Tuesday, June 15, 2010

CityPlace: How the anti-car Jihad hurts the city #2

Tom Radulovich

The city's anti-car policies are beginning to pinch, since the folks who want to put a new shopping mall in the most blighted part of Market Street---between Fifth Street and Sixth Street---are being hassled for wanting to put 200 parking spaces underneath the mall. John King in the Chronicle:

Closer to Fifth Street, developer Urban Realty seeks approval for what it calls CityPlace---a five-story mall that would replace three buildings on the south side of the block and house discount retailers...As for CityPlace, the buildings it would replace sit vacant---and while there's support from business groups, the underground parking spaces included in the proposal are opposed by transit advocates who want to keep cars away from the area.

"Transit advocates"? As King surely knows, these "advocates" are the bike people, and they don't really give a shit about Muni. But the anti-car jihad has been internalized by all good city progressives, including of course the Board of Supervisors. We're supposed to pretend that we're Amsterdam or Copenhagen, not a major American city.

Randy Shaw of BeyondChron has an angrier take on the city's delay in approving CityPlace:

I met with developer David Rhoades of Urban Reality and his consultant when this project was first submitted. I told them---in words that now seem naïve---that I could not imagine anyone opposing this effort to bring 250,000 square feet of retail to a long neglected commercial corridor (the City Place site was previously approved for a giant condo project, whose abandonment by a prior owner left the area bereft of commercial activity).

For years Market Street has been targeted by the SF Bicycle Coalition for a total ban on automobiles---otherwise known as "death monsters"---and lo that great day has come to pass, though, along with the sacred bicycle, trucks, taxis, and Muni buses are still allowed. But it will take more than banning cars on Market Street to get rid of the long-standing commercial blight that mars a large part of the city's main street. It will take development and, in the real world of commerce, some of that development will require parking spaces for residents, customers, and workers.

Shaw continues:

But in San Francisco, even a game-changing project like City Place could not escape Planning’s obsession with achieving consensus. And since at least one credible person had problems with including parking in a project that would create hundreds of construction and permanent retail jobs (and even the lowest paid are governed by the city’s higher local minimum wage), that meant that City Place’s approval pace had to be slowed down to address such concerns.

Yes, Shaw was naive to think that a major retail development in downtown San Francisco could get away with including adequate parking in its proposal. But the anti-car political consensus was formed years ago, even before the litigation on the Bicycle Plan began way back in 2005. It's hard to believe that someone who runs an online publication covering local issues isn't aware of the anti-car movement in the city---a movement that not only wants to redesign city streets on behalf of the bicycle fantasy but is also undermining the long-standing requirement that developers provide adequate parking for projects. 

It used to be that housing developers, for example, were required to provide a parking space for every new housing unit built, but the city has carved out so many exceptions to that sensible rule---the massive UC development on the old extension property, and the huge Market and Octavia project, for example---that it's essentially a dead letter now.

And who is this "one credible person" who is opposed to parking? [later: probably Tom Radulovich] If the list of suspects is limited to the credible, it has to be short, but the anti-car virus infecting our policy makers is widespread---in the Planning Dept., the Planning Commission, the MTA, and the Board of Supervisors.

One might naively think, by the way, that the term "transit" refers to vehicles like buses, trains and streetcars. But here in Progressive Land, according to our City Charter, it also means bikes: "Bicycling shall be promoted by encouraging safe streets for riding, convenient access to transit, bicycle lanes, and secure bicycle parking." (Section 8A.115, Transit First)

Get it? Now when the city's Bicycle Plan takes away traffic lanes on busy streets to make bike lanes, they can say that are just following Transit First as defined in the City Charter, even if that snarls traffic and delays our actual transit system, which the EIR on the Bicycle Plan tells us is what's going to happen.

More information
on the project from the Planning Dept.

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At 11:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This thing is right over a BART/MUNI station. The same one that supplies the Westfield with the majority of its patrons. It's like a big hypodermic needle pushing shoppers from Berkeley and Daly City into the store.

Urban Realty isn't going to back out over 200 spaces. The whole reason they are putting it where they are is because of the BART station. The spaces are because the management of CityPlace and the anchor retail want to be able to drive to work.

At 11:31 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

You're assuming that the mall's customers will find it practical to take BART, which automatically, so to speak, limits your customer base. 200 parking spaces would represent a lot of managers. Even if that was true, why shouldn't they be able to drive to work? It's just stupid to oppose this project because of the parking.

At 1:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"You're assuming that the mall's customers will find it practical to take BART"

I'm not assuming anything. I've actually been to the Westfield. The BART station is overrun with people carrying shopping bags from Bloomingdales/etc...

It's not like it's a Home Depot where people are buying lumber...

At 1:46 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

You are in fact assuming that BART makes the parking under the project unnecessary. What about all the people who don't live near a BART line or a Muni line?

At 2:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

MOST people in the city live within a reasonable distance of a Muni stop and the vast amount of parking spaces at BART and Caltrain stations seem to make these additional spaces redundant. That parking lot at 5th and Mission should be able to adequately handle the people who can't, or refuse, to take public transit to a mall at a major transit hub.

At 2:43 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

The parking spaces are only "redundant" for people who can't take public transportation for whatever reason---they are elderly, handicapped, have children, etc. I suspect you are not old, not handicapped, and don't have to take children with you when you shop. It's just stupid and harmful to the city to discourage this project because you don't like parking. Besides, the parking garage will only be accessed from Stevenson Street behind the mall, so there will be little traffic added to Market Street, where cars are diverted at Sixth and Market anyhow.

At 2:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So you're saying that these groups (elderly, handicapped, families, etc.) will have no problem walking through the mall while shopping, but when asked to park one block away, at a LARGE existing lot, all of a sudden that's too much to ask? I don't buy it.

At 3:20 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Whether you "buy it" or not, it's incredibly stupid to oppose a good project for the most blighted block on Market Street just because you oppose the parking lot. Why not make it as easy as possible to shop in downtown San Francisco?

At 4:29 PM, Anonymous Thundarrrrrr said...

I don't oppose this, but I do think yet another shopping mall for tourists is not the best use of the space.

However, anything is better than the gutter time party there now. See the beauty! Touch the magic!

Zero reason to have parking there, however.

At 4:35 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

For "tourists"? People who live in SF don't shop? Including some parking just makes it easier for people to shop there, as opposed to making it harder. You're probably too high-minded to ever visit Stonestown Galleria, but they have free parking both on ground level and underneath, where there's an escalator to ease shoppers directly into the mall. That's the way to do it.

At 10:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You've moved the window. Glenn Beck would be proud

At 4:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The 5th/Mission parking lot normally runs at 70% capacity, and is about 200' from this project. I'd like no parking in CityPlace and a few floors of housing above the retail. That would bring more foot traffic to mid-market, and could be classified as a Transit-Oriented Development.
But, as usual, Mr. Anderson will not have facts and data interfere with his rant.

At 6:38 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

"As usual"? Bullshit and bluff, unless you can provide specifics. I'm not denying that the 5th and Mission garage is nearby. I just don't see the harm in allowing this desperately-needed development 200 parking spaces, if only as an incentive to proceed with the project. What's the harm in allowing access to that parking garage from Stevenson via Mission Street?

Your trendy anti-car fanaticism---along with "transit-oriented" development and residential highrises---is all the rage among the city's planners and pseudo-wonks, but it's a harmful approach if it prevents CityPlace from proceeding with this project.

At 9:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hyperbole. Why is this "desperately needed". That's like saying the bike plan is "desparately needed". The City is functioning without CityPlace, and it will function without it. So cut the drama.

The money and real estate used to put in 200 spaces could provide other amenities. That's the harm. We could have another floor of retail, or residential, or if the developer has less debt to service, they would have more flexibility in rental prices.

At 8:42 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

CityPlace is "desperately needed" because it will be constructed on the most blighted block on Market Street, replacing three empty buildings. Yes, of course the city is functioning without it, but the city also is suffering from a massive budget deficit and unemployment, both of which the project can help ease with jobs and tax revenue. This project would have a beneficial effect on that area, encouraging other investment to turn a run-down area into something positive. CityPlace developers will no doubt take note of your sage advice on how to proceed with their money and their property. It was no doubt naive of them to think that their large retail project should also include parking.

The Bicycle Plan, on the other hand, is not desperately needed at all, in spite of the hysteria whipped up the past several years by the Bicycle Coalition. If the city's numbers can be believed, cycling is increasing in the city in spite of the injunction in effect for four years now.

At 2:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The parking spaces are only "redundant" for people who can't take public transportation for whatever reason---they are elderly, handicapped, have children, etc.

In other words, we should put parking spaces in for the minority. Doesn't make sense, especially considering those demographics have less disposable income to shop - minority in general, vast minority for this usage purpose. Malls are for teenagers and tourists, and should be designed accordingly.

At 4:43 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Malls are for teenagers? You obviously haven't been to one lately. Check out the busiest mall in the city, the Stonestown Galleria. Lots of grownups, lots of seniors, lots of people with small children---and lots of parking for everybody. And I recently bought a Bose stereo in a mall on Market Street.

At 4:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If we have a mall with lots of parking, in the city limits - why the need for another mall with parking - right above a BART station. Can't the 200 people who would use those spots go to Stonestown, leaving room for more retail on Market in a place served by effective mass transit?

At 5:16 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

This is not a city project. A developer is willing to spend a lot of money to ugrade a big chunk of our blighted Market Street. Whether we "need" that mall is a question for the developer, and I bet the developer in this instance---they have other malls around the country---has done extensive studies as to the need of the mall and its potential retail tenants. Whether shoppers choose to arrive by BART, Muni, bicycle or roller skates should be their choice. Besides, downtown San Francisco surely still has enough cachet to attract shoppers who would also visit other local businesses and attractions, including restaurants and theaters. Stonestown has a lot of nice shops and most of its top floor devoted to eating places, but it can't compare to the choices people have in downtown SF.

At 8:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"And I recently bought a Bose stereo in a mall on Market Street."

How did you get there?

At 8:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"downtown San Francisco surely still has enough cachet to attract shoppers who would also visit other local businesses and attractions, including restaurants and theaters."

Despite a supposed dearth of parking...

At 9:24 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

By the #5 Muni line, which runs right by my apartment, but I was responding to the notion that malls are for tourists not for people who live in SF. I don't own a car, but according to the DMV there are 381,737 autos registered in SF; and 59,751 trucks; and 20,393 motorcycles/motorscooters.

At 9:26 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Who said anything about a "dearth" of parking. There is parking but there's room for more, especially for a developer who's willing to do a major development on that part of Market Street.

At 10:00 AM, Blogger erik said...

I am not from SF but I enjoyed reading your blog post as it gave me some insight into the planning forces operating in another large, dense city. (I live in Boston).

I understand the argument against building additional parking quite well. If you build capacity for parking it will encourage some people (up to 200) to continue driving through the city as part of their routine. Adding these spaces will contribute up to several thousand additional car trips through the area every day, which will ultimately make the area less healthy and pleasant for people who are not in cars, and will further contribute to pollution, accidents, and road maintenance costs which must be supported by the city.

I do not understand your argument for allowing developers to introduce new parking spaces. Why do you want them? How can you argue that cars good for the city? If the community wishes to discourage the use of cars, why should it not enforce that desire through development planning?

Nearly half the land area of most cities in the US is devoted to cars. For this great investment in public space the city's residents get to enjoy, among other consequences, chronic exposure to toxic byproducts of petro-fuel combustion, noise, and significant reduction in their freedom of self-powered movement. Why encourage this pattern any longer?

It is a fantasy to believe that you can provide conveniences for car use and simultaneously reduce their usage to healthy levels. The added indirect costs of proportioning 200 spaces for cars must be taken in light of what opportunities it crowds out and what real social benefits it provides.

I question the argument that the spaces are equitable because they will encourage beneficial minimum-wage job development. Given the very high direct costs of car ownership and operation (on average around $0.96 per mile) it is similarly fantastic to believe that the addition of these spaces will be useful to people earning close to the minimum wage unless they are only driving a few miles a day. In that case they should be walking, bicycling, or using public transit! More than likely the people who will enjoy the parking are the wealthiest patrons and workers involved in the mall. I question your argument that the spaces will be used in a socially equitable way.

I hope that SF's political systems continue to reevaluate the trendy rhetoric of the last 75 years which convinced us to orient everything in human society around these destructive combustion machines.

Mr. Anderson, I also hope that you take the time to explore self-mobility as a viable form of transport. There is absolutely nothing preventing most healthy individuals from using bicycles and walking for much of their transportation needs. With a little practice a healthy person can comfortably ride 20 or more miles a day on a tiny vehicle that generates no pollution, promotes equality between citizens, allows free communication and interaction with their environment, promotes the health of both the passenger and their neighbors, and consumes very small amounts of infrastructural resources per passenger mile. The only thing preventing this pattern are existing social norms and the extreme lack of investment in self-powered transport.

Some cities in the world have made a conscious decision to support bicycles on equal footing with other transportation systems. Provided such active investment, the use of bicycles soars and the health of societies greatly improves. This potentiality is not a fantasy, but a choice which communities can make, and the choice which is on the table in the discussion to which you provide your commentary.

At 2:35 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Erik, this is the just same old bullshit I've been refuting on this blog for more than five years. All it shows is that the Bike Nut Movement is a nationwide phenomenon.

At 4:27 PM, Blogger erik said...

All people need to formulate the arguments that you've been refuting is experience riding a bicycle for transport. This is the basis and sum of coherent organization in the "Bike Nut Movement."

I save at least $20 dollars a day in recurring costs by riding a bike instead of driving a car to work. By not owning a car at all I additionally save thousands of dollars a year in other hassles, taxes, insurance, etc. In addition to these direct savings I save my community thousands more in road maintenance costs. I free up a parking space. I don't fill the air with toxic compounds. Every day I get to smile and say hello to people on the street. I can travel rapidly from my door to the door of my work.

I went to visit my doctor a few months ago for a physical. It had been several years since I visited her. She told me not to come back for a physical next year, "Just schedule a fifteen minute conversation." Due to my regular vigorous exercise I am too healthy to take up her time. I'm not a gym member. I don't "work out." The exercise is merely a byproduct of me getting around!

How do you refute my experience? Is my money funny? Is my doctor a quack? Are the other people who have identical experiences merely espousing trendiness? Trendy can make you "cool", but it doesn't make you healthy and happy. I don't ride a bike because anyone else cares. I ride because it makes my life measurably better.

The reason that bicyclists organize politically is that we have to support people who chose to waste society's resources through driving. City and state roads are not paid for by taxes on drivers, but income and property taxes. Although a gas tax pays for much of interstate highway budgets, a subsidy on gas makes fuel very cheap in the US. However, these issues are clear and distinct relative to the indirect costs which cities incur by encouraging the use of cars, and the anti-car jihad you describe is clearly motivated at minimizing such costs.

Please explain why you disagree that driving is a waste of resources and that cycling shouldn't be supported politically and socially. I have a difficult time parsing your refutations of these arguments.

At 6:26 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Look, your doctor has congratulated you and your scoutmaster will probably congratulate you, too. But the issue in San Francisco is not Bikes versus Cars but taking away traffic lanes and street parking on busy streets to make bike lanes. The EIR on the Bicycle Plan tells us that doing this is going to have "significant impacts" on traffic and our bus system---which already has serious ontime problems---on a number of already busy city streets. The city insists on implementing the Plan anyhow, even though it's going to benefit only a small minority of cyclists to the detriment of everyone else.

At 6:25 PM, Blogger NoeValleyJim said...

Don't forget to take your high blood pressure medication Rob.


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