Today I attended TransForm‘s Let’s Get Moving Silicon Valley summit at the Luther Burbank Elementary School in San Jose. Their first annual event, this summit pulled in over 100 people and speakers from the federal, regional, and local sectors of transportation and planning. There were many fascinating panels and TransForm did an amazing job with the organization of the event. Here are the highlights of the sessions I attended.
Chris Lepe, community planner of TransForm, welcomed everyone to the event and provided the mission of the summit: to promote wise, equitable, and innovative thinking in transportation policy. Dwayne Marsh of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development kicked off the event with an overview of transportation issues and solutions on the federal level that is leading to the current and necessary changes to the nation’s transportation infrastructure. Susan Stuart of the Santa Clara County Public Health Department noted the importance of a multi-modal neighborhood in increasing accessibility, public health, and active lifestyles for residents, especially with the trends of increasing chronic diseases. San Jose Councilmember Ash Kalra of District 2 rallied the participants to continually demand improved transportation policies that meet the needs of all members of the community.
I attended the session Moving Silicon Valley Forward that addresses social and racial equity in transportation and housing policies. Vu-Bang Nguyen of Urban Habitat conveyed the startling statistics of lower income families facing financial circumstances where housing and transportation alone may make up 75% of a household’s budget, leaving the remaining for food, utilities, education, savings, etc. Jennifer Martinez of Peninsula Interfaith Action told of the gentrification issues facing East Palo Alto due to Facebook’s relocation of their campus to east Menlo Park and speculation of investors that have bought up foreclosed and affordable housing parcels in the area. Pat Plant of The Presbytery of San Jose and Sandra Hietala of People Acting in Community Together (PACT) showcased their work advocating for transit accessibility and providing monthly bus passes for homeless populations. They also showed the power community participation may bring in pressuring elected officials to fund projects of community priority. I asked a question about how to communicate social equity priorities to boards and organizations who may be fiscally-minded. Their responses were to pressure elected officials and the boards of organizations to value social equity, and to look in detail in the funding mechanisms that exist.
The second session I attended was Connecting with High Speed Rail in Santa Clara County, led by Rod Diridon, the executive director of the Mineta Transportation Institute. His light-hearted and insightful presentation illustrated the need for high speed rail, and all the benefits of having one. The United States is the only developed nation without a high speed rail infrastructure. It has been recorded in other countries that their high speed rail lines are profitable. In terms of pollution reduction, economic development, and statewide accessibility, the high speed rail is necessary in joining California’s two megaregions, the Bay Area and Southern California. Videos and renderings were also played on what a potential trip on the high speed rail may look like. The video is provided below.
I asked Mr. Diridon on what potential would there be for increasing the profits of potential high speed rail stations by adding retail to them, as is done in Japan with their stations. His witty response was that I have to figure that out as a planning student, and further elaborated that the profits and financing mechanisms are there, but the land use policies and right-of-way jurisdictions need to be clarified and expanded to take advantage of such potential revenue streams.
Beyond the speakers, it was a great day to hang out with school friends and meet new people. Great job, TransForm!