Viewpoint: Urban planning can save the earth 

Unlike the cure for the common cold, solutions to a significant cause of global warming are commonly known. In fact, more than a few middle-schoolers understand that reducing the number of personal automobiles on the road, reducing the length of time such cars are driven, will in-turn reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The challenge is persuading millions of American commuters to abandon a cherished member of the family, a combination mobile office, breakfast nook and makeup vanity hand-washed and waxed with love.

The solutions to global warming are found in modern urban planning and zoning and three little words: Transit Oriented Development. Build well-designed, affordable housing within walking distance of efficient mass transit, and the air-fouling traffic jams will unclog themselves. Better yet, build well-designed, affordable housing within walking distance of jobs, schools and retail, and car use will plummet.

A decade ago, Mountain View redeveloped 18 acres of auto dealerships and outdated shops into "The Crossings," built between 1994 and 1998. Residents of the 128 condominiums, 129 townhouses and 102 detached, single-family homes are a few minutes walk from major retail, including a Safeway, plus a Caltrain station. In 2002, the American Planning Association recognized Mountain View with an Outstanding Planning Award.

Later this year, the non-profit Bridge Housing Corp. is expectedto break ground near the Colma BART station with 123 below-market-rate rentals and 32 market-rate condominiums. Bridge’s plans also include a 60-slot childcare center that will help working parents throughout northern San Mateo County. Additionally, Bridge is granting preference to renters with no cars or just one car.

These are just two examples of long-term planning coupled with forward vision. Others dot the landscape from the area around AT&T Park in San Francisco to the Fruitvale Transit Village in Oakland to the Village at the Crossings in San Bruno, just steps from the Shops at Tanforan and the San Bruno BART station.

However, we need more; much more. As individuals, as residents, as voters, we must support TOD efforts, especially as the Peninsula’s population increases and commute patterns continue shifting. Single-use zoning and other urban planning practices dating back to the 1930s have become environmentally unsound and detrimental to a family’s quality-of-life; just ask the parents in Pittsburg or San Rafael traveling to jobs in San Francisco, Alameda and San Jose.

Transit or not, a 15-minute walk to the office is better than an hour on BART.

The environmental effects of rising concentrations of greenhouse gasses in our atmosphere were first discussed in the early to mid-1800s. Proliferation of the internal combustion engine and ensuing Industrial Revolution have contributed tremendous amounts of greenhouse gasses for more than a century. We must slow or even reverse this or our grandchildren will suffer for our inaction.

Recent data released by the US Geological Survey show that a one-meter rise in sea levels, linked to polar ice and glacial melting, could inundate large portions of bayside Peninsula, including most of Foster City, Redwood Shores and huge swaths of San Mateo centered on the area around Highway 101 and Highway 92 interchange. San Francisco International Airport would need seaplane ramps and Oracle might consider a ferry dock for its employees.

Saving the Earth, or at least treating the Earth’s "severe case of the humans," starts in our own communities, one TOD at a time. We have little choice but to embrace this evolution of our communities if we want to leave viable, livable, sustainable places for coming generations. Doing less is simply irresponsible toward ourselves and our Earth.

Adrienne J. Tissier is a San Mateo County supervisor who also sits on the San Mateo County Transit District’s board of directors. Additionally, Tissier represents the Peninsula on the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

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