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Tech companies should move closer to transit, says new report

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SPUR chides Silicon Valley outfits for “reinforcing dependence on cars”

The ring of Apple Park. Screen grab via YouTube, Kagen

SPUR, the San Francisco-based urban design non-profit, released an extensive report last week pondering the placement of the Bay Area’s enormous new office hubs, most of them tech-industry related.

Rethinking The Corporate Campus alleges that too many companies (big and small) and designers seem to be stuck in the past, constructing large, geographically isolated campuses that foster car culture and shirk the merits of public transit access:

Isolated single-use buildings set behind vast parking lots, far away from the public street [is] a model that reinforces dependence on cars and pushes sprawl development into open spaces and farmland. This environment emerged in an era of wide-open spaces, cheap land and easy mobility by car — an era that is long past.

Only 28 percent of new office construction in the Bay Area between 2010 and 2015—the critical years of recovery after the real estate boom and recession—went up within half a mile of a transit line, says SPUR. And two thirds of that 28 percent was just in San Francisco.

There are of course some very high-profile examples of companies moving in immediately next to mass transit: Twitter, LinkedIn, Samsung, Salesforce, just to name a few notables.

But the appeal of the far-off showpiece corporate campus endures. The prevailing sentiment seems to be the bigger and flashier the better. And over 75 percent of regional workers still drive to work, including 86 percent of those in Santa Clara County.

The ever-prominent example of Apple Park looms large: Transit consultant Jarrett Walker complained that Apple could have made its campus immediately VTA accessible “if they had just put the front door on the other side.”

In fairness to Apple, one of the incoming campus’s several entrances is located on Wolfe Road, where a VTA line runs.

“But the front door is on Homestead and Tantau, the two lowest priority streets for public transit,” Walker told Curbed SF. “If the front door had been on Wolfe, [...] it would have been logical.”

Walker concedes that “it is good they have a door on that side,” but adds, “it was very frustrating for us with the VTA plan I just worked on because we can’t provide good access to that building now.”

No one at Apple was immediately available for comment.

The Google headquarters. There is a glass building with the word Google on it. In front of the building is a statue of a green android. Asif Islam/Shutterstock.com

SPUR’s Allison Arieff points out that Apple is just one example of our old-fashioned culture when it comes to office design.

Even as technology makes it possible to work from almost anywhere, some companies still want to isolate their workforce.

“For all the talk of innovation, we’re stuck in this 20th century model,” Arieff tells Curbed SF. “We’re not suggesting everybody build in downtown San Francisco, that’s not possible. But there are plenty of places along the [Caltrain] baby bullet you could build, there are places near BART stations.”

Of course, Rethinking The Corporate Campus acknowledges “political and regulatory barriers” mean that companies can’t build wherever they want.

But Arieff says that means everyone will have to muster the political will to meet halfway, “because we can’t keep going on like this.”

Growing up in Marin County, her father could drive from San Rafael to downtown San Francisco in 20 minutes. But those days are long gone, and the time has come to start building like it.