Smart Growth as defined by Wikipedia “is an urban planning and transportation theory that concentrates growth in compact walkable urban centers to avoid sprawl. It also advocates compact, transit-oriented, walkable, bicycle-friendly land use, including neighborhood schools, complete streets, and mixed-use development with a range of housing choices.” Also see: Smart Growth and the Role of Bicycles
The basic philosophy behind Smart Growth is that communities should be designed to minimize people’s dependence upon cars and champion the sustainable expansion of infrastructures to mitigate its impact on the surrounding natural environment.
Cupertino has historically been modeled after urban sprawl, the antitheses of Smart Growth. So residents drive their cars just about everywhere. There is little infrastructure for safely riding ones bicycle. Walking to shop is made difficult for lack of a nearby centralized downtown shopping area. There is little public transportation due to the lack of demand and difficulty of effectively serving urban sprawl.
Cupertino is surrounded by mountains and neighboring cities so there is little to no room for expansion. Our city can grow upwards by placing more people in taller buildings but this will simply add to car traffic on the streets below. Public transportation is largely nonexistent. Bicycle lanes are unsafe so only the most ardent cyclists bike around town. Shopping it too spread out to walk. Thus traffic will becoming increasingly saturated with car along key arterial roads and freeways during commute hours. Something must be done to stem the influx of cars on our streets as the city grows. But how?
Most importantly city government must acknowledge that car traffic congestion, noise, and pollution are the primary consequences of growth and believe that Smart Growth is the correct path forward in long-term solutions. If growth is inevitable solutions must be devised to reduce traffic along with increasing growth using Smart Growth strategies. The following are some important elements. There are more such as mixed uses development but the following are of most immediate importance.
Affordable High Density Housing
Smart Growth suggests that new high density housing units be located along major corridors where residents can take mass transit, conveniently walk, or safely bike to work and do shopping nearby. The key point about housing is that residents live near where they work and shop with convenient commuting options. The problem is that most employees will likely not earn enough to live in our expensive city. So we are possibly talking about low-cost affordable high density housing units. This is a complex issue which is too lengthy to discussion here.
Centralized Shopping & Offices
The city need a centralized downtown shopping and office area that is very walkable to shopping, dining, and work with off-street parking structures in strategically located areas adjacent to shopping. There must also be safe and easy access and parking for bicycles. High density housing should be located near by making it easy to walk or bike to.
Public transportation certainly is a major part of the a Smart Growth solution to carry residents to work, shopping, appointments, etc. so they don’t have to drive. How can the city incentivize citizens to use public transportation? Perhaps by making it Free for anyone boarding public transit in Cupertino by paying VTA (Valley Transit Authority) a certain amount each month or year for estimated fares. Developers can pay the city a “Community Benefit” fee to help pay for it. The city can even consider this a budgeted infrastructure expense like road maintenance. As residents realize the benefits of a “Free” public transportation system more will use it. As more use it VTA will be more willing to improve and expand service.
Safe Bicycle Lanes
But due to urban sprawl it will not be possible to run public transportation to all neighborhoods. Here is where bicycles can plan an invaluable role. Bicycles can be ridden from home to nearby work, shopping and public transportation. But bicycle lanes are currently not safe from cyclists being struck by cars. Bicycle lanes must be made safe enough that people of all ages and skill levels Feel safe riding. Safe bike lanes is key to attracting increasingly more people to bicycle around town. Perhaps some of the money suggested for public transportation could be used to make bicycle lanes safe to ride. The city can afford to put in safe bike lanes and there is plenty of funds available from other government agencies. Once the safety issue is addressed bicycle will become far more popular and enthusiastically supported by more citizens resulting in many other enhancements and conveniences for bicycles.
There are other Smart Growth strategies mentioned throughout this blog. People must shift their emphases from cars, which accentuates growth problems, to other modes of mobility and Smart Growth processes that mitigate the consequences of growth. It can be done if only the city had the political will, vision and wisdom to do it.