What We Observed and Learned
Our objective over the last week was to standardize a methodology for the mapping analysis of one transit system in one county: SamTrans in San Mateo County. We were able to use GIS to isolate the Communities of Concern (CoC) within the 3-mile buffer of the Caltrain, defined as having access in the context of our project. We observed hotspots in the incidence of CoC with access to Caltrain located near San Jose (in the south bay), around East Palo Alto, and Eastern San Francisco. It is also of note that multiple communities in Gilroy and Morgan Hill appeared in our analysis -- their geographic isolation could factor into a future analysis. However because they fall outside of the service area of Samtrans, Muni, and VTA, we are unlikely to engage with them during this initial pass.
We’ve also identified that many of the topics from readings and lectures are extremely relevant to our work with Friends of Caltrain and Seamless Bay Area. In Dr. Tien’s lecture, we discussed the ethical concerns surrounding some types of research and the beneficiaries of official research. Along these lines, we also analyzed some case studies which seemed to operate under good will but actually had some aspects that were morally questionable under the guise of research. This lens carries over into our work with the Caltrain scheduling. More specifically, we are reminded of the Moving Silicon Valley Forwards reading from Week 1, which highlight relevant questions about ridership, showing that “the VTA bus system has nearly 75 percent of its ridership from communities of color but receives only $8.16 of public subsidy per passenger. In contrast, Caltrain has only 40 percent riders of color and receives nearly twice the subsidies ($15.49 per passenger trip)” (9). Coupled with some initial mapping that shows that the majority of CoC’s are clustered in the East Bay where Caltrain doesn’t reach, this project doesn’t seem to allocate research about public transit ridership in the right places in the Bay Area. However, we also recognize that one of our community partners, Friends of Caltrain, focuses just on Caltrain and the surrounding public transit options, but this question of where our research efforts are going is worth exploring in further detail as we progress with this project.
With regard to research ethics, we also acknowledge that we are undertaking in a kind of analysis that does not engage directly with the people we are studying. However, the recommendations that result from our analysis will likely need to be substantiated through field research down-the-line. Those researchers must be accountable to the current and future transit riders they will work with, guiding their research as well by the desires of those subjects; our final report will reiterate this.
Last week Adina had mentioned that SamTrans and Caltrain issued a response to the Grand Jury report about the action they are going to take toward synchronization of transit schedules. We received these documents from Adina and read them to get a better idea about what these plans look like.
Our current understanding of the project is as follows: once we create the new GIS layers of CoC with access to Caltrain, we need to see how these areas overlap with factors that impact access (e.g. protected bike lanes, street lights, disability access, etc). Based on our phone call on Friday with Adina and Ian, we have a good understanding of what types of recommendations we should be making. By looking at this overlap, we will be able to understand where barriers to Caltrain access are most prevalent and what geographies the recommendations are for.
Update on Project Activities
Following our meeting with Adina and Ian last week, we received more information about which areas to pursue with analysis on arcGIS. In this discussion, Adina narrowed down the scale of our project. Since then, we’ve compiled a series of layers on GIS that would align with Adina’s goals: neighborhoods, parks, cities, counties, SamTrans stops located in communities of concern, and all Caltrain stations. We have also brought in other layers that we hope will help us draw out potential barriers to Caltrain access: availability and quality of bike routes, street lighting, and altitude changes. Ian referenced “isochrone” mapping (how far can someone get in x minutes via a certain mode of transport), and we have found tools that will help us use this technique to assess access in other terms than simple Euclidean distance. Finding data layers is harder than anticipated, because transit operators/city governments/advocacy organizations between the three counties we are working in differ greatly in the format, quantity, and quality of data they provide. Nevertheless, we can start our analysis with partial data (we do not need to know about streetlights to analyze bikeability).
A majority of this week’s time was spent installing ArcGIS on each team members’ computers and beginning to familiarize ourselves with how to use it. This step, which should have been relatively simple, resulted in lots of frustration - we’ve run into license authentication errors and had trouble installing Windows on MacBooks (Windows is the only supported operating system for ArcGIS), among other small logistical conflicts. We hope to make up time this week after re-orienting ourselves with the project through a call with our community partners, Ian and Adina.
We have also been working on our Project Scope of Work, which will primarily draw upon the first timeline we included in Reflection #1 and the project outline provided by the course. We hope to finish the first draft by Monday so we can ask our community partners for feedback before the deadline.
As with any collaborative project, scheduling has been a challenge for our team meetings. With our busy schedules, there are few times when we are all available to meet, which has resulted in some members missing the meetings altogether. Of course, we keep each other up to date on any project developments and important information from our community partners, but it would be best if all members could be present to add to the discussions. For this week, in particular, there was also the occurrence of a religious holiday, which meant one member was unavailable to work on the project that day. This was not detrimental, but with limited time for the project, timeliness is key.
Another challenge we have been facing is that we are still unclear about the types of recommendations we should be making with regards to transportation, infrastructure, and other related subjects. Although we have begun to narrow down the GIS layers we should be compiling, we still have to think about which direction we want to follow when we analyze the data. There are many factors involved in transportation access and in determining communities of concern, so we need to further narrow down our scope of work to ensure our project is manageable. This also brings up the question of whether or not we are doing some type of scheduling analysis with SamTrans, Caltrain, and the other transportation networks. An in-depth analysis of how these schedules line up or don’t line up with the needs of the Communities of Concern would be very time consuming and push beyond the scope of the project’s purpose, but some scheduling analysis could be beneficial for informing our recommendations.
There is also the problem with making assumptions about the factors involved in our analyses. For example, what can we safely assume about the population data without creating a false image of the communities of concern? What can we safely extrapolate or deduce from the data that is representative of the communities we are examining?
One interesting observation we also made in the past week was that there seemed to be a significant number of communities of concern in the East Bay between Richmond and Hayward - areas served more directly by BART than by Caltrain. This would be interesting to investigate as time permits, but it may be work for future groups since our project is mainly focused on Caltrain and the local bus systems working around it.
What We Observed and Learned
The Grand Jury Report serves as the de facto guiding document and provides the background and justification for embarking on our project. The Report established that although SamTrans provides a fixed-route, bus transit network for San Mateo County of which 16 routes connect or terminate at Caltrain stations, these routes are not well-coordinated with the scheduled train arrival and departure times--this despite the two systems being operated by group, according to our conversation with Ian Griffiths on Monday. After speaking with Adina on Friday, we learned that SamTrans and Caltrain have responded to the Grand Jury Report and claim to be working on this issue. Our job through this project is to collect data and create maps that can be helpful in terms of decision making. Reading the Report prompted us to develop numerous discussion and investigation points, namely: 1) why only 3% of Caltrain commuters utilize SamTrans for their first/last mile trips, 2) why routes designated as “Caltrain Connectors” do not actually connect with trains, 3) how to manipulate existing resources (buses, scheduling gaps, etc.) to optimize the current system to provide better connections.
“Moving Silicon Valley Forward” was an eye-opening report that exposed the commuting difficulties, especially of minority populations, along the Peninsula and in the Bay Area. It concluded that, among other mandates, that transit in the Bay Area must improve to fit the needs of such commuters in order to lessen the impacts of pollution and traffic congestion. As the primary heavy rail system in the Peninsula, Caltrain is poised to reduce this congestion but only if other systems are coordinated to maximize its effectiveness. This reading allowed us to get a better understanding of the profile of those we are attempting to assist with the project, and the real impacts we might have. This issue is real and happening right now, as we observed through group members recounting their own experiences connecting through public transit in the Bay Area.
In our conversations with Ian Griffiths, we also discussed Bay Area transit and how it consists of nearly 30 separate, uncoordinated systems--a network that Ian hopes to integrate into one, functioning network via the work of Seamless Bay Area. In essence, the Bay Area is unique in this regard of so many systems serving their own purposes. San Mateo County alone has the Valley Transportation Authority, SamTrans, and Caltrain as the three major transit providers--and that’s not counting the amalgamation of smaller, local providers in the region. This fragmentation is something we hope to assist with mitigating along with organizations like Friends of Caltrain and Seamless Bay Area.
Update on Project Activities
Our first order of business was to exchange contact information and create a system for sharing information and dividing up work. After getting acquainted and sharing our backgrounds and skills, we created a Google Team Drive that will house all our documents and files. We then (luckily!) were able to set a weekly group meeting time for Thursdays at 5pm.
At our first meeting in class on Monday September 30th, we were joined by one of our community partners, Ian Griffith from Seamless Bay Area. He spoke about policy reform, grassroots movements to integrate transit systems, and reiterated data that only 12% of Bay Area commuters ride transit, whereas 75% drive. We did a thought exercise where we brainstormed reasons why people might not be using SamTrans buses to connect to Caltrain, based off personal experiences using public transportation in the area, and focused on missed opportunities and barriers that prevent Caltrain riders from accessing SamTrans. We then went over the project description and deliverables together. Ian suggested that we each go out and try to make a connecting with public transportation over the next week and ask other riders what their experiences were along that particular routes.
At our first team meeting on Thursday October 4th, we began working on Reflection #1, reviewed the Project Scope of Work assignment, and came up with questions to ask Adina and Ian the following day. During our Zoom call on Friday, we got acquainted with Adina and were updated on SamTrans’ and Caltrain’s responses to the Grand Jury Report. We then went over next steps and project expectations with Adina. After getting all our questions answered, we feel comfortable about the scope of our work. We will be meeting with our community partners again next week, when we will be able to gain their feedback on our initial data collection and analysis.
We have also set up the computation foundation of our project: team members have installed the ArcGIS suite and system for sharing data over our Google drive. We have compiled a set of data layers to assist in our mapping analysis. So far, these include Caltrain centerline and station locations, preliminary mapping of the Bay Area with Communities of Concern, and SamTrans routes.
Critical Analysis/Moving Forward
Speaking with Adina and Ian on Friday allowed us to define our goal for this project, immediate scope of work, and expectations for our deliverables. Our goal is to make recommendations about improvements to transit connections and for active transportation. We will summarize the recommendations on an interactive website, though we currently do not know exactly what these visuals will look like. Ian will help us decide the best way to visualize these transit recommendations and communicate the issue.
While the project description states identifying Communities of Concern within a 3-mile radius of SamTrans, VTA, SFMTA, BART Bus/Light Rail/Heavy Rail Stations, we decided to first focus on access to SamTrans Caltrain Connection bus routes in San Mateo. Adina told us to first establish a methodology for the mapping analysis: creating the maps, analyzing the data, creating the visuals, and presenting recommendations for just one transit system (e.g. SamTrans and Caltrain in San Mateo). We will then work incrementally and carry out the same methodology for the other transit systems and, if time allows, expand the scope of our work to Santa Clara County and San Francisco. Once we know how long the entire methodology takes for one transit system, we can create a schedule for the rest of the quarter to carry out additional analysis and recommendations. Adina also suggested using this first mapping exercise to determine which specific routes it might be interesting to try out as field work and interview riders.
We are currently scheduling a meeting next week with both community partners, during which we will go over our Project Scope of Work and assess any roadblocks related to the mapping analysis of SanTrans Caltrain Connection buses. We also hope to use this meeting to discuss the best data visualization practices.
As we start to establish the relevant metrics we need for determining transportation access, we need to find GIS files for those metrics in Bay Area cities. We need to be able to find quality GIS files, but they may not be the easiest to find. Since this project relies on the use of ArcGIS in order to determine our recommendations for changes in current Bay Area transportation systems, it is important that we all have an adequate understanding of how the software works. As of now, we are at varying levels of experience which we will need to improve upon throughout the quarter to ensure we create high-quality deliverables. Our current individual experience with ArcGIS are as follows:
* Brandon: I have no experience with ArcGIS or mapping software.
* AJ: Currently in ESS 164 (Fundamentals of GIS).
* Allan: While working with the City of San Jose, I used arGIS to map out gang-related crime around the City. However, this involvement with arcGIS is very minimal and doesn’t relate well to the work done in this project.
* Lilla: I’ve used ArcGIS once before for a research project and am currently in ESS 164 (Fundamentals of GIS).
* Ken: I have used ArcGIS previously in a public works internship, but it was mostly set up for me and I simply added and edited layers.
After we establish our mapping analysis protocol for the first transit system, we will need to replicate it for other systems. How many we are able to analyze over the course of the quarter will depend on how intensive the process (from data collection to presenting recommendations) is, and thus we are not sure what we will accomplish in this short timeframe. Adina told us that the more systems the merrier, but to focus on the quality of recommendations and working incrementally. Regarding recommendations for improving equitable Caltrain analysis, we are also unsure what form this should take: should we be highlighting simply areas that need work or recommend specific changes to routes?
Update on Project Activities
Our week mainly consisted of beginning our final report and conducting data analysis. Justin led some of the more formal statistical analysis, and Katie worked on the literature review while we all had a chance to look through the data. We finished up a first draft of the report and sent it over to the community partners early today morning, and we are awaiting their comments over the weekend. With so much data collected, we were having trouble choosing what to highlight, but we tried covering the important baseline goals, as one of the starting reasons for our project was to show Menlo Park that it is not an exception to the trends of unaffordability and deficient housing supply in the Bay Area.
What We Observed and Learned
One of the greatest learning experiences is the difficulty of civic engagement. Initially, we aimed to conduct 100 surveys but we were only able to capture 81. In total, we conducted around ten 2-3 hour canvass shifts with shifts ranging from 2-3 people from the group canvassing. While our primary audience for the survey were service workers in the downtown area of Menlo Park, we were often unable to survey folks we wanted to represent in our findings. Many of these workers did not have time and space to fill out the surveys. We had several initial thoughts: there might be people who don’t speak English, know how to use iPad technology, or feel disincentivized by our survey. To address these issues we created both English and Spanish surveys, created paper versions of the survey, and announced to folks we were canvassing so that if they left their email, they would automatically be entered for a raffle for a $25 gift card of their choice. However, we think there are still a lot of different ways we could have creatively promote civic engagement and designed with their needs in mind.
This has made us think a lot about how to design civic engagement; in class, we learned about the case study in San Francisco’s Chinatown and how unique techniques and approaches were taken in order to design with the audience in mind, like by using the toy cars to illustrate how traffic flow would change with the sidewalk adjustments. If we were to do this again, we would want to reevaluate how we approach canvassing and use creative techniques in order to engage the audience that we were unable to capture in this round of canvassing. Some of these techniques include having a digital component for reaching people and collecting data. We potentially could have collected more responses if we had city support for collecting data and gauge the need for affordable housing and public transportation options.
We would also allot more time to data analysis. With break and the extra week of canvassing, our data analysis time and ability to translate that into a report got shortened. Trying to get project components moving a little faster at the beginning to allow for more time on the deliverables would have been be ideal, but we are still feeling good about our work for the constraints.
Critical Analysis/Moving Forward
We each discuss a personal example of an “aha” moment in our project.
Yesenia: While canvassing in Safeway, I learned how difficult it is to reach some of the people we wish to hear from the most. As the class readings and lectures revealed, minorities are among those who are heavily impacted by inaccessible housing and transportation policies. They constitute a large part of the workforce in Menlo Park, and while roughly 45% of the people we surveyed were hispanic or black, I would have appreciated greater opportunities to speak with more workers who were of this background. Menlo Park is also mainly white and Asian in terms of demographics, so the workers coming from underrepresented racial backgrounds are not only comprising much of the workforce, but are also part of the huge flux of employees commuting long distances to get to work. At Safeway, the manager on shift was very reluctant to let us talk to the workers, as he paid them by the minute. In the future, it would be great to have more time to talk to the workers and gather more testimonials, even from non-english speaking ones, because their voices are historically silenced or ignored.
Shikha: When we started off our project, I thought quantitative data was the goal. However, in having conversations through our canvassing experience, I realized how much more valuable the personal stories and testimonies were. People discussed watching their community change beyond recognition, from having to commute two hours on public transportation to wasting a quarter tank of gas in traffic - these individualized reactions went far beyond our initial survey. Our very first survey respondent highlighted just how unforgiving Silicon Valley can be. A manager at McDonald’s, the respondent worked in technology until he lost his role without much warning with the onset of new technology companies. He now lives in a house with 11 people while travelling on 3 buses to get to work. His story felt unfair in many ways, and it instantly made me empathize with our respondents and realize how formative transportation/housing issues are for life satisfaction as well as the role of big technology companies in causing these inequities. I am still so grateful that our respondents trusted us with their stories.
Justin: Perhaps my greatest takeaway was talking to an employee at Trader Joe’s. He was describing how hard it is to live in such an expensive area, despite the fact that he had lived there his entire life. He said that this was no place to raise a family, which is a strong indicator of unsustainability if an area is not suitable for the next generation. The stocker at the store was an especially friendly and outspoken person, and I really sympathized with him in his situation. He said he was fortunate enough to live with his parents who had a house in East Palo Alto for a long time, but not all are so fortunate.
Homeownership has been a major element of the American Dream since the 1950s, and it is clear that people place a huge amount of value and pride in their homes. Thus, when people cannot own homes, it is not just a problem of shelter, but also identity, as people miss out on a core element of our societal identity. Though property owners may not have a negative duty to provide housing, it is important to allow a city to be open to all types of people. Long-term residents may not have a right per se to live in an area, but they do have a strong claim, and society should respect an individual’s roots and promote continuity of communities, as a place of living is more than just the shelter it provides.
Michelle: My biggest learning moment was while canvassing at Safeway. I approached a woman stocking the beauty aisle and describe our project. At first, she was reluctant to talk because she was wary of her manager’s watch. But she continued stocking the shelves and sneaking in conversation about her struggles with housing: how she had to sell her car to afford to live in her mobile home in East Palo Alto, how her kids are the first thing she thinks of when she makes these decisions. It showed me how important these issues are to these workers, and how willing people are to talk about things that matter to them. I’m so glad we’re able to give these people a voice through our report.
Sarah: My biggest learning moment happened during canvassing early on in the quarter. I had entered a hair salon on Santa Cruz avenue and was greeted by the cleaning staff, one of whom was working on cleaning up a pile of dust and hair that had accumulated by the door. Instead of the usual look of wariness that I expected to find after a couple interviews, she seemed excited to talk to me, and had many opinions and stories. One story has stuck with me. She described a day in her life-- namely her commute to and from work. She spoke of the struggles she faces in affording to ride public transportation as well as the time it takes for her commute because of the distances she has to cover to get to work every day. In order to get to work on time, she has to wake up at 5:30am to start a long slew of public transportation connections, leaving behind her husband ,children, and dog. To me, it was one of the more shocking things to hear; though I had seen the numbers and statistics, I had never connected a face and a family to them. In that interaction, I learned empathy at a much greater level, and I learned that behind each point of data, there is a life and a story and that these are all important ones to hear. I never expected to have such a profound experience and takeaway like that, but increasingly I see the value that community-based learning and work holds, and how it can completely change someone’s perspective in just a conversation. Going into the future, I will remind myself to seek empathy in my endeavors, and work to always try to find positive human connection behind the work that I do.
Katie: One big takeaway that I have from this project is that transportation and housing issues are inherently linked and when we think about redesigning spaces in the Bay Area, we have to think about the ways and modes these two are connected. When I was canvassing in Safeway, I talked to the night manager. He told me that he originally lived in Redwood City, but could no longer afford to live there anymore so now he is located in further into the East Bay where housing is cheaper, but his commute is much longer. This was the case for many workers that we talked to and exemplifies how low-income members of the Bay Area are disproportionately impacted by environmental justice issues on top of being pushed out due to gentrification. Another moment was when I was talking to a worker at a restaurant and he told me that he wanted to take public transportation, but there were many barriers in place that prevented him. For example, he lived in a different county than he worked in and the bus lines do not connect from county to county, so he would have to get off and pay the fair again in order to reach his destination. Our fragmented public transport system makes it difficult for people who rely on it to get to the places they work and live. Through this project, I was able to engage with communities members on topics that we had learned about in class. My biggest takeaway is how to incorporate empathy into civic engagement and how to think about survey design with the most vulnerable and marginalized mind.
Update on Project Activities
On Tuesday, Shikha, Yesenia, and Justin met to collect more surveys and bring us closer to the Menlo Together goal of 100 surveys. We canvassed for 1.5 hours, targeting both stores we had already canvassed before, during different work days/hours, and new stores that we had not seen. Justin thought that we should especially focus on Trader Joe’s, as it has many workers in a centralized spot, but the manager said we could not interview workers inside of the store. Yesenia and Justin visited other stores along Escondido road. In total, we collected 7 surveys. Meanwhile on campus, the team met during class on Wednesday in the d.school to start working on final deliverables and sorting through the collected data.
What We Observed and Learned
Shikha, Yesenia, Justin: For the last shift, Justin and Yesenia planned to go to Trader Joe’s, where our group has previously had success, to cover a different shift. Justin talked to the manager, and he did not want us there, despite the fact that it was an off time for them, and a week ago, a different manager told our group to come back at this time. To fill the shift, we had to find alternative places to canvas. Justin and Yesenia walked down El Camino and Escondido Road to any small businesses that had been missed by previous shifts. As this was our last shift, we had already covered the easier businesses. In most of the small businesses, there are not many workers, and the workers present are busy, so these are hard to canvas. We went to Safeway and were permitted to survey, but every worker was busy. In total we received 7 responses (we struck out many times). However, after this experience, we came to the conclusion that we have covered all of the businesses that were willing to talk, serving as a natural end to our study. This is useful information for our survey because it shows that we represent Menlo Park businesses to the extent that is possible.
Justin: During our Wednesday meeting at the d.school, I “cleaned” the data so that it is in a format that we can study. This involved creating dummy variables for the modes of transportation and incentives people would want for public transportation.
Sarah: Even though I did not canvas this week due to sickness, I worked on starting to fill out the final write up during class on Wednesday and work on the weekly reflection remotely.
Critical Analysis/Moving Forward
Shikha, Yesenia, Justin: At Applewood pizza, one of the workers declined to fill out the survey, stating “Oh, I know none of that” in Spanish. Yesenia tried reassuring her, in Spanish, that the questions on the survey were simple, like ‘how many minutes does it take you to get to work’. However, she remained unwilling to fill out the survey and we thanked her anyway. We were interested in seeing how the language barriers and even literacy could play into other canvassing interactions, but as Tuesday was our last day, we no longer have to worry about that. Still, it is important to consider we are considerate of literacy challenges or things that may dissuade workers from filling out a survey. Reading between the lines, it is possible that such a response is to avoid saying “I am unable to read the survey,” or perhaps to more politely decline to take the survey. In either event, we cannot force somebody to take the survey if they do not want to, as this would undermine our integrity as surveyors.
Justin: We can use some of the graphs that were automatically generated by Google. However, for some metrics, we will want to study responses with respect to race or income, or compare metrics in new ways that present illustrative conclusions.
This week we were assigned readings extremely pertinent to our particular project. The SPUR Report worked on breaking down the transportation patterns, needs, and recommendations for the Bay Area and Alex Schafran’s “Silicon San Francisco, and the West Bay” focused on the urbanization (and lack thereof) in Marin County. The SPUR report deals with more of the findings and literature we have come in contact with in our work with our community partners. The way that the writers decided to put together the publication in terms of the figures, colors, and headings was very visually pleasing, and we hope to be able to incorporate aesthetic ideas from that report into our final deliverables. In their introduction, they state “the Bay Area has more than two dozen different public transit operators—and yet only 3 percent of all trips here are made using transit.” That statement is something that we probably would not have expected before our group work started, but now makes more sense as we have canvassed and increasingly seen trends that people from all socio-economic brackets tend to drive to work alone. To us, that means that a lot of the public transportation options are inaccessible because they are so disparate and sometimes illogically planned that it makes using multiple types of public transit untenable, to the point that driving alone in a car through hours of traffic is more helpful. We hope that our project can address this fatal flaw in the public transit system in Menlo Park, and hope that the findings of the SPUR Report as well as their recommendations can be seriously taken into account. It can be done with effort and money, as evidenced in London’s updated transit routes that are now widely used and accepted and touted as being one of the best laid out plans and easiest ones to understand.
Switching to the second reading, Schafran’s “Silicon San Francisco, and the West Bay,” focused more on Marin County. Historically, the area has been home to extraordinarily wealthy people in search of a quiet and nature-centric location to settle down. To that end, as evidenced by the Schafran article, there was quite a bit of pushback regarding urbanization of West Marin (aka the 1973 Plan). The article even states that “at virtually every turn, efforts to combat the unnecessary urbanization of West Marin were innovative, aggressive, and progressive.” These innovative approaches took the form of environmental protection rather than equitable living and social equality. By hiding under the guise of protecting the natural beauty of Marin County, the already well-to-do residents were able to subvert most efforts for urban development in their bucolic mansions on the hills. This parallels a little bit of what we have seen in Menlo Park: there are wealthy residents who do not welcome new change in their traditionally well-off and well-to-do area, pushing back on the idea of welcoming affordable housing to their area. For example, the financial barriers in Menlo Park like the average monthly rent for an apartment being $3500. This has traditionally made low-income families unable to move into these neighborhoods, leading to issues such as long commutes for the workers in the area. However, in 2008, Schafran documents that Marin County passed a “countywide measure to fund transportation improvements. The major provision of the bill was to fund a commuter train, the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART), between San Rafael and northern Sonoma County.” While this seems to have been some sort of panacea, it was not.
Schafran goes on to say that even with all the money funneled into transit, there would still be
a disconnect. It all goes back to Marin County’s reliance on the environmental versus social
good fight. Thus, there is precedent of good ideas going to waste. Unfortunately, our group does not have the bandwidth to see our project all the way through and make sure that our recommendations make actual change in the long run. However, since there is a history of money going into transportation and not getting used in the proper ways, our team will focus on emphasizing the benefits of including affordable housing and better public transportation in and around Menlo Park.
Because we can identify and call out communities like Marin for what they are doing, and because we can see the flaws in the public transportation sector and examples of how to fix them, we should do what we can to ameliorate the situation in the Bay Area. It starts with baby steps like Menlo Together’s work on trying to understand the commuting patterns of low income workers in Menlo Park and their quality of life, and it ends with actual change on a city, regional, state, and maybe even national level.
Update on Project Activities
Katie and Justin: We did our canvassing shift at the same time as last week, Thursday from 8 to 10 pm. We targeted Trader Joe’s and Safeway to get ahold of the folks who were working the night shift. We also stopped by Amici’s and Chef Kwan’s since we noted that there were quite a few workers in those establishments the last few times we canvassed. In total, we got around 8 surveys. We dropped off a stack at Amici’s and Chef Kwan’s and will pick it up sometime Sunday.
Michelle & Shikha: Michelle and I did our Saturday afternoon shift last week as well as a Friday morning shift today with Yesenia. On Saturday, we went up down Santa Cruz Avenue as well as around a few side streets. We mostly talked to small business owners, managers, and workers (about 1 per establishment) and got about 7 surveys and 2 in personal stories. On the Friday shift this week, we went to Safeway, Staples, and a few small businesses in that plaza. We got about 15 surveys, mostly at Safeway, and 2 stories.
Sarah & Yesenia: As explained in later sections in this reflection, our schedules could not align for us to canvass together this week. However, we both were able to get out into Downtown Menlo Park this week. Sarah focused on smaller storefronts in Downtown Menlo Park, while Yesenia focused on larger businesses like Safeway. Sarah was able to get around 10 responses on paper during her afternoon, opting out of using an iPad because the older demographic of workers/managers/owners in Downtown Menlo Park seems to be on the more technologically unsavvy side. Yesenia used an iPad in her afternoon in Safeway, as the overall demographic is on average younger and more adept at using iPads.
We brought up the concern to our community partners that with our limited schedules and unexpected difficulties with getting folks to participate in the survey that we would not hit the 100 surveys that we originally agreed upon. Right now, we have conducted 74 surveys;
We discussed what our final deliverables would look like again.
Chris Lepe from TransForm suggested that we create a shareable blog post for us to make this information that we’ve gathered accessible to everyone, not just city council members. Given our current capacity, it may be something we look at if we finish our deliverables early but we want to focus our original final deliverables first.
What We Observed and Learned
In terms of connecting our work to the class readings, housing has a very expansive definition but a limited view in Menlo Park. Most people like the idea of affordable housing but are also attached to the idea of low-density housing, green space, and knowing your neighbors. Some in Menlo Park blame Facebook and Google for raising housing prices and pushing long-term residents out. Others say that even more than housing, traffic will push them out of the area.
This week we learned about affordable housing in California and the history of public housing. Our project relates a lot to the topics we covered this week since our surveys are intended to assess the need of affordable housing in the area. Many of the people we spoke to during the survey talked about how expensive all of the housing was in this area and how difficult it was for them to afford it. They talked about the consequences: working longer hours, driving further, and paying more for rent,
Michelle & Shikha: Friday mornings can be busy, but waiting for workers to serve all customers proved effective. People filled out our survey rapidly, and some even left contact information. People are really fed up with these issues in Menlo Park and were happy to take the survey. We had more lengthy conversations when going to smaller businesses with fewer workers. However, surveying at Safeway was much more efficient than on Santa Cruz Ave because of the density of workers. The difference in Safeway was that workers had less time to fill out the survey. A few still wanted to chat for longer but were wary of their manager nearby. The manager approached Yesenia and Michelle and told us to ask him before coming in next time. He mentioned that he paid his employees by the minute, so we shouldn’t take too much for their time. Still, it was a productive session and the workers were excited to help.
Yesenia & Sarah: Making personal connections with people really helps get what you want! Sarah had a successful afternoon on Thursday with one memorable interaction with the owner of a luxury pet store. After having a lengthy conversation with the owner and building rapport, she gave me access to most of the workers during their breaks for additional surveying. The rest of the afternoon was spent in other shops along the Santa Cruz strip of Downtown Menlo Park as well as the side street businesses. 12:30-2:00 pm on Thursdays is a good stretch of time to interact with workers.
Yesenia had a schedule conflict to go canvassing during the usual time so she ended up joining Michelle and Shikha Friday morning from 10:30 am -12:30 pm. She noticed a great difference between canvassing in a store like Safeway and a small, family-owned business in downtown Menlo Park. Because Safeway is a bigger, busier store than the small, family-owned businesses, the workers were more in a hurry to fill out the survey, which gave us less time to collect testimonies, but more time to survey other workers. The manager was also very wary of us asking workers to take a few minutes to fill out the survey because they are paid by the minute, as mentioned above.
Katie & Justin: Night shift is a really hard shift to cover; people are at the end of the shift and ready to go home. We recognize that our survey is not a priority to them when they either have a family to get back to or a job to finish.
Getting people to fill it out on the spot is a lot more successful than dropping it off and picking it up later. However, when it comes to businesses like restaurants, we want to work around their schedule and accommodate for their needs. If we had more time, we could canvass at different times where restaurants were in a lull (3pm-4pm or 10am-11am), but with the resources we have and the time we are able to dedicate, we had to coordinate some drop-offs and pickups. We do not think that we will have many responses, but the managers seemed to be interested, which is a good omen.
We went into Trader Joe’s, in which we have had success before. We understand the night shift is hard to cover, but we were unable to capture Trader Joes in the last night canvassing session and we thought it was valuable to represent. I (Justin) spoke with the manager, and he allowed us to take surveys, but after I conducted one survey, he reconsidered his decision and cordially asked us to leave because they were busy closing. The manager told us to come back around 2:00 on a weekday when the last shift starts (so that we do not double count the same shift).
We were able to conduct some Spanish surveys. I, Justin, personally enjoyed this because I felt like I could really connect with the person I was interviewing this way. I originally started in English (which I default to), but he did not speak the language. I could tell that he appreciated me speaking his native language. Also, in terms of data, it is important to reflect all languages to the best of our ability to avoid response bias. We encountered a Burmese man that we could not communicate with, but there is not much that we can do in cases like this.
Critical Analysis/Moving Forward
We may have to do one more shift of canvassing to get close to the target number of 100 surveys. We currently sit at 74 surveys, and we are hoping to reach about 90. Katie will go back to pick up a few paper surveys from restaurants downtown. Shikha will lead another shift. Our updated goal is 80-90 surveys.
We met with the community partners again on Friday. They approved the outline for our final report. Our plan is to individually work on these pieces for next week, refine over Thanksgiving break, then meet with the community partners for approval on November 30. Broadly, Katie will be focusing on the literature review, Sarah will be writing about the project background, purpose, and methodology, Justin will work on survey analysis and data visualization, Michelle will compile stories, Yesenia will write summary descriptions of the survey data, and Shikha will work on compiling the powerpoint.
In terms of data analysis, the response spreadsheet will require some amount of cleaning. For instance, some of the questions required respondents to select all that apply, so we will need to make dummy variables. Broadly, we will manipulate the data so we can study it.
The community partners mentioned a few other potential action items. Adina wants us to meet with a business leader in Menlo Park to ensure that they are not surprised by the findings when it is published. We will likely be meeting with this person the Friday after our final presentation, then build our Letter.