The Loma Prietan - July/August 2010

Chapter Program Aims for Walkable Communities

by Lynette Komar

Michael is a middle-aged father of four daughters who has lived in the Bay Area his entire life. Last year, he was looking to buy a home large enough for two of his daughters and his girlfriend to live with him. He began his home search in San Jose, as he is employed by a solar company in north San Jose and wanted a short commute. Unfortunately, the range for Michael's home search continued to head further and further south, as homes in and near San Jose were out of his price range.

Frustrated, Michael gave up hunting for a home near his employer and decided to buy in Gilroy. Every weekday, Michael drives 80 miles roundtrip to his job. He usually arrives home exhausted from the commute. As a result, he has fallen behind on renovations he wants to make to his new home.

Michael's story is not an uncommon one. Many Bay Area residents are priced out of the city where they are employed, which forces them to spend a considerable amount of time commuting.

According to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), in 2007 the average total vehicle miles traveled per weekday in the Bay Area was 154,172,000 miles, the equivalent of driving 323 round trips to the moon. This extensive driving not only contributes to global warming, it also has negative personal effects on the drivers. Some of the consequences commonly cited include increased stress, decreased time with family, and the high costs of gas and car maintenance.

An Alternative: Complete Communities

With the population expected to grow by 1.7 million in the next 25 years, Bay Area residents are not likely to reduce their commuting times any time soon. However, the implementation of "complete communities" could dramatically alleviate our reliance on personal vehicles. A complete community is walkable; locates jobs, shops, and housing within a halfmile of bus stops and train stations; and offers housing that residents can afford. These characteristics minimize the need for residents to depend on a car.

Building Climate-Friendly Communities (BCFC) is a Chapter Cool Cities campaign designed to increase public support for complete communities. In a 2006 study, the MTC confirmed that complete neighborhoods are effective, because people who live within 1/2 mile of a rail or ferry station are four times more likely to use public transportation than people who live further away. The idea of complete communities has been translated into real life neighborhoods such as the Fruitvale neighborhood in Oakland. BCFC would like to see more communities like Fruitvale and has been promoting complete communities in the Bay Area.

One of BCFC's methods of building support is public education events, of which many are hosted by Cool Cities Teams. For example, on May 25 the Sunnyvale Cool Cities Team hosted an event featuring Don Weden's "Cities for All Ages" presentation, which discussed how the lack of public transportation will affect the aging population.

The Chapter has promoted complete communities by gaining public support for appropriate development projects. The Chapter partnered with the Greenbelt Alliance and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group to increase public support for the Minton development in Mountain View, which aims to create a complete community. To increase public support, the Chapter and other interest groups ran an event to educate the public about how the development would achieve its goals of a walkable, livable community. Thanks to the event, the development received overwhelming public support at a City Hall meeting, and the Mountain View City Council approved the development.

Lynette Komar is an intern with the Chapter.