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Old Central Library to begin sheltering homeless

 January 5, 2023 at 5:38 PM PST

S1: The old central library will soon offer shelter.

S2: The old library , for now is set to be a temporary shelter just during the winter months of this year.

S1: I'm Jade Hindman. This is KPBS midday edition. We'll tell you about organizations across the state bringing medical care to unsheltered people.

S3: For the longest time in history , medicine , we were kind of seen as these rogue subversives , radicals who weren't part of the existing system.

S1: A look at the connection between plants and a new kind of plastic. And a conversation about the walkability of our city. That's ahead on Midday Edition. After years of being stuck in bureaucratic limbo , it appears that the old Central library in downtown San Diego will finally begin offering shelter services to the homeless later this month. The newly repurposed shelter highlights a growing need for shelter , beds and services , especially as the region contends. With another day of rain leaving unhoused residents with few options to escape the inclement weather. Joining me with more on the story is Voice of San Diego reporter Lisa Halvorson at. Lisa , welcome back to the show.

S2: Thanks for having me.

S1: So the plan to convert the central Library into a shelter has been years in the making , isn't that right ? Yes.

S2: Basically , since the old library closed in 2013 , advocates have been urging the city to consider using it as a shelter.


S2: And he purposefully included the old library , which has been talked about for many years. And this past fall , the mayor ordered city staff to actually take steps to start preparing a portion of the building to serve as a shelter. And then there was a court ruling recently that just sort of cleared the way. And I'm sure we'll talk about that a bit more in a moment.

S1: Well , I mean , can you tell us a little more about the planned operations for this soon to be shelter ? Sure.

S2: So the old library for now is set to be a temporary shelter just during the winter months of this year. Not a permanent shelter. The city hopes that it can open it by the third week of this month. And once it opens the National Alliance on Mental Illness in San Diego , a nonprofit will operate it. And they'll welcome up to 26 people to stay there each night.

S1: And there's been a pretty large presence of homeless residents around the old library. It's been that way for quite some time , isn't that right ? Yes.

S2: Dozens of people have been sleeping outside the old library for some time now. And for years , you know , people have literally on a regular basis , slept in front of the old library. And there have been so many people that are staying in that area that the city actually chose to set up some temporary restrooms there as well. All of this , of course , has only increased the calls over the years to use that old library to shelter people.


S2: But over time , as this discussion has played out , there have been many community groups and others who've said that they'd like to see the old library be used for another purpose. You know , as I'm sure many listeners are aware , lots of homeless services are currently located downtown , and there have been arguments that this facility should be used for something other than a homeless shelter.


S2: This included work on the facility , the system painting costs. And really , speaking to the challenges associated with this facility , one of the expenses that they had was a generator that they decided to rent for six months because there's been vandalism. They had left the old library without power , which , of course , you know , is a symptom of this building just sitting empty for so many years. It's been exposed to lots of vandalism and other issues over the years.

S1: And as you mentioned before , there have been a lot of obstacles in actually turning this property into a shelter. Can you give us a recap ? Yeah.

S2: So buckle in. So so for years , as I talked about , people have called for this facility to be used as a shelter. But city staff had raised a number of concerns in the past about why it could. You know , they said that there were plumbing issues , heating issues. The city , as I said , has dealt with vandalism there. But another thing that we learned about more recently that had given the city some pause was an obscure 1899 deed signed by city Father George Marston , who sold the library land to the city many , many moons ago that seemed to require the property to house a public library and a reading room. And this little known restriction essentially killed a passed redevelopment plan for the property. But just before Christmas last month , a judge officially cleared that restriction. And Gloria's office said that that made it clear that proceeding with the shelter , there wouldn't be a problem. But I think what they're even more excited about is that this also gives the city more freedom to consider a variety of other options for the property over the long haul. Without some of the complications that came up with the last project that was being eyed.

S1: And the most recent homeless count for downtown San Diego has yet again shown record numbers.

S2: In November , the group counted more than 1700 unsheltered residents downtown in areas just outside it. And in previous months of the year , that count had previously been hovering at around 1400. So the numbers have been rising and a lot of folks are very concerned. Hmm.

S1: Hmm. When we last spoke , there were concerns that San Diego would be able to adequately provide shelter for its unhoused residents this winter.

S2: Recently , the city opened a new hotel for seniors , for example , that opened during the holidays. Now , when rain and cold weather like we've been seeing recently , are forecasted and certain benchmarks are met , the city does make some additional beds available , specifically in the downtown area. So sometimes as many as 135 additional spaces for folks. But that's not an easy solution for folks to take advantage of it. People have to leave that shelter , particularly the father. Joe is one as early as 5:00 in the morning. So that adds up to , you know , you have about 1700 or so shelter beds citywide that are funded by the city. And then , you know , just over 100 or so on top of that. That does not match up with the need that's out there. Just to put a put a fine point on it. You know , during the 2020 to last year , point in time census , there were about 2500 unsheltered folks counted citywide. So put that up on a typical night. There are about 1700 beds citywide available. That's just not meeting the need. And then even when it's raining , additional beds are being added. But that still is not meeting the needs. There's still a lot of need.

S1: I've been speaking with Voice of San Diego reporter Lisa Halberstam. Lisa , thanks for talking with us.

S2: Thanks for having me.

S1: A volunteer group is providing medical care to unhoused people in Sacramento , where in 2021 , almost 200 unsheltered people died. The practice of bringing medicine to the people is taking off around the state. Cape Radio's Kate Wolfe tagged along with Sacramento Street Medicine on one of their recent rounds.

S4: I've never met anyone.

S2: A medical student , Johan Park , is hoping to follow up with a patient. The team last saw two weeks ago here at an encampment next to the American River nicknamed the island.

S4: Knock , knock. Is that comment ? Sacramento Street Medicine.

S2: Walking on a path toward the next patient's tent. The team bumps into someone on their list.

S5: You're still covered.

S4: Up and.

S2: The patient has dog bites on her forearms that are healing. And the group helps her change the gauze on them. When they say goodbye , they promise to follow up with her regarding her primary care provider or PCP. Physician assistant Anthony Monaco is the director of the team.

S5: Last time we had to do a little more extensive wound care and this time is doing very well.

S2: But Monaco knows there's more to the story.

S5: She has a very complicated medical history and could very much use extensive follow up from a PCP that hasn't seen her PCP in a few years. And so we're going to work with our patient navigator to connect the term PCP.

S2: This is the work of street medicine. It's at once straightforward gauze on the arms and complicated , grappling with years of unmanaged illness and no way of getting to the doctor's office. To solve these problems , practitioners say they need authorization to do more , refer patients , treat them for almost any malady , and prescribe medication. Brett Feldman is a physician assistant and the director of street medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

S3: We've spent the last decade or so really increasing the level of care that we can provide on the street to make it equal to what you would get in a brick and mortar clinic , Feldman says.

S2: Caring for people in their environments is crucial because unsheltered homeless people face huge barriers to going into a doctor's office or clinic.

S3: So if you don't know where you're going to sleep tonight , where the next meal is coming from , or if you're going to be safe doing those things , then you're probably not thinking about getting to your PCP visit.

S2: At the same time , unhoused people are more likely to be sick and to die early. Homeless people in Sacramento have an average life expectancy of about 50 years. That's compared to a national average of 75. But the state has begun to take notice of the work of street medics. New guidance gives street medicine practitioners more leeway with the care they provide Medi-Cal patients , including reimbursement. Feldman says it gives him hope.

S3: For the longest time in street medicine. We were kind of seen as these rogue , subversive radicals who weren't part of the existing system and in some ways kind of viewed the same way as our patients are viewed by society.

S2: Feldman suspects there are more than 40 groups operating in the state right now , and members are almost all volunteers. Rounds with Sacramento Street Medicine prove the work is time consuming and requires at least some level of funding. Feldman says it's worth it to invest.

S3: It's always cheaper to to not provide care or not provide services. At least that seems cheaper up front. But the cost is also known , and it's really the cost of our humanity and the cost of civilization.

S2: The city and county of Sacramento seem to be recognizing that there including street medicine principles in their new five year plan to address the area's homelessness crisis. In Sacramento , I'm Kate Wolf.

S1: You're listening to KPBS midday edition. I'm Jade Hyneman. Plastic waste is a huge environmental problem for the Earth and its oceans. One answer to the problem is being explored in San Diego. KPBS sci tech reporter Thomas Fudge tells us of two companies that are making new kinds of plastic.

S4: Surfer Tom Cook and I stand on a beach in Encinitas where other surfers are catching plenty of waves. It's a nice , clean beach , but plastic waste isn't far away , floating in what they call the Pacific Garbage Patch. Go elsewhere in the world , surf , Cook says. And you see a lot more stuff washed up and left on the beaches in El Salvador. It was a big rock beach.

S6: With a lot of tidal flow , and you could tell that there was some wind every day that was coming to pick up plastic bottles and flip flops. But it was just a constant flow of plastic. You know , this stuff was piled up probably like mid shin. In El Salvador , it was pretty gross.

S4: Cook isn't just a surfer. He's president of a company called Blue View Footwear that makes biodegradable sneakers. The science behind Blue View comes from their CEO , Stephen Mayfield. He's also a distinguished professor of biology at UC San Diego. Recently , Mayfield showed me his lab where pieces of the foamy material that go into his sneakers swirl in vials of liquid. The water is filled with tiny ocean organisms that are invited to eat the foam.

S7: As we're degrading our foams. We're also starting to isolate the organisms that.

S4: Biodegradable , biodegradable plastics that go into blue. View shoes are made from algae oil. Mayfield says it's ironic that ancient deposits of algae oil have become the petroleum that we mine and turn into plastic. Mayfield says scientists 70 years ago could have created degradable plastics , but in an effort to make something very durable , they didn't foresee the problem with the plastic waste stream that is now so obvious.

S7: So when we set about to redevelop these things , we said , Let's make plastics from algae , but let's make plastics that biodegrade at the end of their life , where the material has a half life that's proportional to the product.

S4: Based on their experiments , the shoes will fully degrade in soil and compost in about nine months in the ocean. It'll take about two years. The need for a new kind of plastic goes hand in hand with the overall failure of plastic recycling. Most recently , a Greenpeace report estimated only about 5% of household plastics are recycled in the United States. The San Diego company Gino has been bioengineering plant based plastics for more than 20 years. Company CEO Christoph Schilling , who got his Ph.D. at UC San Diego , says plastic recycling could work , but it requires a clean , pure stream of the same kind of plastic. That's now what you find in the typical recycling bin.

S8: To be relying on plastics recycling as the solution to our plastics waste challenges. It can be a part of the solution , but we need to come up with other alternative approaches.

S4: Geno's materials go into making nylon for apparel , and they also help to formulate cosmetics. A primary building block for their bioplastic products is sugar. Corn kernels , for instance , are packed with sugar.

S8: Our technology is being used today at the core of a $300 million capital project to build a manufacturing facility in Iowa that will take corn produce from American farmers and convert that into a large volume chemical that makes materials that we will find in a range of different products.

S4: Geno technology is being used to make biodegradable plastic bags at a plant in Italy , but many of the plastic materials geno makes from plants do not degrade. Schilling says it's unrealistic to say we can phase out non degradable plastics altogether. Mayfield , with Blue View Footwear says we can never put degradable plastic on a boat hull that's constantly exposed to water. But equally , it's.

S7: Kind of silly to make plastics that are going to last for a thousand years and then put those into a car that might last 20.

S4: Meanwhile , consumers and governments have choices to make about what kinds of plastic they will allow in the marketplace.

S1: That story was from KPBS science and technology reporter Thomas Fudge , who joins me now to open his Reporter's Notebook. And , Thomas , welcome.

S4: Thank you very much.

S1: In your story , we hear about plastics being piled up skin deep on the beach in El Salvador.

S4: They see this. And as a matter of fact , Tom , who you quoted there was once in Bali , and he said the beach was actually fairly clean because they're very good at cleaning it up. But the streams that go to the beach were just chock full of these plastic containers. But it's a huge amount of plastic that is just floating in the Pacific Ocean. And this is the problem when you have these containers that are made from a material that does not break down for hundreds of years.

S1: I mean , in listening to your story , Tom , I was struck by the line that blew you. CEO Stephen Mayfield says scientists 70 years ago could have created Degradable Plastics. I mean , but they didn't foresee the problem with the plastic waste stream that we are now living with.

S4: Yeah , that's right. They wanted to make something durable and they just didn't imagine the problem that , you know , we were going to have at this time. And so it's kind of funny because scientists created plastic and they created this problem and now scientists are trying to solve that problem. Yeah.

S1: Yeah.

S4: And by using algae , that also means that they're not reliant on petroleum. And because just mining petroleum and getting it out of the ground takes a huge amount of carbon emissions. And so they're not doing that. They're taking just a plant , in their case , algae , getting the oil out of it and then making a product. Yeah.

S1: Yeah.

S4: I mean , the bottom is , I think what you would call plastic. It is plastic. The only difference is it's degradable. This entire shoe , they say , is degradable. But in terms of its performance , it seems to do very well. And the thing about Degradable plastics is people may think , oh , geez , if I buy something made of degradable plastic , it's going to fall apart in a year. And that's simply not the case. Degradable things only degrade when they're exposed to the right conditions if they're in a compost bin or if they're out in a field being exposed to micro-organisms that eat them and water that makes them wet. So think about that cotton shirt you bought 20 years ago , and it's been hanging in your closet ever since. Has it fallen apart ? Well , you haven't worn it all that much. And so , no , it's still there. So degradable things don't degrade in sort of dry protected conditions and in conditions where they're not exposed to microorganisms. Hmm.

S1: Hmm.

S4: Yes , it can. I talked with the CEO of another company called Gino , and they do make a product that can go into biodegradable plastic bags. As a matter of fact , there's a factory in Italy where they where they do that using Gino technology. But some of those things that they make turn out to be plastic. I mean , they are chemically the same as something that is made from petrochemicals. So just because you make something from plants doesn't mean you're making something that is degradable , that takes an extra step of engineering.

S1: And so is Mayfield's idea. Recycling doesn't work. So we have to make a product that degrades on its own.

S4: Yeah , that's right. And let me tell you a little story. 30 years ago , I was a young reporter in Minnesota. You can probably guess about how old I am now. And I attended a press conference in Minneapolis where officials and people from the plastics industry were saying Minneapolis , curbside recycling is now going to start recycling plastic containers. And I remember seeing this woman smile as she crushed up a plastic gallon milk jug and put it in the correct recycling bin. That was 30 years ago. So how are we doing 30 years later ? Lots of studies , including the Greenpeace study that was mentioned in my feature show that 30 years later we are just not recycling plastics. Greenpeace says only about 5% of household plastics are recycled. So. That experiment in recycling plastics simply has not been a success. And so you've got to try something else. And what they're trying to do in San Diego is make a different kind of plastic. In the case of Blue View , it's one that degrades.


S4: First of all , there are many formulations of plastic out there. You know , when you look at a plastic water bottle and compare it to the plastic bottle that your detergent comes in , they're different colors , for one thing , and they're probably different plastic compositions. The other thing is , unless you're just putting water in a plastic container , if you're putting soda in it or food in it , then it needs to be cleaned and you need the water that is required to clean it. And that is why plastic recycling has not worked. It's just too difficult , it's too complicated and essentially too expensive.


S4: And the short answer is no. And Stephen Mayfield admits this. He told me that he would not make a boat whole out of this kind of plastic. So there are some applications where you really kind of need that old fashioned durable plastic. But think about the plastic that goes into a car. The car is only to last for about 20 years. Why do you want plastic parts in a car that are going to last for a thousand years ? So degradable plastic doesn't work for absolutely everything. But , you know , I think it works for most things. And if this is the direction we can go in , I think it's going to go a long way towards solving that plastic problem , plastic waste problem that we've been talking about.

S1: I've been speaking with KPBS science and technology reporter Thomas Fudge. Tom , thank you so much for joining us.

S4: Happy to do it , Jed.

S1: After a decade of living wild in the Griffith Park area of Los Angeles , world famous mountain lion P22 was captured and euthanized last month at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. He was in the care of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife , who determined the cat was too sick and injured to return to his Hollywood home. While in some ways P22 situation was unique. Mountain lions aren't uncommon here and they make their homes closer to ours than you might think. Here to talk about that is Dr. Winston Vickers , a wildlife research veterinarian and director of the UC Davis California Mountain Lion Project , along with Dr. Jessica Sanchez , a post-doctoral fellow at the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. Welcome to you both. Hi.

S2: Hi. Thanks for having us today.

S3: Yes , thanks for having us on.

S1: Winston , I'll start with you. After the passing of Hollywood Hills is famous Puma. P22 One of the things that struck me was I didn't realize he lived so close to people.

S3: It's not as if they are around people all the time , but they do as they wander through their normal territories or disperse from their mothers. They have to find new home and oftentimes they will in that exploration and also just a normal territorial movement. They will at times come around people. Part of that is due to our tendency to attract wildlife , actually other wildlife that may be prey for mountain lions , feeding , deer , feeding other animals can bring predators closer to people. So we do have a certain amount of of presence of mountain lions relatively close to people at certain times.

S1: And , Jessica , there are PUMAs living close to Safari Park. Right ? I mean , what do we know about them ? Yeah.

S2: So the sample Squaw Valley , where the safari park is located , is actually an agricultural preserve , and it's adjacent to a lot of other large areas of land that are conserved and protected. And the San Diego Zoo Safari Park actually includes the 900 acre biodiversity reserve that's part of a network of protected areas. And so Dr. Vickers and UC Davis have been monitoring mountain lions in this area for several decades now. And we're just now starting to call our mountain lions in our own backyard to kind of get updated information on how they're using the landscape in those connected areas.

S1: And Winston , you directed a video series on mountain lions. Not only do they live close to people , they also live all over the state in deserts and mountains in Hollywood.

S3: For one thing , they prey on everything from from small animals like wood rats all the way up to deer , although they're their prominent prey. And what provides most of their food are our mule deer. And we have deer all over the state in all kinds of different areas , including right up in , you know , suburban yards and so forth. So since the food is there , they they are pretty flexible at finding it. They are cats. And so they are pretty flexible animals. And they're also good at avoiding some of the hazards of being around people because they're so good at at staying relatively hidden in the deserts. They have to roam over much larger areas to find adequate food. But they can still exist out there.


S2: And we monitor them in several different ways. We use collars that allow us to look at their locations. It's usually not in real time , but we can look back and see what kind of habitat they've been using. We also look at their genetics by using scat and hair that we collect from the environment and trail cameras that we put out on the landscape. And we remotely can get images and video of them and see how the areas that they're using , but also some of their behaviors.


S3: Some individuals can exist as real neighbors of humans. Others , however , are totally out in the habitat. Hardly ever interact with humans or come close to humans. So that whole variability of their ability to survive is is , I think , one of the more interesting things. But one thing that that we found early on in our study was how often they died and that they had relatively low survival rates for animals that are not hunted there. Their survival rates are are oftentimes in some populations as low as and hunted populations or even lower. In other states , they are hunted , but they are not hunted in California. So that was quite surprising to us that they had so much difficulty surviving in those areas where they interact with people. And that's because of being hit by cars and being killed when they possibly kill a domestic animal that's not adequately protected. So they have a lot more challenges than I expected them to have.

S2: I think an important point to make is that people may have the perception that mountain lions are around a lot , and that may be true , but in a lot of cases , we never know that they're there. They're existing on the landscape with us peacefully and never causing problems. And so that's been an interesting part of the research , is to see how they're trying to coexist with us in the limited amount of habitat that we're leaving them. And most of the time they're not causing any trouble at all.


S2: I think that we all , all of us researchers agree that that's outdated and needs to be updated. And there are people actively working on that right now to get us some some new numbers in.

S1: This question is for both of you. I mean , there seems to be danger and wildlife living close to people and people living close to wildlife.

S2: And so some things that we can definitely do to address those are things like wildlife crossings , wildlife fencing along our highways to keep animals off of the highway. But we also need to help protect our livestock and our domestic animals to prevent that conflict that leads to mountain lions being killed under depredation permits. And there's ways to build enclosures for your animals. Bring them in at night. There are groups like the Mountain Lion Foundation that have really great information on their websites for Owners of animals. But I think , you know , that's a responsibility that we have as animal owners to protect our animals and it's going to cascade down and also help protect mountain lions and other wildlife.

S3: And to your question about how do we protect people ? Awareness is a big thing when hiking , not letting children run out ahead of parents or not let letting more susceptible individuals , perhaps or attractive individuals to the eye of a mountain lion be out there on their own ? The statistical likelihood of an attack is incredibly low. It's it's lower than being hit by lightning or being attacked by a shark. For instance , if you swim in the ocean so that the likelihood you're incredibly low. Nevertheless , attacks do occur and that the best study that's been done of the phenomenon by Mattson and Logan a number of years ago that looked back over around 100 years , they found that the risk factors for attack were primarily small stature and rapid movement. And so that sort of defines kids. And so we should all be especially attentive and keep kids close when out hiking and just be aware of surroundings and know what to do if encountering a mountain lion.

S1: I've been speaking with Dr. Jessica Sanchez , postdoctoral fellow and San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance , and Dr. Winston Vickers , wildlife research veterinarian and director of the UC Davis California Mountain Lion Project. Thank you so much to both of you for joining us today.

S2: Thanks so much. We're happy to be here. Yeah.

S3: Yeah. Thanks for having us.

S1: You're listening to KPBS Midday edition. I'm Jade Hindman. In its 2022 Climate Action Plan , San Diego announced a goal to reach carbon neutrality by the year 2035. For that to happen , it will need to make major strides to become less dependent on cars to get around. In his book , Walkable City How Downtown Can Save America One Step at a Time. Author and city planner Jeff Speck makes the case for transforming America's cities away from cars toward a more walkable future. He has now published an updated 10th anniversary edition of his bestselling book with More Lessons for Cities. Jeff , welcome to Midday Edition.

S4: Hey , thanks for having me.

S1: So you have called cars the central problem of American life.

S4: I had subscriptions to car and driver and road and track. And I could I could name every car from the school bus. That was , I think , my my special skill as a child. But the more that I've studied cities and the more that I've worked in cities , the more I've realized that not not banning cars , but putting the car in its place , not allowing the car to dictate the shape of the city is the key factor in how livable and how healthy cities are.

S1: And in your book , you write about Rome and how it really shouldn't be a walkable city , yet it is considered one of the top , walkable cities in the world.

S4: And if people are going to make the choice to walk , the walk has to be as good as the drive. And that means actually , according to my general theory of walkability , which is a bit of a joke , but it's very researched. It has to do four things simultaneously. It has to be useful , safe , comfortable and interesting. What makes Rome amazing is that it violates a lot of the rules about what makes for a easily walkable , certainly an accessible sort of streetscape. But the fabric , you know , what surrounds the streets is so darn useful and so comfortable and so interesting that everyone makes the choice to walk there because it's just so , so darn delightful. I think when it comes to American cities , it's much more important to focus , as I do professionally and certainly in walkable city and in this new update to walkable city , specifically in that safety category. Because what we get so wrong in the U.S. in so many places is designing streets for safe walking and safe driving.

S1: It's been ten years since your book was originally released.

S4: But the chapter in Walkable city that I knew I was going to have to rewrite was probably the cycling chapter , because that's where the most advancement has been happening the quickest all over the country , not just in the usual suspect , you know , leafy liberal places , but we've been adding bike lanes all over the U.S.. And the technology , you're probably aware the quality of the bike lane , the advent of the protected bike lane , the buffered bike lane , bike lanes that are called low stress facilities where you don't really feel endangered when you're riding your bike in traffic. That's been the thing that we've seen landing on the streets of many American cities. We can do a lot better , but that's been an impressive change.

S1: Well , you know , when I moved here to San Diego five years ago , one of the things that I noticed was that there wasn't really any infrastructure for bikes. And that was surprising given the good year round weather that we do have. I know that one major focus for the City of San Diego recently has been adding separate bike lanes. Its latest effort is happening in the Convoy District , a very car centric part of San Diego.

S4: You know , when one cyclist hits one pedestrian , it runs in the headlines for a week. Of course , cars are the real threat to pedestrians , not bikes. And when you have a city that welcomes biking , people are making the choice then perhaps to drive a bit less and to instead switch over to that biking , transit , walking lifestyle. You know , when a bike network is truly useful , when you can get where you need to go across the city on a bike , that's when people make the choice. And I'm encourage that you use the word infrastructure because , you know , people talk about culture and they talk about how people bike in certain places and don't bike in other places. What we found is that is that biking culture follows biking infrastructure. There's nothing different about people in different places that determines whether they're going to bike or not. In fact , weather and topography , whether you're hilly or not , have a much smaller impact than you would think. You know , more people bike in hilly San Francisco than in Flat Los Angeles. And of course , some of the best biking places are winter communities. But when you build that infrastructure , that's when you generate the biking culture. And and the frustrating thing is that you can build a lot of it. But if it if it isn't enough to form a useful network , then you won't see that change in behavior. But at some point you crossed that threshold. Suddenly biking is useful and that's when you get the population.

S1: And you focused a bit more on that biking , that cycling and this updated version of your book.

S4: Really came home to roost. The biggest one I think that pertains to San Diego is that , you know , the typical street in San Diego , especially downtown San Diego , is not a safe street. The lanes are too wide. They're probably 11 or 12 feet wide instead of ten feet wide , which is the standard. Remarkably , and this is something that we've been fixing all over the country , they present themselves in this one way pair system. I'm sure you're well familiar. A lot of the streets in downtown San Diego are multi-lane one way streets. One thing that about 85 different American cities have done , and I've probably worked on about six of them myself , is converting these high speed multi-lane , you know , jockeying from lane to lane one way systems back to two way city after city are doing this. And when they do it crashes and injury crashes drop precipitously. So that's something that you could definitely do in San Diego. The other thing that's really changed in ten years and I didn't really have the courage of my convictions ten years ago , but now we have a lot more data is that when you replace signalized intersections , intersections with signals , with stop signs , then the crashes dropped precipitously. In fact , severe pedestrian injury crashes dropped by 68% when you replace a signal with an always stop sign. And if you think about it , it makes sense because , you know , no one's ever speeding through an all way stop sign unless they are dramatically breaking the law , whereas people are speeding through signalized intersections all the time to beat the red , or just because that green light is an invitation to speed after waiting at the previous signal. The one thing I would add to that , contrary to people's expectation , is that when you replace signals with stop signs in a downtown , you can actually drive through the downtown more quickly. You're traveling slower , but you actually get through the city faster because you're never sitting at a light.


S4: I work in cities as transit friendly as Boston , where I live or as transit unfriendly as Oklahoma City , where where they say you're never going to get the cowboy off of his horse and you are able to make changes in any of these places. It isn't an on off switch. It isn't that you either have a walkable city or you don't. The question is how walkable is your city ? Are some people able to perhaps lose one car per family or some people maybe have no cars per family ? But the more people you have walking , biking and taking transit and the fewer people you have driving , the more productive economy you're going to have , the higher GDP you're going to have , you know , the statistical correlations are so strong between walkability and almost any measure that you can consider in terms of a city's success. You know , more patents per capita , you know , higher GDPs , more creativity , healthier , slimmer populations. You know , a study was done in San Diego that found out that 60% of residents in a low , walkable neighborhood were overweight , compared to only 35% of residents in a high , walkable neighborhood. And you find that nationally our cities aren't so much different from each other as parts of cities are different from each other. The more car dependent part of a city is , the less healthy the people are going to be , the worse the air quality is going to be.


S4: But on a street by street , neighborhood by neighborhood basis , it is just so important to design the streets for the speeds which you want the vehicles to travel. And that's a fundamental difference between the U.S. and Europe. You know , we have these Vision Zero policies where the goal is to have zero traffic deaths per year. And in certain countries , like certain cities like Oslo and Stockholm , they actually have zero traffic pedestrian deaths last year. I mean , it's astounding. In the U.S. you have hundreds. In fact , I read that 294 pedestrians were killed in traffic collisions in San Diego last year. That's an incredibly high amount. And the reason is that in Europe , they determine how fast they want cars to go and they design streets then to only allow drivers to feel comfortable when they're driving at speed. One other final thing. You have this new statewide mandate in California where , you know , local municipalities are losing the ability to make choice about providing new housing. It's becoming state , state mandated. These are a good step. I support these. However , in the absence of good planning , they're really dangerous because you can end up with some really bad and ugly and socially unfriendly buildings. There's another technology called form based codes , which replace the typical statistical base and zoning based codes that we have in our cities , with actually describing the shapes of buildings and how they meet the street and how friendly they are to the sidewalk and where the parking goes. These form based codes are taking over the country , applying new housing mandates that might come from above with the idea that you can shape that growth and make it as of right. You can build a building here tomorrow if it fits this , if it fits this shape based on this code. That's a great way to engineer a future that's much healthier , wealthier , walkable and livable.

S1: I've been speaking with Jeff Speck , author of Walkable City How Downtown Can Save America One Step at a Time. An updated ten year anniversary edition is out now. And , Jeff , thank you so much for joining us.

S4: Hey , it's really been my pleasure. Thanks for covering this really important topic.

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After years of being stuck in bureaucratic limbo, it appears that the old Central Library in Downtown San Diego will begin offering shelter services to the homeless later this month. Then, a volunteer group is providing medical care to unhoused people in Sacramento, where in 2021, almost 200 unsheltered people died. The practice of bringing medicine to the people is taking off around the state. Next, plastic waste is a huge environmental problem for the earth and its oceans. One answer to the problem is being explored in San Diego. Then, while in some ways the world-famous Hollywood-dwelling mountain lion, P-22 was unique, mountain lions aren’t uncommon here and they make their homes closer to humans than you might think. Finally, we talk to Jeff Speck, author of, “Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time” about  efforts to transform America’s cities away from cars, toward a more walkable future.