Friday, May 10, 2019

Where Bikes Fit in with Affordable Housing


I live in a single-family home in San Jose. It’s about eleven miles from my job.

My career has taken a lot of turns over the years but using a bicycle to get to and from my job has been a constant - and one that I am lucky enough to enjoy. My spouse works in another Bay Area city and for a variety of reasons - one of which is financial - we own only one car between us. Public transit and riding a bike close the gap from home to office for me and we both make compromises.

One of those compromises is speed. Even though I usually catch up to cars at red lights - especially near downtown -  bikes move slower than motor vehicles. On a perspective standpoint, switching from a car to a bike is like viewing a movie formatted for television and then going to a second-run theater and seeing it on widescreen for the very first time.

For example, if you bike by a homeless encampment instead of driving by it you can really notice details. Discarded couches set up like a living room - complete with a painting hanging off a chain link fence. A dog flopped lazily on a folding lawn chair like it was the front porch of a farmhouse. Sometimes you can see and smell food cooking.

Beneath a Bay Area highway - May 2019
Since I ride on roads that can pass for highways on the East Coast I think a lot about the space the Bay Area has invested for car movement. Since I also pedal through acres of parking to hunt for a bike rack I think about the demands the Bay Area has for car storage.


Few people think about it, but the cost of parking spaces at stores and restaurants are usually baked into the prices of the items in the stores and restaurants, embedded in the leases of most workplaces, and factored into the per-unit costs of building apartments. In every case the cost is carefully hidden from the drivers.

Understanding the cost of the space cars consume isn't just about the solvency of our wallets but the sustainability of cities like San Jose. No matter how much people like Elon Musk brag about the technology they can cram into a car, it still needs a place to wait when the owner arrives at his or her destination. Building those places to wait - parking spaces - costs. Building the heavy duty infrastructure needed to move them costs. The time spent by the driver waiting in traffic they themselves create is a cost. And the cost of the parking that puts more space between our homes, our schools and our workplaces costs too.

A lot of young people either just don’t enjoy driving or would prefer to live car-free - but for now we live in an area that assumes you own a car and punishes you if you don’t. Escaping from that expensive and unsustainable mentality is part of what Bike Month is about.

Where housing comes in is an easier fit than you think. When homes are built in walkable and bikeable areas near workplaces and transit we deliver a freedom to people who can’t or would just rather not be hit with the expense and hassle of owning a car. When we build, support and value that that kind of infrastructure, we can build more affordable homes.

A project the nonprofit Housing Trust Silicon Valley helped finance in early April plans for 130 homes and an allotment of ½ a parking space per home. It is a five minute walk from a VTA station, a ten minute walk from two Ford GoBike bikeshare stations, and a 15 minute walk to Diridon station. This past summer a loan was made to a different affordable housing developer to buy another lot even closer to Diridon - and 300 homes are planned for that site which has a similar car-lite design.

National Bike Month is all about getting people to think about using bikes more and driving cars less - and realizing just how much of a cost cars have become.  Affordable Housing Month is about understanding and creating affordable housing. May gives us the chance to do both. Please learn more about and get involved by visiting www.bikesiliconvalley.org and www.siliconvalleyathome.org - and if you have a bike and can ride it safely, please ride it.

Also: if you want to explore San Jose by bike and learn about affordable housing at the same time, there's a ride Saturday, May 11th that starts at 1:00pm in St. James Park in San Jose. You can register for Wheelie Home: An Affordable Housing Bike Ride right here. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding.




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