Stop Development, Stop Traffic?

Tomorrow, one full week of election posting, but today, in honor of tonight’s Planning Board meeting on the SunCal Alameda Point plan, I wanted to highlight this article from Planetizen on Measure T in Santa Monica which is trying to limit…wait for it..commercial development because of traffic. Apparently while houses in Northern California create traffic, therefore we should only build commercial properties, in Southern California, commercial development brings traffic.

But the main reason I point this article out is this section:

In the mid-80s, frustrated citizens in the growing San Francisco suburb passed an initiative much like RIFT that put a limit on the amount of commercial development allowed until the amount of traffic at major intersections was reduced.

“They felt that there was too much commercial growth occurring, which to them translated into more and higher traffic and more traffic problems,” says Walnut Creek Senior Planner Ken Nodder.

The measure passed in 1985, but due to ambiguities in the bill language it was invalidated by the state supreme court in 1990. Sandra Meyer, the citys planning manager, says citizen initiatives of this sort tend to fall short of their goals because they often take for granted the nuances of effective planning.

“These kinds of citizen-based initiatives, a lot of times they have very unrecognized consequences as they go through into the future,” Meyer says.

There havent been any studies to show whether Walnut Creeks initiative reduced traffic, according to Nodder, but the city found the growth limitations effective enough to include them in the citys general plan. The limitations are good at controlling growth in a built-out city, according to Meyer, but their effect on traffic is likely small.

In fact, Walnut Creeks limitations may actually increase the amount of traffic in the city by pushing development to its neighbors.

“Like a tube of toothpaste, if you squeeze growth in one city, it shifts it to another,” says Robert Cervero, an expert in transportation planning at the University of California, Berkeley College of Environmental Design. “In Walnut Creek’s case, this meant more traffic traveling through the city over time, but a frozen property and sales tax basis to generate funds to do anything about it.”

The desire to keep traffic to a minimum is universal. The problem is, dealing with it locally by banning things in your own town doesn’t work out real well in the long run.