An Argument

Last weekend I was arguing with a friend.

My argument is that Mountain View could have a vibrant street life if we designed our streets better and allowed for walkable local businesses in all neighborhoods.

His argument is that it is impossible because there is not enough density.

I argued he thinks there is no density because he lives in a low density area, and there were much denser parts of Mountain View.

He asked how much more, and I didn’t know.

So I made a map.

A Map

mv distances
Homes within a quarter and half mile of selected points in Mountain View

In the report on Istanbul Jan Gehl argues that most old city downtowns are about a mile across because that is a good walkable distance. So I analyzed places in Mountain View by density within a half mile radius.

Areas with exclusive single-family homes, such as the Cuesta Park area where my friend lives, have fewer than 500 homes within a half mile.

The densest part of Mountain View – California Ave between Escuela and Ortega – has up to 2500 homes within a half mile.

Downtown has about 1000.

I believe 2500 households is plenty enough to support a vibrant street life. What is missing in this area is a reason to be on the street.

  • California, Rengstorff and Esquela are all unpleasant streets full of cars. The feel dangerous to walk on. Based on a quick look at the pedestrian collision data I believe they are dangerous places to walk.
  • Also missing is a commercial center to the area. There is little of anything to walk to.
  • The transit links in that area are all bad. There are only buses, and since California Ave is always congested, they are neither fast nor on time.
  • California and Rengstorff have bike lanes, but because they are unprotected and the traffic is constant and high speed many cyclists just ride on the sidewalk. I don’t blame them, but this future discourages walking.

A Proposal

Let’s look at the R3 zone update map again.

r3 update

Looks like a lot of planned density along Sierra Vista, which also lacks a walkable commercial core and transit links.

I would like to see the city allow provisionally all neighborhood commercial uses in R3-C or R3-D areas. Having places to walk to will reduce traffic and create a more vibrant neighborhood.

In Germany all residential zones allow commercial uses if they pass the “daily needs” test. Things that fulfill residents daily needs, such as a daycare, coffee shop, corner store, etc, are allowed. Anything that would draw a crowd from outside the area is not. Daily needs shops in R3-C or R3-D areas with minimal parking and small pleasant public seating areas nearby could be a gathering place to meet neighbors or just hang out and watch people.

I would encourage the city to allow mixed use. The Gamel Way project will be discussed on Tuesday. It is close to the California/Esquela center and also near existing commercial. It is an excellent place to put in some ground-floor commercial.

I have too many thoughts about improving streets and transit, we will get to them later. But allowing “daily needs” commercial in the densest areas would encourage walking, increase health, lower emissions and harm nobody. let’s do it.