Thursday, December 8, 2016

Live - Work - Commute - 1

Live - Work - Commute - I.

Part 1 of a look at living and working patterns around Sunnyvale, California

Urban Sprawl: One of the hottest topics in the SF Bay Area is the housing-commute issue.  Traffic is getting worse, the schools are said to be overcrowded.  Some say we need to stop any further development.  Rents and house prices are very high.  Many argue we need to build more housing to keep rents from exploding and to accommodate those wanting to work in Sunnyvale.  To add to the mix, concern about global warming causes others to urge us to develop more housing in Sunnyvale so more people can walk or bike to work instead of using cars.

The US Census Bureau has a marvelous tool at from which the following information comes.  I wrote up a short intro on how to use it available here:

"Urban sprawl" is a term some like to use as a pejorative description of suburbs expanding out of a city center.  Not every urban economist agrees that "Urban Sprawl" is bad or even that it is unavoidable.  For now, we'll assume that it is not good and save for later a discussion of the merits and trade-offs of urban sprawl.

This census data suggests current policies are worsening urban sprawl and making it less likely workers can walk or bike to work.  This is an ongoing study and I certainly have not made up my mind on this.  Other interpretations may be valid.  Perhaps we need more housing or jobs to reverse these trends.  Perhaps not.  I am just looking at data.

Summary Conclusions:

  1. The number of those employed in Sunnyvale increased 9% in the 2002-2014 period.  Of those working in Sunnyvale 90% don't live in Sunnyvale.  This percentage increased from 87% over the 12 year period 2002-2014.   This suggests urban sprawl has increased.
  2. Of those who live in Sunnyvale and are employed, 87% commuted out of Sunnyvale to other cities in 2014. This percentage increased from 84% in 2002.  This suggests urban sprawl has increased.
  3. The number of Sunnyvale residents who live and work in Sunnyvale decreased over the 12 years 2002-2014 from 9,460 to 8,722.  In 2002 12% of Sunnyvale jobs were held by residents but this declined to 10% of Sunnyvale jobs held by residents in 2014.
  4. Defining a bike-able "Greater Sunnyvale" comprised of Sunnyvale and adjacent communities shows that commutes within that broader area decreased as a percent of jobs in "Greater Sunnyvale" from 41% in 2002 to 39% in 2014.  This suggests urban sprawl has increased and bike-ability has decreased and correspondingly, that more people have to drive.
The trend is not huge but it is clear and opposite to that promised by the "walkable city" crowd - the mantra was "more housing so people can work and live in Sunnyvale".  The housing was built, more jobs happened, and now fewer work where they live.

Data and Analysis:

Year 2014 (latest data):  The first census data map shows how many commute IN to Sunnyvale, commute OUT of Sunnyvale, and live AND work in Sunnyvale.  We see that in 2014 (click on image to enlarge it) ...
  1. 75,554 commuted IN to Sunnyvale for work = 
    • 90% of those employed in Sunnyvale came from outside
  2. 57,487 commuted OUT of Sunnyvale for work =
    • 87% of Sunnyvale residents commute to work outside Sunnyvale
  3.   8,722 working in Sunnyvale also lived there = 
    • 10% of those working in Sunnyvale lived in Sunnyvale
There are about 84,000 jobs in Sunnyvale but only 66,000 workers or 18,000 more jobs than workers.  Is this a problem?  The vast majority of those who work here already commute out.  More housing would clearly worsen school crowding (at least short term) and traffic would hardly decrease under current policies. Would more housing just bring in more residents who commute to jobs outside Sunnyvale?  Let's look at the change over the last 12 years.

Year 2002:  Looking at the same data for 2002 we see what more housing has done in the intervening 12 years. (click on map to enlarge):

We see that in 2002:
  1. 68,020 commuted IN to Sunnyvale for work = 
    • 88% of those employed in Sunnyvale came from outside
  2. 48,915 commuted OUT of Sunnyvale for work = 
    • 84% of those living in Sunnyvale commuted outside for work
  3.   9,460 lived AND worked in Sunnyvale = 
    • 12% of those working in Sunnyvale lived in Sunnyvale
Things Worsen:  In terms of "walkable/bike-able neighborhoods", things got worse all around from 2002 to 2012.  More commute in, more commute out, more overcrowding in schools and fewer live and work in Sunnyvale.  All counter to the narrative of  "we need more housing in Sunnyvale so people can walk/bike to work."

The data for 2002 (left) and 2014 below show the change (click on image to enlarge):

Residents: In 12 years Sunnyvale has gone from about 58,000 to 66,000 employed residents in Sunnyvale (an increase of nearly 8,000 employed residents).

Jobs: In those 12 years Sunnyvale has gone from about 77,000 to 84,000 jobs in Sunnyvale (an increase of almost 7,000 jobs).

During that time, the number of those employed and working in Sunnyvale has gone down, not just in percentage terms but in actual numbers.  It would seem we are creating more jobs for residents of other cities while our own residents go elsewhere to a greater extent than before.

Let's look at the details (click image below to enlarge):

Cheap Housing for Other Cities: For those who commute FROM Sunnyvale the big changes, in both number and percentage, are Mountain View, Palo Alto, and San Francisco.  Those three account for an increase in commuters out of Sunnyvale of 5,274 = 67% of the total increase in commuters from Sunnyvale and more than the total 4,990 for the top 20 cities people commute to.  Apparently much of the housing going up in Sunnyvale is providing more "cheap" housing for those working in Mountain View (Google, LinkedIn), Palo Alto, and San Francisco.  "Cheap" is relative of course but here are the rents for a 2 bedroom apt. in these cities (as of 1/7/2017):
San Francisco   - $4,487
Palo Alto           - $3,816
Mountain View  - $3,549
Cupertino          - $3,222
Sunnyvale         - $3,173
Fremont            - $2,500
Livermore          - $2,093
I.e., compared to where many of the new jobs are, rents are cheaper in Sunnyvale.


Longer Commutes for Sunnyvale Workers: For those who commute TO Sunnyvale the big increases in percentage are Fremont (24%), Pleasanton (82%), Livermore (81%), and Morgan Hill (35%).  Those four account for an increase in commuters TO Sunnyvale of 1,814.  That accounts for over 93% of the "top 20 cities" contribution to the increase in commuters to Sunnyvale.  These places are all cheaper than Sunnyvale suggesting that building more housing has done nothing to stop people from driving further and further to get affordable housing.  Affordable housing includes affordable single family housing.  Some people will travel as far as necessary to get a 3-4 bedroom detached home with a back yard for family and a front yard for a sense of space and greenery.

"Greater Sunnyvale"

Perhaps we are being too narrow.  People can walk and bike to nearby communities such as Mountain View, Santa Clara, etc.  We'll call this set of cities adjoining Sunnyvale "Greater Sunnyvale".  The following two graphs from the Census' "OnTheMap" show the overall view of this  metropolis first for 2002 and then for 2014:
2002 Flow of Commuters - 100,000 more IN than OUT

2014 Flow of Commuters - 120,000 more IN than OUT = increase of 20,000

There were a lot of jobs in this area in 2002 (268,000).  This increased by 44,000 in 2014 = a 16% increase to 312,000.  Overall population growth from 166,000 to 194,000 was also 16%.  The number of resident workers grew in the same proportion as new jobs, yet the percentage commuting out of the area actually increased from 61.6% of the residents to 64.4% - a rise of nearly 3%.  There was only an 8% growth in the number of people who lived and worked in "Greater Sunnyvale" (64,000 to 69,000) so the difference was made up by many more people commuting in.  This again looks like urban sprawl increased.

Now let's keep a focus on "Greater Sunnyvale" but narrow our attention to Sunnyvale.  How many commuters both "into" and "out from" Sunnyvale commute wholly within this hypothetical "Greater Sunnyvale"?  The census data in a spreadsheet shows what happened in the 12 years from 2002 to 2014 (click image to enlarge):

  1. The number commuting OUT of Sunnyvale TO adjacent communities has increased by 1,257 - over 5%.  
  2. The number commuting INTO Sunnyvale FROM adjacent communities has decreased by 990, nearly 5%.  
  3. Overall it is about even for Greater Sunnyvale but Sunnyvale is becoming more of a bedroom suburb of the other cities.  Further, as a percentage of total commuters both into and out of "Greater Sunnyvale", internal commutes decreased implying urban sprawl has increased.
It would appear that we are doing nothing to improve the bike-ability of commutes for Sunnyvale or nearby communities.  Urban sprawl appears to be increasing since a greater percentage of people living in "Greater Sunnyvale" go further outside that hypothetical metro area.

Could the increased demand for land be raising the cost of land resulting in increasing rents and home prices?  If so, could this be driving people further and further away to find the small town, affordable place Sunnyvale used to be?  Another topic for another day.


These trends of sprawl aren't huge but they are clearly in the opposite direction to that which some have long argued would happen.  The argument was that with more housing and more jobs more people would choose to work close to home.  Twelve years of data show it not only hasn't happened, but the trend is going in the opposite direction.  Maybe we haven't added enough housing and jobs.  Maybe we've added too many.  There are doubtless many other ways to look at even more data, but this will suffice for now.

Showing Data:
Below is the original census data for Sunnyvale for 2002 and 2014 (click on image to enlarge):