Thursday, April 19, 2012

Location, Location, Location and the Bus

One hundred years ago the Van Sweringen brothers built Shaker Heights on the east side of Cleveland. This property, once owned by a Shaker religious colony, was developed into a new community with imaginative street layouts, parklands, and rigid design controls over the architecture and construction. It has been a very, very successful community since its inception, the address ranks with Scarsdale, Pacific Heights, and Beverly Hills as the place to live in their respective cities.

What was different about Shaker Heights was that the Van Sweringen’s built a railroad from their new community to downtown Cleveland to help market the properties to the downtown executive and it worked. When completed, as a part of the acquisition of a much larger railroad network, the community exploded through the 1920s until the slowdown of 1929.

This acquisition of the railroad, well beyond the track needed to reach downtown Cleveland, led to their development of the Terminal Tower. The Depression eventually bankrupted and destroyed the brothers. They died in their 50s broken and almost penniless.

Now back to the story.
“They built a railroad to serve their community,” I don’t know a single developer who would even consider the thought. Can you imagine the impact to areas like Gilroy and Tracy, California if the private side were to step up and extend BART to their communities? Well I can at least dream. But there has been a work-around that has interesting ramifications, for want of a better term, I’ll call it the Silicon Connection.

There has been a serious increase in home and residential values and rents in San Francisco near makeshift bus stops where private charter buses that serve Google, Apple and Facebook pick up San Francisco residents. KTVU, a Bay Area TV station, focused on the story (the 3:30 minutestory is HERE).
The techies get the best of both worlds, a cool job in Silicon Valley and the opportunity to live in San Francisco (your author lived there 20 fantastic years). Some may not even own a car.

It has also had a serious impact on home values near these stops, they have risen sharply against other SF properties far from these makeshift stops. For sale flyers even note how far the house is from a Google Stop. The buses follow the employees, when there is a critical mass – a bus may magically appear. Here is an older story about the buses (HERE).

But as with all things, there are those that don’t appreciate these buses. When there are hundreds of the Google buses roaming the freeways no one cares, when they come down your residential street, now that is a bus of a different color. All the green friendly excuses: fewer cars, mass transit, reduced congestion, and efficiency go out the window when the neighborhood has to deal with these machines. Go (HERE) for the other side, you might also check out the comments – there are a lot of techies that have anger issues and social disconnections out there.

The buses are pretty cool and very high tech themselves (GO HERE). 
And while regional transit systems continue to rely on Fed dollars and regional taxes, these buses are privately owned, respond to the customer’s needs, and do not use tax money. Whether the employer pays for the service or the user pays a percent of the cost is irrelevant. It is done outside of the realm of the public sector – but be careful, I can see cities and counties trying to get their noses under the tent.

Stay Tuned . . . .

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