Making San Jose a city for people, not parking

A bicyclist enjoys PARKing Day in San JoseSilicon Valley is the world’s leading center of innovation.  Yet San Jose is trapped in the era of floppy disks and 8-track tapes when it comes to mobility and development. Traffic congestion is getting worse every day, but we are still building homes and apartments in San Jose like it is 1978, expecting every household to own two or more cars. 

When we design new homes around cars – with massive garages and seas of parking lots – it drives up the price of building homes, often by $100,000 or more. The costs are even higher when you consider the loss of valuable space that could have been used for community gardens, gathering places, playgrounds – or even more housing.

Silicon Valley needs fresh ideas and innovative solutions if we are to overcome these intertwined challenges of traffic and housing. That’s why the Knight Foundation is supporting efforts to scale up a cutting-edge program called GreenTRIP.  

GreenTRIP is a certification program for residential developments that offer free transit passes, car-share memberships, and other incentives that reduce driving. By reducing the need for parking, GreenTRIP lowers the cost of building, gives new residents more choices for getting around without a car, and frees up more space for things that can make great communities.

The potential for a new paradigm of development is why San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, three city councilmembers, and four department heads, from transportation, planning, housing and economic development, came to celebrate the launch of the new GreenTRIP Platinum Certification at an event in January. 

Platinum is the new badge of honor for housing developments adding even more advanced traffic-reduction strategies like bikeshare pods, TransitScreen in the lobbies, and the promotion of “peer-to-peer” carsharing platforms like Getaround.  These strategies can not only reduce driving from building residents, but help the surrounding community transition to less driving.

The second tool highlighted at the event and supported by the Knight Foundation, GreenTRIP Connect, is still under development but may be a game-changer.

This online map-based tool will let cities, developers, and community members everywhere use powerful modeling to determine the traffic, health, and economic benefits of implementing GreenTRIP strategies and providing more affordable homes. It would provide information in a way that can empower community members to productively engage in decision-making.

As Mayor Liccardo said at the outset of the event, “We know we need the density, we know we need smart growth and we need to be able to do it with everybody on board, and I’m really looking forward [to] the Connect tool, because we know that community engagement is such an incredibly important piece.”­

GreenTRIP Connect could also ultimately be adopted in city codes, in San Jose and beyond, making smart developments the norm. If San Jose implemented GreenTRIP strategies as they develop their next 120,000 homes, we could reduce cost of construction by $2.4 billion, helping create housing that middle income people can afford, and greatly reducing construction costs for affordable homes.

As Mayor Liccardo said, “So [GreenTRIP] and the Connect tool are going to be very critical for us in really being able to retrofit this city that’s been built for automobiles into a city that is built for people.”

What attracts people to places – and keeps them there – is not a plethora of parking. In the long run, planning for more affordable, low-traffic places attracts people and talent, and helps avoid displacement of existing residents.   

GreenTRIP Connect will allow San Jose to bypass the incremental progression from 8-track tape to cassette to CD.   These crises are too simply too urgent and San Jose is responding; they are poised to be the first city to use data, technology and community engagement to bring these GreenTRIP strategies to scale.

For Mayor Liccardo’s remarks click here, or view the whole GreenTRIP Platinum launch program.

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TransForum is the blog of TransForm, California's leading transportation advocate. For more about our work, including ways you can take action and contribute, visit TransFormCA.org.