Tag: 2020-06-nn-feature

Nine pathways to much-needed housing

Nine pathways to much-needed housing

By Leila Hakimizadeh, AICP, and John David Beutler, AICP, June 3, 2020

This article presents our professional opinions, not those of our employers.

THE IMPORTANCE OF SAFE, AFFORDABLE HOMES has become even more apparent these last three months. Those without homes cannot safely shelter in place; and overcrowded housing, not dense housing, promotes the spread of disease. Our housing crisis has exacerbated the covid-19 crisis.

We believe desperately-needed new housing can be added if we upgrade zoning and design standards and adopt policies that promote smart density. As planners we should focus on and find ways to protect existing residents, preserve affordable homes, and produce more housing (the three Ps of Assembly Bill 1487). We must rethink regulations and policies that impede the construction of new housing and that contribute to the housing crisis. These nine strategies remove obstacles to new housing by upgrading zoning and design standards and putting policies in place to promote smart density:

1. Allow for a wider range of housing options, and in more locations.

A monoculture of single-family detached housing reduces an area’s potential number and diversity of housing units without increasing neighborhood livability. We must update land use policies to enable a wide range of housing types in addition to single-family and midrise multifamily, (e.g., duplex, triplex, fourplex, live/work units, townhouses, and accessory dwelling units). Often called “missing middle housing,” these types allow the market to increase housing density and diversity with buildings that maintain a similar scale to single family housing. Density doesn’t mean taller, larger, and out of place.

Allow for a wide range of missing middle housing. This fourplex sits comfortably next to single-family homes and is neither taller nor wider.

2. Reduce arbitrary setback requirements.

Setbacks are one of the least-considered and yet most-pervasive development controls. The spaces resulting from setbacks, particularly side yard setbacks, are frequently unusable and do nothing for the urban environment. Over one third of a parcel’s developable land can easily be lost to setbacks, forcing sprawl and reducing walkability. We should know what we are trying to achieve with a setback and how much space is required. For instance, since backyard fences are often six to seven feet high, a one-story building at the parcel line does not diminish its neighbor’s light and air more than the neighbor’s own fence.

This garage at the property line serves well as part of the neighbor’s fence. A required setback would waste land.

3. Remove parking minimums.

Eliminating parking minimums will maximize residential development capacity and reduce housing costs. In expensive cities, the $25,000 to $50,000 cost for each off-street parking space makes housing more expensive and the space required for parking reduces space for housing. In many of our denser urban areas, ride-hail apps, car-share, and bikeshare, combined with walking and public transit, have made personal car storage less important. Furthermore, when self-driving cars become a reality, car ownership will precipitously decline. Cities like San Francisco and San Diego are already eliminating parking minimums and the sky is not falling.

Parking degrades the sidewalk and takes space away from housing. Structured parking is particularly expensive.

4. Relax stepbacks, the so-called daylight requirements.

To mitigate the effects of taller development near existing low-density housing, standards sometimes require stepbacks for the taller building. But a 45-degree daylight requirement can greatly reduce housing capacity, particularly for small parcels in areas with many existing single-family dwellings. This reduction makes affordable housing less feasible and diminishes our ability to accommodate families in need.

5. Loosen open space requirements for projects close to parks and community amenities.

One of the great advantages of cities is shared amenities. Not every cluster of homes has to provide its own school, fire station, or grocery store. And like these and other amenities, open space can be shared and need not be provided on every lot or for every unit. A house across the street from a park should not have to provide the same on-site open space as a house a mile from the nearest park.

There is little need for on-site open space near parks. Shared amenities like parks are among the strengths of urban life.

6. Define what we mean by neighborhood “character.”

Some policies require that developments be compatible with established neighborhoods, leading those opposed to development to label a proposed building as “out of character.” “Character” in this context has a fraught history. It has been used loosely and unjustly to exclude minorities and those lower on the socio-economic ladder from certain areas. Cities can set maintaining community character as a goal, but they need to define what that “character” is and, thus, what is an acceptable issue to discuss in relation to new development. A model for this is the study of the existing conditions that define neighborhood character in preparation for the adoption of form-based codes (FBCs).

Neighborhood character comes in all sizes. This apartment building fits as well in its neighborhood as would a single-family home.

7. Embrace small lots.

Many land use policies encourage lot assembly, yet large-lot development tends to be over-scaled and inwardly focused. Combining lots is even worse for historic districts or neighborhoods with fine-grained building and lot patterns, and affordable housing developers might not have the means to assemble parcels. Walkable cities are dense but built at a human scale, like many older parts of Bay Area cities.

This new development on a 100-foot-wide lot shows there is no need to consolidate lots for overscaled buildings.

8. Incentivize small units.

Patrick Condon, in his new book, “5 Rules for Tomorrow Cities” (2020), discusses the “collapse of birth-rate” worldwide. As of 2018, the average number of births per woman in the US was 1.73 and declining. Family housing is important, but cities should also provide smaller, less expensive units to match trends in family size and allow more people to enter the housing market. Regulations or policies that cap the number of units (but not the building area) encourage fewer, larger units and discourage smaller, more affordable units.

9. Influence the conversion of outdated malls and big box stores to housing.

Changes in the retail market and potential state-level action (as proposed in SB 1385) will be stimulating the conversion of big box stores, empty parking lots, and outdated shopping malls to housing. Rather than be caught off guard, municipalities can be proactive in creating design standards for this conversion and by enabling horizontal mixed-use development.

Let’s get to work

Even though we are beset by covid-19 and other crises, we must not lose sight of our longest running crisis, a woefully inadequate supply of all kinds of housing. Rather than succumb to the illusion that a particular building style should dominate, we need to provide housing of all types in our urban and suburban areas. We offered nine policy recommendations to help you craft the regulations that will create the better and more inclusive cities we all want.


Leila Hakimizadeh, AICP, is a Planner IV-Supervising Planner with extensive experience in land use and transportation planning, urban design and housing. She is a socially-conscious, passionate, determined change-maker and city builder. Leila utilizes equity, diversity, inclusiveness, sustainability and public health measures to facilitate greater community engagement and create lasting impacts for a diverse population. She uses her consensus-building and analytical skills to address urban planning challenges with creative solutions. You can reach her at leila.hakimizadeh@gmail.com.

John David Beutler, AICP, has worked as an urban designer at the intersection of urbanism, land use, and transportation for the last 20 years, first at Calthorpe Associates and then Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM). John’s work has focused on the importance of human scale and human-centric design in addressing issues of sustainability and equity. He works at scales from the building to the street, neighborhood, city and region. You can reach him at johnbeutler@hotmail.com

Virtual community engagement: Advancing the vision for the Alum Rock community of San Jose
Photo by Mathew Schwartz on Unsplash

Virtual community engagement: Advancing the vision for the Alum Rock community of San Jose

By Samie Malakiman, Gwen Buckley, Larissa Sanderfer, Nhan Le, and Manee Jacobo, May 11, 2020

The Alum Rock neighborhood is located approximately two miles east of downtown San Jose, with Alum Rock Avenue as its primary transportation and commercial corridor. In Fall 2019, graduate students in San Jose State University’s Master of Urban Planning program partnered with Comm­UniverCity and the City’s District 5 office to conduct a series of outreach events in the Alum Rock community. This outreach included “Café y Communidads” events as well as a student-organized open house, as a way to hear from the community as they create a new vision for future development in this area.

The first phase of the project included a demographic analysis using Esri’s Community Analyst software, numerous site visits, a walking tour, and the development of presentation posters that highlighted specific themes derived from community engagement research. Representatives from the local non-profit SOMOS Mayfair and the School of Arts and Culture at Mexican Heritage Plaza led the walking tour along the Alum Rock corridor and through the surrounding neighborhood.

Jessica Paz-Cedillos, Executive Director of the School of Arts and Culture, leading a tour of Mexican Heritage Plaza. Photo: Rick Kos

Our graduate student team in Spring 2020 continued work by a student team the previous semester, focusing on the amenities and neighborhood improvements that are important to the residents, with the purpose of developing a comprehensive list of potential amenity investments for new developers.

This second phase focused on community engagement and was critical in understanding the opinions, priorities, and concerns of residents to help determine the amenities that would be the most beneficial to the neighborhood. The initial community outreach plan for this project included a survey and multiple focus groups with seniors, businesses owners, youth, and parents. To follow the shelter-in-place order for COVID-19, the graduate student team engaged via remote video sessions and one-on-one phone interviews.

While not as personal as in-person focus groups, the video and phone interviews nevertheless captured the opinions and daily experiences of residents.

Overall, these interactions with Eastside San Jose residents evinced a strong sense of community and culture, but also significant concerns about traffic and speeding, crime, and residential and business displacement. The residents suggested a number of amenities and improvements to help mitigate these concerns, including more family-oriented parks and open spaces, youth programs, street safety improvements, improved streetscapes to promote walkability, additional grocery stores, and business-supporting amenities.

Students presenting their “urban montage” posters at the beginning of the semester. Photo: Rick Kos

The community engagement findings and recommendations are included in a final report that will be shared with community stakeholders and Councilmember Magdalena Carrasco’s District 5 team.

A notable aspect of the report is the visualization of form-based codes that the city put into place to support the development of an Alum Rock Urban Village. The city planners who collaborated with the graduate student team noted that the current form-based code document is heavy on text and short on illustration, and full of complex technical terms that can lead to confusion. 

In response, the students developed a user-friendly set of graphics to complement the legalistic text. These graphics aim to help visualize how form-based codes could affect the look and feel of buildings and structures within the Alum Rock Urban Village.

Graphics prepared by SJSU Graduate Students to help understand form-based codes

The finished report will be available on the website of San Jose State University’s Urban and Regional Planning program in August at sjsu.edu/urbanplanning/communityplanning.

Authored by the following Master of Urban Planning students at San Jose State University:


Samie Malakiman was born and raised in the Bay Area. He re­ceived his BS in public rela­tions from San Jose State Uni­versity. He is pas­sionate about city design and mixed-use development.




Gwen Buckley is a Senior Planner at San Mateo County Transit District and has extensive experience in trans­porta­tion plan­ning, GIS, and project management.




Larissa Sanderfer was born and raised in the Bay Area. She received her BS in en­viron­mental sci­ence and manage­ment from UC Davis. She is passionate about public spaces, environmental planning, and GIS.




Nhan Le is a graduate teaching assistant in the MUP Program and an intern at the City of San Jose’s Department of Transportation. His interests lie in GIS and transportation planning, specifically pedestrian safety. 



Emanuel “Manee” Jacobo, born and raised in San Jose, earned his BS in justice studies at San Jose State University. He is president of a student-run advocacy group working to improve public transportation to SJSU, and is interested in affordable housing, trans­porta­tion, environ­ment, com­munity development, and equity in plan­ning.


Local government planning in a post-COVID-19 world

Local government planning in a post-COVID-19 world

By Dan Marks, AICP, May 12, 2020

As we move through the second month of “shelter in place” in California, I think back to other cataclysms during my 35-plus years as a planner for how this may affect our work over the next months and years. While this particular disaster is unique, and prognostications about the future are likely to be full of error and caveats, it’s not too early to start hoping for something positive to come from this situation, and to consider setting in motion some of the actions needed to increase the likelihood of positive outcomes.

My focus here is on the practice of local government planning. Our work until now has always been subject to the boom and bust cycles of land development. As we enter the “COVID-19 recession,” we can expect a steep decline in development activity. Despite the Bay Area’s tech-based economy, it’s hard to imagine that our strong housing market will be immune from the impacts of unemployment levels not seen since the Great Depression, or that investment in commercial development will not pause.

In addition to the downturn in development activity, local governments will be taking a major hit to their revenue. The State, facing similar financial strains, will not be of much help. Because most planning and development departments are funded by development fees and/or the general fund, our profession is in for a rough ride for the next few years. As we consider what positive change may be possible or needed for our cities and towns, it is important to recognize that the next few years will be a period of significant fiscal constraint.

How might all of this affect city planning operations? The impact can be divided into four time frames:

  • Reaction to the pandemic. Local governments are in the midst of trying to deal with the unprecedented impact the pandemic is having on our daily lives.
  • Initial recovery. Local governments are beginning to plan for how to increase functionality while continuing to address the continuing threat of COVID-19 until there are vaccines, treatments, or “herd immunity.”
  • Post-pandemic/continuing recession. At some point in the next year or two, we will be through the pandemic but not the economic fallout from it, and especially the decline in local government revenue.
  • “New normal.” In three to five years, the pandemic and the recession will have mostly passed, but some of the economic impacts, changes in behaviors, and accommodations we will have made will continue on as a “new normal.”

As I look at these four time-frames, my focus is not so much on what we are doing now in reaction to the pandemic, but on the implications those reactions have for the long term. What can we take away from the response to COVID-19 to date that has the potential to leave us in better shape after this time than when we entered into it?

1. Pandemic reaction

I have not undertaken a survey of what all planning departments are doing in response to COVID-19, but my limited conversations and discussions with some indicate these patterns:

  • Working from home. Most planners are working wholly or partially at home, and the good news is that a lot of what we do can be done from home.
  • Significantly increased reliance on technology. Zoom and its competitors are providing some of what is needed for teamwork and collaboration. In cities where the appropriate software is in place (and assuming security issues have been addressed), planners should be able to access the tools needed to do their jobs, including permit tracking systems, digital plan submittals, and document management software.
  • Flexible work hours. To the degree offices are still open, some staff are splitting schedules, allowing people to be in the office, while limiting exposure and maintaining physical distancing.
  • Closed public counters. Direct public service, if it’s happening at all, is by appointment.
  • Online public hearings. Public hearings and other public meetings, to the degree they are occurring, have moved almost entirely onto Zoom. The experience with this form of public meeting has been quite mixed, depending on the subject matter and intensity of public feeling.

The above is a partial list of accommodations now being made. Many of these changes are precursors of what could be more permanent changes to how we do the public’s business.

2. Initial recovery

As local governments move from reaction to a more considered accommodation of the impact of COVID-19, they will need, in addition to regularizing most of the practices described above, to consider these key issues:

  • Ensuring employee safety.
  • Defining essential services. As budgets shrink, cities will increasingly have to determine what is essential and what can be reduced or eliminated. In planning, the processing of development applications is essential — not only because of state requirements, but because development is key to economic recovery. On the other hand, at least initially, much long-range planning is likely to be put on hold as budgets shrink. Other activities likely to receive less attention are those involving sustainability and resilience, and potentially economic development. Code enforcement is likely to be reduced to addressing serious life-safety issues.
  • Implementing technology. It will be urgent for cities that do not have or are not yet using technology to the fullest extent to move quickly to adopt it. Permit tracking software, document management systems, and software to handle financial transactions are essential for accountability and for maintaining social (actually physical) distancing.
  • Increasing job flexibility. The job flexibility we are already experiencing is likely to be institutionalized. In addition to adopting policies related to working from home, cities will be looking at creative ways to retain staff through the coming budget crisis, including providing for part-time staff, job sharing, and reductions in hours. Cities will also be asking labor associations for more flexibility in job descriptions so that staff can more easily be slotted into the jobs that remain.

3. Post-pandemic/continuing recession

This will be the most challenging and most significant period, as we move from addressing what is a short-term disaster into building a “new normal” with very limited resources. It’s during this time that our professional engagement and leadership will be essential so that we retain changes originally implemented to address the crisis, but which have long term value.

  • Streamlining work through the more effective use of technology. Some cities are already up to speed on the use of technology, but many are not. As noted earlier, implementing appropriate technology is essential.
  • Job flexibility. This can involve institutionalizing doing at least some of our work remotely, and having less rigid job classifications so that planners can gain new skills and have more options for sharing jobs and modifying work schedules.
  • Appointments rather than counter-hours. We have a unique opportunity to change this inefficient practice since most local government customers are now being required to make appointments for service.
  • Streamlining regulations and increasing staff authority to make decisions. Why assign a reduced staff to prepare long staff reports on minor requests?
  • Adopting more streamlined public review procedures. This will involve considering the role of every commission and every public hearing requirement.
  • More effective team engagement through technology (e.g., Zoom), including engaging with off-site agencies (e.g., external water or sewer agencies) and consultant teams, allowing for more seamless development review.
  • CEQA reform. We know it’s broken; here’s an opportunity to work with the legislature to fix it.
  • Updating regulations, forms, and public information and getting it all online.

Accomplishing even part of this list will be challenging at a time when staff resources are likely to be limited. The key is to build on what we will already have done in accommodating COVID-19 to retain the changes that have added value.

4. The “new normal”

If we’re successful in institutionalizing some of the changes in our practices “forced on us” by the pandemic/recession, we will have arrived at a new normal that will allow us to focus on what’s important: increased quality and reduced quantity; more effective public engagement in guiding development, less time on nit-picking variances; more time providing guidance to applicants, less time responding to questions about the status of an application; more time doing community planning and addressing climate change, less time processing pointless Negative Declarations and bloated EIRs.

By 2025, by taking advantage of the unprecedented opportunity COVID-19 gives us to embrace significant changes in past practice, we can:

  • Make more decisions at the staff level;
  • Work in more flexible and efficient environments;
  • Meet with applicants and members of the public by appointment;
  • Work under flexible job descriptions that will let us learn new skills and advance through the profession;
  • Update application materials, regulations, and procedures for easier use by the public;
  • Use online meeting tools to effectively engage with off-site team members, consultants, and the public;
  • Decrease the number of public development review meetings while increasing their focus;
  • Make more information available online;
  • Reform CEQA to streamline the preparation, production, and review of documents.

At a time when so many people are suffering and we are reeling from the most dramatic and sudden change in our society that any of us have ever experienced, it’s hard to see our way through to the other side, or to think that anything good can come of it. But something can. As former Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel said this past March, “when Barack Obama named me his first chief of staff, and in those dark days, I uttered a phrase that’s followed me ever since: ‘Never allow a good crisis go to waste. It’s an opportunity to do the things you once thought were impossible.’ ”

Northern News provides a forum for communication and exchange of information about planning related matters. Opinions expressed above are solely those of the author. Comments are welcome. Email the editors, news@norcalapa.org, or contact the author at dan@dansmarks.com.

Dan Marks, AICP, is the former director of planning and development for the City of Berkeley (2003-2011) and former planning director for the City of Fremont (1997-2003) and is currently a special advisor to Management Partners, a local government management consulting firm. He was the author of “Whither Bay Area Planning,” published in the September 2015 issue of Northern News, page 3.

Reflections between Zoom meetings

Reflections between Zoom meetings

By Hanson Hom, AICP, ASLA, May 7, 2020

AS I WRITE THIS, I am enjoying a respite from yet another Zoom meeting. It’s ironic that, a few months ago when life was “normal,” we complained about having to rush from one meeting to another, and getting pulled away from the quiet time we need to do “real work.” 

I am now yearning for those in-person meetings where I didn’t have to virtually “raise my hand” to speak, or think about when I might be able to get a haircut. Sitting here at my laptop, without video, audio, apps, or Wi-Fi, seems almost primitive, and maybe too quiet. I ponder the state of our lives, how they might change post-COVID-19, and what we as planners could be doing beyond virtual conferences and meetings. Here are some thoughts.

The world has changed 

That should prompt us to revisit our core values and responsibilities as planners. Just as wildfires, flooding, and other climate-enhanced events jolted our perspective on land-use planning, the pandemic has heightened our awareness of the intersection of planning and public health. We were mindful of the dire warnings from scientists about climate change exacerbating fires, floods, and sea level rise. But until those became disasters that we witnessed on daily newscasts (the California and Australia firestorms, for example), it was business-as-usual for many vulnerable communities. Similarly, we are all reading about and seeing the tragic human toll and enormous economic impact wrought by COVID-19 and past pandemics. Will we see the relevance of a pandemic to urban planning (which may have been tenuous until now) and act on it? Or will we just try to return to business-as-usual urban planning.

It is becoming common public policy to work toward creating resilient cities that can sufficiently respond to a wide range of social, fiscal, and physical risks. While planning for resiliency against a worldwide pandemic seems daunting, we can, at the local level, highlight and plan for reducing the public health risks and economic inequities that exist in our communities. A study by the Kaiser Family Foundation revealed a disproportionate impact from the pandemic on communities of color and low-income populations. The recently enacted federal stimulus bills respond directly to the severe financial disruptions that the pandemic has visited on our economy, and to a lesser extent, on our cities; but the pandemic has underscored the public health crisis among our most vulnerable populations. These communities, because of past land-use decisions and proximity to heavy industrial uses, have been subjected to higher concentrations of air pollutants, while also suffering from inadequate access to parks, recreational amenities, and public health facilities.

Resilient communities can close the public health gap 

Public health and medical studies have long documented these disparities, but the pandemic raised them to the forefront of public discourse. A recent national study from Harvard found that urban populations with a high exposure to “dirty air” have a higher incidence of respiratory health problems linked to a higher death rate from COVID-19. The hoped-for outcome is that this consciousness will translate to a heightened response to public health risks in disadvantaged communities, along with increased advocacy for socially responsible and equitable land-use and mobility planning.

Another well-publicized outcome from the pandemic is data showing that air quality improved dramatically and almost instantly as business closures translated to fewer cars on the road. The World Economic Forum reports that major urban areas in China, South Korea, India, and Italy saw up to a 40 percent reduction in air pollution (PM2.5 nitrate). The air quality maps and the dramatic before and after pictures “speak a thousand words.” Of course, the cleaner air comes with a huge economic price that should not be trivialized.

A pandemic-induced economic shutdown is certainly not the desired solution to air pollution, but this viral outbreak has demonstrated that pollution can be ameliorated by a collective and orchestrated human response. It confirms that polluted air is not an inevitable urban condition and that national or global changes in human behavior can yield immediate and measurable environmental benefits. Better air quality will help us address climate change and strengthen the resiliency of our communities with respect to public health.

This is our time 

This tragic pandemic presents important lessons for us as planners. Let’s use this knowledge and this time to further resiliency, public health, public awareness, and equity in the communities where we live and work.  

Hanson Hom, AICP, has been a planner in the Bay Area for 40 years, mostly in the public sector. He was Sunnyvale’s Director of Community Development, retiring as Assistant City Manager in 2016, and is now providing consulting services. He is a licensed landscape architect, a member of the City of Alameda planning board, Vice President for Conferences at APA California, and was Northern Section’s Director in 2011 and 2012. He holds master’s degrees in urban and regional planning (San Jose State University) and public administration (CSU East Bay) and a BA in landscape architecture (UC Berkeley). You can read more about him in Meet a local planner, September 2015. 

Meet a Local Planner: William Lieberman, AICP

Meet a Local Planner: William Lieberman, AICP

By Catarina Kidd, AICP, May 11, 2020

William Lieberman, AICP, is Principal Planner at CHS Consulting Group in San Francisco. He holds a master of regional planning from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and a BA in biology from Northeastern University.

What is your current role?

At CHS Consulting, my specialty is transportation planning — a culmination of 50 years of professional practice, mostly in the public sector with stints in private consulting.

How did you decide to specialize in transportation planning?

At Northeastern University, I set out to be a biologist and, after working in a lab, found it was not for me. I visited the Boston Redevelopment Authority, which had a big transportation planning section, just to get an idea of that field. The staff asked me if I wanted to apply for a work-study position there. That planning job set the path for my career.

You have worked for public agencies in many major cities. Tell us about your journey.

After graduate school, I worked as a consultant in Washington, DC. I then landed a position at TriMet in Oregon. There, I helped develop Portland’s first “MAX” light rail line, among other transit initiatives. It was the best training ground I could have hoped for, immersing me in everything from technical analyses to public speaking. After nine years there, I moved to San Diego, where I worked as the Director of Planning and Operations at the San Diego Metropolitan Transit Development Board for 17 years.

What is your experience with consulting?

I spent three years at Barton-Aschman Associates, five years at Jacobs Engineering, and my own consulting firm for four years. Most of my work was as a technical advisor to transit agencies in Austin, San Diego, and Boston. I’ve been at CHS here in the Bay Area for the past eight years.

What brought you to the Bay Area?

For many years, my family followed my career. I ended up following them to the Bay Area, where my two sons had settled. In 2005, I was hired as the first director of planning at SFMTA. It lasted only about two years. A new executive director was hired, my position was eliminated, and I was offered a consulting role. That was a tough experience, but it forced me to rethink what I wanted in my career and how to make that happen. I then went to work for Jacobs before deciding to semi-retire and take my present position with CHS. Since 2012, I have been working as a consultant with transit authorities or cities on transit-related projects.

Looking back on your career, what project stands out the most and why?

My oversight of the strategic plan for San Diego Metro’s transit system was an eye-opening experience. I worked with consultants proficient in market research who helped me see that we really didn’t know our clientele and what was needed.

Our project team administered a rider perception survey to 800 local residents and conducted small focus groups. We learned that feelings about the value of time, prestige of the service, and personal security often override practical considerations like transit fares, service frequency, and routings. I sat in on a focus group where several women shared that they were not comfortable on transit when their body touched the person sitting next to them. There were many such insights that helped us understand what influences people’s decisions on how they travel. It gave me an awareness of a dimension of planning that I’ve continued to use in my work.

What factors do you consider before moving on to a new job?

When the job starts to feel too repetitious, it may be time to move on, especially if there are few opportunities for internal advancement. Another factor is the workplace culture. Some organizations become fossilized or too conservative because they’re under public scrutiny. This may be a sign to move on.

What advice do you have for planners afraid to change jobs?

People in the Bay Area have a huge advantage. There are almost limitless opportunities here. Between transit agencies, municipalities, consulting firms, and academia, there are many choices for planning positions. You don’t have to go through the stress of changing cities, finding a place to live, establishing new relationships, or moving children into new schools. Yes, there is some risk with giving up seniority and work associations, but that’s life. If you are risk-averse, just stay where you are. If you want the inspiration and growth potential of a new challenge, a job change is one way to improve your situation.

You said you live in a senior housing community. What’s that like?

When I was younger, older people talked about being “sent to a home” as a bad thing. But it’s like living in a hotel, and my wife and I absolutely love it! Our community is in an 11-story building, mostly with independent-living condominiums and a few assisted living units. The monthly fees are high, but they cover meals, entertainment, and other services. This community has done a great job with managing the shelter-in-place rules to protect residents during the COVID-19 pandemic.

When it comes to aging, be the planner of your life. Admit that you are moving on and it’s another stage of living. Be prepared to accommodate some changes.

What about aging in place?

Aging in place is not what it’s cracked up to be: I’ve known seniors who were utterly alone in their residence after becoming disabled. Of course, none of us thinks this will happen to us. In a senior community, you can be as alone as you want to be or find company if you choose. You have to know yourself, what you need, and what you can afford.

Do you have any advice for planners on how to approach their practice?

The planner’s most valuable skill is being able to understand how it feels to live in that future you are planning, and what actions are needed to improve that future. Is that where you, or even someone very unlike you, would really want to be?

A final thought: An hour in the field is worth a day in the office. Get away from your desk and, if it it’s not too distant, make frequent visits to the location that is the subject of your work. Go into the community and take it all in. You will see, feel, and hear things you might not otherwise grasp.

Interviewer Catarina Kidd, AICP, is senior development manager at FivePoint and a guest writer for Northern News. Final editing by associate editor Richard Davis.

TDM in a post-pandemic world

TDM in a post-pandemic world

By Audrey Shiramizu, April 17, 2020

MANY OF US ARE THINK­ING of CO­VID-19’s im­pact on of­fice com­muters, dur­ing and post-pandemic. And, if you are like us, you might be re-think­ing your TDM (trans­porta­tion de­mand manage­ment) strategies in the upcoming months.

Many of these strategies are familiar — subsidized transit, pre-tax benefits, and carpool matching. More recently, universities and tech companies have led the way in TDM, offering employees teleworking, flexible hours, shuttles, and on-site amenities. Non-tech and more traditional companies lag, often dismissing (or unequipped to provide) teleworking as an option, and relying on employees to proactively use incentives offered.

With the pandemic forcing many of us to shelter in place, we now know that working from home is possible for many office workers, and not just for tech and universities. This is a unique opportunity to observe and learn firsthand the impacts of mass teleworking on our transportation systems, work productivity, and commuting behavior.

Arup has spent years researching, designing, and consulting on TDM strategies for major entities around the world, including tech and educational campuses. Many of you have witnessed both devastating and incredible changes in how we move, commute, and work.

What we have observed

The pandemic has affected all forms of transportation and how we work, for better and for worse.

  • Transit ridership, already in decline pre-pandemic, continues to plummet with service cuts daily. Many agencies are running essential services only, cutting more than 50 percent of their service. San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) ridership has declined more than 90 percent. The New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) has seen subway and bus ridership down 90 percent and 80 percent respectively.
  • Biking, meanwhile, has surged. Essential workers and those making necessary trips are switching to biking because of reduced transit service or to limit exposure to others on transit. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced plans to improve cycling infrastructure in response to increased bicycling.
  • Working from home, for the most part, seems to work. Zoom’s share price nearly doubled between February and March, and Microsoft Teams saw a 500 percent increase in the number of meetings, calls, and conferences in China since January.

What we anticipate will have an impact on you, your business, and employees

When the pandemic slows down, employers will want to return to business as usual, likely including regular office hours and some physical office attendance. We anticipate three key things that will impact employers and business:

  • Return to work, and planning for that, will offer opportunities to influence behavior. We must start planning now for what will happen when people begin returning to work en masse; tolerance for behavior change is high when new habits and routines are being formed.
  • The potential for behavioral change is an opportunity and a risk — parking demand and car usage may increase as people remain concerned about using mass transit, but with the right incentives, people may be more willing to try transit.
  • Resiliency, especially in public health, will become central in policymaking. We must capitalize on policies that prioritize the safe expansion of transit, biking, and walking trips to support healthier active lifestyles.

Potential opportunities

The pandemic has shown that behaviors and conventional practices, such as working from home, can flip in mere days or weeks. Other TDM policies that were previously difficult to implement such as flexible work hours or days, or designated work shifts (e.g., allowing employees to choose the specific workdays they would be in the office) could gain momentum post-pandemic. Some level of working from home, perhaps tailored to individuals or groups (parents, caretakers, students, etc.), will continue in the long term. We have seen hopeful examples of these strategies at Arup offices in China.

While devastated and anxious about the pandemic’s impact, we planners should be optimistic that learning and sharing what works will help us emerge stronger and more resilient than before.

A version of this article originally appeared on LinkedIn.

Audrey Shiramizu is a transportation planner at Arup, where she has worked since 2015. She holds a master of urban planning (transportation and land use) from San Jose State University and a BS in environmental policy, analysis, and planning from UC Davis. You can reach her at audrey.shiramizu@gmail.com.