April 6, 1991
Dr. Judith Kunofsky, Associate Director
116 New Montgomery Street, Suite 640
San Francisco, California 94105
Re: "Policy Before Planning" (Sierra Club California Green State of the State Report, 1991)
Dear Dr. Kunofsky:
I would like to thank you and the other contributors to this report for your excellent, essential work. However, there remains a significant gap.
While it is necessary to restructure our land use, it is not sufficient. People will still, when possible, travel great distances to find higher-paying employment, cheaper housing, or attractive shopping. No matter how much you apply the principles of dense, mixed use development (which already exists in many locations around the Bay Area), the availability of big freeways and cheap gasoline will cause many people to travel long distances. How many people would be willing to sacrifice their salary, just to work within walking distance of home? Probably not many.
In addition to attractive transit and land use, there must be restrictions on automobile facilities -- road space, parking, etc. We absolutely have to stop expanding freeways, expressways, and parking lots (even at transit stations)! For the Sierra Club or anyone else to imply that the "carrot" is enough is just irresponsible.
The other defect of the land use approach is that it operates far too slowly. Anyone who is aware of what is happening around the world knows that (practically irreversible) environmental destruction is proceeding at a dizzying pace. Business interests sense the wave of environmental sentiment that is spreading, and are pushing as fast as they can to make quick profits while they still can (for example, logging companies in the Northwest are pushing to clear-cut as much as possible of our remaining old growth forests).
The urgency is underscored by the observation that the people who move into sprawled, auto-dependent situations grow to like their circumstances. Their children grow up (as all children do) liking the type of environment they grew up in. Sprawl is self-perpetuating. This makes it all the more urgent to prevent it from being created in the first place. Which means, in turn, that we have to prevent the roads from being built. If the process is not stopped early, it cannot be stopped at all. Roads provide universal access (water acts similarly).
On page 9 you list 3 reasons "Why We Drive So Much", but you leave out the most important: We are lazy! Given the availability of both transit and auto facilities, most people will choose to drive. People prefer its alleged convenience and speed. Auto addicts always say that we need transit to be available, before they will get out of their car. This is nonsense. A recent survey (The Chronicle?) found that only 10% of the people in the Bay Area found it impossible to get to public transit. An examination of the map of the Bay Area with the transit lines will show you the same fact: Very few people live not within walking distance (1/2 mile? 1 mile?) of a transit line, and almost none outside bicycling distance of a transit line (5 miles?). Anyone who wants to can arrange his/her living situation to be amenable to walking/ bicycling/transit use. When someone says they can't make use of transit, it is usually the case that they put themselves into that situation.
No development should be allowed anywhere until transit is provided first (by the developer, if necessary). Then even the construction workers could get there via transit. And areas difficult to serve with transit would simply not get developed. In fact, new development should be provided no parking.
The DRIVE Plus program is on the right track, but no one should be rewarded for buying a car, however clean. There are too many other negative effects of the automobile, besides its emissions. A better plan would be for every car buyer to fund the purchase of one bicycle, to be given to the poor or to a public free bicycle use program.
All homes, auto storage facilities, or roads should be roofed with solar panels, so that we don't have to cover valuable desert land with them. It might even be able to partially power electric vehicles using the panels.
Again, thanks for a very valuable report.
Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.