Statewide Transportation Plan: Are We Doing Enough?

Screen shot 2016-03-23 at 2.50.24 PMThe California Transportation Plan 2040 is nearing its final draft. Caltrans will accept public comments on it through Tuesday, March 29.

The plan represents the first attempt to combine and reconcile a range of existing policies, rules, and regulations that address issues like climate change and equity in transportation planning. Its recommendations are advisory, not mandatory, but it provides agencies and local governments a guide for how to meet state requirements under existing policies.

Last year Streetsblog covered an earlier version of the draft plan, and found some things to like about it, including its acknowledgement that continuing to expand highways will not solve our transportation or climate change problems.

Streetsblog hasn’t had time to look over the entire draft yet, but a quick perusal reveals that some of the strong language of the previous draft seems to have been softened. For example, an explicit short-term goal to “avoid funding projects that add road capacity and increased maintenance costs” is missing from the new draft.

The plan does, however, continue to recommend focusing on “fix it first” approaches that emphasize maintenance over expansion of highway capacity. It acknowledges the importance of bicycling, walking, and transit as low emission ways to get around. It recommends growing the Active Transportation Program, and even recognizes that “efficient and affordable transportation” can be an important economic stimulus.

However, among its recommendations for addressing greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, the plan fails to explicitly acknowledge the role that bikes, walking, and transit can play in the transformation to a “clean and energy efficient transportation system.”

The CTP 2040 is required under state law to analyze how California can meet its greenhouse gas emission targets. Even in this slightly softened draft, it paints a dire picture of California’s ability to meet those goals—which, according to a recent U.N. report, is more urgent than ever. To reduce the 36 percent of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions that come from the transportation sector, the state will have to aggressively pursue every policy it has at its disposal and then some. Shifting people out of cars is only part of it.

The plan’s analysis shows that the only way to reach climate change goals is to: assume that future transportation and land use changes will follow regional Sustainable Community Strategy plans, which is already a questionable conclusion given resistance on the part of many local jurisdictions; dramatically reduce driving using a range of “transportation efficiency strategies” including a lot more people using transit, carpooling, biking, walking, and telecommuting; AND a much more aggressive push to adopt clean vehicle and clean fuel technologies—in the face of pushback the state has gotten from to-date attempts in that direction.

In other words, it’s a long shot. And California, as far ahead of other states as it is, needs to be a lot more aggressive. Now.

Which, to this bicycle commuter at least, means taking bicycling seriously as a transportation option and making whatever changes are necessary to make it work for many people.

What do you think? Is this a good plan? Comments on the CTP 2040 can be made here until March 29. Comment below too.

For updates on California transportation policy, follow Streetsblog California on Twitter @StreetsblogCal.

  • keenplanner

    Furthermore, this is a planning document, but Caltrans planners got no opportunity to contribute to its authoring.
    And if you’re wondering where the “don’t add capacity” text, read the comments. A few high-up governmental organizations sent comments requesting their removal.

  • keenplanner

    And they refer to EVs as “zero emission” vehicles, which is rarely the case. This may be true if you charge them during daylight hours from a sustainable-powered electricity source, but usually it would be more accurate to call them “remote emissions vehicles.”

  • keenplanner

    I wrote comments about this document previously, but I can reiterate some of them here.
    The plan language is weak and vague, obviously the work of multiple authors. The rampant use of qualifiers sap the document of strength and commitment. It’s undecisive.
    It was obviously written by staff members who drive everywhere. Throughout the document, driving is the default mode. One of my comments was to always identify the mode in question. End assumptions.
    It barely addresses autonomous (AVs) and connected vehicle technology, some of which is already in use on CA highways, and it’s getting closer each year. There could be fully autonomous vehicles on the streets in 2020, or soon after. These will demand a completely different take on both transportation methodology, and vehicle ownership. This document has a 25-year horizon. Surely there will need to be some radical changes in road usage before then, but this notion is missing from this document, until it gets a mention fifty pages in.
    Calling High Speed Rail innovative is just plain ignorant. It’s a technology that has been used successfully in Europe and Asia for over fifty years. There is nothing new about HSR except for the glacial pace it’s being constructed, and the roundabout route it takes. Also, HSR is not sussed out for all it’s potential uses, both for inter-regional travel, and regional commuting. It could vastly expand the Bay Area commute shed, adding tens of thousands of housing units to town now within 30 minutes of SF and SJ.
    Identifying other forms of transportation as “alternative” (to driving?). I say they should be called “sustainable” forms of transportation, because that brings them in line with the stated goals of the document: Increase sustainability.
    The tone is almost apologetic when it describes the suspension of adding capacity to highways, a method that is proven to fail. The document implies that “for the time being” Caltrans is no adding lanes (but we hope to soon!). That is both a false assumption, and doesn’t present the facts about how Caltrans continues to add lanes, particularly in Southern California, because local funds are being used. This is not beyond the control of the State DOT, because they own the highways, and have the authority to say:no, we
    are not going to spend tens of millions of dollars to add a lane, or speed up an interchange, when the funds would be better spent on a sustainable project.
    Many of the “economic” recommendations completely skirt proven, long-term methods for bolstering all levels of the local economy. Caltrans sees economy as facilitating larger truck traffic, without heed to the health problems caused by diesel particulate matter (PMs) or other neighborhood-scale projects.
    Over 700 scientific papers have been written world-wide outlining the effects of living near a busy highway or freeway. Both PMs and micro-PMs from tire slough-off are causing serious health problems, and those as risk are children and pregnant women. This is not only a big, expensive public health problem, but also an equity issue, since near-freeway populations tend to be low-income and people of color. It’s time this threat is addressed by the state DOT.
    Most unsettling is that the document fails to mention data that presents solutions, and other localities around the world where successful transportation laws, funding decisions, and legislation have been in place and are proven to work.
    I recommended that the document be re-written by professional writers for consistency of style, and consistency with stated State transportation policy, and a wide-ranging set of solutions.
    The document is a successful “plan” for making almost no changes at a time when the climate crises is worsening continuously. CTP 2040 treats this as someone else’s problem.

  • sojourner_7

    Ah, the 1% of transportation users that ride a bicycle. Very outspoken, which is fine, but they are nearly irrelevant in the larger scheme of things. As cars switch to EV power, perhaps the climate portion of the anti-car argument will fade away. Cars are the future, no matter what the bicyclists hope.

  • artnouveau

    Correction: It is on Streetsblog California via its March 23rd “Today’s Headlines” that is where the link to the so-referenced-above Mother Jones link article can be found; not on Streetsblog USA, as I had incorrectly pointed out in my main comment above.

  • artnouveau

    Good discussion. It’s interesting that Streetsblog USA has on its “Today’s Headlines” section for March 23rd, a link to the Mother Jones article “Dreamers of the Golden Dream: Does California have a blueprint to fix global warming?” pointing out, among other constructs, that transportation in state is a big contributor to California’s greenhouse gas emissions – 37 percent, the article’s author Gabriel Kahn points out. A big part of the proposed reduction as I understand it is promotion of zero-emissions vehicles among other solutions. The content of the lengthy Mother Jones article in my mind’s eye seems more upbeat as far as meeting GHG targets. And, from what I have read in other news sources, it seems like the Golden State is on track to meet its 2020 goal of reducing GHGs to that which existed in 1990 in state or 431 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent.

    In fact, in that same feature (treatise, really), one of the included graphics shows that state Gross Domestic Product (in 2009 dollars) by 2013 had increased by 25 percent since year 2000, while population in that same period of time rose roughly 12.5 percent, emissions first rising by about 5 percent in 2008 before falling to about -4 percent, with per-capita emissions decreasing overall from 2001 from about +2.5 percent to about -13 percent in 2013, the year 2000 being a zero-reference year for all four measures.

    It’s clear that California, to meet goals, will have its work cut out. High-speed rail (which I have done extensive research on) will be a zero polluter when it is up and running. If it is successful in capturing a third of all in-state travel (an optimistic figure, no doubt) the emissions savings will be considerable. I am confident this will be realized as on the Northeast Corridor, Amtrak has captured the bulk of the air/rail commuter-market share. In Japan, the Shinkansen bullet train, system-wide, sees patronage numbers to the tune of 151 million riders annually. California’s bullet train system will tap many of the state’s bigger population centers.

    California is off to a really good start but must keep the emissions-reduction effort going.

    Incidentally, as to the “quick perusal” bit, in that regard in Yoda speak, highly talented, you are.

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