San Francisco Bay Area at decision point as population, sprawl and congestion grow unsustainably

The Bay Area’s population was boosted by 90,834 people — the size of Santa Barbara — between 2014 and 2015, according to estimates in a U.S. Census Bureau report, dramatically outpacing housing and transportation needs of the region, experts say. […] the relatively steady upswing in the past five years, policymakers say, underscores deficiencies in housing supply and public transportation. “What should be a great story about job growth and very desirable communities is instead a story about housing displacement and gridlock,” said Gabriel Metcalf, president of SPUR. Roadblocks to increasing the region’s housing stock, he pointed out, include zoning laws that prohibit high-density housing, prolonged project approval processes and the fact that many voters are homeowners not directly hurt by soaring home prices and who want to minimize congestion for themselves. The unevenness, especially when new residents are living far from their workplaces, has increased strains on public transit lines. The crowded commuter trains were cast into an ugly spotlight in the past month as mysterious power surges knocked dozens of cars out of operation, and service shut down between the Pittsburg/Bay Point and North Concord stations.

Source: Bay Area’s population grows by more than 90,000 in a year

The San Francisco Bay Area is at a decision point. As this story points out, housing market dynamics in this large geographic region of nine counties increase the distance between where residents work and where they can afford to live, overloading highways and public transit systems. This extracts enormous costs on residents’ daily time budgets, pocketbooks and overall quality of life.

The situation is unsustainable. The Bay Area must now decide whether it will continue to suffer, carrying on as if it were still in the less populated pre-Internet 1970s — when the aging Bay Area Rapid Transit District operated efficiently and within design capacity — or leverage its considerable information and communications technology moxie to replace daily commute trips to distant offices.

The ongoing paradox of the SF Bay Area

The transit agency suffered Thursday from the same woes that impacted service the day before with no trains running between the Pittsburg/Bay Point and North Concord stations in the East Bay. A bus bridge ferried passengers between the two stations and the entire system operated with more than 50 cars fewer than usual.

Source: Down at least 50 cars, BART chaos expected to spill into Friday – SFGate

This story points up the continuing paradox of the San Francisco Bay Area, one of the nation’s most information and communications technologically advanced metro areas of the United States. It has all the tools to operate in a distributed, 21st century business environment. But it remains stuck in the 1970s (when BART went into service), with its residents needlessly schlepping back and forth each weekday to centralized, commute-in office buildings and enduring much wasted time and frustration.

California Commuters Continue to Choose Single Occupant Vehicles | Center for Jobs and the Economy

Attendant with the increased reliance on single occupant vehicles, workers are also spending more time commuting. The number of workers commuting longer than 30 minutes grew from 3.2 million (30.5% of commuters) in 1980 to 6.5 million (40.6%) in 2013 and to 6.8 million (41.4%) in 2014. This trend stems in large part from the growing congestion on California roads, but also reflects the continuing influence of housing costs on the commuting choices California workers are able to make. As the state’s regulatory systems continue to drive up housing costs especially within the coastal urban areas, workers also continue to rely heavily on single occupant vehicles to expand their housing affordability options, even in face of the additional time and travel costs associated with these longer commutes.

Source: California Commuters Continue to Choose Single Occupant Vehicles | Center for Jobs and the Economy

The report goes on to note one of the best (and I would add lowest cost) alternatives to mitigate commute transportation demand is reducing the need to commute in the first place:

Working at home continues to be the fastest growing alternative commuting mode, although at less than a million workers out of a total of 17 million statewide, its potential as a broader solution remains unfulfilled.  However, the ability of employers to expand this option and provide the flexibility many workers desire remains challenged by the ever-growing body of California-only employment regulations and their associated litigation risks.  Further expansion of this commuting mode will likely remain tied more to the self-employed and higher-income professionals rather than applying to a broader range of workers and income levels.

The obvious conclusion: In order to reduce commuting, knowledge work and management practices must be redefined for the 21st century where information and communications technology (ICT) makes it possible for all levels of workers to work remotely from home or in satellite and co-working spaces in their home communities. And not just self-employed and higher income professionals given the high cost of housing in central metro areas that pushes lower income earners out to the edges.

There’s another bonus that is certain to pique the interest of employers concerned about ever rising spending on health benefit costs. Having staff work in their communities frees up time to engage in healthier lifestyles and provides greater access to health promoting behaviors. I recently completed a comprehensive white paper on this topic. For more information, contact me by clicking the email icon at the upper right of the page.

5 reasons why ‘no office’ is better than ‘some office’ | Paul Miller | LinkedIn

Two weeks ago I was given a tour around the iconic new London headquarters of a large financial services company. They had considered many aspects of the shared working areas, pop-up meeting spaces, quiet areas and how to subtly influence better collaborative working. There is just one problem for this company – and for almost every other large organisation I know that is investing in ‘future workplaces’. No matter how many comfy lounges you have and how good the coffee, workers are voting with their feet and leaving offices.

Source: 5 reasons why ‘no office’ is better than ‘some office’ | Paul Miller | LinkedIn

Just recently came across this thoughtful post by Paul Miller, CEO and founder of the Digital Workplace Group. While many observers of the changing world of knowledge work still see a place for a centralized, commute-in office (CCO), refurbished as a comfortable space to meet up with colleagues and collaborate some part of the work week, Miller sees it as no longer serving a useful purpose.

He even goes as far as to predict the CCO will in the 21st century become an obsolete white elephant. Citing his own company’s experience, Miller argues that organizations that try to adopt a virtual work culture but retain the CCO will suffer an identity crisis of sorts and related in group/out group adverse organizational dynamics.

When you can choose to work anywhere, where will you choose to work? – Workplace Insight

One of the great questions that hangs over workers in the new era of boundless work is this: When you can choose to work from anywhere, where will you choose to work? It’s not just a question for the growing army of workers who find themselves unfettered from the traditional times and places of work. They will naturally choose to work in the places they feel make them most productive and happy, which nurture their wellbeing and chime with their values. The challenge for the owners and the occupiers of offices is to create the working environments that will draw people to them.

Source: When you can choose to work anywhere, where will you choose to work? – Workplace Insight

This isn’t just a challenge of office design. It’s one of logistics and personal economics since working in an office for most involves considerable time and money spent commuting to and from it. Making the office space more comfortable and inviting does not and cannot address that unless it includes a Star Trek-like transporter room that allows staff to beam in for a meeting. As metro areas grow and become more congested, the problem only grows worse. Knowledge workers will think, “That’s a really cool office, but what a pain and time suck to get there.”

Given the choice on where to regularly work and in the interest of their personal well being, the obvious one for most knowledge workers is as close to home as possible.