Preserving Strawberry’s Charm – By Rescinding the Growth Designation

Preserving Strawberry’s Charm – By Rescinding the Growth Designation

On Tuesday Feb 25th the Marin County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to rescind the Strawberry Priority Development Area – a designation targeting the area for significant housing growth – supposedly to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and secure transportation funding. The Marin IJ provided this coverage of the topic. As an attendee of the session I made several interesting observations: 1) Priority Development Area Proponents Continued to Talk of Myths and Disinformation But these same proponents didn’t specify any alleged myths beyond “there are no strings attached“. The evidence contradicting PDA proponent’s assertion couldn’t be much stronger: a) One of the leading planners in the county, Paul Jensen who is the community development manager for Marin’s largest city, San Rafael, and more qualified than almost anyone in the room, stated in his presentation on PDAs on September 6th 2013 not once but twice that PDAs create an expectation of growth. View the video and jump to the 35 minute mark to see this. b) In January 2014 ABAG, MTC and the other organizations behind Plan Bay Area published a PDA Application Form. The form clearly states: “the area has plans for a significant increase in housing units to a minimum density of the selected place type from the Station Area Planning Manual,” c) The designation provides a clear tool to a developer to show that the area has been volunteered by residents for high density accelerated growth. This is a key part of justifying a specific plan for development by a developer. d) The designation enables developers to qualify for Transit Oriented Affordable Housing (TOAH) Loans. This is clearly stated in...
Investing More in Transit Doesn’t Reduce Congestion

Investing More in Transit Doesn’t Reduce Congestion

One of the many myths propagated around transit and housing is that if we can increase adoption of transit, getting people to switch from their cars, that we can reduce congestion. Another is that by investing more in transit we can “increase mobility”. It almost sounds like common sense? But it’s important to look at the evidence objectively. The figures for the San Francisco – Oakland Urbanized Area tell a very different story than the common sense that some might presume to tell us. The chart on the right shows two variables over the period 1982 – 2011: In blue is the transit passenger miles per capita for the entire Bay Area population, this includes people who do and do not take transit. In red is shown the travel time index. This represents the travel time in the peak period to travel time at free-flow conditions. E.g. a Travel Time Index of 1.35 indicates that a 20 minute free-flow trip takes 27 minutes at peak.  Source: Texas Transportation Institute, Urban Mobility Report 2009, Exhibit 1., “Major Findings for 2009″ The key question is, does an increase in transit usage, measured here by transit passenger miles per capita (blue line), cause a decrease in congestion, here measured by the Travel Time Index (red line)? To ascertain this a statistician applies a coefficient of determination. A figure of  1.00 reflects a direct correlation and 0.00 no correlation. The coefficient for the data in the chart is just 0.28 – most statisticians would say that there is no statistically significant relationship.  However, what should also be considered is that the transit-reduces-congestion theorists expect, as transit utilization increases,...
ABAG – Planning for a Population Explosion

ABAG – Planning for a Population Explosion

If the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) is to be believed, the Bay Area is about to take on a wholly remarkable and unprecedented growth in population – growth far in excess of growth estimates by experts. This is important because it is these rapid growth forecasts justify ABAG and Plan Bay Area’s imposing policies – policies such as urbanizing small towns, significantly increasing densities and reducing automobile usage. Why Present Inflated Projections? Why would ABAG seek to maximize its’ population projections? I have started to learn an increasing amount about how an organization or individual becomes successful in the public sector. In the private sector the matter is simple – sell more, make money – this will lead to more responsibilities and a higher salary. In the public center it’s also about increasing one’s influence, but this is achieved by building a case to secure grants and financing. The bigger the problem a public entity can set itself up to solve – the more it can secure state and federal grants. The issue is further compounded by ABAG creating a housing & transportation ecosystem or industry – where it pays to join the parade as there are lucrative contracts for transit and housing consultants; and developers and builders stand to benefit from increased development opportunities. Others simply join the parade as it serves to progress their cause (e.g. transit and housing advocates). I cover this in more detail in the article Disenfranchised by an Ecosystem. Just How High Are ABAG’s Projections? Transportation consultant and former Controller-Treasurer of the Southern California Rapid Transit District Thomas Rubin, lays it out clearly:...
Transportation Authority of Marin Denies Repeated Records Requests

Transportation Authority of Marin Denies Repeated Records Requests

I used to live blissfully unaware of the major plans that others had for urbanizing first my neighborhood, then Marin. But then I had a rude awakening as I discovered how special interests, assisted by seemingly compliant government agencies were pushing through radical plans to significantly increase growth. The agency that kept catching my attention was the Transportation Authority of Marin (and ABAG – but let’s leave them aside for now). They first showed up on my radar after hundreds of neighbors discovered a rigged community input process around first the designation of our neighborhood as a “Priority Development Area” concentrating high density development – then via what was purported to be a “Station Area Plan” but which turned out to propose radical rezoning from 1,074 units to adding another 1,414 units within a 1/2 mile zone. Resident input was summarily dismissed, and workshops somehow carefully avoided presenting “no change” options. Public meetings concluding setting height limits of 3 story height limits would magically come back from the oversight committee and planning consultants as 5 storys. All Roads Lead to the Transportation Authority of Marin More and more I discovered that more and more led back to the Transportation Authority of Marin: A TAM employee, Linda Jackson, was the project manager of the “Joint Project Team” (JPT) committee responsible for technical coordination TAM had lobbied councilors to discourage them from rescinding the Priority Development Area status when this was clearly the desire of the majority of residents TAM had been highly involved in the SMART Train – a project where all along the line “Station Area Plans” had popped...
How Does Your Car’s Emissions Compare to Transit?

How Does Your Car’s Emissions Compare to Transit?

Today there is a common conception, or perhaps misconception, that transit is greener than traveling by car – meaning that it produces lower emissions. For many, there is a guilt associated with the convenience of car travel – they presume it generates more emissions –  but the reality is illuminating and in some cases welcome. Understanding the reality is vital so that we don’t implement expensive plans in the hopes of fighting climate change, when the actual impact is not cost-effective. Compare Your Car’s Emissions to Transit (Google Docs Spreadsheet) This Google Docs spreadsheet which anyone can access via a web browser helps show how your current car, or more relevantly – how the car you might be driving in 2025-2035 – emits CO2. Timeframe is an Important Factor for Transit Projects When considering major transit projects the emissions of cars being driven today are not as important as what the emissions will be of cars in the future. The Whitehouse announced in 2012 that the US DOT and EPA have issued standards that the average new US car (US fleet) must achieve 54.5mpg by 2025. Transit projects such a “fixed guide rail” (e.g. commuter rail, heavy rail such as the SMART train and streetcars or trolleys) must be compared against car emissions at the midpoint of their lifespan. So if a train or trolley line takes 4 years to build, and  locomotives have a lifespan of 30 years, we should be comparing emissions to the average car in the year 2033. Important Considerations for Transit Figures It is also vital to understand key context around transit passenger mpg figures: Transit Emissions...