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Auto Congestion is the Intent

High-density planned developments like SunCal’s Calthorpe-designed proposal for 6000 homes at Alameda Point, are intended to create automobile congestion in the hopes that such congestion will force everyone to take public transit, thereby removing the automobile as a transportation option.

If everyone in Alameda could take transit and reduce their use of pollution-creating automobiles, that would be wonderful, of course. But not everyone can – transit is only good if it goes where you want to go. For mass transit to work, it relies on a large group of people in a compact area at point ‘A’ all going to the same compact area at point ‘B.’ It’s not enough to make high-density housing developments – the people that live in them have to generally all be working in the same place at the other end of the transit system as well.

The existing mass transit system serving Alameda – BART, ferry, buses – is good if you want to go to San Francisco. But if you work in points east of Alameda – any place other than downtown Oakland, or in Walnut Creek, Pleasanton, Berkeley, Emeryville or Livermore – or points south or on the Peninsula, transit can’t help you, so you’re going to drive your car. Not to mention a Brookings Institute study that showed that having access to a car improves the standard of living and family well-being for low-income people. Low-income people without access to a car have trouble securing higher paying employment when it’s not served by transit. 25% of the housing at Alameda Point is supposed to be “affordable” housing, so Calthorpe’s transit-oriented focus will negatively impact a substantial portion of the people he is trying to house.

The only-slightly-hidden agenda of the New Urbanists like Peter Calthorpe is to eliminate the automobile as a choice of transportation. This, despite the fact that low-emission, high-mileage hybrid gas-electric automobiles are already on the market today, and Calthorpe himself acknowledges that no-emission electric cars for the mass market are coming. Smart-growthers and New Urbanists like to talk about “creating choice” in housing types, but what they really want to do is eliminate the choice to use the automobile, and because low-density suburbs are auto-centric, they want to eliminate the suburbs as well. Their goal is to eliminate not just the automobile, but also the suburb. They expect everyone to live in high-density housing whether they like it or not because, they know better how you should live than you do. Whatever happened to the community telling developers what the community wants?

But not all of Calthorpe’s designs achieve his lofty aspirations. Consider Laguna West in Sacramento County, which was intended as a model of New Urbanism and is widely considered to have failed – it’s still auto dependent. Read this bullet point from the Wikipedia article on Laguna West which is used to describe the development:

  • Houses that have small front yards and driveways that are short or behind the house, use of alleyways.

Sound familiar? That describes Bayport. People who hate Bayport like to blame Measure A for it, but in reality Bayport is consistent with New Urbanist principles.

Urbanist Sir Peter Hall, in a 2005 lecture, describes Laguna West as a failure because it is not adequately connected to mass transit, and that it is no different than other form of tract suburban housing for that reason. The Wikipedia article on Laguna West says that light rail links planned for the community were moved to Elk Grove. In his book “The Vanishing Automobile and Other Urban Myths” Randal O’Toole writes that “Since Caltorpe doesn’t believe in cars, he didn’t plan any parking at the transit center, so people who used transit often parked in front of other people’s homes. Annoyed, the residents near the transit center convinced the transit agency to move the transit stop away from the development.”

So what does all of this mean for Alameda and Alameda Point? First, don’t believe SunCal, Calthorpe and the planners when they say their transit-oriented design will ease congestion – in fact, the opposite is true, they intend to create more auto congestion to force people to use transit. Second, the Calthorpe proposals for Alameda Point will be just as auto-dependent – and bring even more automobiles to Alameda – as any low-density tract home development unless SunCal’s pie-and-the-sky promises about mass transit service to Alameda are delivered on.





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