|Valley Fair 1958|
In almost any San Jose city function or staff presentation, the word is often used in a sentence such as, "San Jose is an innovative city', as if some of the Valley's fairy dust somehow sprinkles everything done here even if it is not tech related. At a neighborhood meeting several months back, after hearing the word proudly proclaimed yet another time, I had to stand up list examples of real civic innovation, mentioning the work on Broadway in the Times Square area of New York, Portland's Greenways , along with San Francisco growing use of "parklets". These I mentioned are real urban innovations. I have yet to see anything that I could add to the list from this area.
|Valley Fair & Santana Row 2007|
The first paragraph sets the stage
Focus and innovation. Here in Silicon Valley, these are words you usually hear from high-tech firms, but the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) is taking these principles to heart. We are looking to employ focus and innovation in a new way to accelerate highway projects and get them done more cheaply. And we need Caltrans' help.VTA is responsible for planning, designing and, in some cases, constructing highway improvements in Silicon Valley, as well as for building and operating the public transit system. On a daily basis, we move 700,000-plus commuters along our county's highways, not including the number of commuters coming in from neighboring counties. Because of this, VTA has a close and important working relationship with Caltrans. VTA has several high-priority highway projects awaiting funding, while at the same time, local, state and federal funding sources are diminishing. Not satisfied to accept the status quo, VTA is looking for creative solutions to address our county's highway needs. (emphasis in bold is my own)
The opinion piece goes on to describe how "simple interchange improvement in Santa Clara County competes for staff time with the building of the new Bay Bridge; the reconstruction of Doyle Drive, which is the gateway to San Francisco off the Golden Gate Bridge; and the $2 billion Devil's Slide project". But making administrative and approval processes more efficient to build more congestion is like handing two large spoons to the
In addition to the 700,000 commuters mentioned above, according to MTC, there was a 47% increase in the number of commuters to Santa Clara County from surrounding areas, with over 100,000 daily commuters coming from the east.
The simple interchange improvement is one of the most congested intersections in the Bay Area handling traffic coming directly into the county from Gilroy, Los Banos and Salinas from the south valley, Santa Cruz from the coast, Oakland and the East Bay from the North East and San Francisco and the Peninsula from the northern peninsula.
The expansion of two regional shopping areas (Valley Fair and Santana Row) have now "necessitated" the expansion of this interchange. And when the construction dust has settled Valley Fair is seeking to expand the center with two additional anchor stores along with small shops. Meanwhile downtown San Jose has a Ross discount store and San Jose's small number of traditional merchant districts such as Japantown and Willow Glen find it more difficult to compete.
By concentrating the massive single use regional shopping development near a equally massive freeway interchange we have a created an auto dominated, congested, polluted gateway to the city of San Jose. While the state, with the recent passage of SB 32 and SB 375 seeks to reduce the region's congestion and auto pollution (through a reduction in VMT or Vehicle Miles Travelled) and the city seeks to do the same as stated in the recently prepared 2040 General Plan
Most recently Sam Liccardo, the council representative for the downtown and airport area also used "the word" in a Sunday, Juanuary 8 Op/Ed piece ("Redevelopment is gone, but downtown can thrive") to describe the city's Economic develoment team. The essay went on to describe all of the great improvements being made to the downtown and airport areas. I would caution however that anything that increases parking in the downtown core is not "innovative". Innovative would be tyring to bring more residents, employees, and visitors downtown without increasing the demand for parking.
I applaud the desire to make the process more innovative and efficient, however we need to realize that our innovations haven't done much to decrease our freeway frustrations. With an economy that is struggling, most Silicon Valley freeways and expressway are at a standstill at rush hour and beyond. With shopping activity having been promoted in mall and big box configurations roadways around these developments are packed during the weekends and holidays.
We can do better. But instead of wearing a false badge of innovation on our sleeve, lets look to other cities and what they have done. Long Beach has promoted the bicycle as a way for businesses in each of their four traditional business district to attract customers, Minneapolis attributes its growth in bicycling and walking to an array of new street improvements such as more bike lanes and special bicycle-and-pedestrian boulevards, and Los Angles has expand their Metrolink rail system.
So for 2012 let's just focus on tackling the big projects, the useful projects because they are right. Let's save real innovation to the tech industry with its R&D labs and rapid obsolescence. So for 2012 lets all agree that the "I" word is now officially off limits.
I280/880 Stevens Creek Interchange
photos: Buena Vista Neighborhood Association
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