August 31, 2010

Lagging Indicators: Lenders Step Away from Environmental Harm

From the New York Times:

After years of legal entanglements arising from environmental messes and increased scrutiny of banks that finance the dirtiest industries, several large commercial lenders are taking a stand on industry practices that they regard as risky to their reputations and bottom lines.

In the most recent example, the banking giant Wells Fargo noted last month what it called “considerable attention and controversy” surrounding mountaintop removal mining, and said that its involvement with companies engaged in it was “limited and declining.”

HSBC, Rabobank, Credit Suisse, Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, and Citibank are each mentioned for moves made to "increase scrutiny" of their lending to companies with environmentally harmful practices. The article is noncommittal about the dollar amounts or specific accounts, sadly, but this is positive movement. It's certainly one thing for dorm room idealists to think hateful thoughts toward oil sands, hydrofracking, and mountaintop removal. It's another thing entirely for Morgan Stanley to get cold feet.

I'm of the opinion that this is a major, major sign that the environmental/sustainability movement has hit the mainstream.

August 27, 2010

Public Transit Teen Outreach!

Mega awesome cringeworthy stuff from CCCTA's teen outreach youtube video. Skip to :50, and then let it unfold.

This is their publicity video, and the only reason the protagonist is using CCCTA services is because her car has been forcibly taken from her. A ringing endorsement.

The barriers to use are pretty astounding as well--in this utopian vision, one must call a bus dispatcher/operator for instructions re bus stops and schedules. From there, the video totally loses the plot: carless-girl gets talked into bus riding by her friend, hates it at first, then a guy boards, then carless girl sees a cute guy board, then all of a sudden carless-girl is on the cutting room floor and we're following some fourth guy on  So You Think You Can Drive ... A Bus. Then we're back to carless girl, who is batting eyelashes and saying things like "OMG, I thought everyone on this bus would be like, zombies! But they're totally normal!" Cue zombie dream sequence!

All the teens that meet on the bus eventually invite each other to the movies, and start talking about the depleted ozone layer.

The whole shebang is actually 3 or 4 videos medley'd together that would certainly shine brighter on their own as part of a more concerted publicity campaign. The teen who gets sucked into riding the bus, but sorta likes it. The kid who learns what it takes to drive a 40 footer. The earth-first message. The snazzy fast-cut edits of the bus/fleet hardware. They all mean well, but lumped together it's low hanging fruit on the tree of trying too hard.

Hat Tip/Finger Wag

Tip of the Hat to:

NYCDOT's Park Smart program, which raises the price of on-street spaces when demand is highest, has helped more people find parking in Park Slope while relieving the traffic caused by cruising for a space, according to new data released by the agency.

As intended, during the peak period, the average amount of time that drivers parked in the pilot area decreased significantly, according to DOT's analysis.

Higher turnover means more customers for the shops and restaurants that line each of those corridors. DOT surveyors counted a 17 percent increase in the number of unique vehicles parked along Fifth and an 18 percent increase along Seventh.

In neighborhoods like Park Slope, where a Transportation Alternatives study found that more than half of all traffic consists of endless cruising for a free space, Park Smart also serves as a congestion killer. During the peak period, traffic volumes dropped by five percent on Fifth and nine percent on Seventh. Traffic is down even as more people are able to reach Park Slope by car, a rare combination.

Wag of the Finger to:

If you live in CA, or read economic news at all, you know that CA = big budget deficit. So why the assembly approved--by a 48 to 8 margin--a penalty reduction for people breaking traffic laws defies common sense. Bill sponsor Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) poses the same issue on his own website:

"As budget negotiations continue, I would like your feedback on the proposals being discussed to close California's $19 billion deficit."

Hmm ... how about tens of millions in revenue from drivers who are ticketed for breaking the law?

August 24, 2010

Parking, Parking Everywhere

A team of economists from the University of Munich recently released a study examining the effects of mandatory parking minimums on development in urban and suburban Los Angeles. The team found that parking minimums "significantly increase" the amount of land devoted to parking, to the detriment of water quality, pedestrian safety and non-automotive modes of transportation.

One byproduct of minimum parking reqs is the amusing personification of "underperforming asphalt." That parking minimums lead to an oversupply seems like a no-duh situation, but quantitative results are, as they should be, the gold standard.  


Circling for parking accounts for approximately 30% of driving in San Francisco.

Very interested to see how this plays out. Definitely a story I will be following.


About two years ago, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley sold off the rights to 75 years of his city’s public parking meters for $1.15 billion to a partnership of private companies led by Morgan Stanley. ... Bloomberg News, however, revealed last week that the private partnership that bought up the spaces expects to generate at least $11.6 billion in revenues over the course of the contract — producing a potential profit of $9.58 billion.

Daley wanted to implement market based pricing--like SFpark, above--but expected it to be politically impossible. In 2008, yes. In 2010, less so. 2015? Who knows, but hindsight is always 20/20.

But damn, what if cities accurately priced the real estate and construction costs of parking? Billions and billions more for the business districts and neighborhoods abutting the parking spaces, billions more for road maintenance, for transit, for ADA compliance, for bike lanes and ped paths. Reduced incentives to drive. Cleaner air. And how terrible to think that such needed revenue for reinvestment in public infrastructure might go (will go, in Chicago's case) to things like Morgan Stanley's bottom line. Yuck. But here's hoping the program, and SF's program, showcase how effective market pricing can be in reducing circling time and vehicle miles traveled while generating revenue.


If certain employers offer free parking (a subsidy to drivers), they are required to pay an equivalent amount to employees who do not drive. A parking cash out.

My first date with the CCCC

Start point: Danville.

End point: Concord.

By car: about 25 minutes, according to google maps.

By public transit: "Your search for transit directions from Danville, CA 94526 to Concord, CA 94520 appears to be outside our current coverage area. Please consult our list of participating public transit agencies."

Well, shucks. Such is life in Contra County--our bus service is small fry. Google knows data for BART, Muni, all the main ferry lines (4 of them, apparently), AC Transit (Berkeley/Oakland bus service), Caltrain, and the Santa Clara Valley Transit Authority. Ouch. Can't really call it a snub, just a reminder that suburban public transit is way off of everyone's radars. Because it has a teeny mode split.

I left home at 1:35pm to catch the 1:57 96X CCCC bus. It hits 5 stops around the massive Bishop Ranch office complex, and then runs express to Walnut Creek BART. It takes 27 minutes, way better than non-express route, which takes 50 minutes.

I got to the San Ramon Valley Transit Center, and sat on a bench in front of the 96X bus bay. The bench was full, so I pulled out a book. When I saw the bus rounding the corner, I stashed my read, and watched the bus slow down, and then mosey right past us.


I wondered if it would stop on the opposite side of the platform as it made a U-turn, but no. And so, like Odysseus and so many other voyagers and setback magnets, I took off in heady pursuit.

Though doggedly I wove the parked cars, I failed to overtake the bus at its first stop. I veered nor'westerly, hoping to shave time with my hypotenuse strategem. (On the map, note the green shrubbery I plowed through to access Norris Canyon Road.) Once upon the open road, I set my jaw and cranked the pedals in pure pursuit. This being in the thick of a mega-office park, there are traffic lights that regulate frequent, and underused, access/egress points to parking lots. (Well, the lights do good business from 8-9am and 4:30-5:30pm, go figure). A red at one of these allowed me to sail past my quarry, and alight at the sheltered bus stop, where I waved and gesticulated to catch the driver's attention. I dropped down the bike rack, popped my Trek atop it, and, satisfied at my handiwork, entered the vehicle.

Me: You didn't stop at the transit center!
Bus driver: Really?
Me: Yeah, I had to chase you down.
Bus driver: Oh!

He wasn't the talkative type, so I sat down.

Even though the bus's acceleration felt more like cheese softening than pistons churning, we made it to the Walnut Creek BART. (I'll have to do a separate post on bus decor, believe me, there are some toothsome features to discuss). Alighted in Concord, rode past the incredibly pleasant Todos Santos Plaza, and found the doctor's office. No bike rack, no sweat: locked it to a U-shaped utility meter. Strode into the waiting room like Scipio into Carthage, announced my name, and thrilled to the reply: "We do not have any appointments scheduled for this afternoon."

So maybe more Clark Griswold than Scipio. The profusely apologetic secretary did not put me in the official datebook, so chalk it up to clerical error. Under most other circumstances, I would have felt sorely inconvenienced. But as it stood, the spirit of adventure coated me like teflon. (ftw, simile, ftw) And how curious that a car trip, for all its convenience, usually generates greater disappointment when errands go bust. Expectations matter: a car, and the way it shrinks maps, can come freighted with the assumption that everything else mold to your schedule and your fancy. Like all those astronomers who were bummed and incensed that the Earth was not the center of the universe, my experiences as a driver tell me how seductive self-centrality can be. Construction delays, detours, an errant secretary, or a sold-out shelf, are, I suspect, affronts to the driver's expectation of "me first."

I should note here that this may be empty theorizing. Try telling the above to someone who takes critical time off of work to use snail pace transit for an important errand, all in vain. Higher stakes. Cars are still a privilege; I guess what I'm trying to say is that projecting that privileged convenience and service into other arenas is ... slippery.

In any case, I rode back to Todos Santos Plaza, circumnavigated it, and bought a smoothie from Panama Red's. I set off for BART, Oakland, and a night of beer, fried meats, and an outdoor movie.

On the CCCTA and the CCCC

The Contra Costa County Connection is the multi-syllabic bus service for Contra Costa County and its accompanying transit authority (CCCTA). It has 11 jurisdictions: the cities of Clayton, Concord, Lafayette, Martinez, Orinda, Pleasant Hill, San Ramon, Walnut Creek; the towns of Danville and Moraga; and the unincorporated areas of central Contra Costa County

Here's some more quantitative info from their website:


The CCCTA likes it some emphatic capslock.

The above CCCTA figures are interesting, but don't really communicate the entire context in which the Authority operates. To demonstrate this in a quick and dirty way, I averaged the median household income and per capita income data from the 2000 Census for Clayton, Concord, Lafayette, Martinez, Orinda, Pleasant Hill, Walnut Creek, Danville and Moraga (San Ramon didn't have any data on wikipedia, shame). I also tossed in some similarly quickndirty ridership tallies:

48 percent of CCCTA riders earn less this amount: $25,000
Average per capita income for cities in service area: $44,000
Average median household income for cities in service area: $101,943
Percent of CCCTA riders that are minorities: 60
Average percent of total population for cities in service area that are minorities: 18.2*
Annual CCCTA ridership: 5 million
Averaged daily ridership: 13,698 (commuters probably spike this tally higher on weekdays and lower on weekends)
Annual Average Daily Traffic on I-680 @ CA 24: 219,000 vehicles
Averaged daily CCCTA ridership as a percent of service area total population: 2.83%

*includes San Ramon

I'm no statistician, so maybe averaging averages and averaging medians is a big no-no, but you get the gist. A wealthy area, where the wealthy never see the poor because the mode share self-sorts by income. A wealthy area, where small numbers of low-income people of color are served in high numbers by bus service. CCCTA isn't the only agency in this position, nor is Contra Costa the only county or region with such disparities.

One of the bottom lines here is that providing quality transit is a social justice issue. More on this anon.

August 20, 2010

95 Theses

What a difference a coast can make. I'm back in the east bay, in Danville to be precise. Danville, the town that either elicits perfunctory silence when I state it as my origin/current home, or exclamations of "my uncle/cousin/ex-boyfriend's stepdad lives there!" It's a spot that my dad said he used to drive past on Boy Scout outings and make fun of. Dan-ville--who'd ever want to live there, he'd ask. Milli Vanilli-land.

For the next year, I'll be getting into Danville and the 680 corridor along which it lies. I'll be discussing the (sub)urban planning choices fails that conspire to make Danville a land of Milli Vanilli. I'll be discussing the ways in which it is emblematic of 20th century, housing-market-fueled development patterns. And I'll be eagerly documenting the ways it might benefit from some complete-streeting, someplanning innovations, and some efforts to turn the no-place parts of it into proper, desirable places. Lots of this will occur by proxy, as I highlight best practices gleaned from other places, documented first on other sites.

I'll also be biking. And riding transit. A lot. As part of my effort to chronicle the ways in which towns and cities like Danville are flawed, or at least frustratingly designed for automobile use, I'm not using a car. There are, believe it or not, thousands of east bay residents who are without car by necessity rather than choice. While there are strong privileges that allow me to be merely a tourist in their world, able to resort to one of my family's two automobiles if my will should falter, I think the experiment will make the 20th century's major urban design flaw abundantly and experientially clear: our streets, our neighborhoods, our transportation networks, our homes, our entire built environments, and even our assumptions all revolve around the automobile. I dislike this, think that a whole host of problems arise from it, and want to change it ...

sign me,

the suburban avenger