A Progressive Alamedan

Various writings from a resident of Alameda regarding the political scene. The local perspective of local, state and national politics and a few other odds and ends of local concern. May not be particularly interesting to people outside of the Alameda area.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Does Less Density = Less Traffic?

Today I'm going to diverge from my usual discussions about local politics, and discuss some local politics instead. Please forgive the interruption.

When I saw this week's post on Stop Drop and Roll, A time for leadership: Less density does not equal less traffic, I thought to myself: Aha! Somebody is going to teach us all a lesson about density and traffic.

Alas, it didn't happen. It was a good post, but I have been thinking as I bike through the gold coast between East and West Alameda that these signs just don't make sense. I understand that the gung-ho Measure A preservation advocates want less density, and that they want less traffic. But is that formula correct? Does one lead to the other? I would really like to know.


First of all, let's define density. The Oxford dictionary says "the degree of compactness of a substance." I'll buy that. Density does not mean quantity or amount, so density of housing refers to how compactly they are arranged. 100 households spaced far apart, or 100 households spaced compactly; it's the same number of households.

And Traffic? "Vehicles moving on a road or public highway." Gotcha. Basically, cars and trucks; people and bikes are not traffic.

An experiment with Monopoly Tokens

What better way to visualize this issue than visually? I don't have the ability to pick up houses and cars and move them around to prove my point, so I thought I'd go with something easier: pieces of the kids' monopoly set.

So let's use 25 little houses and arrange them in a non-dense grid in our new development on the Point. We put a school (the die) nearby to illustrate a point below.

Alas, the houses are so widely spaced that people aren't going to just walk to school. So look at the road, it gets filled up with vehicles of various kinds. (There is only one "car" token in Monopoly, so we will have to make due with irons, thimbles, etc.)

What a shame! Such traffic just to get the kids to school! So here we have low density, but high traffic.

Now, let's take these 25 houses and make them more dense by putting them closer together. We've just increased density.

Now everybody lives close to the school, and they don't need to drive the kids there! Higher density has just caused less traffic.

While I'm at it, let me put a couple of new buildings for places to work or shop nearby. Again, within walking distance of the 25 houses, still nobody needs to drive there! And, you get a nice big park as well, where everybody can play, where in the low-density plan there would be no room for such a nice open space area. (Apologies for the CD intrusion into the monopoly metaphor!)

At the risk of beating a dead horse, let's make it even denser by instead putting some hotels condos & apartments in place of some houses. I think in Monopoly a hotel is worth four houses, right? Look, even denser; people are even closer to their destinations, so even less traffic! (Apologies for moving the CD aside, I really didn't mean to do that!)

So correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't this demonstrate that Less Density does not equal less traffic? In fact, it looks like more density equals less traffic. The fake signs on the Alameda Daily Noose — at least the first two of them — may actually be more correct than the real signs!

Now the fact that I am tending to disagree with the conclusion stated by the "Measure A" signs doesn't mean that I want to tear down our beautiful historic structures and put in a skyscraper. I think the apartments around here are butt-ugly too. But when it comes to Alameda, let's come up with a plan that really does produce less traffic. Let's find out what really works in land use and transportation patterns instead of living in a dream world.


I understand that the city council will be discussing whether it's OK to discuss Measure A at the upcoming meeting this week (Tuesday). Since there seems to be some doubt as to the conclusions posted all around Alameda about Measure A, I think it would be a good way to assess how well this particular law is working, and what are its weaknesses. This is a democracy, after all, where citizens are allowed, even encouraged, to talk about the laws that are on the books. After all, if we didn't, we'd still have slavery, voting rights only for white male land owners, prohibition, and so forth!


Blogger Editor said...

Okay, nice example, but I can't help but notice a major flaw in your logic. Before I point it out, I'll just say that I am just an Alameda resident and homeowner who has also seen the signs and reads a couple other Alameda blogs. The flaw is particularly significant to a place like Alameda with a limited amount of land.

If housing is denser then more housing can be fit into the same area.

Now I realize that technically, you are accurate in your argument, but I think it is important to note my point.

Isn't this discussion of Measure A all about what will happen at the Point, anyhow? I fail to see how this would have any significant affect (traffic or otherwise) to residents of the Fernside district, for example. How long has the City had direct control of what happens at Alameda Point? 10 Years or so? And now I hear 2 more years until a plan is even developed?

I think it is time the real discussion of how to best use the land at the Point to the benefit of the entire city begins. If that means discussing possible modifications to Measure A then so be it.

7:00 PM  

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