Stephen and Kate Downing live in Palo Alto, California, where they split the rent with Stephen’s sister and her family. Kate works as an attorney in Santa Clara, while Stephen is a software developer in downtown Palo Alto.
They probably have a combined income well north of a quarter of million per year, but they cannot afford to live near their Silicon Valley jobs. Kate and her family have decided to move to Santa Cruz, and Ms Downing can no longer serve on Palo Alto’s Planning and Transportation Commission where she has been an outspoken thorn in the side of a city council that refuses even modest increases in higher-density housing development.
Kate’s one-way commute will now exceed 30 miles, while Stephen will now travel over 40 miles to his job. The distance and nearly 3000 feet of elevation gain for each direction give even strong, avid cyclists reason to pause, especially if they value family time and work-life balance.
Much of Palo Alto is very bikeable, and 7.3% of residents tell the US Census that they bike to work. But if Silicon Valley workers can’t afford to live within reasonable biking distance of their jobs, that means more cars on the road and more cars taking up parking spaces in Palo Alto and surrounding cities, which in turn leads to lower quality of life due to noise and air quality for the residents who continue to vote against senior homes and two-story zoning.
As a few people besides me have been pointing out lately, fewer than 20% of trips are work trips, so focusing on riding bikes for fun and errands can help nudge the needle up, but even these close-to-home trips become more of chore when you spend three to four hours of your day just on the commute.
I beat this land use drum for the San Francisco Bay Area, where lack of housing is especially acute, because it matters for cycling promotion. Some of the issues surrounding land use and transportation will be touched on Thursday, August 11, 2016 at the Silicon Valley Bicycle Summit. Pre-registration will be closed by the time you read this, but I think you can still register in person the morning of the event. I know several spaces are still available.