Welcome to Curbed Cuts, a tri-weekly digest connecting the dots between shelter, structure, parks, transportation, and more.
We’ve been following the construction of Apple Park, the company’s massive new Cupertino campus, since it began in 2014. While the elaborate “spaceship” has garnered rave reviews from publications like Wired, which somewhat expectedly termed it “Insanely Great (Or Just Insane),” it has also received a drubbing by publications including, oddly enough, Wired.
As noted last month, some critics have taken Apple to task for the number of parking spaces at the new structure: 11,000 slots for cars, to occupy 325,000 square meters, as required by area planning and development ordinances. San Francisco-based civic planning organization SPUR even argued that Apple should have fought the city on their parking requirements, because there’s nothing that fosters good relationships with a community like fears that a massive workforce might come in and take over all its parking slots.
And now Wired is scolding the company for the building’s design itself, writing that it “is a retrograde, literally inward-looking building with contempt for the city where it lives and cities in general” in an article headlined “If You Care About Cities, Apple's New Campus Sucks.”
Chief among the concerns raised (and there are many), are what will happen when Apple heads to that big technology orchard in the sky. (Hey, no one thought Excite.com could fail, either!)
If Apple ever goes out of business, what would happen to the building? The same thing that happened to Union Carbide’s. That’s why nobody builds these things anymore. Successful buildings engage with their surroundings—and to be clear, Apple isn’t in some suburban arcadia. It’s in a real live city, across the street from houses and retail, near two freeway onramps.
Except the Ring is mostly hidden behind artificial berms, like Space Mountain at Disneyland. “They’re all these white elephants. Nobody knows what the hell to do with them. They’re iconic, high-end buildings, and who cares?” [Louise Mozingo, a landscape architect at UC Berkeley and author of Pastoral Capitalism: A History of Suburban Corporate Landscapes] says. “You have a $5 billion office building, incredibly idiosyncratic, impossible to purpose for somebody else. Nobody’s going to move into Steve Jobs’ old building.”
(Don’t let Mozingo see all those crappy strip malls in pretty much every city in the U.S. without a fainting couch nearby, you guys.)
Big Brother bike share
People mad about parking spaces lost in planned expansion of the Ford Motor Company-sponsored Bay Area bike sharing business might have been handed another bit of ammunition against the company this week, as a report published today points out that the Ford CEO wants to track riders as they travel around the city.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Ford, which also owns rapidly-expanding jitney bus system Chariot, is paying bike share operator Motivate $49 million for seven years of naming rights. That means the new bikes, as well as the program itself, will be rebranded as “Ford GoBike.” (Fun fact: of that $49 million, an SFMTA planner says they expect to see not a dime, as “the hurdles are quite high.”)
But other than their name in lights, what’s Ford’s plan? After all, this is a public company, not a charity. Perhaps this statement from Ford CEO Jim Hackett to in September 2016 will help:
What we are doing differently in San Francisco that isn’t done in New York is we put telemetry on that bike; telemetry is a form of communication. So now the bike is pinging data to us.
Listen, here is the deal—the opportunity is not bikes. That is not why Ford is in it. The opportunity is data. And the data is super valuable because it tells us these invisible paths that people are taking in this complex city in terms of how they want to get around. And there is something else cool about it, because we can take that data and we can connect it in ways that our new shuttle is going to connect to the cloud as well.
Chron scribe Kathleen Pender was struck enough by these remarks to follow up with Ford:
I asked Ford and Motivate if that means the new bikes will be collecting personal data about users’ whereabouts that could be used or sold. In an email, Ford spokeswoman Angie Kozleski said, “at the upcoming launch, the bikes do not include technology that collects real-time data (i.e. weather conditions and bike availability) but the potential remains. That said, we believe that cities can derive tremendous value in insights that could come from capturing data from many forms of transportation system.”
Simons said Motivate is not putting telemetry on the bikes, but by the end of the year, it expects to have location-based services on the app, which will give users data about their mileage traveled and calories burned. Users can turn the service off, like they can with any app.
So who’s telling the truth—Ford’s CEO, speaking at the so-called “Ford Motor Co Investor Day” or a Ford spokesperson, speaking to a newspaper reporter? Obviously, someone here is employing a bit of fabulism. But who?
Cutting at Coit
Coit Tower is one of those Alcatraz-like places for which locals rarely line up without friends in from out of town. Which is odd given the stereotype of San Franciscans as people who love waiting in lines, but perhaps as there’s no avocado latte waiting at the end of the Coit line, maybe that’s tarnished its luster.
MrEricSir reminds us this weekend that one actually needn’t wait in line at Coit Tower at all—if you have the cash. Wait! Before you decry the further VIP-roomitization of San Francisco, be aware that the main investment is a little advance planning and an additional $2.
All you need to do is buy your tickets online the day before your trip ($9 for non-residents, $6.50 for SF residents with valid ID) and pay a $2 advance booking fee per pass. That gives you “skip the line” status, so all you do it present the printed pass at the staffer manning the line of tourists hoping to take the elevator rise to the top. You’ll be added to the next group headed up, easy-peasy.
Of course, if you don’t mind a line and have a valid San Francisco library card, you can also head up Coit Tower for free, via the SFPL’s Discover & Go website. Just choose “Free admission for up to two adults accompanied by up to four children under 18,” and you’re heading up the landmark without paying a penny.
If you hide them, they won’t come
A set of four bike lockers placed in West Portal by the SFMTA were recently spirited away, reports Streetsblog SF. To add insult to injury, they were replaced by (braces for enraged transit advocates’ screams) a car parking space.
The lockers were in a lot just steps from Muni’s West Portal station, a hub that serves numerous Muni Metro lines (none of which, despite advocates’ arguments to the contrary, allow bikes on board). But now they’re in a SF General garage, as SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose says “they were not utilized enough to justify keeping them” at their West Portal location.
Streetsblog argues that the low level of usage was because the lockers were placed “completely out of view from the station itself or for anyone riding the train,” and notes that poorly-informed station staffers in past insisted that no bike lockers were available.
The message seems to be: thanks for biking, good luck finding the bike boxes, and, by the way, we’ve reserved the crappiest spot we could find for your bike.
Why were there no signs about the boxes in West Portal station and why were SFMTA’s own employees unaware of them? And why can’t we get a few bike boxes or racks in a more obvious location, such as, oh, I dunno–in front of the station!? Why should it be necessary to go on Google and then return to the station and hunt around for them, as I did a few months ago? And how many people would even think to look for them, if a Muni attendant tells them there’s no bike parking?
(It’s worth noting that, as of publication time, the late lockers are still listed on the SFMTA’s website, on a page hopefully headed “Seeking Bike Parking Peace of Mind? Try Our New Lockers.” Guess West Portal peace of mind was fully achieved!)
Perhaps there is hope after all. As Rose says, “We are currently doing a site and cost analysis for a secure bike parking facility at West Portal, so there could be a second attempt in the area.”
Given how swiftly the SFMTA moves on projects like this one, here’s hoping cyclists used to using the dearly departed lockers are still young enough to leave the house unassisted when the “second attempt” is made.