David Baker Architects

Making Less Space for Cars, More Space for People

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by Kristen Steele
Momentum Magazine
November 2008

Image: Dustin Jensen.

The ground level of 145 Taylor Street in San Francisco is home to a lush courtyard with a planted tree, ferns, and a reflecting pool. The basement has 6,000 square feet of office space for a local non-profit. The rooftop features an outdoor deck, laundry facility, citrus trees, and a community garden with individual planters for residents' use. None of this would have been possible had architect David Baker not convinced the city to allow him to forgo inclusion of car parking in the design.

This might seem like a crazy idea in the US, where most places require at least two parking spaces per unit for new developments. But in the case of this 67-unit affordable housing project, where most residents don't have a car, it made sense. A number of Baker's projects defy convention by being "car parking lite," having unbundled parking (buyers can purchase parking separate from the housing unit), or no parking at all. According to Baker, requiring parking drives up project costs, reduces the number of units (and thus density), and increases congestion. Also, reducing parking means more space for people—like his signature courtyards and community spaces.

While more and more builders are jumping on the "green building" bandwagon, Baker has long been leading the parade. Founder of San Francisco-based David Baker + Partners—an award-winning firm that designed the city's first LEED-certified building—he is known for his urban design sensibilities, open spaces, and innovative parking strategies.

But most unique is the perspective he brings from his car-free lifestyle and membership in cycling's "cult" (his term).

Designing bike parking is tricky, he says. "Most architects, because they're not cyclists, have trouble doing it well." You have to consider visitor parking, think outdoor bike racks; semi-secure and accessible parking: such as in a garage, and bike parking rooms with numbered spaces and a shared key. "If you build 200 units right now you'd probably have close to 200 bikes—a lot of people have more than one bike. 200 bikes, that takes up quite a bit of space."

Baker's transportation philosophy extends to his own workplace where he offers secure bike parking and a shower, and gives monthly gift certificates to employees who walk, bike, or take transit to work. Fifteen out of twenty people in the office qualify. He's also had to install more bike parking for clients and consultants who visit the office. Parties at his office, which include fundraisers for local biking and walking advocacy causes, have valet bike parking for the hundreds of bikes that show up. And one of the newest of his 12 bicycles is a Dutch bakfiets, which he uses to transport boards and models to meetings.

About the future, Baker is generally optimistic. He sees a big change from his early days of bicycling to work, when his partners and clients would ask if he was having marital problems or feeling ill. Public perception towards his "parking lite" projects is shifting too. "It used to be you would go to a planning commission meeting and there'd be 200 neighbours for a four-unit building with four parking spaces, and they'd be screaming for the blood of anyone who'd impose this horrendous life-sucking blight upon them, and no one testifying for it. And now, we just had a hearing for an affordable housing project and had 200 people testifying FOR it."

He sees progress being made to reduce and in some cases eliminate parking requirements. San Francisco recently created parking maximums in some areas of the city and this seems to be spreading to other places. Of San Francisco, he says, "We're a leadership place which has tremendous influence on California, the country, and the world. We have a duty to be progressive."

Image: Dustin Jensen.