The tension between planners and engineers is well-known. Planners have little patience with their counterparts down the hall, and vice-versa. Both sides think the other side doesn't "get it."

This tension was the subject of a panel presentation — "Putting Design in the Driver's Seat" — during Tuesday's CCAPA conference in San Jose. Essentially, the planners in the room blamed the engineers for creating ugly streets that carry lots of automobiles and discourage every other potential use of the right-of-way. And engineers, said one planner, are easy compared with fire chiefs who insist that every residential street must be 40 feet wide.

But the real theme was that we all can get along if we're all just a little bit flexible, and don't consider guidelines to be mandatory standards.

The panel members — Jeff Williams of DC&E, UC Berkeley Professor Elizabeth Macdonald and Christopher Ferrell of Dowling Associates — provided some great resources for planners. (You can find those online resources here.) One of the best resources, though, was the streets of downtown San Jose right outside the Fairmont Hotel. Numerous streets around the conference hotel serve automobiles, light rail and pedestrians quite well. Sycamores, redwoods, ficus and other trees provide shade and visual relief. Many sidewalks are wide enough for outdoor dining.

The panel emphasized that the car should not control the landscape. And in downtown San Jose, it doesn't. Just ask all the planners walking around the Fairmont.

- Paul Shigley