If you have been in San Francisco California in the last few weeks you have probably seen them-electric scooters are everywhere. And as discussed by a reporter for the New York Times section California Today in San Francisco “Shared electric scooters are available to reserve and rent by app for as little as $1 a ride. They are billed as a way to “help make transportation better and more environmentally friendly” by one start-up, Bird, which has netted $100 million in venture capital funding.” Read on >>
City Council in San Jose California is voting on giving Google “exclusive negotiating rights for parcels of city-owned land next to the Diridon train station, part of a plan to transform 250 acres of downtown San Jose into a transport hub connected to office towers and apartments.”
Price Tags Vancouver originally wrote about this concept last year where the City of San Jose has been working with Google to create the new Silicon Valley which is vastly different from the original. Version 2.0 will be compact, walkable and accessible by public transportation, a stark departure from the suburban sprawl that has brought the cradle of American technological innovation to the brink of a gridlocked meltdown” as reported in the New York Times.
Housing and affordability have been major problems in the San Francisco area where like Vancouver, middle class workers cannot find affordable accommodation. The Diridon station plan will house offices for up to 20,000 workers but only about 10 per cent of needed housing. To give you a sense of the size of this office space, the 8 million square feet are three times the size of Apple’s new “spaceship” head offices.
Here are the interesting 21st century words about city making from the Mayor of San Jose ~“The future of Silicon Valley critically depends on our development of a vibrant urban center. We’re trying to retrofit the city that was built for automobiles into a city built for people.”
Key to the plan is a central rail transportation hub. “Diridon station, named after Rod Diridon, a tireless advocate of public transport for the Bay Area and already a hub for Amtrak, Caltrain and San Jose’s light-rail system, will be the “largest intermodal transit hub in the West,” according to the mayor.”
By tying in the Diridon station with Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) and the new high-speed rail being constructed in the central valley employees would have access to other housing areas. The BART connection is expected by 2025 and further connections would enable a worker to travel from Fresno to San Jose in under an hour.
You can take a look at the background to the new plan here.
Sidewalks are the mark of universal accessibility for walkers, people in wheelchairs, and people with babies in strollers. There is an emerging voice that with motordom, “Prioritizing the mobility needs for one mode while being silent on all other modes, it’s messed up.” And motordom is being championed in Los Angeles,not walking.
Urbanist and writer Alissa Walker in Curbed.com has written a compelling article about sidewalks~and lack of them. While groups of sidewalk “advocates” do inventories and champion city councils to build/mend sidewalks, plant trees, and make walking easier, it’s just not been a priority for municipal government. Many citizens in metro Vancouver cities struggle with the same issue. “Someone in City Hall told me there’s no constituency for sidewalks and that’s why it wasn’t a priority for them,” says Investing in Place’s director, Jessica Meany… “They said no one is knocking on their door asking to fix sidewalks.” Even though Los Angeles has the largest sidewalk network in the United States, Los Angeles County has “invested less than 1 percent of all its transportation funds for sidewalks, including crosswalks and signals, although a ballot measure passed in 2016 bumped that up to 8 percent for the next 50 years. Investing in Place estimates that half of the city’s 11,000 sidewalk miles are insufficient for basic navigation. In 2016, after almost a half-century of deferred maintenance, LA put up a billion-dollar plan to fix just the pavement, but now it can’t keep up with the repairs—the city receives more requests in a week than it can address in a month.”
While one hundred years ago sidewalks were perceived as “the centers of American cities—public places for business transactions and social interactions. ” Ms. Walker suggests that maybe sidewalks are not so great. Before sidewalks all uses were pushed in the street. Why did pedestrians end up with a “sliver of space” and accept the invention of “jaywalking” which shamed and blamed pedestrians who dared to leave their alloted sidewalk? What is curious is that the interest in maintenance of municipal walking infrastructure coincides with the surge of education of the health benefits of walking and the wearing of fitness trackers.
But despite guerilla gardening, people plazas, parklets out of parking spaces and “complete streets “the dramatic shift in mode share—people swapping car trips for walking trips in large numbers—didn’t happen. Americans are driving more than they were before the supposed walking revolution. In 2016, Americans drove more miles than they have in any other year in history. (Compare that to Paris, where a combination of pedestrianization projects and vehicular regulations has meant 45 percent fewer car trips since 1990.) In U.S. cities, most of the talk about walking remains just talk.”
New York City and San Francisco have effectively redesigned some streets for pedestrians and had traffic deaths fall, to the “lowest number of traffic deaths last year since the introduction of the automobile”. The rest of the country? Not so much. Street safety is also an ” an environmental justice and racial justice issue,” says Emilia Crotty, executive director of the pedestrian advocacy group Los Angeles Walks. Across the country, she notes, African Americans and Latino Americans are 60 percent and 43 percent more likely to be killed while walking than white Americans.” Ms. Walker also notes that one-third of Americans don’t drive, and that Americans are getting older, with 20 per cent of the population 65 or older by 2030.Those old Americans are “outliving our ability to drive safely and comfortably yet seniors keep driving because their independence relies on it. “If you stop driving, you cease to exist as a viable human being.”
A coalition of transit tech companies have announced a unified vision which includes car-sharing, bike-sharing and ride-hailing, as well as profit making.They are “vowing to work together toward streets of the future that are “shared, multimodal, and zero-emission.” Ms. Walker suggests that supplying new transportation options means that there can be a major transformation of how we use space. Since walking is “the connective tissue” that allows us to move between options, it is now time to get out of sidewalk repair that “perpetuates a driver-first mentality” and “shift to one surface that serves all the mobility needs of its citizens”…”One hundred years from now, we’ll find fragments of sidewalks in our cities as a reminder of the time we ceded our cities to cars and pushed people onto narrow slabs of cracked cement. And we’ll wonder how we had it so backwards.”
Is she right? You can read the whole context of this discussion here.
Like most things, when you look at pedestrian crashes and fatalities, these tragedies can be averted in a very simple way~but there is the cost to motordom of not getting on its vehicular way with the briskness drivers have come to expect. Many of the pedestrian fatalities and serious injuries happen when vehicles are turning left through a marked pedestrian crossing when the pedestrian has the right of way. You can of course go ahead and build substantial infrastructure to narrow streets and build proper infrastructure. But there is one very simple way to save lives at low-cost. That is using the “pedestrian interval” as demonstrated in the YouTube video below.
As this article in CityLab states “Leading Pedestrian Intervals” or LPI s are streetlights that give walkers a head-start before cars venture into an intersection. Given even a few seconds of priority, most people wind up at least halfway into the crosswalk—where they’re plenty visible to drivers—before cars are allowed to go straight or make turns (including the ultra-dangerous left).”
When San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle adopted Vision Zero (with the goal of no lives lost to road violence) they also used LPIs at heavily used intersections. “New York City has been a leader, adding 2,201 since 2014 for a total of 2,483 across the boroughs. Now, nearly 20 percent of signalized intersections citywide have LPIs, according to a report by the advocacy group Transportation Alternatives. They give pedestrians a 7- to 10-second head start. Most are located in the city’s highest-risk traffic corridors.
And there are huge cost savings. The average cost of reconfiguring a crosswalk for an LPI is $1,200. As a New York City spokesperson noted “They don’t require any trench digging, concrete pouring, or lane closures. Sometimes new push buttons and controllers are needed; often engineers simply study local traffic patterns and reprogram existing lights.”
Research is showing that the use of LPIs can reduce pedestrian-vehicle collisions by 60 per cent. A 2016 study of 104 intersections in New York City saw a decline in pedestrian and bike fatalities and severe injuries of 40 per cent. A report done by Transportation Alternatives suggests that these “head-start” lights for pedestrians may be the reason for the huge decline in New York City’s pedestrian fatalities, as many are the result of vehicles failing to yield in intersections. As the executive director of Transportation Alternatives states “Dollar for dollar, this is a really smart, life-saving investment that ought to be a part of any city’s effort to eliminate traffic deaths.”
The California Department of Motor Vehicles have just released some new statistics on test autonomous vehicles (AV’s) operating in that state. California requires owners of these vehicles to annually report the number of hours driven and the number of hours that the vehicle is~well, steering itself. As reported in the Atlantic Monthly Waymo the self-driving car from Google owned Alphabet is still leading the pack. Waymo AV’s “drove 352,545 autonomous miles with 63 total disengagements, for a yearly average of 5,595 miles per disengagement. In the company’s best month, November 2017, they did 30,516 miles with a single disengagement. ”
While these numbers are remarkable, it was noticed that the “disengagement rate” did not decline from the 2016 numbers. Waymo put two million total miles on their cars in twenty different cities in the last year. In 2018 Waymo is commencing a “self-driving taxi service” in Phoenix, a trial that will expand to other cities. Waymo uses customized minivans produced by Chrysler and it is expected that thousands of these AV’s will be produced as Waymo continues expanding to a truly autonomous service.
Who else is in the field? The number two AV tester in California, GM’s Cruise, drove 125,000 miles in San Francisco in self-driving mode, with 105 disengagements. Tesla reported zero miles. Instead of using costly sensor arrays Tesla is arguing that their “billions of miles of real-world driving data” will develop their autonomous technology. The “shadow mode” in the Tesla gleans data without actually taking control of the vehicle, developing the system by data accumulation as opposed to physical vehicle testing.
As the Atlantic Monthly writer Alexis Madrigal concludes: “We’re not seeing a spike in the number of companies that are able to execute well on California roads, nor are we seeing an explosion in the number of miles driven or massive reductions in disengagements per mile. It could be that this is happening in other states, outside the regulatory reporting spotlight. But for now, this looks like a two-car race with a Tesla revving its engine in the infield.”
The Mayor of Vancouver and the Chief City Planner Gil Kelley have jointly submitted an editorial which has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle. Under the headline “Vancouver Looks to Collaborate with San Francisco on Housing Solutions” there is an out of context photo of the housing on First Nations Land beside the Tsawwassen Mills Mall. This housing is lease hold land not free hold, but the caption states that this housing “starts at $619,900” and is part of an “economic boom“.
And here are portions of the Mayor’s and Mr. Kelley’s text: “The cities of the North American West Coast share so much as vibrant, sustainable and prosperous places to live and work in the 21st century. However, our success is no accident; through thoughtful city planning, San Francisco and the greater Bay Area, Portland, Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia are cities that are the envy of the world.
We also face a common threat to that livability. We are seeing unprecedented escalation in housing costs for our working families, the “missing middle” and young professionals, as well as the increasing pressure on our most vulnerable populations…
We’ve learned the causes of the housing crisis are deep and powerful: housing is increasingly not “home” first but rather a commodity for investment on a global market for investors large and small, foreign and local, as interest rates remain low and equity searches for substantial returns. Who can blame the couple with equity to invest for buying a house or a condo that in a few years might double their return and provide a nest egg? For larger real estate interests, building and selling at the top of an ever upward-moving market or “reno-victing” tenants to increase rents are a matter of “rational” market behavior…
In Vancouver, we hope to get ahead of the same pressures San Francisco is facing. We’re taking action to limit speculative investment and put our housing stock to its best use by implementing Canada’s first Empty Homes Tax, a 1 percent annual tax on empty or under-used residential properties. We are preparing an ambitious 10-year housing strategy to lay the foundation for a diverse and equitable city. It starts with the notion that supply is not the issue — we have produced lots of housing over the past decade — but rather lack of the “right supply….
As a city similar to San Francisco with a finite supply of land, Vancouver will rely on density bonuses to augment our inclusionary housing requirements, as the primary tools to incentivize developers to provide the range of rental housing we need. We are also looking across all of our neighborhoods — from transit station areas and major corridors to single-family neighborhoods — for creative infill opportunities that maintain the character of these neighborhoods while providing new homes. These opportunities might include duplexes, row homes, town houses and more…
Overall, we aim to produce over the next decade about 7,000 new homes per year affordable to various household sizes and income levels, and not exceeding 30 percent of the household income on housing costs. Like San Francisco, our greatest reservoir of affordable housing is actually already built and rented by working singles and families, students and elderly residents on fixed incomes. We will need to look at ways to secure or replace much of that as affordable long-term rental stock…
We believe it is time for our mayors and planning directors to formalize a working West Coast Collaborative to tackle this and other issues facing our beautiful and prosperous cities, to share experiences and learn from each other as we advance our efforts to remain just and sustainable places. We hope you will join us.”
The full text of this opinion editorial can be found here.
The housing-income disconnect
Vancouver, British Columbia
$56,474 (in U.S. dollars) Median total household income (2015)
$1.119 million Median single-family home price (3Q, 2017)
$88,518 Median total household income (2015)
$1.130 million Median single-family home price
Old hat here, but they seem excited in SF. From Governing:
Bike commuting is the fastest-growing mode of transportation. And San Francisco can attest to that.
Every time a cyclist rolls past one of the city’s digital bike counters – or “bicycle barometers,” as they are officially called – the daily and yearly totals tick up. In 2016, there were an estimated 82,000 bicycle trips taken per day in San Francisco. That number has been steadily rising since 2006, when manual counting of bikes began.
Today, there are 75 counters – some with digital displays, some without – throughout San Francisco. City planners use the data to better understand how bicyclists use roads and bike lanes.
The San Francisco Examiner and Joe Rodrigeuz report on an unusual protest Friday morning where fifty senior citizens carried out a protest at Geary Boulevard and Masonic Avenue. This intersection is described as the City’s most dangerous according to the Department of Public Health. One senior carried a sign that read “Don’t Target Me” as she rolled her walker across the crosswalk.
Being able to walk and the ability to get to shops and services is crucial to seniors. These seniors have noted that there is a short pedestrian crossing time at the intersection, meaning that seniors have to go to other intersections in order to cross the street. In response the City Traffic Engineer said that the “pedestrian crossing times for key intersections — in particular, Third Street — would soon gain new walking times to favor a slower pace. For the past years we’ve been changing the 4.0 feet per second clearance times to the newer 3.5 feet per second slower walking rate. We are in the process of upgrading the transit priority and pedestrian signal timing programming to meet the newer 3.5 feet per second guidance.”
There are a few things that are odd here-one is that this is seen as a “slower” instead of a more “median” walking speed when it is clear that the intersection has been ranked problematic for elderly pedestrians.Secondly, the seniors are still not happy, as this proposed pedestrian crossing speed is still not optimum for them. They’ve worked out that their group needs crossing times lowered to 3 feet per second. And they have the federal Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices to back them up. That manual recommends 3 feet per second as the acceptable ratio on high pedestrian traffic areas used by seniors, something that people with disabilities would also like to have implemented.
“During the protest, a motorist driving a Nissan Altima nearly made the point for seniors by careening around a corner…One protester, a senior woman, marched up to the car before it had a chance to cut off the group of seniors. Standing in front of the Nissan, she held aloft a sign that read “Dying to Cross.”