Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

1,000 units, near car-free, planned in Hayward

with 11 comments

San Francisco Chronicle

This new piece today updates what I wrote recently about Cindy Chan Piper and Vauban near Freiburg. There is a nearly car free community planned one and half miles from  a BART station on the east side of San Francisco Bay. It is to be called Quarry Village.  

While some may say they are wiling to walk twenty minutes to get to good transit service, I note that “Shuttles would ferry passengers to the campus and BART.” 

In Vauban, an electric streetcar runs through the community’s only main street and connects riders with downtown, a university and several business parks. At Quarry Village, a main public transportation line would be more than a mile away.

“I’m skeptical that you can eliminate cars in a development that is not directly on top of transit,” said Jeff Loux, a land-use expert and UC Davis professor who has visited Vauban. “You have to make the alternative almost as convenient and, hopefully, cheaper than cars.”

I must say that based on my personal experience I tend to agree with him. I have lived in a variety of places – including those a 15 minute walk from a tube station. Indeed one of the big issues at my late mother’s house in the outer suburbs of Essex was the commuters who would park outside her house as there were not restrictions there as there were closer to the station.  Yes there was a station car park but you have to pay for that. Even drivers will walk a ways to get free parking. But they will not walk very far. 

It is also not yet built, so all we can say at present is at least someone is trying. But I think we need to acknowledge that we can do very much better in planning our suburbs. Of course in Metro Vancouver that is not going to happen south of the Fraser, since we are going to expand the freeway – and build new roads and a new Port Mann Bridge. There are vague promises of transit sometime in the distant future – but absolutely no commitment at all to expanding the operating funds of Translink. The senior levels of government are still stuck in the mindset of capital spending to cure the depression, with tax cuts for the well off the only fiscal policy and bailouts for incompetent automakers.

I wish the developers well, but I do think we need to see something much better – and a lot more of it. I am not going to get excited about one, so far unique, exception to a depressing rule.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 8, 2009 at 9:23 am

Posted in transit, Urban Planning

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11 Responses

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  1. You learn very little from an experiment if you use self-selected participants. Quarry Village will probably be reasonably successful, but not because it’s necessarily well planned. It will attract people who will want to make it a success.

    Assuming there are a large number of such people then many other similar communities could be built. However, that’s a fairly big assumption. I think we all see evidence around us that says the number of people willing to live without private vehicles is very low at this point in time.

    The auto makers, who until recently have had their heads in the sand, are moving to enable car-centric lifestyles to continue beyond peak oil. Plug-in hybrids will dramatically reduce gasoline consumption, particularly in urban areas, allowing the 3 car family to remain part of our “culture”. Government is on the same road. Money for road projects is more plentiful and easier to obtain than money for rail even in the “high speed rail is the future” Obama administration.


    June 8, 2009 at 4:58 pm

  2. Toronto and Nontreal developed the area above and near many of their subway stations with apartments besides the expected offices and stores but this still represent a minority of the housing in both towns. Even in Europe only the oldest areas of the cities have dense housing and close, easily accessible, public transit. More through luck than many buildings were built in the late 19th century. The first home I remember was a 2500 sq ft top floor apartment just off Bordeaux’ main shopping street. My parents walked to work and, of all the many homes they lived in, always said that this first one was the best one ever. Nowadays Bordeaux itself is smaller than most of its suburbs, that have grown up drastically since the 1960s, and are a sea of space-wasting one family homes…there also huge shopping malls in these suburbs (with typically French stores like Toys R Us, Midas mufflers, Mc Donald, Century 21 etc.). Cars are a pandemic!!!

    Red frog

    June 8, 2009 at 5:20 pm

  3. What I see, as well, is the North American penchant for confusing LRT/streetcar and metro (light) and calling it rapid transit. Vauban’s tram is easily accessible, with a large average of population living in the all important 600m tram corridor. With several routes networking into the larger tram network, giving more transit choices.

    San Fransisco’s BART runs in a Linear route, ending into downtown proper, with little route choice.

    Until we embrace the LRT/tram philosophy, I’m afraid we will be stuck with cars & highways for a very long time.

    DM Johnston

    June 8, 2009 at 6:27 pm

  4. Cheer up a bit. Suburbs started with only one development less than a hundred years ago. Change can get moving really fast once it finally starts. It better. Sooner or latter, hopefully, we will just have to make sure we get out of the way.


    June 9, 2009 at 8:22 pm

  5. Actually the first suburbs came with the first railways, C.1830.


    June 9, 2009 at 8:58 pm

  6. Today’s suburbs are yesterday self-contained city. I have lived in “suburbs” that go back to Pre-Roman times and were separated from a big city, also going back to the same ancient times, by a wide and fast flowing river. The smallest town only became a suburb of the bigger town when a bridge was built in the 1820s.

    Red frog

    June 9, 2009 at 10:24 pm

  7. Well, granted. I was referring to Levittown which is mass-produced suburb and is widely regarded as the archetype for postwar suburbs throughout the country.


    June 10, 2009 at 9:49 am

  8. Many current innercity neighbourhoods were originally “streetcar” suburbs – developed in conjunction with the expansion of streetcar lines to the uninhabited areas (there’s that density-serving or growth-shaping issue again). Kitsilano in Vancouver comes to mind.

    Ron C.

    June 10, 2009 at 12:55 pm

  9. This is starting to feel like trivial pursuits. The main point of my comments is that we have to start somewhere. Wherever and and whenever the first suburb was, there was one before there was thousands.

    We need one car-free community before we have many and one car-free community is a great step forward both symbolically. Being not excite about one is like being not excited when Obama was elected just because the previous 44 (or whatever the count is) were white.


    June 10, 2009 at 1:30 pm

  10. I agree with Richard (for what I think is only the second time). We do need to stop bickering over who built the first suburb and get on with building the first car-free suburbs. The key point being the building part because one car-free community in California isn’t going to do anything about that haze of pollution that hangs over the Fraser Valley all summer long.

    Ironically, Abbotsford, the place where the largest concentration of smog accumulates, is celebrating the fact that they will soon have the region’s largest shopping mall. Anyone care to guess what colour the air over Abbotsford will be in 2011 when the mall opens? I’m going to go with the same shade of brown that comes out of the liquid manure sprayers that are so prevalent in the agricultural part of Abbotsford.


    June 10, 2009 at 9:45 pm

  11. Richard makes a very valid point. Less bickering, more action! How does a town, then, get its first pedestrian area? take Bordeaux, my birthplace. Its original pedestrian area opened back in the mid-1970s thanks to the mayor of Bordeaux at the time (mayor from 1947 to 1995 he was also at the same time MP in the National Parliament and, for a while, prime minister then speaker of the assembly) He was both charming and ruthless and allegedly knew all the dirt about every major politician. When the first pedestrian areas appeared in Europe he decided that Bordeaux would have one and that was that. As usual the opposition on the city council, the business owners etc. screamed, raved and ranted and just as usual he got what he wanted. The next Mayor was, big surprise, also the local MP, a former prime minister, close to the President etc. He wanted a LRT system and the expansion of the pedestrian area. The opposition raved and ranted etc.etc. and the mayor got his whishes. This isn’t just in Bordeaux.. the same thing happens in many other towns. In London the mayor is in charge, amongst other things, of the public transit system, right down to planning the budget (he is also in charge of the traffic lights??). In other words it takes big men with a big ego and a grand vision for their community (and of course the backing of experts in many areas).
    It is definitely not very democratic yet in the end the people in the towns thus transformed now love what they first hated (what? no cars in the main shopping streets?, a LRT in the middle of MY street?)

    How many Canadian mayors, Premiers and Prime ministers with a truly bold vision FOR OUR CITIES did we have in the past 20-25 years??? Boldness is no longer the Canadian way. We prefer to let developers tinker here (oh its just a few more high rises) and there (oh, its just 200 single houses) without any major planning, then we are shocked by the appalling results..

    Red frog

    June 13, 2009 at 2:35 pm

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