one way, which is a bit far for me to ride twice every day. Last year, I took a leap of faith and purchased a Radwagon. Around $2,200 all-in, including having a mobile bike shop assemble and deliver it. That is cheap for a bike that can haul kids on the back. It is great for my work commute, but the high back was too scary for my older son.
The Radwagon is pretty rad, but the rear cargo deck was too high for the older son to feel comfortable.
After the younger son turned 1, I got a baby seat (another $250, as I recall) and now I have a bike fanatic who loves the high ride adventures. This is great, because I have more encouragement for me to get riding.Â (Really, these are demands: “Dada, go go go go go! Byyyeee mama! Byyyeee bruhbruh! Dada, shoess!”) This is great, until the older kid starts feeling left out of quality time with Dad.
Before he could even walk, he could climb up on the running board of Daddy’s bike.
Thus began my quest for a family bicycle that could accomodate both boys: something lower …
There are a lot of options. There are bikes like the Radwagon but with a smaller wheel in the back, so kids can ride low. Non-motorized bikes from Yuba and Xtracycle start around $2,200. Motorized versions start around $4,500. There are bikes with a box up front: the classic Dutch Bakfiets can be imported from Europe for some insane amount of money. There are box-in-the-front tricycles from Bunch (around $2,600 delivered) and Wike in Canada. The Bunch has an electric option. Finally, I stumbled across Madsen, which sells “bucket bikes” which have a big, sturdy, plastic bucket on the rear that seats four. They start around $2,000, and can deliver at $2,200 (mostly) assembled, but I decided that really, I want to be able to drop kids off and head to work, so all in with e-assist and a few accessories is $3,500.
The next challenge is: a test ride. The Radwagon was a Leap of Faith with mixed results. There are “local” dealers for the more expensive bikes. This would mostly involve calling ahead to set up an appointment to ensure that the appropriate bike(s) are in stock and set up for a test ride, then schlepping the kids up to San Francisco. Fortunately, Madsen has a customer one town over that was willing to share a test ride. I was able to confirm that both boys enjoyed it, and the wife could fit in the bucket, too. The electric option is new for Madsen, so the bike I ordered won’t arrive until later this month.
Last Month, the Bike Snob published an article that declared that “No, Cycling Isn’t Elitist” which argues that family cycling can be more cost effective than driving. I wish that were true. I wouldn’t say that cycling is elitist, but where I live, where a car is a basic requirement to partipate in economic life, spending additional time and money to research, purchase, store, and maintain a family bicycle remains an act of privilege.
So, what to do: wring your hands and feel like a bougy jackass? On the contrary. I think that if you are in a position to enjoy family biking, and have the means to make it happen, then this is all the more reason to do it. If your family is out on the bike, it helps encourage drivers to be more careful, it opens eyes, and maybe nudges more people of privilege to try it out. Nudges politicians to prioritize safe bicycling infrastructure, which makes it easier for more folks to choose to ride more bikes …
The kids will outgrow the family cycle, and when it comes time to sell, the used bicycles get around the community at prices that are more affordable to folks with less privilege.
Luminary mycologist Paul Stamets uses the term â€œedgerunnerâ€ to refer to the profound role that myceliumâ€”an extremely beneficial fungusâ€”plays in Earthâ€™s ecosystems, working at the edges of biological possibility in order to advance life.
As I see it: cycling may not be elitist, but it is definitely more accessible to privileged folks, so if you have the privilege to “work at the edge of possibility” you should consider taking it, in hopes of helping to normalize a beneficial activity and make it more accessible over time.
The scooter proponent answered that since the scooters are a handy way to save car trips, San Francisco can continue its efforts to convert car lanes to bike lanes, where the scooters could safely scoot apart from pedestrians. That sounds great to me. The helmets, though … as I pulled up to the office, I emailed in a brief opinion. I then hung back from going into the office for a couple of minutes to catch the very end of the show. I’m glad I did. Michael Krazny closed with this:
We’ll leave it there! Well, except for one more comment about helmets that I want to read here, from Daniel, who says: “We should revisit the helmet requirement. Helmet use is a cultural convention. For example, they don’t wear helmets in Amsterdam or Copenhagen, which makes bicycling even easier in those places. It is safer to wear a helmet when riding in a car, yet we wouldn’t expect anyone to wear a helmet as a requirement to ride in a car.”
I think it would be nice to see these scooters in Peninsula suburbs, where we tend to lack good “last mile” transit options, and where there are fewer pedestrians to upset. Rental electric scooters sound like a better option than rental bikes in a lot of cases because they’re cheap to deploy, require less knowledge to ride, and require less storage space. And I suspect that the helmet requirement is probably unworkable.
I answered that those who have bought homes here ought to fight for opportunities for the next group. The greater challenge is that a lot of folks who got theirs don’t want to make allowances for the next generations.
Too many people who bought in the past seem set on protecting theirs with little regard for the next or future generations. Itâ€™s sad that people put their views, their perception of neighborhood character, or their biases before building more housing and supporting more dreams.
I was in Chicago this week. There was a death in the family, so it was good to be among my kinfolk with our adorable, loving child.
Chicago is famously corrupt and moribund and the State of Illinois is mired in perpetual scandal. It is a magnet for immigrants but it is also a city from which many of us Californians are originally from. I’ve gotten used to the California way and I generally prefer it but what I noticed this week in Chicago was all the construction.
For a city that is corrupt and moribund, there was an awful lot of demolition and rebuilding going on. On the way to the L in the evening we stopped and stared over a fence as a variety of heavy machines worked under brilliant stadium lights. The star of the show was a yellow machine with a huge claw on the end of a boom arm reaching several stories up, to the top of a building, it was tearing down from the top, girder by girder, as another machine sprayed down the dust with a water hose. The claw was at the very end of its reach, it felt the machine was on tippy toes, as it tugged away, girder after girder, waiting for torrents of debris to fall, pulling the pieces out and dropping them into piles to be dragged into more discrete piles by lesser enormous machines. It was like watching dinosaurs go about their business. Father, Son, and Grandmother: none of us could take our eyes off the marvel. “They should sell beer and peanuts,” said I.
The neighbors of this derelict house in Sunnyvale are terrified at the prospect of it being replaced with housing for families.
We don’t get this in Suburban California. What little “history” we have is viciously guarded and any attempt to replace the old with newer and better is often met with resistance and exaggerated speculation as to the intentions and end results of new development. You don’t see that so much in the old country–In Chicago, and in any place with some history under its belt, everyone knows that they are surrounded by at least a century of continuity–Everyone is merely links in a great chain. The city is inherited and bequeathed and the hope is to leave it in a little better shape: Urbs in Horto.
In Dublin, I saw them building a light rail line, right down an ancient street. It made the Northern Californian in me jealous.
They say that University Politics is the most vicious because the stakes are so low. I get a sense of that observing some of the political rhetoric in Sunnyvale. Out here the city is so new and raw that the idea of changing it implies that those who built the city and have lived in it until now are being completely rejected by the hordes of newcomers flooding the city from the Midwest and the Far East. But in the ancient lands where the immigrants come from, there is no such sentiment: the cities are naturally timeworn, and the idea of redevelopment is an intuitive component of the cycle of death and rebirth.
Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning as a savage pitted against the wilderness,
Building, breaking, rebuilding,
Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing with white teeth,
Under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young man laughs,
Laughing even as an ignorant fighter laughs who has never lost a battle
The land in which I live would be enriched if it embraced a bit of the poetry of the land in which I was born.
I am proud to have grown up in Chicago. It is a great city. But us Chicago fans have to admit to its numerous mistakes and sins. One of those sins was repeated over and over again in the mid-twentieth century, when neighborhood after neighborhood was torn apart to make way for highways. Working class neighborhoods, homes to people of color and immigrants … the fabric of community life was torn away. Neighborhoods were divided and conquered and made into ghettos.
One would hope for Silicon Valley in the twenty-first century not to repeat the mistakes of twentieth-century Chicago.
The Lawrence Station Area as it exists today: mainly low-rise industrial.
Plans for 3,500 residential units, 104,000 square feet of office, and six acres of parks.
Among the current recommendations is to cut off the Northwest block of housing from the rest of the neighborhood because it serves as a connector ramp between Lawrence and Central Expressways. Instead of crosswalks for people to walk across their community, pedestrians will need to walk up and over a ramp so as not to slow down the cars … on a two-lane road.
It is hard to find pictures of pedestrian bridges spanning two-lane roads. Picture something like this, with elevators on each side.
This is another case where we err on the side of inconveniencing people and dividing neighborhoods for the sake of keeping cars moving along as fast as possible. A crosswalk would allow people to cross the street in their new neighborhood and be better connected to their neighbors, at the cost of possibly adding an occasional minute or two to someone’s commute. Does that sound so unreasonable?
Perhaps instead of right-left-right through a neighborhood, we could drive a gentle arc around the neighborhood. The path is still there.
We might explore some alternatives. One thing I notice is that the right-of-way still exists to restore the old on-ramp from Lawrence Northbound to Central Eastbound. Instead of making a right-left-right through a residential neighborhood, drivers just coast on up a gentle right-hand curve and merge on to Central. From there, the existing two-way on-ramp might be adapted to a two-lane one-way street. The two-lane street allows more cars to queue at a crosswalk while pedestrians cross, reducing potential congestion.
Alternatively, traffic off of Central Eastbound could simply take alternate routes from Oakmead/Corwin.
Earlier this month I attended a meeting at Bishop School in which Rob Smiley, COO of Sunnyvale School District, brought us up to speed on the current construction plans. I took noted and shared on Nextdoor.com, and I’m sharing them here for better community access.
October — Temp Classrooms to be installed on blacktop (note: these were installed last week)
December — Fencing / Construction begins (North Side)
August 2017 — move into new rooms
August 2018 — project complete
North Side construction thru Aug 2017
South Side construction thru Aug 2018
– Reduced on-street parking (25 parking spaces removed)
– Increased traffic
– Reduced play area
– “Hard Hat Cafe” (during kitchen construction, from June 2017)
– Noise (no loud construction during testing)
– Demolition (.. asbestos .. “abatement” ..)
Q: When does Maude Ave bike lane (remove parking) happen?
A: Do not know
On October 10, 2016, file 16-0548 was heard by the Sunnyvale Planning Commission. The item was to down-zone a condominium development per the General Plan, and to up-zone a one third acre parcel from Residential Low Density to Residential Low-Medium Density. By up-zoning the site at 838 Azure St, the property owner would be able to build four homes on the property instead of a maximum of two.
The Planning Commission passed the down-zoning proposal but denied the up-zoning at 838 Azure St. I do not believe the decision with regard to 838 Azure was consistent with the public interest of Sunnyvale residents. At a time of housing crisis, we should err on the side of providing more affordable homes for more families, and the location at 838 Azure is well suited to providing housing with minimal impact on congestion.
Current Status and Options
The property presently hosts two dilapidated structures which had recently housed squatters. There are dying trees and contaminated soil from Sunnyvale’s orchard days.
Proposed zoning for 838 Azure St
Present zoning is R0: 7 homes per acre, or 2 per 1/3 acre
Two lots of 7,200 square feet, homes up to 3,240 square feet
Requested zoning is R2: 12 homes per acre, or 4 per 1/3 acre
Four lots of 3,600 square feet, homes up to 1,620 square feet
3200 sq ft / 5 bed / 3.5 bath
1600 sq ft / 3 bed / 2.5 bath
The lot in question is about 14,400 square feet, and present zoning allows for up to two houses. At 45% FAR one can build two homes of 3,200 square feet. Comparable homes in the area are typically 5 bedroom, 3.5 baths at $2,400,000. With a 20% down payment of $480,000, a 30 year fixed mortgage at 3.875% with taxes and insurance runs nearly $12,000/mo.
On the other hand, a 1,600 square foot townhouse or condo in this area is typically 3 bedroom, 2.5 bath at $1,000,000. With a 20% down payment, a 30 year fixed mortgage, taxes, insurance runs nearly $5,000/mo.
If we assume that housing is “affordable” at 33% of Gross Income, then the big houses are affordable to a family with $436,000 annual income, and the smaller homes are affordable at $182,000.
Location: Pedestrian and Transit Quality vs Congestion
Much of Sunnyvale is poorly suited to walking or public transportation. Housing in such areas encourages automobile trips and results in congestion. If you want to increase housing while avoiding congestion, you want to place the housing in areas where walking and public transit are viable options: when people have the option not to drive they are less likely to add congestion.
The average Walk Score in Sunnyvale is 55. For 838 Azure the walk score is 78. The site is well within Sunnyvale’s walkable downtown core, a very close walk to multiple groceries, restaurants, and Murphy St. This pedestrian accessibility does not encourage automobile trips, thus it mitigates congestion.
To avoid congestion, put housing in Sunnyvale’s walkable core: 838 Azure is at the Y of Mathilda and Sunnyvale in the lower right. Source: Sunnyvale Walk Score
The site is very near VTA’s premier bus route: the 22/522 El Camino Real, as well as the 55 and 54 routes for North-South mobility. Within an hour, public transit can get residents across Sunnyvale, including the offices on the North Side, as well as much of Cupertino and Santa Clara. The downtown areas of San Jose, Mountain View, and Palo Alto are accessible. At just over a mile to Sunnyvale Station, the site is not a convenient walk to Caltrain: residents may prefer to bicycle.
Two neighbors spoke against the zoning change. A neighbor who lived in an adjacent townhouse was concerned that the development of townhouses on the neighboring property would not meet his aesthetic standards. A neighbor to the south was concerned that his dogs might get out if the property was developed, and that if the driveway were moved from Sunnyvale-Saratoga to Azure then there would be less street parking available on Azure.
Per the minutes:
Commissioner Melton noted that the benefits of the GPA and Rezone of the Azure site are the PD designation and an increase in housing density, and that the negatives include parking, neighborhood incompatibility and inappropriate density.
Commissioner Simons said he does not like the potential spot zoning of 838 Azure.
MOTION: Commissioner Melton moved and Commissioner Simons seconded the motion to recommend that City Council deny the General Plan Amendment and Rezone for 838 Azure Street.
Vice Chair Rheaume said he is not supporting this motion and supports increasing the density of this lot.
This item should come before the City Council on November 1. Anyone who might wish to speak up on behalf of the virtue of increased housing in Sunnyvale can contact the City Council or make a public comment of up to three minutes at the upcoming council meeting. I am hoping to attend and speak November 1. If you think you might also be interested, or would like to be notified of any updates, please drop me a line: email@example.com.
This item was considered by the Sunnyvale City Council on November 1, 2016. City Council heard testimony from City Staff and the Property Owner. City Council candidate John Cordes and I made public comments in favor of the change. A few neighbors made public comments against the change.
The City Council enacted an ordinance to change the zoning at 838 Azure from R0 to R2-PD. The vote was 6-1, with Council Member Pat Meyering in dissent. Council made it clear that they were only approving the zoning change, in order to provide more housing in an area well-suited to pedestrian, bicycle and public transit. Council was generally most concerned with how the development would transition from the adjacent R2 zones to the rest of the neighborhood, which is among the several considerations which will be addressed subsequently in the planning process.
The Property Owner is now at liberty to submit plans for development, which will be subject to review by the Zoning Administrator, with community feedback, and potentially by the Planning Commission and the City Council.
Caveat:it has been pointed out to me that my data source is not entirely accurate.Raw data can be obtained directly from the city. Unfortunately, that data is provided in PDF format. If I find a convenient way to parse the data out of those PDF files, I’ll take a crack a re-doing the Financial Backings visualization, below.
Heading up the “Core” are Mayor Glenn Hendricks and Vice Mayor Gustav Larsson, who have each received overwhelmingly large sums from the National Association of Realtors Fund.
Jim Griffith is an Software Engineer who has mainly bankrolled his own campaigns. He is the only second-term member of the council, thus his cumulative financial backing is larger than most members of the council, with the exception of Mayor Hendricks and Vice Mayor Larsson. Jim maintains a blog about city council activities at dweeb.org.
Next are what I would label the “Friends” which includes Larry Klein and Tara Martin-Milius. Klein very recently won a special election held in August after the resignation of Dave Whittum. Neither of these candidates have the volume of donations as Hendricks, Larsson or Griffith, but the Inner Core have made friendly contributions to the Friends. Martin-Milius has received contributions from Hendricks, Larsson, and Griffith while Klein has received contributions from Hendricks and Griffith.
The Inner Core and Friends make up a five-member majority. Council motions are often made and carried with minimal dissent.
Beyond the Core are the two “Independents.” Jim Davis‘ campaign contributions are mainly from non-resident individuals, none from the Core members. He generally votes along with the Core, though he did vote against the Maude Ave bike lane, an issue which I took a special interest in. Pat Meyering‘s campaign is completely self-funded. He often clashes with Mayor Hendricks and other members of the council.
Mapping Out the Election
The Deep Pockets (Hendricks, Larsson, Griffith) are not up for election this year, but everyone else is.
Seat 4: Recently won by Larry Klein, is challenged by John Cordes and Mike McCarthy. Klein, who recently served on the Planning Commission, is backed by a few Business and Real Estate PACS, and several residents, including the Core council members, and Stephen Williams, who ran against him in the special election. John Cordes, who also ran against Klein in the special election, is an environmentalist who serves on the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission. He is mainly self-funded, with an even split between resident and non-resident contributions, and a single PAC donation from the California League of Conservation Voters. Mike McCarthy is entirely self-funded.
Seat 5: Incumbent Pat Meyering is solely self-funded, and I could not find a campaign web site. He is challenged by Russell Melton, who has served several terms on the Planning Commission, and has the support of several developers, the Core council members, and numerous individuals. Melton also managed Mayor Hendricks’ successful 2013 City Council campaign.
Seat 6: Incumbent Jim Davis is a former Public Safety Officer who has served many government and community organizations. He is funded mainly by non-resident individuals. Challenger Nancy Smith has chaired the Santa Clara County Water District Environmental and Water Resources Committee, and is funded by several residents and non-residents.
█ Business █ Business PAC █ Developer █ Real Estate PAC █ Candidate █ Elected Official PAC █ Political Party █ Political Committee █ Resident █ Non-Resident █ Environmental PAC █ Social Issues PAC █ Union PAC Source: http://www.specialinterestwatch.org/, cumulative contributions through June 30, 2016
In 2006, Sunnyvale applied for funding to add bicycle lanes on Maude Ave from Mathilda to Fair Oaks.
Maude is a two-lane road with a center turn lane. It serves as a main thoroughfare for the immediate neighborhood: residential, commercial, and Bishop Elementary. It also serves through traffic. It is very congested at peak. In the past three years there have been a few dozen accidents: mainly between vehicles, 3 involving pedestrians, 1 involving a cyclist.
W Maude Ave: filling in a gap in Sunnyvale’s bicycle network
In March 2016, a community meeting was held at Bishop school. Three main alternatives were proposed: Option 1: remove parking along Maude, replace it with 5′ bike lanes with 3′ buffers Option 2: retain parking, remove left-turn lanes, add bicycle lanes between driving and parking lanes Option 3: do nothing except add some signs and paint sharrows on the street
At the community meeting, many residents from the SNAIL neighborhood to the North took turns berating the city for any number of reasons. There was a lot of upset that Maude is already congested and that people might park in front of their homes. There was a “voting” board and the community poll came out something like:
Option 1: 35%
Option 2: 15%
Option 3: 50%
On April 21, 2016, the Sunnyvale Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC) reviewed the proposal. Some observations from BPAC:
Further detail desired regarding the causes of vehicle collisions along the corridor — details were not included in the present study.
Project should extend the last half block between Fair Oaks and Wolfe Road — staff remarked that this was an oversight on the original grant request, but that this could be included for future improvement projects to the bicycle infrastructure on Fair Oaks or Wolfe.
Drivers might park in buffered lanes.
If left turn lanes are removed, drivers might use the bicycle lane to pass vehicles waiting for turn.
Maude has many driveways, and it is safer for bicyclists further from the curb, where they are more visible to drivers utilizing driveways.
Traffic impact analysis will be performed subsequent to the city selecting a preferred alternative, thus no traffic impact studies have been performed to distinguish the current proposals.
1 mile between Mathilda and Fair Oaks 10 intersections 1 grammar school 3 pedestrian crosswalks
I spoke first. I live adjacent to Bishop school:
I remarked on the lack of pedestrian crosswalks, asked the City to look at adding more as part of the project.
I noted the advantages of using the parking as a buffer lane for cyclists: route bike lanes at the curb.
I thanked BPAC for noting the desirability of an extension to Wolfe.
One gentleman who used to live in the neighborhood spoke in support of bike lanes.
One gentlemen from SNAIL explained his opposition to bike lanes, due to present low bicycle traffic.
One lady from Lowlanders spoke in support of a bike lane:
Leaning toward Option 2
Asked if there had been any Spanish-language outreach, as this is the population occupying the rental housing and attending Bishop who would be most impacted by the project, especially removal of parking.
BPAC made a motion to:
Support Option 1, per staff recommendation
Request 6′ bicycle lanes with 2′ buffer
Request project extension to Wolfe Road
Request inclusion of additional crosswalks
The motion passed with two dissenting votes. The chair, who lives on Murphy, stated his objections:
Removal of parking would adversely impact the neighborhood
Removal of left turn lanes would inconvenience drivers, and thereby discourage through traffic