I live in the city of Alameda which is located near Oakland and San Francisco. Our city has an Alameda Recreation and Parks Department that provides advice, coordination, and guidance on parks and recreational facilities in the city. One of the activities they conduct is called Alameda Walks where they invite Alameda residents to lace up their walking shoes, bring family, friends, and neighbors and join them on an hour-long walk. For those who are new to Alameda or have lived there for decades, this is a great way to begin a Saturday morning exploring neighborhoods and learning about the history of Alameda. The tours are done for now and will resume in May 2017.
A few Saturdays ago, the walk started at Franklin Park. Named after statesman, Benjamin Franklin, in 1923, the park rests on land that was formerly the homestead of Charles and Eliza Bound. Charles was a fur exporter who came to Alameda in 1849 from Mexico. Charles married Eliza when he was 41. She was 16. Construction of the park started in 1922 when the land was refurbished by unemployed men. The funds for doing so were voluntarily contributed by nearby residents.
One of the unfortunate sites on the tour was this house located at 1617 Central Avenue.
It has been in a sorry state for years. A few years ago, an investor bought the house and was in the process of restoring it. She wanted to convert it into a 12-unit apartment. The city of Alameda denied her request and limited her request to an 8-unit apartment. Shortly into the renovation, she realized that the cost to restore the property would be too high to be recouped with only an 8-unit apartment, so she halted the renovation and sold the property to another investor who has allowed the property to sit as-is for the last few years. There are Alameda residents who lament the city's decision, as in their view, a restored 12-unit apartment, would be better than an unrestored building that continues to be an eyesore to everyone; however, there is some logic behind the city's actions.
In the 1920's, Alameda was billed as "the city of homes and beaches." Many of the homes were owned by San Franciscans who wanted to be able to splash about in the San Francisco Bay in a warmer climate, away from the fog. Over the years, with a lack of multiple-unit dwellings, Alameda became known as the Mayberry wikipedia of the Bay Area. This culminated in 1973, when the citizens of Alameda approved Measure A, which amended the city's charter, to state: "There shall be no multiple dwelling units built in the City of Alameda." In 1991 there was an amendment to Measure A stating that "The maximum density for any residential development within the City of Alameda shall be one housing unit per 2,000 square feet of land." Eric Kos, from the Alameda Sun, was one of our tour guides for the walk. He noted that city planners from other cities note that managing growth is the task of any city, but Measure A is too strong, much like applying a sledge hammer to the problem.
Alameda is an island city. There are 4 bridges (Park Street, Fruitvale, High Street, Doolittle Drive) on and off the island and one tube (i.e., tunnel at the end of Webster Street). The number one complaint about Alameda is traffic congestion. To alleviate this, the city is focusing on improving mass transit. Single occupant vehicle drivers are regarded as the new smokers. One of the impediments to the city's plan is that public transit requires enough riders to make it viable. Being comprised of collections of only single family homes does not lend itself to accumulating a critical mass. Mass transit seems to be the only viable approach as adding more bridges and/or tubes is expensive. In addition, no matter how many are added, the number of drivers always seems to increase to fill the newly added capacity.
The Alameda Transit and Transportation Demand Management (TDM) Plan recommends four strategies, each with corresponding projects and actions that will improve transit, bicycling, carpooling and walking in Alameda. The four strategies include some elements that are in-progress:
- Improving multimodal access to/from Oakland and BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) by encouraging bicycle use on ferries, busses, and trains
- Improving multimodal access to/from San Francisco by timing bus connections with ferries, adding ferry parking, and restoring a suspended transit line
- Improving multimodal access within Alameda by improving the paratransit program, expanding bicycle parking, sidewalk repair, construction of a cross-Alameda trail, and participating on the nationwide Safe Route to School program
- Effectively managing and monitoring transportation efforts via annual/bi-annual review of transportation projects, following best practice guidelines and policies, and coordination with transportation partners
I use the ferry every day for my work commute to San Francisco; however, for traveling around Alameda, I long for the day when I can summon a self-driving Uber to take me to my destination without having to drive. Hopefully, self-driving cars will improve the throughout of the city's existing infrastructure to help alleviate congestion but still allow Alameda residents the freedom to come and go as they please without having to try to synch up their plans with mass transit schedules. With big cities like San Francisco and Oakland nearby, I like the idea of a little bit of Mayberry being available in the Bay Area. It makes us an island of small town residents that provides an alternative to traditional urban sprawl. Hopefully an Uber-like solution does not mandate the increased density that can only be achieved via high concentrations of multiple-unit dwellings.
Density control is alive in the lab.