For years Davis prided itself on being on the forefront of progressivism – a mixture of land preservation and environmentalism. But while Davis has pushed forward on the environmental side in recent years by looking at sustainability, carbon neutrality, reducing wood smoke burning, the usage of single-use plastic bags, moving toward a more sustainable organics program, and pushing for more energy efficient and net zero energy projects, somewhere along the way we have forgotten our progressive roots.
In our Saturday column, which presented real data on mode share to campus, we showed that, at least as a form of transportation to campus, car ridership is down to less than one third of all people who travel to campus. What we do not have direct data on is car ownership, but the mode share statistics and pattern is at least suggestive there.
The topic came about because one of the recent projects, Lincoln40, is proposing just 239 parking slots to accommodate 708 beds.
One person pushed back, “Since this Lincoln40 proposal can not legally restrict its residents to be students only, the 239 parking slots are inadequate. This apartment complex legally needs to also accommodate our workforce and families, so how is 239 parking slots supposed to accommodate up to 708 people? This proposal has got way too many problems.”
Another pointed out that “you can’t necessarily force people to change their behavior by design.”
Others pushed back, saying that “people have a choice. there may be local workers who get around just fine by bike and Unitrans. Everyone gets to make that decision. Nobody is being ‘forced’ to be green and lack of parking at the core is a problem faced by many areas, it’s in no way unique to Davis. If people want to pay less and have free parking there is always West Sac.”
And another asked, “Why are the parking spots needed? If our community takes aggressive steps to incent[ivize] the residents to not have a car in Davis, and use public transportation, bicycling and/or their feet, will we have a whole bunch of parking spaces that are perpetually sitting empty and unused?”
What I found interesting is that it was the slow growth proponents in the comment section that made the case “it isn’t realistic to expect students to not have cars.”
This argument, interestingly enough, was made despite evidence that suggested maybe it was realistic to expect students not to have as many cars as they once did. Lincoln40 is providing one parking space for every three beds. So it is not like they are expecting students not to have cars, it is just that, close to campus, they don’t expect every student to have a car.
The developers appear to be less about changing behavior than they are about accommodating current behavior.
But there is more to this discussion than just that. I actually rather intentionally ran the driving story next to the governor’s signing of very sweeping climate change policies. We are talking about a 40 percent reduction in greenhouse gases (GHG) in the next 14 years. That is not going to happen with just a change in behavior, but a rather radical change in behavior.
The governor is therefore stating the opposite of Davis slow growthers here – that not only can we expect fewer people to have cars, fewer people must have cars in the near future in order to meet our goal of 40 percent GHG reduction in the next decade and a half.
The issue of progressivism is actually a lot more complicated than this. Back in January, at the Vanguard forum on Mace Ranch and whether there should be housing there, it was again slow growthers primarily arguing against housing on the MRIC site with some pushing back that forcing workers to live in Elk Grove and to commute to Davis is not environmentally friendly.
There is also a tension in policies. One reason some opposed Nishi was it failed to guarantee sustainability features to platinum standards, but the lack of 1500 beds means that additional students and staff are having to drive in from out of town in order to come to schools.
On the other hand, some slow growthers have staked their position as the campus needs to provide housing – that provides a closer-in option for housing and travel perhaps in the long term, assuming housing gets built on campus, but in the shorter term it continues to force students to commute to campus.
Smart urban design concepts argue for the need to combine live-work concepts together, understanding that building places for work without places to live encourages commute – which increases the use of GHG emissions. By providing housing close in, we can discourage the need to drive to work.
But what we are starting to see is younger generations actually having fewer cars than their predecessors. They can get around well on foot, bikes and buses for the most part, and when they need a vehicle they use things like Zipcars and Uber to get around rather than their own private car.
The irony here is that the pushback against this concept is coming from the progressive sector of town, which is arguing that we need more parking spaces because it’s unrealistic to expect students to have fewer vehicles than they did a generation ago.
We should be pushing the other way. And as some have pointed out, there are not a lot of parking options close in that would accommodate an overflow and, if needed, the apartment complexes themselves can further reduce the number of cars stored on site through a rental system.
So why is this even an issue? Students are driving less, we know that through the mode share studies, and we know that nationally.
—David M. Greenwald reporting