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- September 14, 2010BY TIMOTHEA TWAY
Many who joined the latest SPUR study trip to San Jose were impressed to see how much the city has changed physically in the past few decades. These changes have helped accommodate considerable population growth - San Jose grew from under 100,000 residents in 1950 to 460,000 in 1970 to nearly 800,000 today. According to the Association of Bay Area Governments, San Jose will add approximately 400,000 more people from now until 2035, which will no doubt result in even more dramatic physical changes in the city. Many of these changes also reflect the city's attempts to transform itself from a suburban auto-oriented place to a vibrant, dense, transit rich city.
Santa Clara Street at Fourth looking East, 1975 and 2006. [All photos via Buena Vista Neighborhood Association]
Market Street at San Fernando looking southeast, 1975 and 2006. The Circle of Palms and the Fairmont Hotel are in the background.
Market Street between San Carlos and San Fernando looking east down the Paseo de San Antonio, 1975 and 2006.
For those of us who can't make it to San Jose or don't remember what it used to look like, The Buena Vista Neighborhood Association has compiled side by side "then and now" photographs from 1975 and 2006. This is a great website to explore for anyone interested in San Jose, transportation infrastructure, or historic preservation. There are links to other websites which show then and now photographs of aerial views of the city, its homes, and public buildings. Also be sure to check out the City of San Jose Planning Division Envision San Jose 2040 website to see how they are planning to address future growth.
And of course, check out "Retrofitting suburbia -- San Jose style," written for the August Urbanist about lessons learned from the San Jose Study trip!
- September 14, 2010- posted by Ed Parillon
Across the Bay Area, only one in 10 commuters takes transit to work each day. And half of those transit commuters go to one job center: downtown San Francisco. But since most work is outside of downtowns, SPUR is trying to understand a little more about emerging suburban and non-downtown job centers. This post is the first in an occasional series that will look at the Bay Area's evolving and emerging business districts. For each employment district, we will ask four main questions:
The Location: Where is this place located? How far or near to major transit? And how large from one end to the other?
The Plan: What was the planning vision for this place? Was it master-planned? Did it grow up organically?
The Market: What kinds of jobs and companies are located there?
The Commute: How are workers getting to their jobs each day and why?
In this first edition, we will take a closer look at San Francisco's Mission Bay, an emerging neighborhood and job center surrounding a new UCSF campus.
[Photo Credit: Colleen McHugh]
The Location: Mission Bay takes up about 303 acres of land along San Francisco's eastern waterfront just south of AT&T Park. Most of the jobs are about half a mile or more from the 4th and King Caltrain station and over a mile and a half from the Powell Street BART station in downtown. The neighborhood is being built on former Southern Pacific rail yards, and is bounded by the I-280 freeway on the west, King Street on the north, Mariposa Street on the south, and the San Francisco Bay on the east.
[This post will focus largely on the neighborhood's job center, which is located in the southern part of Mission Bay]
This area is served by Muni's T light-rail line, which connects it to Bayview in one direction, and the Market Street Corridor (and BART) in the other. There is also access to Caltrain, with the 4th and King terminus about a half-mile away from the center of the development.
The Plan: Mission Bay is a master-planned development. The site's design, zoning, and layout are detailed in plans approved by the City's Redevelopment Agency, and the private developer, Catellus Development.* Over the 303 acres, the plan lays out the maximum development figures:
- 6,000 residential units
- 4.4 million square feet of office space
- 2.6 million square foot UCSF campus
- 500,000 square feet of retail, and a 500-room hotel
- 41 acres of public open space, both along Mission Creek and along a boulevard in the development's center
In all, current plans for office space in the area should accommodate about 14,000 jobs, in addition to 9,100 expected at the UCSF campus. This means that the entire development will house about 76 jobs per acre.
The Market: The ability to design and implement a master plan also allows the Redevelopment Agency to influence the types of jobs brought to Mission Bay. Many planned job centers target a variety of industries, but Mission Bay's focus is very clear: biotech. In fact, 92% of the office space in the area is planned to be used by biotechnology companies, though there are other large tenants, such as Gap Inc., (whose Old Navy subsidiary has made 285,000 square feet in Mission Bay its headquarters).
The biotech sector got its start in the Bay Area, largely due to UCSF's presence, but South San Francisco, home to Genentech, had long been the dominant location for firms and jobs. The sector has begun to grow in the city, however, and San Francisco is hoping that offering its amenities along with access to the region's three large research centers (UCSF, UC Berkeley, and Stanford) will build on this growth.
[Photo Credit: Colleen McHugh]
There are two main factors leading to the emergence of biotech in San Francisco, and Mission Bay specifically:
- Having the UCSF Mission Bay campus as an anchor tenant: UCSF has long acted as a biotech magnet for the region, and the new campus puts the university's research activities within walking distance of firms moving into Mission Bay, a level of access that is difficult to replicate elsewhere. The UCSF presence also has the advantage of giving the neighborhood a substantial population and public center early in its development.
- Passing a biotech tax incentive: In order to compete with other centers like South San Francisco and Emeryville, San Francisco passed a seven and a half year payroll tax exemption for biotech firms in 2004, and this year modified the legislation to allow firms to qualify for the exemption regardless of when they apply for it. This exemption is relatively cheap, costing just under $1 million in foregone taxes between 2004 and 2008, compared to total payroll tax receipts of $1.63 billion.
The City's strategy has met with some success, as noted in a December 2009 report from San Francisco's Office of the Controller:
In 2000, San Francisco had only 1.3% of the total life sciences occupied building base in the Bay Area. The figure declined during the recession in the early part of this decade, but did not begin to rise until 2005, after the exclusion went into effect in September 2004. Subsequently, the percentage has risen each year, peaking in 2009 at 6.1% of the regional total, approximately a five-fold increase over the city's share in 2004. Estimates suggest there could be 2,750 life science jobs in San Francisco, up from only 500 in 2004.
The Commute: As discussed above, Mission Bay has direct access to Muni's T-Third light rail, which runs through the center of the development. Additionally, workers in the neighborhood have access to Caltrain at the development's northwestern edge (the 4th and King station can also be accessed via Muni). While the 280 freeway acts as a barrier to walkability, the area is connected to the rest of the city via the street grid, allowing some commuting via walking and cycling.
But as in most job centers, many workers arrive via car. Parking allowances are higher than those in the downtown core; for example, a 250,000 sqft office building in downtown would have about 100 spaces, compared to 250 for a similar office building in Mission Bay, or 500 spaces for a biotech office building.
Precise commute data for Mission Bay is not available yet. But projections from UCSF for its campus indicate a possible mix of modes, with about half of faculty, staff, and students expected to arrive via auto, compared to 32% on transit, and 14% walking or biking. While the driving rates are higher than downtown San Francisco, they are lower than many other job centers in the region.
As we continue this occasional blog series on Bay Area job centers, we'll see how those other places stack up.
*Catellus Development is a real-estate spinoff of the Santa Fe Pacific Corporation, the railroad company that owned the railyards that now comprise Mission Bay.
[Photo Credit: Colleen McHugh]
- September 9, 2010BY JORDAN SALINGER
[Photo Credit: flickr user sandy kemsley]
This post is the first in an occasional series that hopes to make sense of the issues surrounding the implementation of California's smart growth law, SB 375.
California's future demographic reality is clear. We will grow — perhaps not as quickly as in recent decades — but we will nonetheless continue to increase our population. The state projects a population of 44 million by 2020 and well over 51 million by 2035. Even if the recent economic downturn results in slower future population growth, the question still remains: how do we manage this growth with minimal environmental impact?
For much of the past century, this growth was accompanied by increased auto use. But California's 2008 smart growth law, SB 375 — now being implemented throughout the state — proposes a different approach.
A key recent policy decision relates to "Greenhouse gas reduction targets." In August, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) released a set of regional targets for per capita greenhouse gas emissions based on decreased driving. The targets refer to how much less the average person will drive in the future. These numbers were submitted by each of the following metropolitan planning organizations, and then reviewed and accepted by CARB.
Targets for reduced per capita emissions from driving:
SCAG (Southern California) 8% 13%
MTC (Bay Area) 7% 15%
SANDAG (San Diego) 7% 13%
SACOG (Sacramento) 7% 16%
San Joaquin COGs 5% 10%
There are two simple ways to understand these targets. First, it is easier to make more significant change in average behavior for a region with a fast-growing population. So long as people in the future drive less than current drivers, the average goes down. That's why the fast-growing Sacramento region has the highest target.
Second, it is more difficult to achieve big changes in the short run. That's why all the targets are much lower for 2020 than 2035.
While the conclusion of these figures is simple — the average Californian is going to be driving less — the way we achieve these emission targets can be more complicated. Encouraging both new growth and infill development in transit rich cities, in turn shifting where people are both living and working, is important. We will also achieve these goals by pricing roadways differently, dissuading drivers from driving during peak hours on congested roadways.
Click here for a PDF of the full report.
- September 1, 2010BY FABIANA MEACHAM
A prototype for a bike rack designed by David Baker + Partners [Photo Credit: David Baker]
Build pretzel-shaped steel tubes, bolt them to the sidewalk, and the cyclists will come. Or at least that seems to be the logic behind the newfound interest in bike rack design in cities throughout the country. I remember a time when parking your bike meant locking it to anything you might tie a dog to, but these days everyone seems to have an opinion on the right way to lock up your bike — and a lamp post or park bench just will not do.
San Francisco-based architect David Baker (whose elegant, pleasantly weathered bike rack prototype is featured in DIY Urbanism: Testing the grounds for social change -- opening next Tuesday!), provides an excellent primer on bike rack design and implementation. Who knew that round tubes were more susceptible to pipe cutters? Or that a standard U-rack can easily accommodate three bicycles? It would behoove city planning officials to consult this guide before potentially installing the wrong kinds of racks on their city streets.
But bike racks have become much more than just another place to park your bike. Following in the wake of widespread bike lane implementation in even the most car-centric of cities (like Indianapolis and Detroit), bike racks are an instantly recognizable symbol of a city government's commitment to promoting bicycle transportation. In recognition of the bike rack's symbolic potential, cities like New York and San Francisco have brought industrial designers and architects into the process, sponsoring bike rack design competitions. Even David Byrne has collaborated with the New York Department of Transportation to install his own whimsical designs — although he seems to be on such good terms with the DOT that his work managed to bypass the usual jury process.
American cities have a long way to go before we come close to approximating the volume and efficiency of bike storage in iconic cycling cities such as Amsterdam, but a standard curbside U-rack with a galvanized steel finish is a good place to start.
Bike storage in Amsterdam [Photo Credit: flickr user julia.simard]
Criteria for bike rack installation in San Francisco [Image courtesy of SFMTA]
- August 31, 2010BY JORDAN SALINGER
[Image courtesy of Streetsblog]
San Francisco has a problem with its roads. Since 1988, the average pavement condition of roads in San Francisco has declined 20%. No longer considered an essential city service to be paid for out of the City's General Fund, city officials are looking for new ways to pay for street repavement projects. They are also prioritizing street repairs based on how fundamental each road is to the overall system.
With the current average PCI (pavement condition index) of San Francisco roads registering at 63 out of 100, we are in a troubling situation. Our roads are no longer considered "Good" (roads with scores of 70 and above). Instead they are dangerously close to "At risk" (roads at 57 and below).
According to a report prepared by San Francisco's capital planning program, "San Francisco's street network as a whole is slightly below the threshold for preventive maintenance. Engineers typically identify a PCI of 64 as a tipping point at which the pavement deterioration rate begins to steeply increase and more expensive treatments are needed for repair." The report also claims the cost of repair of any San Francisco street will be four times more over the course of 70 years of use, if the proper preventive maintenance does not occur. If new funding sources are not identified, our roads stand to decline at the rate of roughly a point per year.
To get a complete analysis of San Francisco's roads, and how we can best address this problem click here.
Known for their work in the intersection of design and data, Stamen and SimpleGeo have joined forces in taking an interactive look at this issue. They take the PCI statistics, readily available on DataSF, and overlay them on a map of San Francisco. We look forward to seeing a lot less red in the future.
Roads with PCI of 0-49 shown in red, 40-69 in yellow [Image courtesy of San Francisco Department of Public Works]
- August 25, 2010BY TIMOTHEA TWAY
While living in the suburbs often appears less expensive than living in the city, this is often not the case when factoring in transportation costs. The Center for Neighborhood Technology just released an expanded version of their housing and transportation index which provides a comprehensive view of neighborhood affordability. Unlike other affordability indices, the Housing and Transportation Affordability Index takes into account transportation costs associated with neighborhood design and location. Their website allows users to explore neighborhood-level data about housing and transportation prices which include information on auto ownership, transit use, and housing density that can help Americans make more informed decisions about where they want to live.
[Map generated on H + T website comparing affordability in the Bay Area]
The H + T Affordability Index is a product of a collaboration with the Center for Neighborhood Technology, Center for Transit Oriented Development and was developed as a project for the Brookings Institution's Urban Markets Initiative. In the works since 2006, the Affordability Index recently expanded its analysis to cover 330 metropolitan areas in the United States, which accounts for more than 80% of the population in the United States and covers more than 161,000 neighborhoods.
SPUR understands the role that effective and affordable transportation options play in affordability and quality of life. Check out SPUR's article on Transit-Oriented Development in the Bay Area as well as our transportation page for more information on how SPUR is working to encourage better transportation options in the Bay Area visit.
- August 12, 2010BY TIMOTHEA TWAY
Plug-in cars in San Francisco [Photo Credit: flickr user felixkramer]
PG&E's clean energy blog, Next 100, recently explored the idea of the rise of electric vehicles in the Bay Area. At the recent Plug-In 2010 conference, PG&E President Chris Johns predicted that the Bay Area will see around 500,000 electric vehicles (EVs) "plugging in" over the next decade.
From a sustainability perspective, electric vehicles are a big improvement over their traditional alternatives, to be sure. But all of these new vehicles "plugging in" will create a huge demand for energy from the grid. According to PG&E, one EV can draw as much power as three homes in San Francisco. Compounding this supply problem is the challenge of supplying this energy from clean, renewable sources, and determining whether new technologies to move energy around more efficiently — such as through a "smart grid" — could satisfy new demand without the need to build new generation.
One partial solution is shifting demand off-peak. Currently, PG&E offers special pricing for EV owners who charge their vehicles during off-peak hours in order to mitigate the demand on the grid. However, this may not be enough if EVs become as popular as Johns predicts.
In order to better understand the infrastructure needs of the future, PG&E and the Electric Power Research Institute recently began a pilot project to examine how different vehicles impact the electric grid throughout the day. Various groups around the Bay Area are helping cities figure out how to finance and build the necessary infrastructure to prepare for EVs to go commercial this fall, with the release of the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf.
Want to travel sustainably while EVs get figured out? SPUR recommends taking advantage of the old-fashioned clean transportation choices we have in the city: walking, biking and riding public transit.
- August 10, 2010BY ELIZABETH HOLDEN
Reflected Loop [Image via San Francisco Arts Commission]
We are visual creatures. As such, we derive our orientation of our relative location according to the landmarks and visual reminders around us. This is especially evident in how we navigate urban areas, by remembering a block near a notable statue or fountain in an otherwise crowded arrangement of buildings.
It's a common situation - getting disoriented in an underground or enclosed public transit station (even for those who are spatially inclined). Without any visual cues, it's easy to get turned around and then end up walking an extra block or two in hopes of reaching the final destination. The Central Subway Public Art Program hopes to remedy this common dilemma by installing "landmark" and "wayfinding" art pieces inside the future terminals, playing with our natural visual tendencies for orientation.
These installations will be tailored according to three stations: Chinatown, Union Square/Market Street, and Moscone. Through creative interpretations of the cultures of those three areas of San Francisco, these projects have the potential to be impressive art installations, questioning the standard of an unpleasant commute by bringing back the enjoyment of a grand public transit system.
In the Union Square station, Jim Campbell and Werner Klotz's Reflected Loop (above) strings a series of light and ambient reflections through the station. The band winds around the station and connects back with itself in a continuous loop that has no beginning or end. The polished stainless steel discs of various sizes will reflect light according to the spaces around them.
Passing Time [Image via San Francisco Arts Commission]
Inspired by the evolving development of Union Square from a rural environment to a residential area to retail business center, artist Keith Goddard's Passing Time (above) uses a series of intricate plaques to serve as visual reminders for areas of the station. He will use varied materials to make these mosaics.
The SFAC's Public Art Program brings the "public" back into public art through an innovative series of proposals for the station-specific installations. In preliminary stages, the plans were shown in three different museums for the three different stations, allowing for public feedback and for anyone to state preferences for particular pieces. "We are confident that the overwhelming participation of local and nationally known artists will result in artwork that displays the rich cultural diversity of our City and creates modern day art exhibits for the public to enjoy while awaiting their train in our new subway stations," stated SFMTA Executive Director/CEO Nat Ford. This intersection between arts and transportation exemplifies the new ways in which San Francisco is rethinking its public transportation and the importance of the visual mind in the process of traveling to and from places around the city.
- August 7, 2010BY GABRIEL METCALF
The California High Speed Rail Authority met yesterday in San Francisco. The agenda was packed with many interesting things including a new station area development policy. But the real controversy was about the section between San Jose and San Francisco. I joined hundreds of people during public comment to weigh in on this one small segment.
Over the past few years, a group of high speed rail opponents has been gathering strength in some of the Peninsula communities such as Atherton and Menlo Park, arguing that the train will impact their views, be too noisy, and otherwise ruin their quality of life.
There is certainly a lot of design work to do as the High Speed Rail Authority and Caltrain explore the peninsula segment and figure out how to make "joint operations" work.
But what some of the residents of the Peninsula seem to be asking for is an impossibly expensive project or no project at all. There cannot be a 60-mile subway up and down the Peninsula.
The Bay Area Council penned a strong letter pointing out the flaws with the "build it right or don't build it at all" approach. If "building it right" means addressing every local impact of the project to the satisfaction of every local resident, there will not be enough money in the world to build this project.
TransForm pointed out at the hearing that the issues with the Peninsula communities stem from the fact that the High Speed Rail Authority made the fundamentally correct decision in 2004 to choose an alignment that re-uses existing track where possible and goes through existing cities. (This was in contrast to a cheaper alternative that went through agricultural lands and skirted many existing cities, relying instead on "greenfield" stations.) Having made the big decision the right way, the Authority now faces the political and design problem of actually bringing the train through all of these already-developed communities. Even though the Peninsula creates design challenges it is absolutely critical that the project goes all the way to San Francisco, where the highest ridership stations in the entire state will be located.
I tried to put this project into some larger context in my remarks. California is already the most populous state in the nation (by far). It will grow from 38 million people today to 50 million people by 2030. The real reason we need high speed rail is to provide an armature or framework for organizing this massive growth. Where the interstate highway system was the infrastructure that enabled the suburbanization of America, high speed rail can enable a re-centering of growth. It is the necessary supporting infrastructure for walkable communities in California.
The real question we are facing is whether we are still capable as a society of actually getting something like this built. In the age of CEQA, in the age when we seem to believe that more public process is always better, in the age when we seem to believe that nothing should happen unless there is consensus, can we actually create a transformative infrastructure? As America tries to learn how to compete with "single vision" nations that do not share our democratic values, the question of how we learn how to actually get things done under our political system looms larger and larger as a central problem to overcome.
With every infrastructure project that SPUR supports we face the dilemma of how to be supportive against the tide of opponents while still working constructively to improve projects and make them as good as they can be. We could not be happier with the "big moves" that the High Speed Rail Authority has made thus far. They have picked the right alignment, one that will reinforce center-oriented growth. Now the task is to get the small moves right to find that elusive balance between more expensive designs that address community concerns and the need to keep the project affordable enough to actually build it.
This is the most important project in California. It is a naÃ¯ve and impossible wish to "get it right" if right means the ideal design in every community. We need to get it "right-enough" to attract lots of riders away from the automobile and enable a new pattern of growth in the state.
- August 6, 2010SFpark has released a video demonstrating how the new and improved parking system can help reduce traffic, carbon emissions -- and road rage -- while driving on San Francisco streets. Find out more about the program in this blog post.Tags: transportation