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If People Can’t Afford to Live Near Work, They Probably Won’t Bike Commute

11:17 AM EDT on August 11, 2016

How out of control are Bay Area housing prices? It costs so much to live in Palo Alto that Kate Vershov Downing -- a lawyer who served on the Planning and Transportation Commission -- announced this week that she and her husband -- a software developer -- are moving to Santa Cruz. She resigned her seat on the commission.

This is what a $7 million house looks like in Palo Alto, California. Photo: RedFin
A $7 million house in Palo Alto. Photo: RedFin
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Before her resignation, Downing had been a lonely voice in favor of new housing construction in a city that has resisted it even as job growth has pushed rents into the stratosphere.

Richard Masoner at Cyclelicio.us says the story is a great illustration of why land use matters to active transportation:

They probably have a combined income well north of a quarter of million per year, but they cannot afford to live near their Silicon Valley jobs. Kate and her family have decided to move to Santa Cruz, and Ms. Downing can no longer serve on Palo Alto’s Planning and Transportation Commission where she has been an outspoken thorn in the side of a city council that refuses even modest increases in higher-density housing development.

Kate’s one-way commute will now exceed 30 miles, while Stephen will now travel over 40 miles to his job. The distance and nearly 3000 feet of elevation gain for each direction give even strong, avid cyclists reason to pause, especially if they value family time and work-life balance.

Much of Palo Alto is very bikeable, and 7.3% of residents tell the US Census that they bike to work. But if Silicon Valley workers can’t afford to live within reasonable biking distance of their jobs, that means more cars on the road and more cars taking up parking spaces in Palo Alto and surrounding cities, which in turn leads to lower quality of life due to noise and air quality for the residents who continue to vote against senior homes and two-story zoning.

As a few people besides me have been pointing out lately, fewer than 20% of trips are work trips, so focusing on riding bikes for fun and errands can help nudge the needle up, but even these close-to-home trips become more of a chore when you spend three to four hours of your day just on the commute.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Streets.mn explains how a local group is trying to organize transit riders around building better bus stops. And Greater Greater Washington uses three maps to explain some fundamental differences between central D.C. and its outer neighborhoods.

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