Knee-jerk anti-growth attitude

Greenies are always encouraging people to abandon their cars and opt for alternative, group transportation, such as buses, trains, carpools, etc.  In the San Francisco Bay Area, one of those alternative forms of transportation is the ferry.

Up in Marin, if they use the ferry, drivers can avoid endless traffic jams over the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco, not to mention the hellacious driving conditions in downtown San Francisco.  They’re also insulated from the problem of parking in San Francisco, where parking is is either prohibitively expensive or, if you’re not willing to bankrupt yourself, nonexistent.  So, as I said, the ferry is a wonderful and beautiful (really beautiful, as you traverse blue waters, watch seals playing, pass by Angel Island, travel between the two bridges, and watch the SF skyline emerge) way to keep your car off the road and, presumably, to limit its spillage of those nasty greenhouse gases.

Of course, the more people who get this message — driving bad, alternative transportation good — the more people who will line up to take that alternative transportation.  And, reality being what it is, the way to get to the alternative transportation source is to drive there.  That’s why the ferry plaza at Marin’s Larkspur Landing, which is the main stop for journeys in San Francisco, is having some problems:

The district is wrestling with how to accommodate a growing number of ferry patrons. Each weekday, the Larkspur terminal is packed with 2,000 cars parked in stalls, auxiliary lots and even on sidewalks and in bicycle lanes.

“We are bursting at the seams,” said district Engineer Denis Mulligan, who addressed the Building and Operating Committee on Thursday.

The obvious solution for this problem, one that will continue to encourage fewer drivers on Marin’s highways and San Francisco’s streets, is more parking, and that’s precisely what the district wants to create:

The district plans a two-phase parking plan to add more spaces.

With $12.8 million in federal funding in hand, the district will spend $1.4 million to create another 200 spaces by reconfiguring the lot. Bike lanes and disability access also will be improved. That work is slated to start in summer and be done by December.

The district also wants to build a parking garage at the terminal in the existing lot, a concept considered in 1999 but dropped when ridership softened.

But in recent years the trend has been strongly upward, with ridership growing 5 percent to 10 percent annually this decade. With more riders expected in coming years, officials say more parking is needed.

The system will see a new $12 million high-speed ferry, which will hold 499 passengers, plying the bay from Larkspur to San Francisco by early 2009. Additionally, the Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit is looking to get commuter rail approved by voters in November, and a terminus is planned near the ferry terminal.

You’d think that the environmentalists would be delighted.  They have been demanding for years that the Bay Area infrastructure be rejiggered to accommodate alternative transportations and they’ve been haranguing drivers for years to drop off their solo cars and travel in packs.  But showing that there really is no way to make an environmentalist happy, short of reverting to a completely preindustrial era, the environmentalists are not happy at all:

But the Sierra Club letter to the district from chairman Doug Wilson of Mill Valley said more parking would be the wrong approach.

“We believe strongly that, in this era of AB 32 (addressing global warming) and major concern about climate change, we should not undertake projects that encourage auto use, thereby increasing greenhouse gas emissions,” he wrote.

Bridge officials counter that having a parking lot puts drivers on the ferry and takes them off the roads.

The Sierra Club suggested the federal funding, which will pay for more than half of the garage, should instead be used for shuttle service to the ferries. But bridge officials said the federal money can only be spent on parking.

“It is very heavily regulated money,” said Celia Kupersmith, district general manager. “It’s not available to be spent on anything but the parking garage.”

Shuttles to the terminal have been tried by the district in past years, but have failed to generate strong ridership. Marin transportation advocate David Shonbrunn said the shuttle system was doomed from the start.

“The shuttles failed because of the vicious competition the district itself provided by having free parking at the terminal,” said Shonbrunn, who is calling for paid parking at the lot.

I assume you caught, as I did, the fact that the Sierra Club’s demands actually depress, rather than increase ferry usage.  This leads one to conclude that the environmentalists don’t have that much of an interest in solutions that work.  They’ve get a template that they stick to — no new buildings, no cars, shuttles, etc. — and they’ll apply that template to any situation, no matter how counterproductive.

I am blessed to live in a very beautiful part of the world.  It’s a wealthy community and has been able to enjoy the luxury of open spaces (a luxury that drives up the price of homes).  In that past, Marin, and to its aesthetic benefit, Marin has indulged the Sierra Club.  However, when the Sierra Club starts doing things that not only inconvenience people who are trying to abide by Sierra Club principles, but also makes demands that run counter to the Club’s own goals, you have to wonder how long liberal Marin-ites are going to be forgiving of the Sierra Club’s ever more strident demands.

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  • 11B40


    Having grown up in New York City, I always thought that a trip on the Staten Island Ferry was not only the best monetary deal in town but also well worth the subway ride from the Bronx, so I can certainly agree with your fondness for ferry travel in San Francisco’s more benevolent climes.

    But, as I learned in my undergraduate Urban Economics class, there are two important concepts in mass transit; one is mass and the other is transit. Unfortunately, the SF Bay Area evolved more along the urban sprawl dynamic than vertical New York. Where I grew up in the Bronx, our neighborhood was mostly five or six story apartment buildings and a three block walk would take me to either of two subway lines, the IND and the IRT. Similarly, a two block walk would take me to two different bus lines.

    While I was no stranger to using mass transit in my New York youth, back then, it made sense in the cost vs. time analysis. I don’t think we have the necessary predicates out here in the Bay Area for a successful mass transit system. What results are subsidized systems that have no real hope of ever being economically sound. While there are certainly individuals and “communities” that benefit from the current efforts, we are, in actuality, just putting band-aids on a bad application of a good idea.

    Do the taxpayers of America really need to subsidized boat trips for the people of Marin county?

  • Bookworm

    As to your question — no. There is no doubt, though, that San Francisco’s downtown is becoming almost unnavigable as a result of the traffic, so there is a benefit to exploring alternative forms of access to the City’s financial center.

  • Allen

    This reminds me of a recent one near me. If you’ve ever been through Tehachapi Pass you’ve seen all the windmills. Well they wanted to increase the number of windmills, you can guess the resulting brouhaha.

    The environmental impact!

    It truly left me speechless, and dumbfounded.

  • Don Quixote

    Note the reference to paid parking lots. That’s what they’ve done on the Bay Area Rapid Transit (electric trains, for those not blessed to live in this area) system. It raises money and solves the parking problem, I guess, but it sure does discourage ridership. Counterproductive, from a green standpoint.

  • Zhombre

    In an article in the WSJ, Patrick Moore one of the founders of Greenpeace explained why he quit the organization. I am unable to link to the article but can reproduce some key quotes:

    “But after six years as one of five directors of Greenpeace International, I observed that none of my fellow directors had any formal science education. They were either political activists or environmental entrepreneurs.”

    “Sadly, Greenpeace has evolved into an organization of extremism and politically motivated agendas.”

    “We all have a responsibility to be environmental stewards. But that stewardship requires that science, not political agendas, drive our public policy.”

    I take from BW’s post that the Sierra Club has devolved the same way. Their agenda is not driven by science, or any rational sense of urban planning and problem solving, but strictly by ideology, and what is simply a holier-than-thou attitude translated into inflexibility. This is part of the sic transit Gloria Mundae of classical liberalism. It has deteriorated, to use the word of Max Weber, into “its oversimplifications … atomism …utopianism” (and) “naive cults of nature, progress and happiness.”

  • MerryMaven

    We are subjected to the same endless blather in Seattle: you have to get out of your car, you have to take public transportation, you can’t just drive anywhere you want to go, you must build a train. I am so very sick of it.

    I have a theory about this: all of the socialists that constantly push this crap just purely hate the idea of people spending time alone. People who are alone can think thoughts that the socialists cannot control and they might think thoughts that the socialists don’t like. I doubt if the socialists think this consciously, but deep down in their nasty little hearts, I think that’s what they want.

  • rockdalian

    DQ expressed my thoughts. The idea to turn to paid parking jumped off the page.

    Here is a possible solution, automated parking.

    This is private enterprise at work.

  • Mike Devx

    11B40 says above,
    “Unfortunately, the SF Bay Area evolved more along the urban sprawl dynamic than vertical New York.”

    I lived in Austin, TX, for a year and a half. It is another city where the deliberate planned development dynamic was “vertical” rather than “sprawled”. (Let me say that the planned alternative to sprawl would be called spoke-and-hub, and you should compare vertical to spoke-and-hub).

    The vertical approach in Austin required strong travel corridors north to south, and limited, highly inefficient travel corridors running East-West. This was done deliberately.

    I think the consensus is that the deliberate vertical approach, at least in Austin, has caused far more difficulties than any possible benefit. No one except for the die-hard original advocates in Austin of verticalism named any advantage whatsoever.

    There are a few geographies where verticalism is natural and inevitable. In all other cases, free development always leads to spoke-and-hub.

  • Bookworm


    I too lived in Austin and was always irritated by the bizarre geography, which meant that visiting friends often involved miles and miles of freeway driving. I never realized that this design was intentional. I did know, though, that it was counterintuitive that the town’s development was perpendicular to, rather than parallel to, the river.