Transportation Policy in Bay Area

Public transit in the Bay Area is widespread, but for access, from homes, based upon %, and the distance to walk to a station, is limited. For destinations, it’s even more limited, because it’s unlikely that your place will be on the route. Transit use, as a portion of commuting [based on 2000 Census] is about 9% for the whole Bay Area, 31% for San Francisco and 4% for Santa Clara County.Yet the overall transportation budget has a large majority going towards trnaist, rather than roads. The MTC (Metropolitan Transportation Commission) decides where all the money collected is to be spent, among the many agencies.

Sure, transit is high in SF & Oakland, & a few other nearby dense suburbs. Outside of the old urban core areas, people in new developments are not using transit at a significant level. Too much reliance on transit is preventing many upgrades to roads. The MTC devotes approximately twice as much money to transit as to roads, yet about nine times as many people commute by private vehicle. Congestion is just going to get worse. A flaw in that is thinking that people will drive considerably less with higher density. One misjudgment in that is distance being a single dimension and area (density) being two-dimensional. The theory is that if density is doubled, distance travelled (or VMT) will be halved. That is using wrong math. Consider a square of two units per side (area of 4). To get half the area of that, the sides would need to be 1.41 (√2); so distance is only 71%. However, increasing density still does not put one’s needs closer by a certain proportion. Part of that flaw is thinking that destinations (work, shopping, living, etc.) are evenly distributed. The reduction of emissions per capita in automobile versus transit is negligible. Technology will improve sometime for affordable, zero-emission vehicles. Congestion will increase very dramatically then because there will be an incredible shortage of roads.

About 50 years ago, there were many more freeways planned for San Francisco. The absence of those make car travel very slow. It’s like a 3rd world country; well, that’s because of the structures, too. Most of regional goals are contradictory, in that achieving one is almost the opposite of the other. Preserving and maintaining existing communities cannot be done when many structures are razed and areas are densified. Increasing affordability with inclusionary housing can put a ceiling on some units, but those need to be paid for by increasing the prices on others.  That also reduces the overall housing supply because fewer developers will build under those pricing restrictions. There are other policies which lower the vacancy rate, which increases prices, due to the simple principle of supply and demand.

In “protecting” open space beyond the urban growth boundary, less nature is available to enjoy up-close, in the form of yards and building setbacks with landscaping (high FARs). Promoting economic and fiscal health is not being done. The cost of living is too high. The Bay Area is pricing itself out of the market. New businesses don’t want to locate here. Housing choices are actually declining when people are being “forced” to live in high density. Some commutes are increasing for people who choose to live farther away in order to acquire housing at lower prices and with a sizable yard. The goals of vibrancy and walkability are not for everybody. Pushing that lifestyle on residents is reducing the quality of life for many, particularly those who like solitude, privacy and independent personal mobility.

The Bay Area is about 7,000 square miles, of which around ⅙ is urbanized. There are 150,000 square miles in the rest of the state. There is still plenty of land. We don’t need to all live in crowded conditions. If the population of the whole country was at the density of San Francisco, they could all fit into San Bernardino County. As happens frequently, the government is trying to achieve goals of the non-majority and/or [selfish] special interests, while ignoring many factors and creating other problems. The ABAG projections predict the amount of housing to still come up short through 2035, based upon their new job to resident ratio of 1.75:2, rather than the typical 1:2. And that even includes a larger proportion of retirees. Their goal of only 900 acres (~1 ½ sq.mi.) per annum for greenfield development is surely not sufficient for what the market wants—efficient roads and space.

About Randall
A contrarian, not for conflict, but because many decisions are made, without considering the full impact & consequences.

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