Laura Bliss is CityLab’s West Coast bureau chief. She also writes MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Sierra, GOOD, Los Angeles, and elsewhere, including in the book The Future of Transportation.
CityLab commenters debate regulating development, congestion pricing, and SF’s relationship to the Bay.
Can growth and mobility co-exist in San Francisco? CityLab explored that question last month in a story about the city’s plans to make new residential and commercial developments include features that discourage the use of single-occupancy vehicles—stuff like in-house car-share, subsidized transit passes, commuter shuttles, and limited onsite parking. The ordinance that would require these “transportation demand management” measures is part of a suite of policies designed to keep traffic moving in the Fog City while it tries to catch up to overwhelming housing demand.
Readers took to the comments section to debate such a policy and what else San Francisco should be doing to balance more bodies, more housing, and more cars. Some questioned the wisdom of placing new stipulations on residential development in a city that’s in famously short supply. Said commenter Louis:
Do you get the insanity here? Create more obstacles, regulations, fees and permitting for new housing, thereby raising the costs and lowering the profits, thereby discouraging new housing… If there were fewer regulations, you could build denser, cheaper housing thereby reducing overall housing costs and congestion.
Commenter ararar3 pointed out that market values being what they are, new properties are “going to get built regardless of costs imposed on developers.”
At some point you have to start building the right things for the future otherwise you'll always be in the same situation. There is no change if you keep building the same way.
But Rusholmeruffian seemed to think building housing in order to tame traffic is a quixotic scheme.
Nothing will ever “ease” traffic congestion except pricing, whether by tolls or by hiking gas prices (either from taxes or from Saudi Arabia deciding to close the taps for a while).
Policies like San Francisco’s might keep it from “getting even worse, sure — but make it permanently lighten, no,” that commenter added. Reader ararar3 jumped back in and agreed, and also hit on the political challenges of congestion pricing:
Doing this [TDM] stuff is a good idea, but let’s just drop the idea that you can add people and reduce gridlock at the same time by doing this stuff.
What you can do with these measures and investment in alternative mobility in general is to keep adding people and keep growing DESPITE gridlock, and/or reduce vehicle miles (especially by commuters) without killing your urban economy.
… If you really want to eliminate gridlock, you have to price roads according to demand, in order to have some residual road capacity at all times… That means very high and unpopular prices during rush hour though.
Thomas Sherrod recommended regulations on ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft rather than on housing:
There are [reportedly] over 30,000 registered “ride share” drivers in San Francisco… even if 1/3 decide to go to work on any given day, they naturally delay the flow of traffic! Many just drive around in circles empty, waiting for passengers. They also double park in bike lanes, bus stops, taxi zones, driveways, alley ways, etc… If the city and the state of California would have regulated the “ride-share” drivers from the beginning, specifically the number that are allowed on the street on any given day, it would be less congested.
Meanwhile, others wondered how much a transportation policy restricted to San Francisco proper could really do, given how much of the city’s traffic is generated by travelers from other communities around the Bay. (The recent conclusion of some local officials that horrendous congestion on the Golden Gate Bridge is “unsolvable” may lend itself to this opinion.) Reader oswbdo wrote:
SF is a relatively small part of the Bay Area (837K people out of about 7.1 million). How many people enter the City every day? Improving transportation in SF won’t hurt anything, but it won’t make the Bay Area any more affordable and certainly won’t improve your average citizen’s commute to/from work.
… Point being this article doesn’t address the most important part — developing policies throughout the whole Bay Area that could really make a difference.
Commenter agvs was a little more hopeful, pointing out that San Francisco could serve as inspiration to the rest of the Bay: “At least there is the hope that if they are successful somewhat, they will lead by example in the metro area.” They also argued that San Francisco’s housing problems is hardly the fault of the city alone:
...many of San Francisco's affordability and transportation issues are the direct result of local governments on the peninsula blocking new construction and transit improvements to preserve the suburban character of their towns.
To join the conversation, go here.
And check out more CityLab coverage of related topics:
- The first and second parts of San Francisco’s “Transportation Sustainability Program.”
- An exploration of eight custom-built traffic-reduction ideas, including a few that involve congestion pricing.
- A whole bunch more stories on congestion pricing alone.
- A brief history of the unlikely culprit of San Francisco’s affordability crisis.
- A cartographic take on gentrification and displacement in San Francisco.
- A critical look at a Bay Area community that may be sidestepping housing construction under the guise of “sustainability.”