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Google Village

February 23, 2010 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

Google is facing space problems at its worldwide headquarters, nicknamed The Googleplex, in Mountain View, California (about half-way between San Francisco and San Jose). Check out the story and a video report here:

Internet search giant Google has asked the city of Mountain View to allow homes and storefronts to be built near its headquarters.

At a City Council and Planning Commission meeting Tuesday night, officials considered a letter from Google. The letter said the company wants plans for a stretch of Shoreline Blvd near its headquarters to include more housing.

Every day, fleets of buses coming from all over the Bay Area take Google’s employees to their offices. Google said in its letter that building more homes nearby would be more sustainable.

In the video, notice all the cars. Notice how wide the roads are, with the unbuffered, unprotected, non-grade-separated, split-by-gutters bike lanes. Notice how loud the cars are — even blocking out much of the audio in the video clip. As beautiful as the Mountain View area is, including and especially the Googleplex area, it seems shocking that anyone would allow cars to so completely overwhelm a place of such natural beauty. It’s really a crime.

Google has talked a lot about renewable energy and all sorts of very high-tech ways for us to live better and greener, and they’ve done quite a bit — relatively speaking, with bikes — but they’ve not done enough. Google can save and profit from becoming more bike-friendly. People, including potential genius future employees and their families, love bike-friendly.

At some point, we need to convince someone high up at the company that bikes are a serious, if old-fashioned, technology. Bike technology can solve many of Google’s growing pains.

Bikes can also make a place a great place to be — a great place to work, play, live. I just returned to San Francisco after a quick weekend in Fullerton/Los Angeles — a very car-dominated place, relatively speaking (and I’m still completely enamored with LA culture and LA people). On my Monday morning bicycle ride into work in SF, I just thought, “Wow — so civilized.” Or, more accurately, “Wow — so much less uncivilized.”

All the talk of ‘sustainability’ really misses that important aspect of bike culture vs. car culture — quality of life. In the video, a person walking their dog near the Googleplex says, “…I wouldn’t want to live here.” Ouch.

Providing enough space for cars and anything else is becoming increasingly difficult. You can have cars, or you can have housing, but you can’t have both. It’s the old Jane Jacobs advice — you are going to have attrition of the Googleplex by cars, or attrition of cars by the Googleplex — one side is going to be dominant, and it’s a policy decision that we make consciously every time we add roads and lanes without accommodating pedestrians and cyclists. Thus far, cars have won out, but we’re not doomed to repeating the mistakes that got us here. Get rid of that first ginormous car parking lot and build the first mixed use building. Provide some real bicycle infrastructure. Watch community opposition disappear. If you promise to make Mountain View better, you’ll find that people actually want to help you implement your plans — but if you promise to deliver them more cars/traffic/air and noise pollution/danger/brutishness, they’ll fight you all the way to City Hall.

A little over a year ago, our now-retired sister blog published a post titled, ‘To Save Money, Google Can Do More with Bikes, Land Use‘. We left a few quick recommendations:

  1. Hire a bicycle program coordinator for the Googleplex campus. Their job is to motivate your employees, to help make and keep them happy and healthy, to save you money, and make Google the bike-friendliest company on earth. Any program should be open, as much as is possible, to contractors (note added: that is, ‘contract workers’).
  2. Call up the SFBC and the SVBC and tell them that ‘Google wants in’ - tell them ‘we want to lend our institutional support’ to making the Bay Area the #1 most bikable region on earth.
  3. Start thinking more creatively about land use, and how you can work with the Mountain View City Council and other local and regional governments to make the Googleplex more like a traditional transit-oriented development - maybe it can become a bicycle-oriented development. Mixed-use. Housing. Shopping. Retail. Whatever. No more parking lots.

And don’t call the position ‘bicycle coordinator’ — give the person some real power to make Google some money — ‘Bicycle Program Manager’, etc.

The (highway) 101 is a human-maiming and killing scar that runs between SF and San Jose — and it cuts off the Googleplex from the rest of civilization, including the commuter train, Caltrain, busy commercial/retail corridors (e.g. El Camino Real) and shopping centers, etc. The 101 is certainly a crime against humanity and one that should be scaled down from car-only use to provide a bicycle highway and transit corridor, and ideally, phase out car use on it altogether. There is always talk of building special walk/bike bridges over the 101 at various points — little gerbil runs — to allow people to walk and bike to that place where only cars go — but I’d prefer we demand to be treated like humans, and get full access to existing roadways — just reappropriate some space for pedestrians and bikers. I recently accepted a job offer in SF because the other option would be to Caltrain down from SF to Redwood City (awesome-ish), but then make a 3-mile ride from the Caltrain station through this brutish, car-centric landscape, including a ride across that loveliest of all highways, the 101 — not my cup of tea. Google can help make the Googeplex accessible to people on foot and bike — it’s not rocket science, we have the technology to make Google better, faster, stronger. It’s called the bicycle, and sufficient bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure — and it’s already working wonders around the US and around the world.

[via sf curbed]

…TechCrunch has the letters from/to Google/City of Mountain View. Many folks have been pointing out for years that existing zoning laws are not ideal — that is, many/most of the places we most enjoy because they allow us to walk instead of drive, would be illegal to build today because of auto-centric zoning laws. The Googleplex area is so car-dominated, in part, because it is set up by law to prevent any sort of ‘mixed use’ development (e.g. business, housing, retail, shopping, etc.) — it is ‘single use’ (e.g. business, office parks, etc.). SmartCode is just one way of allowing towns to grow smarter without having to reinvent the wheel — think of it as a design pattern for zoning laws (@see video of Andres Duany of DPZ). It should be noted that the auto-centricity of the Googleplex is completely predictable — it was designed, by law, to be car-dominated. The City of Mountain View should look to change existing zoning laws to allow mixed-use development (i.e. to allow the Googleplex to become less car-dominated, and therefore, a decent place/area to live) — but the City should not do so without guarantees of bicycle infrastructure, and a plan to connect the Googleplex to the rest of Mountain View — i.e. Castro Street/downtown Mountain View — and to connect it for pedestrians, bicyclists, transit, etc. Right now the only realistic connection between the Googleplex and Caltrain/downtown MV/VTA light rail/Castro/El Camino Real is by car — that ain’t gonna fly. The 101 presents a huge problem.

2 Comments to “Google Village”

  1. Hah! I used to live in Menlo Park, work in Mountain View, on Garcia Avenue (for the company formerly known as Sun). My bicycle commute tended to take me over the ped/bike bridge across 101 between Oregon Exp and Embarcadero.

    Some dumb cluck of a highway engineer had installed a dismount gate mid-way, because they felt we should walk, not ride. Said dismount gate was inadequate to force me to actually dismount, but it was adequate to completely block a child trailer from any passage at all, mounted, or no.

    And does Channing Road in Palo Alto still have the little signs that say “cyclists press button for signal”?

  2. Zach Riggle says:

    THE FEATURE JUST WENT LIVE ON GOOGLE!!!,-84.463663&sspn=0.008133,0.018733&ie=UTF8&ll=42.726051,-84.475851&spn=0.016267,0.037465&z=15&lci=bike


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