Private Bus Routes and Silicon Valley’s Outmoded Office Model

The image to the right is a transit frequency map, with a twist. Instead of city bus routes, this one shows the private bus routes traveled daily by Silicon Valley employees on their way from San Francisco to their respective corporate headquarters some 40 miles away.

This map shows the private bus routes of major Silicon Valley employers. Thicker lines indicate more frequent service. Click to enlarge. Image: Stamen Design

What does this map tell us? It’s a question that has been debated by various media outlets. But Jarrett Walker at Human Transit says it’s clear that Silicon Valley employers have designed their workplaces to be badly out of sync with their employees’ preferences and lifestyles:

Why should people have to commute such distances at all? In this case, it happened because a whole mass of companies decided that they all had to have vast corporate campuses that are too big to be in walking distance to anything. The critical mass of Silicon Valley congealed in the high-car age, as early icons like Hewlett and Packard outgrew their garage. Stanford University has always sat in Silicon Valley’s midst like a queen bee, happy to seem the indispensable center of the burbling mass of innovation. Since then every new breakthrough firm, from Google to Facebook, has felt they had to be there.

But now, that critical mass is in the wrong place for the needs of the next generation. A few of the area’s suburbs are trying to build downtowns that will give a bit of the urban vibe that younger geeks seem to value, but many of these suburbs are dominated by people who want nothing to change. So it comes down to how the next generation of internet employers choose to think about how to attract top employees. Twitter made a courageous choice, moving its headquarters right into San Francisco, but Apple is digging itself deeper, building an even larger and more car-dependent fortress in its corner of the Valley.

Finally, this joke is on the lords of Silicon Valley itself. The industry that liberated millions from the tyranny of distance remains mired in its own desperately car-dependent world of corporate campuses, where being too-far-to-walk from a Caltrain station — and from anything else of interest — is almost a point of pride. But meanwhile, top employees are rejecting the lifestyle that that location implies.

Geeks whose brilliance lightens the weight of our lives have bodies that must be hauled 70 or more miles every day, at a colossal waste of energy and time. Is this really the future?

Elsewhere on the Network today: WashCycle reports that the District of Columbia has rules that discourage the use of city-owned vehicles if public transit or Capital Bikeshare could serve as an alternative. Biking in LA wonders if New York and L.A. are really especially dangerous places for pedestrians, as a recent study charged. And Streets.mn says “robocars” will make everyone safer.