Naval Congestion

A post at Future Oakland from a while back reminded me that I wanted to comment on an article in the East Bay Express on the Alameda Naval Air Station redevelopment from a few weeks ago. The lede was that the development for somewhere between 4200 and 6000 housing units now proposed by SunCal would "either cost local taxpayers millions of dollars or snarl traffic throughout Alameda and downtown Oakland."

For the "costing taxpayers millions" option the article states how the traffic projections of the development are only slightly higher than for the originally proposed 1800 unit development. But those numbers factor in comprehensive BRT service and or even Personal Rapid Transit (PRT - think cars you can't steer!?!) that SunCal is unwilling to fund. At one point the article even suggests not enough Alameda residents will ride BRT and thus it will not be "cost-efficient," but when viewed this way, transit rarely is.

The end of the article says all the right things about dense urban development and lessening suburban sprawl and we just want the devlopers to level with us on the costs. But it suggests that these both (taxpayer millions or snarled traffic) are equivalently bad outcomes. And they're not, Alameda and downtown Oakland should be encouraging their traffic to become snarled.

Why? Because in the long run, snarled traffic leads to more transit use (BRT or not) and slower traffic. And more transit use leads to more people walking by Alameda and Oakland-based businesses on their way to transit. And slower traffic leads to more people looking out their windows at Alameda and Oakland-based businesses while sitting in traffic. And more people walking by and looking out at Alameda and Oakland-based businesses leads to... more business in Alameda and Oakland. And even if you hate business, for those of us who love cities, it is just more fun to have more people around.

This is called congestion. And congestion is supposed to be something all right thinking people want to avoid. But as Dutch architect and urbanist Rem Koolhaas theorized in his first book, cities should be "cultures of congestion," not the insipid malled, plazaed, parking-lotted and garaged, open-spaced places they have become due to those who fear and fight congestion.

Think about some of Alameda and Oakland's best places: Chinatown - congested, Alameda Marketplace - congested, Bakesale Betty in the early afternoon - congested, Grand Lake on a Saturday morning - utterly and hopelessly congested. It reminds of a quote attributed to Yogi Berra, "no one goes there anymore, it's too crowded."

Now, I don't know enough about the SunCal proposal to say whether it is a good idea or not. But it definitely won't be a bad idea just because it increases congestion.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Rem Koolhaus' comments and yours do not focus on the deadly effect of traffic congestion: Vastly increased toxic pollutants in the air on the streets which are congested and on neighboring streets.

Legions of California scientists have shown by their research that toxic vehicle generated pollutants increase asthma and cancer. Creating traffic congestion, for economic benefit of local merchants, should not be public policy.

My elementary school aged daughter and I lived in "fun", traffic congested downtown Santa Monica for 4 years. She developed both asthma and a severe sinus infection which would not go away. I hope she will not develop cancer as well.