Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The downside of population density

For years the Planning Dept. has been proceeding as if population density in city neighborhoods is of little concern, the assumption being that we can encourage as many people as possible in the city, including residental highrises, as long as developments are near a "transit corridor." A front page story in yesterday's Examiner, based on information from the Department of Public Health, reminds us why cities have limits on population density in the first place: "Traffic drives SoMa noise level: Growing neighborhood loudest in The City, spurring complaints."

Hard to see how things are going to get any quieter South of Market, since that part of town is part of the Planning Dept.'s Eastern Neighborhoods Project, with the SoMa part of the plan called "East SoMa."

If you haven't heard much about this plan, you aren't alone, since there's been very little about it in the local media, including our so-called alternative media. A BeyondChron reader complains about it in a letter to the editor today:

Dear Editor,
I have a simple question. Why has Beyond Chron lagged in their coverage of the Eastern Neighborhoods rezoning process? This process will have a major impact on the city. Your website states that "we provide coverage of political and cultural issues often distorted or ignored by the Bay Area's largest newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle." Well, the Chronicle has failed in their coverage, thus I ask that Beyond Chron provide objective coverage of this political and cultural issue. I ask that you provide coverage by doing more than just reprinting something from SPUR. At the very least you should be informing your readers on a weekly basis on what is happening with the eastern neighborhoods rezoning process.

Thank You
Jaime Trejo

Like the rest of the city's media, BeyondChron has been derelict in covering city development issues, including the egregious Market and Octavia Neighborhood Plan, which will encourage 10,000 new residents in that already densely-populated part of town, including 40-story highrises at Market and Van Ness. Why have the local media---especially the "progressive" media---not adequately covered these hugely important city plans? Because they are both products of a city government dominated by progressives, both on the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors, and progressive is as progressive does. While city progressives slumber, there is no one minding the store on planning issues. Chris Daly and Aaron Peskin whisked the Rincon Hill highrises through the planning process with barely a peep out of the Bay Guardian, BeyondChron, or the SF Weekly. (The SF Examiner and the SF Chronicle are mainstream, establishment institutions, and progressives shouldn't rely on them for in-depth coverage of development issues. The Chronicle, however, has done more good work on homelessness than all of the alternative media combined).

Nor has there been any protest from progressives about the Market/Octavia Plan or UC's hijacking of the six acres of property zoned for "public use" on lower Haight Street. The city's progressive leadership---including Supervisor Mirkarimi---is completely on board for these awful projects that will completely remake San Francisco for the worse. And these are developments, by the way, of primarily market-rate housing and very little affordable housing.

Reading the Guardian, the leading progressive publication in SF, you would think that the most important issue---except of course for public power---facing the city is the Bicycle Plan!

Labels: ,

9 Comments:

At 1:44 PM, Blogger cuileann said...

Wow...well, I'm glad you posted on it, or I never would have heard of it.

Noise isn't all that'll be getting worse - how about parking?! ;)

 
At 1:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"the assumption being that we can encourage as many people as possible in the city"

Since when is higher density "as many people as possible"?

You have some seriously flawed logic.

 
At 3:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's funny how Rob is some completely obsessed in his "CarThink" he can't even come to associate the noise with the source of the noise: cars.

Next he'll be blame residents for hearing the car noise. If all you people just went deaf...

 
At 9:20 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

"Since when is higher density 'as many people as possible'?"

The question is, What makes the Planning Dept., the mayor, and our "progressive" Board of Supervisors think that thousands of luxury condos on Rincon Hill are not going to have unforeseen consequences for that part of town? What makes city officials think that 10,000 more people in the Market/Octavia area---with parking severely limited---is not going to have radical consequences for the quality of life for that area? The answer: they don't really know at all. They are simply extrapolating the false, anti-car "transit corridors" theory on the assumption that it will all work out in the end. My assumption is that cars---and trucks, buses, taxis, motorcycycles, etc.---are here to stay in San Francisco and every other American city. Hence, encouraging population density while discouraging parking is a recipe for disaster.

 
At 11:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"My assumption is that cars---and trucks, buses, taxis, motorcycycles, etc.---are here to stay in San Francisco and every other American city."

My assumption is the same, only these won't carry the same pattern of use as in the past. Driving is down this year. Bicycling, transit use, and walking are up.

More people are moving to the city. Why? Partly because you don't need a car here.

By European urban standards, SF has low population density. Hell, even by East Coast standards SF has low population density.

In fact, the higher the density of development, the lower the dependence is on automobiles. It is only through population density that transit can be viable and communities walkable.

That being said, I don't think Manhattan-style highrises are necessarily the way to go. I think we could achieve better results with more efficeint land use.

One reason our land use is so inefficient, though, is because we've used so much of it to drive/store/sell/fuel automobiles.

Taking space from cars seems to be anathema to you, so I guess that's the end of our conversation.

 
At 11:23 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

One of the reasons I live in cities---I've also lived in Portland and San Diego---is because you don't need a car to get around. I haven't owned a car in more than 20 years. But I notice that you put "bicycling" ahead of transit and walking. Just a grammatical tic? Perhaps. But note that local progressives in fact rarely write about Muni. The Bay Guardian devotes a lot of space to talking about bicycles, but they rarely write about Muni, because bikes are PC in prog circles. Muni is, well, essentially about buses, which aren't nearly as politically sexy.

Typical that you ignore my references to the M/O Plan, Rincon Hill, and UC's housing plan on lower Haight Street. Highrises are in fact the way SF is going, and our "progressive" leadership is leading the way for developers in SF.

You refer to the city's inefficient "land use," but that's nothing but hot air without some specifics. Do you mean taking away traffic lanes on city streets to make bike lanes? Traffic in the city is moving pretty well now, especially with gas prices keeping a lot of people out of their cars. Motorized traffic is the lifeblood of the city, since tourism is our main industry and all our goods are delivered to stores by trucks, not to mention Muni, which has 700,000 boardings a day. Is all of that unwise use of our land? I don't think so.

But our prog leaders are eager to make traffic worse with the Bicycle Plan and encouraging population density, even though Muni is close to maximum carrying capacity.

 
At 12:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The Bay Guardian devotes a lot of space to talking about bicycles, but they rarely write about Muni, because bikes are PC in prog circles. Muni is, well, essentially about buses, which aren't nearly as politically sexy."

No, it's because buses are a shitty form of transit.

"Typical that you ignore my references to the M/O Plan, Rincon Hill, and UC's housing plan on lower Haight Street. Highrises are in fact the way SF is going, and our "progressive" leadership is leading the way for developers in SF."

I don't feel like I know enough about the particulars of those developments to comment on them, other than being suspicious of any highrise developments in SF in general.

"You refer to the city's inefficient "land use," but that's nothing but hot air without some specifics."

I mean taking perhaps 1/3 of the total public space, the areas between buildings, and giving so much of it to automobiles for driving, parking, and fueling. Even indoor spaces are affected-- parking lots and garages.

The streetscape was transformed throughout the last century to accomodate car use. Widening streets (and the resulting loss of sidewalk space), engineering roadways and highways throughout the city (some of which spurred the "freeway revolt"), slicing off entire parts of the city with freeway development (see: Hunters Point); then filling these spaces with fast, heavy vehicles and frustrated, aggressive drivers (who menace street users like pedestrians and cyclists to the point where walking and biking becomes percieved as "dangerous").

Town planning may be consistent, but it's not exactly static. For a transit city where half the residents don't even own automobiles, SF has really bent over backwards to accomodate cars. It should come as no surprise that in an area with limited spatial resources there would be a push back against motoring.

Too much motoring means the streets are ruined for other purposes (like the grannies who can't walk to the produce market because crossing Geary is sort of like fording a giant river), mostly because of the danger posed by too many cars.

So, if we want our city space to be able to carry out purposes other than moving cars around, we have little choice but to transform some of it into a space that can accomodate other users (sort of the opposite of sidewalk-narrowing).

This becomes increasingly appropriate as fuel prices increase, people drive less, and take transit, walk, and bike more.

Making room for cars has taken space from all other uses of city space. Why should the notion of taking some of that space back foment so much hysteria?

We have no problem creating massive roads designed for cars, also lined on both sides with parked cars, but if you start talking about re-organizing that space so other people can use it also, you're accused of "punishing drivers". That is tantamount to "punishing" the fat diabetic kid by giving him less candy.

 
At 1:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Motorized traffic is the lifeblood of the city, since tourism is our main industry and all our goods are delivered to stores by trucks"

Let me remind you that folks don't vacation here to admire our overpasses and parking lots.

 
At 11:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Those delivery trucks don't benefit from our roads being clogged with private car traffic. The more people who get out of their cars, the better for all of us. The added cost in man-hours, fuel and traffic delays suffered by delivery trucks because people who could very easily take transit but don't drive up costs and make the city less attractive to live in and visit.

 

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home