On the Tech Bus Protests

It looks like the tech bus protests are continuing in force, now with extra vomit.

I’m a little torn on the whole thing, because when I lived in the Bay Area I actually rode one of those buses to work every day for a year. I couldn’t have lived in SF without it, because commuting to the South Bay sucks otherwise. And that’s kind of the point. Right or wrong, there certainly wouldn’t be as many tech workers living and working in SF if those bus systems didn’t exist. If you provide that sort of service people will start using it, and then start demanding an expansion of that service, which is exactly what’s happened with the private buses. My main objection to the buses is that instead of the city/region investing in good mass transit, they’ve let private buses come in and create a two-tier system that won’t easily go away. Even if they extended BART to Mountain View through the Peninsula tomorrow, Google and Google workers feel much safer working on proprietary code on a Google-run bus than on public transit, for example.

But the housing problem in SF has very little to do with tech workers and everything to do with lack of supply. San Francisco has a height limitation for buildings in much of the city (I think it’s 65′), so even if developers wanted to build more high rises they can’t. San Francisco proper is one of the most highly desirable areas of the country to live right now, and moral or not, I don’t think it’s exactly reasonable to expect that existing residents can both NIMBY their way to keep the city’s character the way it is AND expect that people aren’t going to be evicted or otherwise priced out of the city. Regardless of the rent control or other measures put in place, market forces are going to be too strong. I see SF as being the ‘Manhattan’ of the Bay Area, and both mass transit and urban density should be developed accordingly. Market forces will do what they will, but cities certainly can (and in my opinion, should) shape the results of those forces. While density will probably increase in the long run, the city should use urban planning to encourage mass transit usage, walkability, and local ownership of shops and restaurants. Areas like SOMA are the wrong way to develop, in my opinion- It’s a sanitized version of SF that’s a second-worst of all worlds. The worst of all worlds would be a SF that continues to devolve into a place where people are so afraid of change that their NIMBYism destroys the vitality and most interesting aspects of the city that they are trying to protect.