Friday, February 9, 2018

"We need another Bay Bridge"? 1970 Called. It Wants Its Column Back.

At I read an opinion piece that made me feel like I had traveled back in time. The days of leaded gasoline. Nixon was in the White House. Elvis was alive. 

The headline was enough to conjure images of time travel: "Time to face reality: We need another bay bridge."

It was written by Roumen V. Mladjov, who's byline only said he is a structural and professional engineer. A quick look on The Google shows he's also a contributing writer at Structure (not surprising since it is a well-written piece) and he has over 50 years of experience in engineering.  

It's the last part that made me wince. 

Mr. Mladjov, if you're reading this: I do not insult your profession, age, or experience. If anyone needed a bridge built, your five decades of wisdom would be of incredible use. 

My problem with a Baby Boomer writing about this (and yes, I am going to have to Go There) is the lens from which they view the problem - and by lens I mean windshield

Where to start: the column begins with a complaint about Bay Area traffic and then he asks us to "consider the statistics" in that the region's population has risen by 27.5% since 1990. It's a compelling argument but it quickly turns to Structural Engineer Fan Fiction when he leans on projections, saying the "300,000 vehicles per day (on the bridge) will increase to 363,000 vehicles by 2040." 

It won't. 

As I said in the video I posted the other day: one parking space is 168 square feet. If 63,000 additional vehicles cross the bridge we'll need over ten million square feet on the other side. Where are the cars going to park?

That's not a bridge builder's problem. It's yours.

The bigger issue I have with the casual projection is it ONLY talks about car travel. As though the are NO other alternatives on the horizon and NOTHING will change about how we get around. As though Millennials are just as crazy about cars as their Boomer parents and grandparents were. They aren't.

As if to bolster the "let's-give-a-new-bridge-to-cars! Yay!!!" argument the piece includes some statistics about how people currently get to work. His stats are probably right (though cyclists are, confusingly, completely absent) but I just want to scream like I do at the horror movie where the person goes upstairs to escape the killer: OF COURSE MOST PEOPLE USE CARS! THE WORLD WAS MADE FOR THEM! IF I LEFT 99 TWINKIES AND ONE SALAD IN A ROOM OF 100 PEOPLE, I WOULDN'T CONCLUDE THAT TWINKIES ARE THE MOST PREFERRED FOOD!

Now that I've taken a deep breath and have removed CAPS-LOCK I will say this as well: not only are younger people not as interested in owning cars as the Boomers, but they also don't have any...what's that Why? Because they are crushed by student loans and spending a lot of money in the Bay Area on rent. 

And that is the most damning problem with this piece. It makes no mention of housing, which, as I've written about before, is part of the of the same transportation and traffic problem. Build entities far away from work with no transit options (and with dangerous, bike and pedestrian unfriendly roads) people will get in cars and drive. Throwing money at a bridge in the Bay Area without thinking about housing in the Bay Area is criminally wrongheaded thinking.

Mr. Mladjov - and I say this with respect and only guessing your living situation - not everyone had the opportunity to buy a house in San Francisco before Prop 13 took effect which can now be sold for millions. Most people around here spend $2,500 a month or more on rent and are frozen out of buying. The inventory of homes is insanely low and the prices just keep rising. With so much out of pocket costs for housing there is little money left for Millennials to build any kind of wealth.

CalTrain. We need more of these. 

We're fine with the bridges we have. All we need to do is reallocate space from single-occupancy motor vehicles and people will get to where they need to go faster. 

All we need to do is reallocate space from single-occupancy motor vehicles and people will get to where they need to go faster.*

Between biking, walking, trains, zoning changes that encourage walkable places, smarter buses and (sigh) self-driving transport down the line there will be fewer cars and more room for housing - which would be a better place for the $3 billion Mr. Mladjov suggests would be needed for a new bridge to go.

We have played this game far too long. We dump billions into car infrastructure, and the traffic gets worse.  If building more infrastructure for cars was going to work, we would have seen the results long ago. A lot of great things need to be built and are going to be built - but not all of them will have a huge ribbon and giant scissors for the unveiling. That's fine. It's what we need. 

What we don't need is a 50 year old answer to a 50 year old problem. Don't build a new bridge. 

Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

*That wasn't a mistake: I put that sentence in there twice to make sure it would be read.

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