Given the parallels between our two cities, I’ve been watching San Francisco’s battle with gentrification and private bus systems with interest.  Here’s an interesting quote from Rebecca Solnit, a Bay Area activist and writer, discussing the private buses that some Bay Area tech companies use to shuttle employees to the office:

The buses represent, first of all, accommodating people living in San Francisco even though they don’t work anywhere near here. So it’s really about making San Francisco Silicon Valley’s bedroom community.

Second of all, it’s privatizing public transit. In another era, the captains of industry would have said, “OK, our workers live here, our factory is there; let’s encourage, enforce, and subsidize the improvement of public transit.” Caltrain does run down there. We could have beefed up that system and had a tremendously efficient train system, with trains leaving every 15 minutes or so for the peninsula—and it would be so much more environmental, too. Instead we have these luxury coaches picking people up at public bus stops in such a way that they’re displacing the city buses.

I’m not going to dissect the entire piece. You can find a great takedown here.  I want to ask a narrower question: was there ever really a golden era in the past where “captains of industry” subsidized public transit?  I’m sure you can find a few examples, but you’ll probably find more examples of private industry ripping out public transit, advocating for freeways, or building and profiting on transit (in the case of Seattle’s original streetcars, New York’s subways).

In trying to understand San Francisco’s troubles, It helps to remember just how big the Bay Area is. It’s 45 miles from downtown San Francisco to Cupertino.  That’s more like Seattle to Snoqualmie Pass than Seattle to Redmond.  In that distance you have many different counties and transit jurisdictions, compounded by the fact that inter-county transit planning in California is notoriously terrible.

On top of that, public and private companies work on completely different time scales. Even if, say, Facebook, found a willing transit agency to partner with on a public transit investment, I would imagine the conversation went something like this:

Facebook: We like to move fast and break things. We’d like to fund some buses between Palo Alto and the Mission District starting next month.

Bay Area Transit Agency: Great! We’ll conduct an environmental impact study and get back to you in 2019.

Facebook: OK, thanks for the chat. We’re going to go ahead and order some private buses now.

Not to say that these kind of public-private partnerships are impossible. Here in Seattle, we have a few good examples, such as the extra buses funded by the First Hill hospitals, Microsoft’s investments around Overlake, and Amazon’s investment in the Streetcar in South Lake Union. And while Microsoft does run its own shuttles, at least they try to run distinct routes from Metro.  Did Apple, Google, or Facebook even make an effort to coordinate with an agency before going their own way? I’d love to know.  As of Monday, at least, the buses will be charged a nominal fee by the city of San Francisco, though the fees are limited by state law to “covering the costs of overseeing the program.

Honestly, the solutions to the Bay Area’s woes (and I use that term loosely — most cities in America would give their right arm for these “woes”) are straightforward and boring:  (1) build denser, more walkable communities everywhere, from The Mission to Palo Alto to Fremont, (2) abandon office parks for more transit-oriented employment centers, and (3) improve mobility by making better use of existing transportation infrastructure and building new infrastructure where warranted.

Easy to say, hard to do, of course. But there are some bright spots to point to. Google is leasing more property in San Francisco. Yahoo’s moving downtown as well.  That’l probably drive rents up even higher in the short term, but it’s the right move.

89 Replies to “Lessons from San Francisco”

  1. Many of SF’s woes come from its voters. They seem all too keen to use extra government regulation to solve all problems. I am a democrat. I usually roll my eyes when I hear others say this. But it is true of SF. If SF had zoning laws which allowed for more buildings, tech companies could have built there a long time ago.

    1. South of Market was completely redeveloped in the same two decades that these companies built their office parks. They could have located in San Franscico if they wanted to. Now, perhaps, the window has closed for large site availability.

  2. I don’t think this issue is really about how tech workers get to and from work in the bay area. I think what’s behind these protests is wealth inequality and wealth resentment, and the private buses are symbols of that enormous gap.

    Also, what’s the difference between Shuttle Connector and SF’s private tech buses, except that up here the buses mostly takes workers from their suburban home to their suburban Redmond job, and down there the buses take employees from their in-city home to the silicon valley.

    How is building denser communities going to solve the SF “problem?” A dense Palo Alto will never replace downtown SF, just like a dense Bellevue will never be Seattle. Workers who chose to live in SF aren’t going to move closer to work just because the area is more dense. Just ask a MS worker who lives in Belltown or Cap Hill if a more dense Redmond would get them to move.

    1. Densifying both SF and its suburbs is the only way to reduce (or at least stop the increase of) housing prices there, which are stratospheric and are the only reason there is so much wealth resentment.

      There has been essentially no densification anywhere west of the Bay in decades. The SV suburbs cling to the same land use patterns that were cheap to build back when they were sleepy San Francisco bedroom communities. SF itself has decided that virtually every building in the city is historic and can’t be replaced or expanded.

      1. Yep, this is a huge problem and efforts to fix it run into vicious NIMBY resistance. It will take legal changes at the state level to take power away from NIMBYs to stop infill development.

    2. Very good points. I think class has a lot to do with it, and the buses are a great symbol of that. Not only do they take wealthy people to high paying jobs, but they take them to a suburb. They aren’t carrying them to factories, which are located away from the people for the sake of the public, but just the opposite. There is no reason for those companies to locate themselves in the suburbs — especially the far flung ones. The biggest argument for doing so is that they are in (or close to) Palo Alto — a major university. But as I mention below, there is another great university in the area, one that probably played a bigger role in software, and that is Cal, across the bay. Which brings me to my next point.

      I don’t think it is San Fransisco that needs to grow, it is the rest of the areas. East Bay should grow, and these companies should locate there. These are exactly the type of places that you mention — place popular because they have old architecture, which makes them as appealing as Belltown or Capitol Hill.

      The lesson for Seattle is that it should grow in the same types of areas, in the same way, and do so not by tearing down old buildings, but by preserving and building around them. Doing so is challenging, but if we want to compete with other cities, and improve our quality of life, we should do so.

    3. As for whether a “more dense” Bellevue or Redmond would convince someone that lives in Belltown or Cap Hill to move… well, if you’re going to Belltown or Cap Hill (or the Castro) for nighthlife you’re not going to want to stumble home to Bellevue after closing time (which isn’t to say people don’t do that, it’s just not easy, safe, or appealing). But there are lots of different kinds of cultural appeal. Someone I know was looking for a good Asian grocery today, and got some suggestions in the ID, in addition to the 99 Ranch by Lynnwood. I think I’ve heard of a place in Bel-Red, too. The best Indian groceries I know of are along Aurora and near Lynnwood TC (the same is true for Mexican groceries). Somewhere on the eastside there’s a theater that specializes in Indian films. We do have, today, suburbs with a critical mass of people sufficient to attract unique and notable businesses; denser, more connected suburbs would attract more.

      Another person I know moved from Seattle to Silicon Valley has kids and misses living in a neighborhood where he has lots of neighbors close by and a business district and parks within walking distance. I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago and I walked to school and had lots of neighbors and a nearby business district. Even in the suburbs, proximity and urban form matters; density contributes to proximity and the sort of infrastructure that supports it gracefully is most important. My hometown is in a place where the particulars of its demographics, density, and infrastructure matter. The connected local street network provides safe walking routes to schools and such along streets without fast traffic; by middle school I could get all around town independently, except that I couldn’t visit my friends that lived on a cul-de-sac because there wasn’t a safe way to walk or bike into their subdivision. My parents still live there, and the grocery store closest to them closed; the next closest is a few miles away. There’s some question (given the tendency toward retail consolidation behind giant parking lots) whether another will open in its place, whether that part of town has enough people to support a store there. No part of town is dense enough to support a grocery store whose footprint isn’t dominated by parking, but downtown and a couple other parts (like my neighborhood) do support some storefront retail and restaurants. Speaking of which, my brothers and I used to take bike rides with my mom down a crushed-limestone rail trail near our house, and we’d get all the way out to Wheaton (8-ish miles away) and get ice cream out along the trail at a little place packed with families in the middle of bike rides. The west coast has a bunch of bike paths but they’re mostly along creeks and there aren’t many places to stop along them. That’s why stuff like the Interurban Routes (both north and south) are so important.

      And for getting around freely when young, there’s also transit, not a bad topic for this blog… a good deal of the shopping in my hometown moved out to strip malls along the highways and a few larger malls before I was old enough to notice, as is true so many places. One of the malls near us had Pace bus service but it never really occurred to us to try that. Around here when I’m down south I see lots of teenagers along with everyone else taking the 150 from Kent to Southcenter — those buses are always fuller than any of the ones I occasionally saw rolling around my town… my town might have been too snobby to ride the bus much. I eventually learned to take the train by myself to Chicago by myself for an orchestra I played in. This is all sort of a ramble, but there truly is a variety of experience in the suburbs, and the details matter; it’s not just some uniform thing representing the 20th century American ideal, or the place young people don’t want to live now.

  3. I’ll defend Rebecca Solnit here. She’s a good writer who has a strong grasp of Bay Area history and politics. Further, the two quotes you excerpt are entirely accurate.

    You ask “was there ever really a golden era in the past where “captains of industry” subsidized public transit?” The answer for the Bay Area is an absolute yes, because that’s how BART was born. The Bay Area became a major center of manufacturing during World War II, but discovered it lacked a modern regional mass transit system that could handle the demand. After the war the captains of industry came together to form the Bay Area Council to help sustain prosperity into the postwar era. One of their main goals was to address the transit problem. BART was their idea. They pitched it to the local governments and to the state legislature. They pushed hard to get it built and stuck with it during its initial challenges. So yes, Bay Area “captains of industry” very much supported subsidy of public transit. That’s why BART exists.

    Some of the tech companies are still members of the Bay Area Council, like Google. And the BAC is a leading advocate for regional transit improvements. (I’ve worked with them in the past on those.) They’re big backers of high speed rail, which will bring major capacity and speed upgrades to the Caltrain corridor. But those are years away, and under threat from Peninsula NIMBYs.

    What to do in the meantime? Solnit is also correct to point to Caltrain as part of the answer. Caltrain is one of the only transit systems in the region that lacks a dedicated funding source. Instead it is funded by contributions from other transit agencies, which makes it difficult for Caltrain to sustain operations over a long period of time. Caltrain is going to be electrified by 2019 and will see a big boost in service then. But there is slack capacity on the route today, a route that goes very close to Facebook’s Menlo Park offices and to Google’s Mountain View campus. With more funding Caltrain could put new trains in service within months. It won’t take an EIS process to do that.

    Similarly, SamTrans or perhaps VTA could also run its own shuttle services from downtown SF to the tech campuses further south. I do not know if the tech companies have approached them about this, but knowing those agencies, they’d welcome the chance to expand their service offerings. They’d need money to do that, and the tech companies would have to help.

    The concern regarding the tech buses in the Bay Area is that rather than address the region’s collective transit needs, the tech companies are seceding and setting up their own private parallel system while everyone else is screwed. That would be completely different from what their industrial predecessors had done in the 1950s. California faces similar problems to Washington in terms of transit funding – the state doesn’t do nearly enough of it, and there’s demand for new service that localities aren’t able to meet with their existing revenue options. If those tech companies were running their own separate services as a stopgap until expanded public transit could be expanded, then I’d understand it. But we don’t know if Google and FB and the others are pursuing those options.

    Instead we have a tech community in the Bay Area dominated by people who loudly proclaim their hostility to the commons and reject the need to invest in shared public systems. At a time of dramatically rising inequality, these attitudes are rightly provoking a backlash. It is not appropriate for these companies to set themselves apart from the rest of the community when it comes to transportation, and it is appropriate for the rest of the community to push back hard against efforts to do so.

    Microsoft is a good contrast. They do run their own network here, but they are also key leaders in the effort to expand transit service. They’re big backers of Sound Transit and have worked hard to bring light rail to their campus at Overlake. They’re following the model that had been used to create BART, which is the right thing to do.

    Now it is also the case that SF’s other challenges do stem from NIMBYism. It’s a huge, huge problem there, one I’ve railed against for years. NIMBYism needs to be disempowered, in part by reforming environmental laws to make it easier to build new housing near jobs.

    But NIMBYs aren’t the ones causing tech companies to set up their own transit networks while existing systems suffer from a lack of investment. Solnit is right to criticize them and does so in accurate terms.

    1. The downside with Caltrain, the only real competitor for the private buses, is the service is rather slow and the stations aren’t located in convenient places. Muni in all forms is infamous for its poor reliability and poor quality of service, so getting to ST Caltrain is difficult from anywhere not adjacent to the station (having done Haight-Ashbury to SF Caltrain many times, Muni can really go haywire and a bike ride is 15-20 more minutes of commute time). Suddenly, an “easy” Caltrain commute turns into 3 modes (bike/bus/Muni, Caltrain, shuttlebus) and a good chunk of time. Just what I, and every other commuter, wants to do; waste more of my valuable free time commuting. Oh yeah, and the new Transbay Terminal won’t have a Caltrain connection ($2.5 BILLION FOR A 1.3 MILE TUNNEL?!!?!) and electrification is still 5 years out, assuming it won’t be delayed or cancelled since it’s partially based on HSR dollars.

      Then a question for VTA and SamTrans taxpayers: why should they subsidize an SF-to-Google/FB/etc bus? It’ll go right past most potential riders and low income folks, and it’ll represent another taxpayer subsidy to a corporation who can easily afford the expense. So, shouldn’t offering such a service on Google/FB/etc? As you said, Microsoft does it here while still participating in local transit development. It’s a great partnership for the community. However, despite a rocky and late start, ST delivers results and has some of the nicest and most reliable equipment you’ve ever seen.

      Personally, I don’t take a lot of sympathy in the Bay Area’s woes. The crippling NIMBYism is the root cause of their problem, and it would be incredibly easy to solve if people were willing to tear down some historic buildings to increase density. But they can’t do that as it impacts the charm of SF. Cry me a river. Giving the transit unions a swift kick in the ass and fixing Muni would do wonders to improve the public image of transit in the Bay (see “The Muni Death Sprial” by SF Weekly). Watching the clown show that is Bay Area and California transit politics, especially in wake of the recent BART strikes, I don’t blame the big companies for being hostile towards public transit investment. The transit agencies have proven themselves to be poor stewards with the funding they already receive; it’ll just be squandered away.

      1. Well, I took issue with that SF Weekly article when it was published. I don’t think it’s an accurate assessment of the problem or a useful guide to what needs to be done.

        Caltrain is getting a significant and long overdue upgrade as part of the electrification project. That will enable more trains to provide more frequent and faster service. But it won’t be done until 2019. Until then there IS slack capacity on the tracks but Caltrain doesn’t have the money to operate it. Tech companies could help fund more Baby Bullets which would help add service, which is in high demand, until electrification is complete.

        And I think there’s nothing wrong with a public agency running service from key nodes in SF to major job centers in Menlo Park and Mountain View. SamTrans already runs several express buses that serve Peninsula destinations. It should not be difficult to do more of that to serve the big tech companies, especially Google (which is right off the 101). Because it’s a public service, anyone could use it, so it’s helping grow the overall system.

        Sound Transit runs several buses to Overlake Transit Center, which is basically Microsoft’s front door. That’s fine by me.

      2. Transit agencies generally have mandates to serve popular trips within their service areas; both KCM and ST have service areas including both Seattle and Redmond. Often agencies also serve trips for their residents that extend outside of their usual service areas; CT’s buses to Seattle are popular both politically and by ridership. It is in no way within SamTrans or VTA’s mandate to pick up people that live in SF and drop them in office parks unless their costs are reimbursed somehow. It would be politically unpopular for Muni to do it, for a number of obvious reasons. And the South Bay opted out of BART a half-century ago, so even if BART decided to run buses where it didn’t have rail infrastructure the cities would have to join the district to get the service.

        A similar situation around here isn’t Microsoft, it’s Boeing facilities in Mukilteo. CT isn’t going to pick up King County residents that don’t pay SnoHoCo taxes — it’s not even likely to divert resources for its own residents from crowded Seattle commuter buses to less popular Mukilteo buses (unless it gets paid by Boeing or the State of Washington, hence the Swift II proposal). Metro is struggling to keep popular routes on the road and moving to run to out-of-county employers, and there’s probably some inherited resentment that Boeing has taken so many jobs down the road and out of their tax base, too. ST has bigger fish to fry and cares too much about efficiency to run that far down the freeway to serve only one employer, even a big iconic one. Oh, yeah, and there’s the ET/CT split complicating matters, too. So public transit there is limited to some uncoordinated CT/ET routes that don’t connect especially well to the wider regional transit network.

      3. This is the same situation as the new PT route from Olympia to Puyallup for the company that relocated to the latter. The company is paying for it, so PT taxpayers have no reason to complain. I think it’s even a net positive for PT because why else would PT be marketing this capability?

    2. Thanks for the CA-specific context, Robert. I agree that Caltrain is egregiously underfunded and underutilized.

  4. Let’s take a moment here to celebrate a tremendously important and positive thing that just happened in Seattle that makes our situation better than SF’s with regard to planning and transit…

    Amazon just located their “Cupertino” right in the Denny Triangle in high rise towers. The best way to get to those tens of thousands of jobs will be walking or riding a streetcar or light rail. Thank you Bezos. You deserve many more props in urban planning and sustainability circles than you’ve gotten for this.

    A brand spanking new urban tech campus for a Fortune 500 company as an infill development project.

    City of Seattle (McGinn, DPD, and CityLight) also deserve credit for this. The city permitted the project expediently without killing it with process or hanging all sorts of requirements on it. McGinn negotiated the pretty straightforward streetcar contribution. CityLight accelerated construction of a needed new substation on Denny to ensure a rock solid power supply for the whole neighborhood.

    1. Absolutely. Amazon’s commitment to the city and to transit deserves a lot of credit, as does McGinn’s commitment to making sure they and other companies, large and small, are interested in and able to move to and expand in Seattle.

    2. I agree completely. Amazon locating in the city — one could even say in downtown (or greater downtown if you will) is an excellent thing. But before we give the mayor and the CEO all the credit, this is just business. Basically, the high tech companies realized what they should have realized thirty years ago — the suburban office park (AKA campus) model is a failure. I could have told you that from the beginning. It relies on driving or locating near by. Eventually driving there becomes a real pain (ask anyone who works at Microsoft but lives in Seattle). The idea that people will live there is stupid. What if you don’t want to live in a suburb, or want to live in a different suburb? What if your spouse works somewhere else? If you work downtown, these aren’t problems. You can commute from the suburbs or from the city — either way it works fine because the public transportation system is designed to move people into downtown in the morning and out of downtown in the evening (e. g. express lanes).

      In short, if Microsoft was locating here now, it would probably build their buildings downtown or at the very least, downtown Bellevue.

      1. Amazon actually has more employees than Microsoft, although many (if not most) of those employees work at the fulfillment centers, rather than downtown. Regardless, Amazon building a new campus and relocating from its old one was a gargantuan undertaking. If Amazon could do it, then Microsoft could too, if they wanted to.

        In the past 10 years, Microsoft has leased space in 4 giant office towers in Bellevue, and moved the complete Online Services Division (Bing) to there. Their presence in Seattle consists of a few floors in a small building on Westlake Ave, which is primarily sales/marketing folks and a handful of telework desks.

        If Microsoft really wanted to move to Seattle, they could have easily bought a handful of towers in SLU by now.

        Which is to say that Amazon’s decision to double down on Seattle *is* something that we should be proud of.

      2. I think Microsoft’s growth in Bellevue is something we should be moderately proud of, too, unless our urbanism is so parochial it cannot extend beyond the existing urban core of Seattle. Downtown Bellevue is far from perfect, but growing at densities beyond what car-dependence can support on a public street network right next to one of our biggest regional transit hubs is a big deal. I’d be similarly happy if the towns and companies of Silicon Valley built around Caltrain stations, most of which are in places with at least a public local street network and some modest use mixture already.

      3. I agree with both points. Microsoft could move, but it is kind of crazy for a company that isn’t growing or shrinking to decide to completely move. The move (or at least growth) to Bellevue is a step in the right direction. Lots of people have moved to the east side for Microsoft, so if they moved to downtown Seattle, lots of people would be pissed (this happened when Attachmate merged with WRQ and took over the WRQ building in Southwest Lake Union). Speaking of which, Attachmate recently moved from that building to Union Station (in one of the buildings Amazon used to occupy). I find it interesting that they didn’t move back to the East Side once the lease was up — they are now a Seattle company, and moving from one side of the lake to the other is very disruptive to their employees.

        The Amazon move was expensive, but it still wasn’t that much of a move. Their headquarters were on the other side of downtown, and they were spread out in a number of buildings. My guess is that very few people objected to moving to South Lake Union.

        I agree that we should be happy about this, but I think this it is just part of a growing trend. I’m happy that Amazon is in the city, just as I’m happy that Attachmate is in the city and the dozens of other tech companies are in the city. But lets not kid ourselves — if they thought it made business sense to locate in the suburbs they would. But like lots of companies, they’ve figured out that the suburban “campus” was a failed experiment but unlike a lot of companies, they never had to learn it the hard way.

        Of course, there is a another option that is barely off the ground, and that is locating a business in a neighborhood like Fremont. South Lake Union is close enough to downtown to warrant one bus ride plus a long walk — Fremont is not. If Seattle wants to compete with Bellevue (and countless other cities across the country) then it should improve public transportation to areas like this. Right now it is easier for most people to get to downtown Bellevue then it is to Fremont. As the South Lake Union growth spreads further away from downtown, more areas become like Fremont, and the transportation needs become more important.

      4. Fremont isn’t just an idle example. If you look at a map of citywide employment, Fremont is a hot spot. Along with Ballard, it has the highest employment density outside of downtown and the U-District.

        At risk of beating a dead horse, this is why it particularly bugs me that we have buses like the 5 and 16 and even 358, that come so close to Fremont, and yet are still far enough away to be annoying for a regular commute. And this is why I think that it’s vital that the Ballard-to-downtown rail line serve Fremont. With the amount of employment (and employment growth) it has, Fremont should be a bus magnet, not a repulsor.

      5. @Aleks – Thank you; you just convinced me that rerouting the 5 down Dexter or Westlake (or, even better, building an Aurora Bridge Freeway Station) is a good idea!

      6. “one could even say in downtown (or greater downtown if you will)”

        Downtown is clearly expanding, and the next generation will say downtown ends at Valley Street. It already looks that way from the streetcar. It’s already ambiguous whether downtown ends at Stewart Street or Denny Way; different people have different ideas about this and some people are inconsistent from one moment to the next. But “where the highrises are” is clearly marching to Lake Union Park.

        “Basically, the high tech companies realized what they should have realized thirty years ago — the suburban office park (AKA campus) model is a failure.”

        It’s not as simple as that, unfortunately. In the 1980s and early 90s, bosses unambiguously preferred greenfield office parks. Christopher Leinberger has a whole theory on this, that bosses generally live in the “favored quarter” of a metropolitan area, inside the triangle of two radial freeways and one peripheral freeway, and they site their office further out in the same direction. That looks perfect to them because they can reverse commute and avoid traffic. They don’t generally think about whether it’s convenient for their (future) employees.

        In the 90s a growing number of tech employees rediscovered the city. They’re of two different types. One type loves the irreplicable aspects of the city (prestiguous streets, theaters, clubs). The other type wants to be in any walkable, transit-rich area, but these are only available in cities. This leads to Frank’s very important point: “build denser, more walkable communities everywhere, from The Mission to Palo Alto to Fremont”. That’s what I have long advocated.

        In the early 2000s companies had to set up shuttles to recruit and retain city-loving employees. And then city-loving boses started setting up offices in the city. That has affected Amazon and some others, but not all companies. In Microsoft’s case it led to downtown Bellevue rather than downtown Seattle. Bellevue is “sufficiently” urban but more attractively upscale.

        The major trend is “moving inward”, but not necessarily to the hub city. And Microsoft’s Redmond campus is also moving inward while staying in place, by generating an urban village next to it. That’s significant too. What’s unattractive now is isolated office parks, and that’s bad news for Eastgate, Issaquah, Northup Way, south King County, and Snohomish County. But the trend is not absolute. Apple is resolutely suburban and is building its new headquarters in sprawlsville.

        Overall I’d say Pugetopolis is luckier than the Bay Area. It’s a shorter distance from one end to the other, and Microsoft has better-late-than-never discovered rapid transit and walkability.

      7. While I like to see employers take responsibility for the impact their businesses cause, where do you draw a line at and require employers to fund improvements to mitigate the impact on the peak traffic of their business? I can think of at least 2 single entities (US Govt./JBLM, BOEING) who you can pinpoint as being major traffic congestion contributors, and 2 others (amazon, Microsoft) who undeniably have an impact. We want all the business we can take, but unfettered growth has major drawbacks.

      8. I actually quit Microsoft this week, to take a job at another tech company at the office park around the Fremont bridge – it’s right on the BG Trail, which I also live on, so my total commute will be at least an hour shorter every day.

        In my exit survey that HR wanted me to fill out, I ranted on this particular topic. I was quite clear that I actually love the company, warts and all, but I have young kids, and I was very much looking forward to spending another hour a day, every day, with them. MS almost, kinda-sorta opened a more serious presence in SLU right before the recession hit, then pulled back and cancelled their lease. Then proceeded to open a massive new branch campus in Bellevue.

        It’s not about moving the whole company when you’re talking the scale of MS. It’s about opening significant engineering presence in a new location (SLU or Denny Triangle or Silicon Canal or International Dist would all work fine) and giving that team a sufficient scale to work independently. We (they, now) don’t all have to work in the same place. Amazon moved the whole engineering team, then kept expanding. MS doesn’t have to do that. I’d be happy with a gradual shift to 25 percent of the seats in Seattle proper, as that’s about the percentage of Seattle-area Softies who live in Seattle proper.

        I let them know if that if they ever did this, all they had to do was give me a call, and I’d be happy to reapply. But, my commute home today was 80 minutes on the connector. My commute in a few weeks will be 25 minutes by bike. I feel really lucky to have gotten that, and I’m not going to give it back up once I get used to it.

      9. I worked for almost two years in the Microsoft office on Westlake from 2008 to 2010. Living on Capitol Hill, the walking commute was great especially when dealing with an always late and overcrowded 8.

        In any given Redmond-based Microsoft team, the majority of employees live on the Eastside. Moving a team to Seattle is basically a non-starter because it means serious commute changes for the majority of the team. Moving across the lake leads to people leaving for other teams or companies. No manager wants to deal with the attrition and employee dissatisfaction of such a move.

        On my old team, we got around the problem by being in the somewhat unique situation of forming a new team with the understanding that it would be located in Seattle. Because of that, nobody was unwillingly or unknowingly moved. Even with that it was about 50/50 Eastsiders and Westsiders.

        Unfortunately, it was a difficult location to be in business-wise from the beginning. Managers were in almost constant meetings in Redmond, which meant even worse commutes for them than if they were consistently on one side of the lake all day. After a big reorg, the new management wanted everybody in Redmond in the name of improved collaboration and we were all moved back.

        I now work in downtown Bellevue. Moving people from Redmond to downtown Bellevue was presumably less of a big deal since it’s still the eastside. Despite the tall buildings that give an illusion of density, downtown Bellevue is still a very auto-oriented place. All of those tall buildings have very large parking garages. I also feel more unsafe as a pedestrian here than anywhere I’ve been in Seattle or Redmond.

  5. I can guarantee you that those companies didn’t coordinate with Muni or any other transit agency for one reason that you either didn’t mention or aren’t aware of: many people are pissed about these buses because they’ve been illegally idling at bus stops in San Francisco with no apparent consequences.

    If you’ve ever had to regularly commute on Muni buses, you know how chronically slow and late they can be. Having a giant luxury Google bus add minutes to your already frustrating commute just compounds the problem.

  6. As it happens, I just spent four days in Silicon Valley, with a side trip to San Francisco.

    I don’t have time (or energy; I got very sick during that trip) to write the full response this post deserves, but I’ll say this: the west Bay Area’s fundamental problem is that it hasn’t yet come to grips with the massive land use changes that are needed to accommodate the growth it’s seen. Much more than even Seattle, its planning is stuck in the ’50s. This is true of San Francisco and the Silicon Valley suburbs in equal measure, and is the direct cause of the ridiculously high housing prices in both, which in turn are the direct cause of the upset that leads to Google bus protests.

    1. My niece had to stay for over 3 months near the Stanford hospital, and it was well over $2k a month for a 1-bd apartment in Palo Alto (one the border of East Palo Alto and a freeway, not exactly a nice area). Go to the top of the 3-story Stanford parking structure in Stanford and you can see all the way over Palo Alto without a single building getting in your way. Walk anywhere outside of the little downtowns and it’s just curb cuts and front yards the whole way (and you’ll be alone on the sidewalk). The majority of the bus system only runs a few hours a day, timed to commute hours.

    2. This, many times.

      The office parks of Silicon Valley are single-use for miles and miles, and in the worst cases separated from any nearby places to live by giant freeway interchanges. The various city governments haven’t helped; IIRC Facebook wanted to build up near the Caltrain in Palo Alto and couldn’t get permission from that city (they’ve gone on to propose housing developments near their campus — they’re doing more than any other tech company I know of for the valley’s land use, and I say this as someone that generally doesn’t admire the company). The disaster doesn’t become immediate until you try to accommodate growth and hit the auto density limit hard. SF has tried to crystalize itself completely, and while there’s some good stuff there, there isn’t a lot of room to grow under the regulations they’ve set.

      Tech companies don’t have much choice in the short term but to run shuttles to SF. There’s no transit agency there for whom SF-SV commuters are part of the constituency (we have two such agencies here). Local transit (including private shuttles within the valley) remains ineffective due to insufficient residential density and poor pedestrian environments. There isn’t much more space for more parking, or space on the roads for more SOV drivers. In the long term, this is a problem that the governments, businesses, and big landowners have to wrap their heads around and solve. I credit the protesters for making noise about the part of it that affects their lives, even if their specific demands can’t be taken seriously; they’ve brought the Bay Area’s problems to everyone’s attention, and if they call it a housing affordability crisis the elites that solve it will certainly add their understanding of the growth that must be accommodated as well.

    3. Yep, this is one half of the problem (the other half is a lack of funding to expand service). There is increasing recognition of this and increasing pressure to do something about the height and density limits. But the NIMBYs have a lot of power and breaking it is going to require a big grassroots mobilization.

  7. Everyone should now take a step back and take a look at the havoc height and density limits can cause. Nothing in Palo Alto is over 3 or 4 stories, and the “city” is mostly single story single family homes (costing millions of dollars each because supply is so limited and demand so high). The new Apple donut being built in Cupertino isn’t sprawly and car-based because that’s what they want, it’s what the city would allow them to build. And SF deserves a large piece of the blame for limiting growth as well.

    The result is sprawled car-based campuses in Silicon Valley, with people commuting far away to where they can afford and is livable. The companies can’t move to the city because of development restrictions, and the employees can’t move to the valley because of housing prices caused by the lack of supply caused by height limits. It’s amazingly frustrating because easing any of these limits would remove so many commutes, make things far more walkable, far more efficient, and honestly could build one of the best places to live in the world.

    Seattle, please learn a lesson from this.

    1. There are specific places where growth needs to be channeled in SV; most of the residential areas and office parks aren’t laid out in ways that support transit well even at high density, so until they can be rebuilt in better ways they can’t really get much more dense. Commercial and residential growth needs to be channeled into the handful of places where regional transit works, there’s a pedestrian public realm, and a local street network that supports it: mostly around Caltrain stations.

    2. I’m not sure if I would be thrilled with a dense development in the suburbs any more than I like the Apple donut. The big problem is its location. It is plopped down in a suburban area with little architectural history and poor transit. It is not like locating your business in Tacoma, it is like locating your business in Spanaway — or worse.

      I don’t think you can blame San Fransisco for this. San Fransisco is very dense, second only to New York in the U. S. (it is denser than Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, and a lot of other cities we consider dense). I blame the companies for not locating in the East Bay. There has been plenty of land there, close to a major university, for a long time. But they didn’t want to move there, because they were afraid of the locals (or even when things got better, the image of the locals). They lived their suburban dream in all its glory — wipe out the trees and plunk down a new business. Everyone will love working out there because everyone loves the suburbs. It isn’t until recently that these companies have figured out that this is a stupid model. A lot of people hate the suburbs, and even if they do like the suburbs, they live in a different one. This makes commuting a nightmare.

    3. Matt, I don’t think that’s at all true. Sure, I wasn’t in the development agreement negotiations or followed the situation from the beginning. But, that statement of yours is bold. I hadn’t heard that the bad design is only because of what the City of Cupertino would allow. Considering everywhere else in the city has a street grid and that the zoning allows dense development, I really have to question that assertion. Don’t get me wrong, I love Apple. I’m an Apple Fan Boy, but let’s be honest: the development approved is total shite. And, it’s totally because Apple wants to be enclosed, much like Microsoft, but to a ridiculous degree. I’d have a hard time blaming it on zoning.

      Given the pre-planning done for the Apple subarea, I fail to see how policy ever set the intent for crappy site layout: http://www.cupertino.org/Modules/ShowDocument.aspx?documentid=1976

      And, I don’t see anywhere in their development codes that would require such absurd setbacks, screening, and development orientation.

      The blame shouldn’t be the city (aside the Council approved the building permits), but rather squarely on Apple HQ itself. Maybe even Steve Jobs personally. It’s a real travesty for the city that Apple wanted to go “monolithic” and “monumental” in design. Everyone loses and Kaid Benfield makes the point well. Even kids came up with a better plan. Sigh. http://www.theatlanticcities.com/design/2012/07/better-vision-apples-cupertino-campus/2530/

      1. I admit my statement is based on assumptions from the existing built environment (short, sprawly, setbacks, parking, greenspace, etc.) and not knowledge of Cupertino zoning, and that they could have had better design if they’d built a grid system rather than a spaceship on a mountain.

      2. It’s really sad that they didn’t go the Amazon route. Even modest 3 and 4 storey buildings in manageable blocks would have been exceptional. And, Apple could have HOUSED its workforce onsite and sold off property for mixed-use development. Instead of a phased development, they chose the suburban HQ in the park design. That’s a learning experience for every suburban jurisdiction: “Don’t do this.” I’m glad that Redmond, which has like companies, has chosen to require a much higher degree of design, even if much of the campuses are superblocks and inward focused. The connectivity and options are so much greater and they are wise to have engaged in a serious masterplan programme. Now if only a certain county with a major aerospace employer would have the will to do the same……

    4. Did Apple ever consider moving to San Francisco, Oakland, or even San Jose? I can’t believe those cities wouldn’t have rolled out the red carpet for one of the richest companies in the world and its immense tax base.

    5. I agree with you, Matt. The low density problem is biggest in Silicon Valley! These workers are choosing to live in San Francisco because there isn’t a lack of lifestyle options or affordability in Palo Alto or Mountain View or Cupertino or even much of San Jose. The few high-density neighborhoods are still very popular yet these city governments bristle at the idea of redevelopment for political (NIMBY voter) reasons as well as financial (Proposition 13 cost recovery) reasons.

      1. I mean, I have heard of people commuting from San Francisco for the city lifestyle, but never because they’re saving money over living in the valley.

      2. In my opinion it’s both. You can spend $2k a month on a bland apartment in a car-only neighborhood that’s close to your work, or $2k a month on a funky apartment in a fun place to live and work part of your day on a corporate bus. It’s not just price, but price is a factor (isn’t it always?).

  8. I’ll second Robert’s take about BART and its industrial connections, but I will add something else: yes, there *was* a time when industry backed transit, in almost *every* city. Let’s not forget that transit’s origins are private sector, and that its purpose was originally to be a catalyst for real estate development.

    Whether this was a recent era everywhere, whether this lasted long, whether it was successful are all different questions, but if you are asking if there was an era when the private sector embraced transit, the answer is a definite yes. In Seattle that might have been a shorter window given the rapidity that the city took over operations, but even there, it had a private sector origin.

    1. Thanks Alexander,

      As I said in the post, I absolutely agree that there was a time when the private sector built and operated *private* transit as a profit center (or as a subsidy to real estate development). Seattle’s streetcar networks and NY’s subway system come to mind. But that’s different from the private sector advocating *public* transit investment.

  9. “was there ever really a golden era in the past where “captains of industry” subsidized public transit?”

    Perhaps this isn’t relevant, but way back in ~1949, my father, fresh out of college, took a job as a chemist with the Shell Chemical Company. The lab where he worked was somewhere just outside of Houston and we lived in Pasadena, TX. He rode a Shell bus to and from work. It picked him up just a few blocks from our house. My dad said that Shell had initiated the bus service during the war when workers had a hard time getting to work due to gas rationing.

    I don’t have any problems with a Google bus. Google should obviously pay something to use the bus stops, any maybe they should have to take all comers instead of just Google people. But if everybody is going to the same place, what does it matter if it’s a privately owed bus or not?

    1. The train lines in Cleveland, with the exception of the Blue Line that runs to the stadiums, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and other downtown distractions, were all built by captains of industry.

      This isn’t an irrelevant comparison: Cleveland 100 years ago has a lot of similarities to Seattle today. For one, the world’s biggest industries (steel, automobiles, oil) were located in the area and the world’s richest people (Rockefeller, Carnegie, Hanna, and a bunch of others I forget) lived there.

      However, they didn’t have Environmental Impact Studies.

    2. “Google should obviously pay something to use the bus stops, any maybe they should have to take all comers instead of just Google people. ”

      That would probably solve most of the issues. The question I have is why doesn’t the Google bus take everyone, for a fare?

      Is there some regulation which makes it more difficult for them to do that than it was in the 19th century?

      1. Why on earth would people want a ride from SF to Google if they don’t work at Google?

        Anyway, it’s probably not worth the hassle for them. Fare collection, safety and liability would be three big issues.

      2. Another issue would be confidentiality. If employees are working on sensitive material with their laptops open, let alone conducting work-related conversations with other riders, Google won’t want non-employees on the bus.

        There might be tax issues, too. I know that the Microsoft Connector is counted as a taxable benefit, so it can’t be given to contractors but only employees. I’d assume that would go away if it were offered to every random person alike, but Google’s accountants or lawyers might be scared.

      3. Now that’s something that seems like it could be fixed. I would think MS could open their buses up to their own contractors for a fee. It’s going to their workplace anyway, and wouldn’t carry any of the other issues involved. Plus it just seems hold up the 2-tier nature of their contractor/employee divide. *Sorry, no ride for you – the public bus is over there. Have fun with your two transfers.*

      4. “Why on earth would people want a ride from SF to Google if they don’t work at Google?”

        Do you have any idea how many people visit Google on business?

      5. “Why on earth would people want a ride from SF to Google if they don’t work at Google?”

        Ooh, I’ve got another one — what if they work next door to Google?

        This is eaaaaasy….

  10. Really like this post, seems practical and thoughful. Thanks Frank!

    Seems to me that its really just an issue of historical tension. In the 50’s-70’s everyone worked downtown and lived in the ‘burbs, they dealt with worsening traffic and it sucked. So then, all the progressive companies realized, hey, lets build our headquarters out where everyone lives, and we can make them really pretty, like college campuses. That worked pretty good for a while.

    Well, now everyone is re-realizing the wonders of urban living, so workers are all moving back to the central urban areas. Unfortunately that means the commute is back, just the opposite direction.

    Like you say, eventually these suburbs will densify and/or companies will move to more urban locations. In fact, I’d say public transit agencies should be wary of planning to accommodate this type of commute pattern, as it may not be as problematic in 20+ years.

  11. For all San Francisco’s lack of density, it’s still 2.5x denser than Seattle on average. If Seattle could achieve SF’s level, we’d have 2.5 million people. Just shows you how much our SFH zones drag down our averages.

  12. A few thoughts. First, San Francisco proper is tiny. It is only 46.9 square miles (in comparison, Seattle is 142.5 square miles). San Fransisco is really dense — in the U. S. it is second only to New York City in density. So asking San Fransisco to encourage more business growth doesn’t sound great to me. There just isn’t that much room. You will end up pushing out the residents in favor of the businesses.

    Second, it is important to remember why these businesses located in the burbs in the first place. As several people have mentioned, these office parks are a long way from San Fransisco. Before the tech companies, Palo Alto was famous for only one thing: Stanford. So, it is just a shame that Stanford located so far away from the city. But of course, there is a university in the area that is just as good, if not better (especially with regards to computer science): Cal. It isn’t in the city, but it is much closer. It is also in an urban area — being in Berkeley, which is right next to the even more urban Oakland. This begs the question: Why didn’t the tech companies locate in Oakland? There was a fair amount of cheap land and it would be really easy to get to the biggest university in the area as well as the biggest business district (downtown San Fransisco). This sounds like a great area for a tech company. The reason, of course, was fear. Fear of poor black people, to be specific. Building a lily white “campus” close to the (then) mostly white university was just safer. Of course, times have changed. Oakland isn’t scary anymore, and the suburbs aren’t so white. It will be interesting to see if these tech companies move to the Oakland/Berkeley area just as companies have moved to Brooklyn. The transportation system needs to adapt accordingly. BART is basically a suburban system, and Oakland and Berkeley are treated just like any suburb. This has to change if the city expects to have a system that works for most of its residents.

    Third, if these buses are like the Microsoft buses, they are private in every sense of the word. It used to be (and may still be the case) that anyone could ride a Seattle Public School bus (as long as there was room). This was rarely done, and is probably not allowed now, but it made some sense. However, these buses only allow employees on them. No contract workers or other people who might want a ride. I can understand why the company is restrictive (they are paying for it) but it wouldn’t take much effort to accommodate other workers. If the city wants to negotiate with them, that would be one of the first things I would ask for.

    1. For many reasons, but especially because Oakland is a complex and fraught urban area. “Cheap land” in Oakland is also occuppied land. The Silicon Valley was built on greenfield development. In the 1960s through to the 2000s, thats what tech companies wanted: land for corporate campuses. In the Silicon Valley that remains the case.

      1. Yes, that is what they wanted, and it was a mistake. A lot of companies (Microsoft included) probably regret locating in the suburbs. I’ve known lots of people (myself include) who would not work there, simply because the commute is terrible. Amazon, on the other hand, is typical of a company in this day and age. They are located in downtown (or close to it) and it serves them well. Now, an employee can get there from just about anywhere in the region by taking one bus (and walking a little ways). But as I said, it wasn’t just the chance to create a new office park in the middle of suburbs that drew so many companies to Palo Alto — it was Stanford. This part they got right.

      2. I should also mention that Amazon decided to build its new headquarters, complete with one of a kind architecture, in an area physically not that different than much of Oakland. Like Oakland, it will be close to a major university. Unlike Oakland, it never had lots of poor black people living in it.

    2. As far as lessons learned, and applying them to this city, I would say the following:

      1) As mentioned above, the tech companies are moving away from locating in the suburbs. We shouldn’t spend a lot of effort trying to accommodate this traffic pattern because it may go away in the future.

      2) Focus on your big universities and plan for growth around them. The first big businesses in South Lake Union were not computer related — they were biotech related. They appeared there because it isn’t too far from the UW. This corridor is slow, and we should make it faster. The UW should be the second biggest transportation hub in the region, with fast buses or rail emanating outward. Growth should occur close to the campus, while working hard to retain the flavor of the area (if you try to tear down the buildings on the Ave I’ll stand with the preservationists and lesser Seattle folks).

      3) Race and class are important. By and large, Seattle has done an excellent job in this regard. Our inner city schools are outstanding, and always have been (even in the 60s and 70s). But like any place, we can do more. It is important for businesses to realize that if areas become too poor and down and out (like Oakland was) then it becomes very difficult to change the perception. It drags down everyone — so even if you don’t care about people suffering in a slum, keep in mind it is bad for business.

      1. “the tech companies are moving away from locating in the suburbs. We shouldn’t spend a lot of effort trying to accommodate this traffic pattern because it may go away in the future.”

        It won’t go away that quickly. It may gradually decline over ten or twenty years, but most of those buildings will remain occupied. What will likely happen is they’ll be replaced by less prestigious businesses. Seattle is only a third of King County’s population and a fifth of Pugetopolis’. The change will happen when the suburbanites themselves change their mind, and decisively move toward urban villages and prioritizing transit infrastructure. That won’t be a sudden one-year change; it will happen gradually over a decade as people change their minds one by one, so there will be plenty of lead time to change construction patterns alongside it.

        I believe it’s already starting, as the cities accommodate their Growth Management targets by redeveloping commercial districts, which tend to be near transit routes anyway. One day people in Bellevue will wake up and realize that a larger percentage of their population live near Bellevue Way-116th/Bel-Red/156th, and that it has become a more multifamily kind of city. (If Bellevue’s first phase was two-story, and its second is the downtown skyscrapers, then this would be its third phase.) At that point there would probably be pressure to redevelop Factoria/Eastgate so they can join the party. But this will still happen gradually, with a lot of automobile dependency and refusal to support transit lanes along the way.

    3. RossB, what’s the difference between your proposal and just having Microsoft replace KCM/ST? If we have “charter transit” run by private companies, will the public transit succeed?

      Years ago Microsoft tried hard to work with Sound Transit to make the existing bus routes work better for their employees. It wasn’t a complete failure but it certainly wasn’t a complete success. Microsoft jumped into running a private transit service with such vigor in no small part due to their inability to get results from a closer partnership with the existing public transit service.

    4. You do have tech in the East Bay, though, although it is overshadowed by Silicon Valley. Hacienda Business Park in Dublin, San Ramon and Bishop Ranch, etc. Peoplesoft, Workday, AT&T, etc. all have bases there. That is the equivalent to the greenfields of the Santa Clara Valley, and the Pleasanton campuses are connected by BART, although most employees are coming from the surrounding area or are raising families over the Altamont Pass.

  13. Everyone keeps talking about how dense SF is, but forget that it is less than a 1/3rd the size of Seattle in terms of area. How much more dense would Seattle be if we drew a 46 square mile boundary around the heart of the city?

    1. Yes, I mention that above. San Fransisco is both small and dense. If you look at the population density map of the Bay Area, you can see that density goes away fairly quickly when you leave the city limits. There are some solid spots in the East Bay, as well as in Daly city, but obviously Marin county is ridiculously suburban (by design). Some of that is because of physical barriers, but some of it is because of regulations. Personally, I don’t think San Fransisco itself is the problem. I think new growth should take place in East Bay, and the region should do everything it can to make it happen, including improving transportation.

      As far as your question, I think Seattle would be less dense than San Fransisco if you drew a 46 mile boundary. You would probably include parts of Magnolia, South Seattle or West Seattle, all of which are sparsely populated. But drawing similar maps around, say, Chicago or Boston would probably make those cities more dense than San Fransisco.

    2. While this isn’t quite the answer to your question, I think the most interesting figure is population-weighted density. This gives you a much better sense of the level of density in which the average person actually lives.

      To explain why population-weighted density matters, consider the analogy of a train that occasionally runs late. Let’s say that a train makes 20 trips a day, and 1 of them is late. However, the one that is late is consistently the busiest PM peak trip, which is so busy that it carries 25% of all passengers that day. Therefore, even though the train line is 95% reliable, it will only be perceived as 75% reliable by its passengers.

      In the same way, population-weighted density tells you how dense it is where people actually live, as opposed to over-weighting the sparse areas.

      By this measure, the San Francisco metropolitan area is still 2.5x as dense as Seattle. It’s also smaller — Seattle is about 2.5x the land area. In other words, the two metropolitan areas are nearly the same size, but San Francisco packs the same number of people into a much smaller area. To me, that’s a pretty conclusive proof that San Francisco is meaningfully denser.

      1. Interesting concept and I agree with the importance of it. That is one of the weaknesses of general statistics with regards to density. Some areas look sparsely populated, when in fact, they are just next to a big park. As long as run the transit where the people are, and at most have one stop next to the park, you can have a very efficient system.

        Your link doesn’t seem to work, though. Can you try again, please?

      2. Also check out the Land Footprint posts (1, 2). Not as useful as weighted density for judging a city with one number, but it does give a good idea of how dense the densest parts of a metropolitan area are on a block-by-block basis (empty parks are pushed way to the right off the chart).

  14. The ultimate reason here is that San Francisco commutes are often much longer than Seattle commutes. The feasibility of private transportation kicks in when commutes reach over 45 minutes or an hour if there isn’t good public transportation available.

    The excerpts pretty much get at the core truths. The second one is the historically core issue: San Francisco has a local transit system is designed to take workers Downtown and not to Silicon Valley. The Muni route structure (the only Bay Area transit system to not run commuter links to places outside of the district limits), the peak hour frequencies that focus on getting people to/from Downtown (Muni hasn’t recut many of the runs since the 1970’s when people worked 8 to 5 there), and the lack of quick or even direct transportation to Caltrain from much of the city are all major reasons for the private bus boom. There are also labor cost savings and technology issues. Finally, the point about San Francisco being a desirable place to live for people under 35 is very true; many in the new generation grew up by themselves isolated in big suburban houses and are finding the joy of having everything convenient and living close to others. As some other posters have alluded, it’s not the density of San Francisco that is the problem, but it’s the density of Silicon Valley.

    The lessons for Seattle?
    1. Pay attention to the jobs-housing balance and don’t let any place get out of kilter. Palo Alto has over 3 jobs to every working resident!
    2. Don’t let high density areas get too dense unless there is direct, long-distance transportation provided. Ballard, Lower Queen Anne and Capitol Hill are areas where this is a potential problem.
    3. Encourage residential developers to build on major transit lines outside of the main Seattle dense neighborhoods.
    4. Develop a consistent transportation impact and mitigation requirement for major activity centers that extends beyond the limits of the cities where they locate. There should be more rewards for having jobs near regional transit.

    I do note that the success of many of the employers allows them to run these buses. If they fall on harder times (an eventual business outcome no matter what the industry), these buses will be one of the first amenities dropped (or the costs will be transferred to the riders).

    1. They aren’t just “amenities”, they’re a way to retain good workers. A significant minority of the tech workforce won’t work in the burbs, enough that companies can’t fill all their positions without them. The shuttles are a way to entice those on the borderline, who will work in the burbs if it’s convenient to get there. So Microsoft can’t cancel the shuttles or charge a lot for them without harming itself.

    2. It should also be noted that even though employees are under no obligation to pull out their laptops and work while on a company bus, in practice, many do. The way Google figures it, even if just half the people on the bus are putting in an extra two hours of work a day that they wouldn’t be otherwise, the buses probably easily pay for themselves.

      And, of course, a perk like that is great for recruiting.

  15. It’s interesting that the issue of density in the Bay Area has come up, because I was just there not too long ago and one of the main things that came to mind was how much denser the Bay Area is overall compared to the Seattle Metro. I spent most of my time in the Upper Penninsula (Burlingame, San Mateo, San Bruno) and most of the developed areas centered around El Camino are far denser than anything you’d find in the Seattle metro outside of Seattle itself and Downtown Bellevue. Not to mention there were multiple walkable downtown-ish districts within a pretty close proximity to each other (Downtown San Mateo, Burlingame Ave, and Broadway).

    I looked into the numbers and my premonitions were correct – those suburbs (and over a dozen other Bay Area cities/suburbs) are substantially denser in terms of people/sq. mile than any municipality in the Seattle Metro, save Seattle itself. To be honest, several of these areas actually seemed denser than portions of Seattle outside the urban core.

    All that said, I agree with the premise of the arguments made here – those areas have not densified nearly enough given the extraordinary demand that exists there. And I’m sure if you looked at the rates of increase in terms of housing density they would likely be lower in much of the West Bay than they would in most of the Puget Sound.

    But as people are wantonly throwing out comparisons between the Bay Area and Seattle, I think it’s important to recognize the major difference in scale in the two metro areas. The Bay Area has a lot more large, dense cities than the Seattle Metro – a quick glance at population and pp/sm stats bears that out very quickly.(the discrepancy is likely bigger than you think). Both cities are facing issues related to demand and Seattle’s looser regulations regarding building new housing developments mean it is performing better in many regards – but it is important to remember that SF is already more than twice as dense as Seattle (the second densest City in North America) and buildable land is a lot more sparse, so the challenges are inherently different. In addition, as I mentioned the rest of the Bay Area has far more large, dense cities (Oakland, Berkeley, several others – heck, even San Jose is denser than any City in the Puget Sound except Seattle) than the Seattle Metro, so the challenges are different there as well.

    I also find it interesting that people are picking on the West Bay so much, when the sprawl seems to me to be much worse in the lower East Bay (anything South of Oakland), the North Bay and most of the South Bay. A decent portion of the Penninsula actually has a significantly number of decently sized walkable areas.

  16. Speaking of the Seattle and Puget Sound situations, I would like to see Amazon and other businesses work with Metro and Sound Transit to extend peak routes into the SLU area, at least during the peak. This would take some of the pressure off the Streetcar and #70 bus (which seems to get quite a few riders from the area that either don’t, or cant ride the streetcar). The extension of the streetcar to connect it to the first hill line will help with this as well since there will be an easy transfer path through downtown.

    Another key issue (sore spot?) with me is JBLM. The Feds need to stop ignoring the impact they are having on the region with the base. Since there effectively is one corridor in or out of there, it is a major regional bottleneck, that is not going to be solved just with transit. Starting service from, and adding to the inventory of suburban PC, and south King County P&R lots is a start, but this issue will not be going away any time soon. As for riders, I think such services would mostly attract office/clerical staff, hospital workers, other support staff, etc. I don’t think too many ground pounders will ride the bus, and with their schedule I don’t think its feasible to try and attract them.

    1. Metro is gradually bringing more routes into SLU, both because its demand is more resembling downtown and because Metro is under pressure to shrink its amount of layover space downtown and Pioneer Square. This will generally lead to south end routes terminating in SLU rather than midtown, or being through-routed with north end routes so they can go through downtown and SLU without laying over. Change has been slow because Metro has no money for expansion, so everything added takes away from somewhere else.

      There are some military people who would take transit to Fort Lewis if it were feasable, such as reservists on weekend drills or those going in during the week for paperwork. There are two issues. One is getting transit to Lakewood Station early enough to be useful; the other is a van from the station into the base that goes near people’s destinations. Chicago has a Metra station right at the navy base; Camp Pendleton has an all-day bus from the Oceanside transit center through the base; and San Diego has a Pacific Fleet rapid transit station. So why doesn’t JBLM do likewise?

  17. Wondering if they will have any special shuttles to work the 49er games next year given that ten new stadium is a significant distance from San Francisco proper.

    1. Actually, there’s a Light Rail Station and a Commuter Rail station immediately adjacent to the stadium.

    2. There is, but these don’t help if you’re coming from San Francisco. The light rail goes to San Jose, Mountain View, Milpitas, and Alum Rock. The Amtrak Capitol Corridor goes to San Jose, Oakland, and Sacrament. The Altamont Commuter Express goes to San Jose, Fremont, and Stockton. The nearest Caltrain connections are at Mountain View or San Jose to the light rail, or Santa Clara to a bus. The nearest BART connection is Fremont to a bus. So going via either Caltrain or BART takes over an hour and maybe even two hours each way. You could transfer at Oakland or Fremont to Amtrak but that would probably be more of a hassle and time-consuming. So the only way to make it tolerable from San Francisco is dedicated express buses.

      Although, as far as transit access from the South Bay, East Bay, and beyond goes, it is a pretty ingenious location. It didn’t require any new light rail station or heavy rail station because they were already there, along with two north-south bus rotes.

      1. Though apparently, the reason why they decided to move to the South Bay in the first place was because only a small fraction of their fan base was in San Francisco, and a plurality came from the South Bay. Not that I care, I’m a Raiders fan.

  18. What the Tycoons of Business actually did in the distant past of the 19th century:

    – They operated their own buses — or built their own streetcar lines — for workers, just like Google and Facebook
    – But they charged the workers to ride the buses or streetcars…
    – …and they allowed anyone, not just the workers, to ride them.

    In short, the tycoons opened their own public transit companies. These companies were usually profitable, but were never really profit centers: they were supporting industries for whatever the tycoon’s main industry was.

    Ezra Cornell built Cornell University in the middle of nowhere. Then he financed a railroad leading to it. This is the psychology of the 19th century tycoon.

    What’s the difference between 19th century tycoons and Google/Facebook? Basically, the fact that the Google Bus doesn’t accept random people off the street for a fare. Frankly I don’t know why it doesn’t.

      1. Seems likely, but I’d like to see more detail. Confidentiality is a joke in any event — two people can keep a secret if one of them is dead — but it’s true that idiot managers might think that “confidentiality” was a reason for something.

        As for tax reasons, I suspected that the prime problem was something tax-and-regulation-related, but I don’t think we’ve dug deep enough to figure out exactly what it is. Why not run a proper bus company as a subsidiary of Google? Is it just too hard to start your own bus company these days?

      1. Horses existed. And people walked — they walked *much* longer distances than people walk now. So the existence of cars had nothing to do with it.

      2. And actually, the more brutal and right-wing tycoons basically did just tell their workers to walk 30 miles to work (or whatever).

  19. San Francisco and Silicon Valley’s affordability crisis won’t end anytime soon. It really started in the 80’s when Peninsula real estate became an extremely desirable investment vehicle, and that situation has gotten much worse (or better, if you’re in the game) over time. I grew up in Menlo Park in the 60’s and 70’s, and believe it or not, Menlo Park and Palo Alto were solidly middle-class towns back then. Now you can’t buy a dilapidated shack in Menlo Park for less than $1.25 million, and Palo Alto is at least double that—and software engineer wages, as good as they are, don’t pay for that kind of real estate.

    Young techs wouldn’t live in Menlo Park even if they could afford it, because living in Menlo Park is about as exciting as watching paint dry. The residents of MP like it that way and are doing everything possible to prevent development of housing and amenities that would appeal to childless people under 50. Palo Alto is likewise blocking attempts to increase its housing stock. So young tech workers will probably want to live in SF for the foreseeable future, for both economic and social reasons.

    The “cities” of the Peninsula aren’t really cities anyway, despite their size. They are large towns, provincial and hidebound in the extreme. The business areas along El Camino are really just service centers for the bedroom communities. The Peninsula is one enormous suburb suspended between the axes of San Francisco and Silicon Valley. It will be a monumental effort to reverse fifty years of car-loving development and turn these communities into anything resembling functional urban areas.

    The crazy thing is, San Francisco should be welcoming the young tech workers with open arms because they are the city’s new middle class. I know a lot of folks will argue that $100K salaries don’t qualify as middle class, but take a look at this analysis of the financial requirements to satisfy a middle-class lifestyle these days: http://www.oftwominds.com/blogdec13/middle-class12-13.html. In a few years many of those single young techs will get married, have a kid, and start becoming interested in supporting schools, parks, museums, sports, and all the other amenities that make a city livable.

    San Francisco WILL change, as will Seattle. That’s an inescapable fact of life. Protesting the “Google” buses is an utterly empty gesture. Seattle doesn’t seem to have its head quite so far up it’s hind end as SF does, but in order to avoid similar disruptions Seattle needs to stay on track with building more housing (both subsidized and market rate) and improving transit. Rent control is a truly terrible idea and I hope Seattle dodges that train wreck.

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