Want to raise the hackles of people on this site? Talk about parking. One of the rallying cries of the people opposing the ARC (Aggie Research Campus) is to point out the 4340 parking spots that are proposed for that site. Too much parking – thus too many cars.
On the other hand, you can also rile the base by not proposing enough parking. Davis Live Housing went small in terms of parking per unit, even as the project was approved for seven stories. The same is the case with the proposed Olive Drive Mixed Use Project and the University Commons Redevelopment Project.
Too much parking means too many cars on the street, but not enough parking seems to be worse. People believe that folks with cars with simply move in and find other places to park.
But as we showed, student driving, at least, is down. In travel surveys, less than one-third of all students who live in town use cars as their primary way to get to campus. Moreover, the travel survey shows that among undergraduate students about 45 percent have access to a car and 20 percent do not even have a driver’s license.
Next week marks the tenth anniversary of the launching of the Vanguard Court Watch project. We have between eight and 12 students each quarter including the summer. Which means, over the course of any given year, we have somewhere between 30 and 50 different students come through our program. As the main requirement of the internship is to go to the court in Woodland, we get a pretty good sense of driving habits.
One thing I’ve noticed is that, back in 2010, it was relatively rare for students not to have a vehicle. Now, more often than not, students do not have vehicles and either take the bus or carpool. It has become more and more frequent to see students without a driver’s license at all – not only do they not drive, they can’t drive. Contrary to what some may think, these are primarily not international students.
This trend is actually not limited to students. And it is not just limited to Davis.
The Wall Street Journal this week has a piece: “America’s Love Affair With Driving Takes a Back Seat.” They found: “Despite a strong economy, Americans are driving fewer miles than they did before 2007-09 recession.”
Writes the Wall Street Journal: “Around the country, the American love affair with driving is cooling in ways that are changing how cities look and feel. Over the past three years, the average number of miles driven per person has hovered around 9,800 miles a year, roughly 2% fewer than at the 2004 peak. Driving is down in states with urban centers like California and New York and in some rural states such as Wyoming and Vermont.”
The article found: “Among the reasons for the national decline are migration to dense urban areas; young adults’ preference to live close to their jobs or to use alternate modes of transportation; more online working, shopping and streaming; and a growing population of retirees who don’t commute to jobs anymore.”
These points are all crucial for understanding how planning ought to change in a place like Davis.
First, we have seen the trend among UC Davis students. Students living within a mile of campus simply do not drive to campus, the travel survey statistics show. But further, they also show that, more and more, students do not bring their cars to town – if they have them at all.
Why? Most things that students need, they don’t need a car for. Cars are expensive – there are maintenance costs, there is gas, there is insurance. With things like Zipcar and Uber and Lyft making ridesharing convenient, and Unitrans being well-positioned to serve student populations, students don’t drive as much.
This is part of a national trend – more and more young people prefer to live closer to their jobs and use alternative modes of transportation. That is a key reason why it was important to attach housing to proposals like Aggie Research Campus. It won’t guarantee that everyone living on the site works there or that everyone working on the site lives there, but for a key segment of the population, living near work is a huge quality of life issue.
We focus on the environmental dynamics of it, but we miss the other dynamic – time. Commuting is costly. It costs gas money and wear and tear on the car. But it also eats up time.
Since May I have done the long commute twice a week to San Francisco as we expanded our court watch program. It means about five hours a day in the car. That turns what would be a four or five hour a day project into a nine or ten hour a day project. Even for more modest commutes, my wife commutes to Sacramento, that adds between five and ten hours a week to her job – time that could be spent with family or leisure. That has a cost.
In terms of planning and policy, that means we should have less parking at new housing developments close to campus where people can walk or bike rather than drive to get to work. Those who want their cars will learn to move to places that are more likely to accommodate them with parking spots.
We should start re-thinking how to get people to work.
And we should focus on mixed-use and getting people places to live close to their jobs. That is why the University Research Park is proposing mixed use on its site and why we are looking at densification and residential housing in the core.
The world is changing the way people live. We should keep these trends in mind as we do our planning. Remember, the places we build now will be functional well into the future – a future that could be very different from the present.
—David M. Greenwald reporting