Friday, March 31, 2017

Missing the Point (Again) On Why Half of Millennials Want to Leave Silicon Valley

Yesterday the Bay Area Council released a troubling study that indicated about half of Millennials want to leave the Bay Area - and overall about 40% of Bay Area residents are thinking about leaving. 

I didn't know what the big deal was. My first year living in Silicon Valley (after leaving Connecticut) I probably thought of leaving nine times a day before breakfast. 

But here's what threw me: the top two reasons people want to leave are the cost of housing...and traffic. 


Those aren't two separate issues. They are the conjoined twins of millennial misery and unless we talk about them as the same thing we won't get anywhere as a people.

Back when Baby Boomers were actually babies, their parents and grandparents were building a world where cars were just awesome things and everybody loved buying them and driving them. Look at some of the ads in 1950s issues of Sunset Magazine and you'll see what I'm talking about. A house and a car weren't a living space and a means to get around. They were goals.

Then the population began growing and plots of land were divided and redivided to make more room. Zoning conspired to keep people living in one space and coercing them to drive to another place in order to work. But luckily the Interstate Highway System was born in the nick of time to give people the means to get to where they are going faster. A byproduct was the highways divided cities into pieces, and the land close to highways was deemed less than desirable to live in.

Seventeen years after crawling into the 21st century, we arrive at the situation we are in today: millennials are broke and are aggressively rejecting the Sunset Magazine advertisements of the 1950s. But right now there is nothing for millennials to really opt into. Because the infrastructure Boomers inherited decades and decades ago is keeping the Boomers wealthy (and Boomers still hold the majority of power in government) they're still trying to sell us on cars and driving - even though cracks are showing in their own enthusiasm for this construct. 

The sales pitch Boomers are using isn't always a slick ad - usually it is more subtle, more powerful, and more insidious. Zoning rules and parking minimums, taken as gospel, means that if you want to build something, it must have 'X' number of parking spots. The 9' x 18' spaces add up, forcing buildings even further apart and taking space that could be used to build housing into storing a car that isn't being used.

As I believe in market forces: a huge reason we have a lack of supply of housing is because the space that could be used for housing is given to cars that aren't in motion.

That's why traffic and housing cannot ever be discussed differently or put in separate radio buttons on a survey. People are driving for one reason only: they know there is a place to put their motor vehicle when they get there. Take away the parking and give other means of travel and people will use it. 

 As I've said before, if we enable car parking, we get car traffic - and when we build things they way they've been built for decades we perplex and annoy those who would like to ride a bike to get around.

This is a real sign not three miles from my home in San Jose. Taken at its word it means I can be penalized for riding my bike through the parking lot to get to the bike rack...that is on the sidewalk just feet from a parking area.

I expect city councils are going to talk about what to do about the issue of people wanting to leave the Bay Area but they have to understand how traffic and housing are symptoms of the same problem - not separate problems on their own. I thank Bay Area Council for doing this study but I hope nobody misreads the data and continues to try and coddle the dying car culture. 

And a quick reminder before I forget: Bay Area Bike to Work Day is coming up on May 11th; so that'll be a good time to think about new ways to get around and use space for better things. 

Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 


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