The Deadly Third Rail of Growth

At the heart of any community of people is housing, a place where people live and feel a sense of home and belonging, a comfortable and familiar place to rest and be oneself.  But jobs are ultimately the reason people move from location to location in order to secure their livelihoods.  Some may claim that they moved to a specific location for other reason such as schools or more affordable houses but in essence it is the prospects of a good job that bring them to the area.  So the essence of growing communities is housing and jobs and jobs are the magnets that draw in more people and housing.

When communities are small and somewhat isolated things are quite simple.  People move in for jobs and houses get build according to demand to accommodate them as a natural progression of growth.  But as these communities start growing into cities and their borders start approaching and merging with neighboring cities there is an increasing exchange of jobs and housing between cities.  More jobs may exist in one and more housing in another.  One may become far larger than the other resulting in more housing or more job in the smaller community creating a large imbalances.  You may ask what is the problem with that?

If people live far from where they work they must drive to and from work.  Initially this is not a problem but if cities are not designed to account for how people get from one location to another, eventually traffic becomes congested.  So traffic and traffic gridlock is the third rail (like the deadly high voltage third rail of subway systems) of growth.  The objective of a growing community is to be sustainable by keeping a safe distance from hitting that third rail of growth that could cause a downward spiraling in the quality of life and ultimately the demise of a thriving residential and job providing community.

Unfortunately there are many signs that our city is heading uncomfortably close to that third rail.  The city is encouraging major companies to move into our small city of 11.3 sq. mi. with no room to expand in the middle of Silicon Valley which is growing by leaps and bounds.  There exists a huge imbalance between jobs and the available of housing for these jobs.  We have large quantities of housing but most residents move here for our world-class schools driving up their cost due to the demand for living in our famous school districts.  Thus housing is becoming too expensive for those with jobs here.  This results in most people living here for schools driving elsewhere to jobs and those with jobs here driving from where they live elsewhere.  Thus as the city continues to grow there will be more cars on the roadways bringing us closer and closer to that third rail.

So how does a city such as ours place more distance between that third rail of growth?  The first thing is for the city leaders to recognize the long-term consequences of the third rail.  Without their buy-in it will be almost impossible to improve the situation.  I feel all city council members see that traffic is a major problem.  But it is a matter of priorities.  Some council members think that a healthy and sustained income for the city is most important so they want more businesses to bring in more sales tax revenues.  Some believe that diversifying in income revenues is most important.  Currently by far the largest taxpayer is Apple.  Some want to bring in other companies such as Google, eBay, or Amazon and not just depend upon one major source of income so should Apple fail or leave it would cushion any dramatic loss of revenues.

City council must realize that traffic is a real threat that could eventually cause many companies to move to other cities if the third rail is touched.  If traffic gridlock is a daily occurrence what is going to motivate them to stay?  If their CEO’s must spend hours in traffic to get to their headquarters or sites why would they want to stay here when there are other nearby cities around without such severe problems?

So long-term, if traffic is not quickly and properly address and reaches the point of touching the third rail, the touch of death, the city could eventually lose everything including businesses and residents who will move out because of impossible traffic resulting in little city income stream and our world-class schools descending into mediocrity and housing prices plummeting.  So it is essential that the city place traffic considerations and impact at the very top of their priorities for growth or the city Will eventually hit the third rail.

For solutions read:

About Frank Geefay

Sustainable Bicycle and Smart Growth Advocate
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