Measure A 2022, which will be on the ballot this November, is a bundle of old ideas and a commitment to doing things the old way, the way that has dominated our transportation system since World War II. It does not address current transportation challenges. It proposes building more freeways, more interchanges, and widening roadways. It proposes to continue and increase the motor vehicle dominance of our transportation system. Sure, there is a weak commitment to fix-it-first, for the first five years of the 40 years. Sure, there are some complete streets, but that won’t make a dent in the pedestrian and bicyclist-hostile roadways that traffic engineers have built for us.
When Measure A fails, we have a chance in Sacramento County to identify and implement progressive and effective transportation projects and systems. What would a better transportation system look like?
- One not so dependent on sales taxes. Sales taxes are regressive – low income people spend a much higher percentage of income on sales tax than do higher income people. Property taxes and congestion charges are a much fairer way to fund transportation. We have been too dependent on sales tax, for not just transportation, but many government functions.
- One that recognizes and works to overcome the disinvestment that low income and high minority communities have suffered. Our transportation system is largely designed to ease the commutes and travel of high income individuals, not of society as a whole. The light rail system was designed with the needs of suburban, largely white commuters. So too were our freeways. At least 70% of transportation expenditures should be in and for the benefit of disinvested communities.
- We have all the lane miles and pavement we will ever need. It is time to stop adding lanes miles and stop adding pavement. Not just because of the climate implications, but because these are low-return investments. Instead, transportation expenditures should support walking, bicycling and transit.
- Big transportation projects such as freeways and interchanges claim big job benefits, but they are in fact much less efficient at generating high paying jobs than many other types of infrastructure investments. New construction spends most of its funds on materials, not on labor. The construction companies make large profits on large projects, but little of that filters down to workers. Small to moderate projects would employ many more people.
- A transportation system dependent on motor vehicles, whether they are fossil fueled or electric, has strongly negative impacts on our places: direct air pollution, tire dust pollution, noise, traffic violence, loss of land to parking and roadways rather than productive development, and probably most important, it intimidates people out of walking and bicycling. A transportation system based on walking, bicycling, and transit eliminates most of these negatives.
- A car dominated transportation system pushes everything further apart, jobs and housing and shopping and medical far away from each other. Cars not only encourage but largely demand low density development, so that there is space reserved for cars, all the parking and roadways that take up a large portion of our cities. It requires a car to participate in society, and thereby requires low income people to expend an unsustainable percentage of their income on transportation. A transportation system that relies much more on walking and bicycling allows things to be closer together, so that cars are not necessary for most daily travel.
- Transportation investment should depend much less on state and federal funding, and much more on local funding. Large portions of the Measure A funds are intended to be matches for grants. But grants cause planners to focus on what the state and the federal government want, not on what the county or cities need. When the income from taxes or fees is close to the people, the solutions are much more likely to be what is desired by the people.
- Private vehicle travel does little to contribute to making our places and our lives better. A innovative transportation system would focus on access to services, and make those services available nearby. It would reduce vehicle miles traveled, both by changing our development pattern and by actively working to reduce motor vehicle travel.
- Our current transportation system has destroyed a lot of natural and agricultural lands, paving it over with roadways and low density housing. The best way of preserving nature and agriculture is to focus our attention and our funding on already higher density areas, which means infill.
- None of the projects in Measure A are designed to support infill development. A progressive transportation system would focus nearly all investment on infill areas. It would cost much less money, and be much more productive.
- Measure A calls out and essentially requires completion of the Green Line light rail to the airport. But who will use it? Unless service hours are 24 hours a day, it won’t be usable for many of the airport workers, who work before and after peak travel times. Instead, it may become yet another very expensive service for high-income travelers, just like our freeways system. Instead, we need to rethink our transit system to determine what citizens want and will use, and build a more efficient system around that. We know that frequency is freedom, so we must shift spending towards that, even while maintaining a reasonable level of areal coverage.
I’m sure you can think of many other things that an innovative, equitable transportation system would accomplish. Please suggest!