A Community Mall that Reduces Traffic the Larger it Grows – Thinking Outside the Box

I like thinking outside the box.  It stimulates ideas that others have not thought about yet.  But such thinking must also solve problems as well.  It also acts as the springboard for other similar but original ideas.  I have written extensively about the concepts of Smart Growth.  The essence of this new concept in city planning is to promote sustainable growth while having minimal impact upon the environment.  These environmental impacts come in the form of cities spreading out into undeveloped habitat and the emissions of greenhouse gases contributing to Climate Change.  What makes this Smart is that it mitigate these environmental impacts while enabling a community to thrive while continuing to grow into the distant future (sustainably).

Cars and traffic congestion have been determined to have the single greatest impact limiting the growth of communities due to traffic congestion as well as contributing to greenhouse gas emissions.  Low density housing is also very wasteful of efficient land utilization and of heating and cooling energy losses that results in greenhouse emissions due to so much outside wall exposure vs. high density housing with far fewer outside walls to lose energy.  So a development which is compact and mitigates traffic and energy consumption is the epitome of a Smart Growth model.

Apple Campus II (AC2) sometimes referred to as the Spaceship because of it ringlike shape will soon be the flagship of Apple’s R&D in Cupertino.  It was the vision of Steve Jobs.  It will house at least 14,000 employees.  The vast majority of them do not live in Cupertino but commute to work by car or buses provided by Apple.  An estimated 8,000 cars will be added to our freeway and local roads twice a day by AC2.  Immediately next to AC2 is the Vallco Shopping Mall.  It is slated to be demolished and an estimated 2,000,000 sq. ft. office structure with 800 units of housing and a very modest retail shopping center proposed there.  This complex is estimated to add a minimum of 10,000 additional employees and cars on the same freeways and streets as AC2, again most commuting from out of town.  That is at least 18,000 cars of traffic added to our roadways twice a day.  There are also buses from AC2 mixed in with the traffic.  This violates the traffic and greenhouse emissions principles of Smart Growth with no balance of effective housing for employees.  A single use minimum 1,200,000 sq. ft. vibrant shopping mall at Vallco like Valley Fair has also been proposed by residents also creates more traffic and fails to add value to smart and sustainable growth.

What if instead of building 2,000,000 sq. ft. of office we replace it with high density rental housing units marketed primarily towards AC2 employees.  This could consist of a mixture of studios, single bedroom units, and various family units.  Let us assume that the majority of unit are occupied by AC2 employees.  That means that for each AC2 employee that used to drive to work they can now walk or ride their bike to work meaning one less cars on the road.  Thus the more housing there is the fewer cars will be driving to AC2 resulting in a net reduction in traffic.  So if there are 8,000 cars driving per day to AC2 and for example 2,000 of them live in Vallco that would reduce by 25% the number of cars driving to AC2 and add no cars driving to and from Vallco.  That is the essence of the Smart Growth concept being proposed.  It is Smart because it mitigates traffic while actually adding more resident population to our city, growth with negative growth impact.  But that is not all.

There are other benefits to AC2 Vallco residents and to Apple Corporation itself.  Since these employees don’t have to fight morning traffic for hours they can get that much more sleep and be more rested at work.  Likewise returning home will be short allowing them to enjoy a higher quality of life with less stress after work.  This makes for a far more productive employee for Apple, something Apple will highly value and encourage.  So it would seem reasonable for Apple to incentivise their employees to live near where they work.  So why not suggest this to Apple?

To facilitate transportation to AC2 a SkyTran system can lead from Vallco housing to the AC2 building and other Apple sights and destinations.  These are small suspended transportation pods that can carry about 4 people and reach speed of 100 mph when needed.  They are magnetically levitated on a single rail.  Class IV protected bicycle lanes can also run over the Wolfe Road overpass connecting Vallco to AC2.

But these residents will need to drive elsewhere to shop, eat, exercise and have fun in their free time.  So why not have a shopping mall at Vallco with retail, dining, entertainment, sporting, and fitness venues to provide most of the needs of Vallco residents as well as the needs of Cupertino residents at large.  That will largely reduce the need for Vallo residents to drive to these activities.  Of course there will be some traffic from other Cupertino residents but there will be far less traffic than had Vallco been a larger shopping only development.  This would be ideal for other housing development within walking distance such as in Main Street and the Biltmore.  A modest size energy efficient shopping mall that does not compete for business from other shopping centers will minimize roadway traffic could be integrated into this residential building.

Offices could also exist in combination with the shopping center.  Both have similar structural requirements so could be relatively easily converted from one to the other as needed.  Thus if not enough retail business can be rented some of that excess space could be converted to office space and visa versa.  Office area would be relatively small and would primary contain medical, legal, and other professional services needed by the public, not offices for large companies, thus serving the residential community in Vallco and around town.

But children from families living at Vallco will have to commute to school.  How about building a k-6 school right inside Vallco near the housing but far enough to mitigate noise so they can safely and easily walk to school?  This would also place the school within walking/bicycling distance from AC2 so parents can quickly go to the school in case of an emergency.  Also place a pre-school/after-school facility right next to this school so pre-school children can attend and where parents can leave older kids early on the way to work until school starts and where children can stay after school until parents pick them up after work.  There could even be a play/sports ground on the roof.  Placing a library and science/technology center for the older kids right next to the school well complete this Youth Center for children of all ages.  The Vallco library may also offload some of the parking at the current library.  As a bonus shoppers from outside Vallco can leave their kids at this Youth Center when shopping.  Children from other nearby housing developments such as Main Street and the Biltmore within walking distance to Vallco can also use the school, library, and other this Youth Center further reducing traffic from them.  Middle school and high school children can be taken to other schools by Vallco shuttle buses.

What about spouses who must commute to work.  Perhaps a shuttle service provided by Vallco and paid for indirectly through rents collected from all residents could serve to take some of these people to work places not too far out of the way to work or elsewhere in small minibus shuttles.  Apple could also donate some of their buses to serve as shuttle for families of employees when not otherwise in use.  These shuttles could also take residents to Caltrain, other transportation hubs, and the San Jose Airport and maybe even the San Francisco Airport and BART station in Millbrae.  There will of course inevitably be some traffic impact from those with little choice but to drive.

Solar panels can be placed on the roof to supply some of the electrical power and recycled water (purple pipes) plumbed into the city by AC2 used to water plants and for flush toilets and other nonpotable water uses.  Protected bicycle lanes can run along the length of Stevens Creek Blvd. running safely into Vallco for residents to safely bicycle instead of drive to Vallco to shop and a transit/shuttle terminal located near Vallco’s entrance.  AC2 employees can park their cars at work reducing the need for parking space at Vallco thus reducing the size of the Vallco parking and the development.

The whole point is to build a self contained community under one roof that has very low impact upon the environment, is energy efficient, provides needed low impact housing for the community, actually reduces overall traffic in the area, and provides a higher quality of life for its inhabitants within a fixed plot of already used land.  This could also serve the needs of other nearby housing developments such as in Main Street and the Biltmore within waling distance thus reducing traffic from them.  That is what Smart Growth is All About, the almost perfect Smart Growth community and a model towards the future for everyone to follow worldwide.

This post is more descriptive than an earlier post: Vallco – Housing for Apple 2 Employees to Mitigate Traffic where I have already given suggestions on how to make this a reality.  Here are some topical links to what I have written with more details on how to this could be a reality:

Please note that this is a work in progress, a skeleton proposal on which to build upon.

About Frank Geefay

Sustainable Bicycle and Smart Growth Advocate
This entry was posted in Growth, Ideas, Smart Growth, Traffic and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to A Community Mall that Reduces Traffic the Larger it Grows – Thinking Outside the Box

  1. Pingback: Vallco – Housing for Apple 2 Employees to Mitigate Traffic | Biking Cupertino

  2. Pingback: The Deadly Third Rail of Growth | Biking Cupertino

  3. Pingback: Smart Growth for our Communities | Biking Cupertino

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