real transportation solutions

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!

principles for transportation investment

As part of my work with transportation advocates, and my personal passions toward a transformed transportation system, here is my Principles for Transportation Investment. It applies to all government levels, but in particularly was developed as an alternative paradigm for Measure B and “Son of Measure B.” Text below, and also a pdf (Principles for Transportation Investment). This is long, but I hope you will take the time to read and reflect. And comment.

Principles for Transportation Investment

The overarching goals for investments in transportation are:

  • creation and support of livable, walkable communities that are economically vibrant for all citizens
  • reduction of distance between housing, jobs and amenities
  • reduction of vehicle miles traveled (VMT) per capita in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions
  • reduction and eventual elimination of crash fatalities and severe injuries
  • maintenance of our transportation system in a state of good repair

Our transportation system is out of balance, emphasizing private motor vehicles over transit, walking and bicycling. A ten-year moratorium on new roadways and roadway widening, through 2028, will jump-start the process of bringing modes back into balance.

In the past and present, communities of low-income and color have been under-invested, and often dis-invested through lack of maintenance. Future investments must therefore work to return these communities to parity. Specifically,

  • communities of low-income and color must be present at the table for all major transportation decisions, and funding will be allocated to support that inclusion in all planning processes
  • 50% of transportation investments will be in or directly benefiting communities that meet the established ATP/GGRF grant criteria for disadvantaged communities, for at least 15 years or until significant parity is achieved

Transportation investments must meet the goal of reduction and eventual elimination of fatalities and severe injuries. Specifically,

  • the top intersections and corridors with fatalities and severe injuries will be identified and will be used as the primary though not sole criteria for project selection
  • projects which may increase crash rates for minor injuries and property damage while reducing or eliminating fatalities and severe injury, such as roundabouts and mid-block crossings, will be considered for funding without prejudice
  • sidewalks will be considered an integral part of the transportation system, therefore sidewalk installation and maintenance will be completed as a normal part of transportation investment
  • bicyclist and pedestrian fatality and severe injury rates are high and increasing; therefore 25% of transportation investments will be devoted to bringing fatality and injury rates back to parity with mode share

Transportation investment must depend upon a variety of income sources including user fees, property taxes, income taxes, and sales taxes. User fees should be the primary source, while sales taxes should be used in moderation because they are inherently regressive. Specifically,

  • at a state, regional, county and city level, sales tax measures must be complemented by actions to implement user fees, property taxes and income taxes to support transportation

Housing and transportation cannot be addressed in isolation and must be integrated through planning and investment. The economic impact on housing affordability and individual mobility is not just housing costs or transportation costs, but housing + transportation costs. Specifically,

  • no investment in rail transit should be made in areas where there are not existing plans or reasonable expectation of affordable housing development, and no new bus routes created where there are not existing plans or reasonable expectation of affordable housing development
  • governments must invest in affordable and “missing-middle” housing at a rate comparable to or exceeding investments in transportation

A successful transportation system must be integrated with wise land use. Specifically,

  • no transportation investments should be made which promote rapid densification and displacement
  • and conversely, no transportation investments should be made in communities or areas which are unwilling to allow a natural increment of density
  • greenfield development must pay the entire cost of transportation, including long-term maintenance, related increases in transportation capacity for roads, transit, walking and bicycling throughout the region which are engendered by the development, and transportation demand management

Transportation investments at all government levels will support the SACOG Sustainable Communities Strategy. Specifically,

  • since achievement of greenhouse gas reduction targets can only be achieved through a strong investment in transit, walking and bicycling, transportation investments will reflect those goals
  • no project will be funded which would induce increased VMT

Congestion relief in the absence of other measures has and will induce more traffic and therefore additional congestion. Therefore, all projects which are intended to relieve roadway congestion will implement controls to prevent induced demand, including congestion pricing, or will mitigate induced demand through corresponding investments in transit, walking and bicycling.

All transportation projects must address maintenance of the infrastructure in a state of good repair for all time, including eventual replacement cost. Specifically,

  • user fees must support a significant portion of ongoing roadway maintenance
  • fix-it-first must be a continuing commitment at all levels of government until the entire transportation system is in a state of good repair (SOGR), and then state of good repair must be continued
  • all agencies will have and implement a complete streets policy before receiving funding; all roadway repaving projects must consider re-allocation of roadway width to sidewalks, bike lanes, and transit lanes
  • governments will no longer take on responsibility for the cost of maintaining transportation infrastructure which serves greenfield development; therefore the development must allocate a long-term reserve to the maintenance of internal transportation facilities and any highway interchange which primarily serves greenfield development

Fiscal solvency at all government levels must be a guaranteed outcome of major transportation investments. Therefore, all major projects will include a transparent and accountable analysis of the ways in which the project will increase user fees, property taxes, income taxes, and sales taxes which meet or exceed the cost of construction and maintenance.

All transportation investments must support improvement and maintenance of public health. Specifically,

  • investment must reduce air pollution, however, the traditional assumption that congestion relief reduces air pollution must be justified by actual data
  • investment must encourage daily physical activity in all parts of society
  • transportation modes which generate air pollution (roadways and diesel rail) will not be located or expanded near schools and parks
  • transportation planning must consider the removal or reduction of existing roadway capacity such as freeways and/or conversion of diesel rail to electric rail

Education of youth in transit, walking and bicycling will reduce future demand for private motor vehicle travel, and increase demand for livable, walkable communities. Specifically,

  • elementary students will receive pedestrian and bicyclist education
  • middle and high school students will receive transit education
  • 1% of all transportation funds will be devoted to youth education
  • transportation agencies will work with California Department of Education, school districts, private schools and law enforcement to develop and fund model education programs