Sac CAAP: council update

The City of Sacramento preliminary draft Climate Action and Adaptation Plan (CAAP) was on the agenda of the 2022-08-16 city council agenda, with a workshop on carbon neutrality. The council had asked staff for a status report, and to bring ideas for accelerating reaching carbon neutrality sooner than the original target date of 2045.

The staff presentation presented a few things that had happened before completion of the plan. Staff focused, as does the plan, on buildings and EVs. Ryan Moore of Public Works talked about transportation projects, but did not mention policy. Jennifer Venema presented several acceleration ideas, but they were vague. One was the build-out of the bicycle master plan, as though it was that, or everything else. The slides used by the staff presentation have not been made available to the public.

Almost everyone who spoke on the agenda items, on Zoom and in person (this was the first in-the-room council meeting), spoke in support of achieving neutrality sooner, and taking serious actions rather than the mild actions suggested by the plan. I am really proud of the citizens and organizations that took the time to formulate thoughtful statements and to wait for their turn.

Some of the council members spoke. Katie Valenzuela was the only one with a substatiative idea (see below), the others just offered platitudes. Darrell Steinberg unfortunately went off on a long rant in support of the transportation sales tax measures, including the lie that it had been amended. The side agreement between SACOG and SacTA has not been approved, and the language of the ballot measure has not changed at all – it is still bad news for the climate.

Katie Valenzuela’s slide

I made the following statement:


“Transportation is 57% of carbon emissions in Sacramento. Equitable transportation is what we should be talking about.

Transportation priorities, carried over from Mayors Commission on Climate Change:

  1. Active transportation
  2. Transit
  3. Electrification of remaining motor vehicles

The CAAP seems to invert that priority, and is strongly focused on EVs, which would retain the motor vehicle dominance of our transportation system.

Active transportation should be first and foremost in the CAAP.

Why is active transportation so important to transit? Because that is how people get to and from transit. Both are important to an effective response.

$510M for a full buildout of the bicycle master plan is a fraction of what is already being spent on motor vehicle capacity expansion. For example, the Fix 50 projects is estimated at $433M, but will probably come in much higher.

Deb Banks mentioned that the bicycle master plan needs an update. The pedestrian plan, however, dates from 2006, and is completely out of date. Yet the CAAP does not even mention updating those documents nor combining them into an active transportation plan.”


Some items I missed talking about (two minutes is a very short time):

Bike share is hardly mentioned in plan, and was not mentioned in the presentation. I think an effective bike share system is key to getting people out of cars, but we have a privately owned and operated system that could disappear at any time without notice (as it has before). Bike share should be effectively integrated with the transit system, but this idea is absent.

Cost to consumers (citizens) is also missing from the plan and the discussion. Conversion of fossil fueled private vehicles to electrified private vehicles is a the core action of the plan, with the unspoken and false assumption that electric cars are affordable for the vast majority of people. Think about it like this:

modecost
pedal bike$500, or less
electric bike$2000, or less
electric cargo bike$4000, or less
electric private vehicle$40,000, or more

What should the city be supporting? What should the city be subsidizing? It is clear that the bicycle is the right answer. The city seems to have the idea that the people of Sacramento are rich, and will all buy Teslas. How out of touch can you be?

The truly transformative and easily short term action that the city can take to protect that climate is to make walking and bicycling safe, city-wide. In the long run, that involves reconstructing streets, expensive and time-consuming. In the short run, though, there are many, many low cost actions that city could take that mostly have to do with policy and not projects. Such as:

  • leading pedestrian intervals on all signals
  • removal of pedestrian beg buttons
  • prohibiting right turn on red
  • paint and post temporary curb extensions on every intersection where a fatality or severe injury has occurred
  • acceptance by the city of responsibility for sidewalk maintenance (except for damage caused by trees on private property), in recognition that sidewalks are a core part of the transportation system along with streets
  • law enforcement focused on failure to yield to pedestrians
  • serious investigations of every crash with fatalities, with action to slow traffic, shorten crossing distances, etc. required in every instance; creation of a crash investigation team that includes nonprofit expertise and citizens, de-emphasizing law enforcement and traffic engineers
  • pricing parking everywhere in the city; this does not mean parking meters everywhere, it means that street parking requires a permit that reflects the cost building and maintaining parking on streets
  • re-energizing and empowering Vision Zero, which has languished
  • replacement of bikeway vertical delineators (soft-hit posts) with hard curbs
  • enforcement against leaving trash cans in bike lanes
  • a moratorium on roadway capacity expansion projects, through 2045, whether the city is a lead or partner agency; this would include freeways
  • lowering speed limit on all urban streets to 20 mph (20 is plenty) and collector/arterial streets to 30 mph; yes, streets need to be redesigned to physically enforce lower speeds, but in the meanwhile we can save lives with lower posted speeds

The bottom line here is that if the city makes walking and bicycling safe, throughout the city, much of our climate targets will be met. Please see my 2019 series “Walkable Sacramento” for more details and more ideas.

Sac CAAP: more carbon-intense transportation and land use

The City of Sacramento (and the county, and the region, and the state) have created a very carbon-intensive transportation system, focusing on moving motor vehicles (more and faster) over all other uses of the public right-of-way. It has also created a carbon-intensive land use pattern, by allowing and encouraging sprawling development that places everything further away, and makes motor vehicle travel the only reasonable option for many people to get from one place to another. Sprawl not only makes transportation less efficient, but uses more water and more electricity, reduces agricultural lands, and isolates people. Freeways and the arterial street network that supports them are far more expensive than other roadways, so most of our transportation budget goes to those two types. There is little left over for streets, and little left over for maintenance. But you know all that.

If the city is serious about reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), it would focus most of the Climate Action and Adaptation Plan on these issues. Transportation and land use, and housing in particular, cannot be separated from each other. They should not be separated in the plan. If we change our transportation system without changing land use and housing, we fail. If we change land use and housing without changing the transportation system, we fail. They must both be changed, healed from the harms of past city action or neglect, together. What the draft plan proposes to do is make minor changes to housing and minor changes to transportation, but sets low goals for both. And it uses enough vague language that it is not even clear that those low goals will be achieved. Most importantly, it does not commit the city to spending any money to fix problems and do better. What it is basically doing is kicking the can down the road, in case future versions of the city government happen to be more committed to change and innovation.

I encourage you to take a look at the plan (yes, it is long and hard to read), and then contact your city council member to express your concerns. I’ll likely be gone by 2045, so won’t see the outcome, but for many of you and your children, the meek action and underfunding that the plan proposes will make your world unlivable. Time for leadership is now!

Sac CAAP: what to focus on

The City of Sacramento’s Climate Action and Adaptation Plan (CAAP), preliminary draft, includes the graphic below, showing emissions by sector for the city.

Transportation is 57% of emissions (2016), and is likely higher now because other sectors are being reduced but transportation is expanding. One might assume that 57% of the document would be devoted to this primary source. But Chapter 6, GHG-Reduction Measures and Actions, devotes 15 pages to built environment, 14 pages to transportation, and 13 pages to other sectors (waste, water and wastewater, carbon sequestration). Transportation is the second sector to be addressed, after built environment, which I think represents that the city sees transportation as less important than built environment.

what Sacramento did wrong

I’m reviewing the City of Sacramento’s Climate Action and Adaptation Plan (CAAP), preliminary draft. I’ll have several more posts on this, but what immediately comes through to me is that the plan doesn’t acknowledge what the city did wrong in the past to create such a carbon-intensive city.

So, let me help with that:

Transportation

  • focusing the transportation network on continuously expanding capacity for motor vehicles, ignoring and more frequently being hostile to other modes; this has changed slightly, but is still the dominant approach
  • spending almost all funds on roadway capacity expansion (more lanes and interchanges) instead of maintaining what we have; every pothole is a policy failure
  • refusing to accept responsibility for sidewalks, which are a critical and core component of the transportation network
  • refusing to spend any general funds on transportation improvements, other than required matches, depending instead almost entirely on grant funding from the state and federal levels
  • providing free and below market rate parking throughout the city, which not only subsidizes but increases motor vehicle use
  • going all-in on motor vehicle electrification, while nearly ignoring electric bikes; there are no electric bike incentives, and no electric bike charging facilities
  • failing to update the outmoded 2006 pedestrian plan, and/or to combine it with the bicycle plan into an integrated active transportation plan
  • refusing to develop policy around transportation solutions, as though every project were unique and had nothing to do with other projects or with the overall pattern; the bicycle and pedestrian master plans are examples, laying out individual routes but not creating policy that determines what kind of facilities are appropriate for what kinds of streets and intersections
  • refusing to innovate and pilot new ideas, as every peer city has been doing; despite accepting the progressive NACTO guidelines, the city has actually not implemented anything that does not comply to the letter with the regressive MUTCD guidelines

Housing and Land Use

  • zoning which prevented multi-family and mixed use throughout most of the city; this has changed a little, and will change more with the 2040 General Plan, but the legacy of this will be with us for generations, and yes, the intent was largely racist; zoning of this sort makes everything further away, requiring more driving
  • setting development standards which make inefficient use of land, with setbacks and height limits, which again, spreads everything out
  • eliminating inclusionary zoning without creating a viable method of funding affordable housing through development impact fees or other mechanisms; for example, the city only contributed pittance $2.8M of the $40 or so that the newly opened Lavender Courtyard cost
  • supporting and celebrating large residential greenfield developments while ignoring infill development, and placing requirements on development that are easy for large developers and onerous for small developers; this has changed a bit, but not much
  • bending over backwards to promote and subsidize very large projects, such as the arena and Delta Shores, while paying no attention to small businesses; every empty storefront is as much a failure of the city as it is of that business

None of this is to say that the city is not doing some good things, or that it is not light years ahead of the county, and ahead of most of the cities in the region. But overcoming carbon addiction requires admitting that you have a problem, and largely created the problem, and can’t overcome the problem until you stop doing the wrong things.

I think it is important that the CAAP not only state what the city will do, but also what it will STOP doing.

Sac Transportation & Climate Workshop

The first City of Sacramento Transportation & Climate Workshop was held last night as part of the regular city council meeting. The first news, which was not at all clear before, is that this is the first of several workshops, which will develop the plan further. The next workshop has not been scheduled, but may be in March.

screen capture from city presentation

Some highlights:

  • No one spoke against the seven big idea projects.
  • People liked the enhanced bus lane on Stockton for SacRT route 51, but it didn’t receive much notice in the discussion.
  • Nailah Pope-Harden of Climate Plan and a local activist, said bold is the minimum, and said all projects should be about reconnecting communities. Many other speakers referred back to Nailah’s challenge.
  • The opening slide of the city presentation showed SacRT bus route 30 on J Street, pulled out of traffic and blocking the bike lane. Irony probably unintentional, but it does illustrate one of the ways in which the city does not support transit or bicycling. The bus should not be pulling out of traffic, but stopping at a bus boarding island with the separated bikeway running behind it.
  • Sam Zimbabwe of Seattle DOT presented on the ways in which the city has shifted mode share to transit with projects and priorities. One of his slides showed the huge increase in the number of intersections at which they have programmed leading pedestrian intervals (LPIs) to enhance pedestrian safety.
  • Jeff Tumlin of San Francisco MTA said they have realized that waiting for a few big projects is an ineffective approach, and are now doing many small projects, often with temporary measures that can be improved when made permanent. He said that sales taxes don’t have to be regressive, if the benefits are directed to the right places and projects, and that well-designed congestion pricing is not regressive. He also suggested that city staff should be challenged to a higher level of productivity and innovation, and let go if they choose not to meet that. He also spoke about SFMTA’s approach, with partners, of working on transportation and housing as a unified goal, not siloed.
  • Darrell Steinberg mentioned several times the idea of the city doing a transportation ballot measure so that it could set its own priorities for investment rather than compromising with the county (SacTA) over projects which don’t meet the needs of the city.
  • City staff said transportation is now 56% of carbon emissions in the city, which is higher than numbers reported before.
  • Ryan Moore poo-poo’d the idea of lowering speed limits, saying the MUTCD prevents that, without mentioning the state law which allows reductions in specific circumstances. Others pushed back on this.
  • Rick Jennings spoke enthusiastically about getting more kids on bikes and his own experience of bicycling with kids.
  • Jeff Harris spoke about EVs, despite the setup of the workshop being about other transportation ideas, not EVs.
  • Mai Vang pointed out that the ideas are too District 4 (central city) focused, believes that there should be more focus on low-income and outlying areas. She said we need better access to light rail stations, not just bicycling access to downtown.
  • Civic Thread spoke (all their employees!) about the need for a city-wide Safe Routes to School program to address the recent parent death at school dismissal at Hearst Elementary, as well as safety needs at every school. They also highlighted equity and community access.
  • Henry Li and Jeff Harris pointed to micro-transit (SmaRT Ride) as being a great success, but SacRT has still not provided information to the community to judge that.
  • Henry Li spoke mostly about funding, and did not address the Stockton/Route 51 project. He again highlighted light rail to the airport, despite the transit advocacy community’s request that all light rail extensions including ARC/Citrus Heights/Roseville considered before selecting the next project.

The message from the invited speakers and the community was clear: we need to make big changes in a hurry, and city funding and commitment will be necessary for that to happen. How will the city respond?

What are your highlights from the workshop?

screen capture of Seattle DOT slide on speed limits and LPIs

Sac Transportation Priorities Plan

I’ve been intending on writing something useful on the City of Sacramento Transportation Priorities Plan, but here we are just a few days away from the deadline to comment, June 14th, and I’ve not done so. I encourage you to go to the webpage (https://www.cityofsacramento.org/Public-Works/Transportation/Planning-Projects/Transportation-Priorities-Plan), review, and provide your input.

we don’t need transportation “balance”

A recent post on Streetsblog, Brent Toderian: Don’t “Balance” Modes — Prioritize Walking, Biking, and Transit, is from a visit and keynote in Denver, but applies perfectly to Sacramento, and I encourage you to read and reflect.

His main point is that those calling for balancing spending on all the modes really mean “lets just keep doing what we were doing.” We have spent, in this region, trillions of dollars in support of one mode, the privately owned motor vehicle. We have spent a little on transit, and almost nothing on walking and bicycling. If we simply increase the share for transit, walking and bicycling a bit, we have not really done anything. There is a deficit in transit, walking, and bicycling that can only be overcome but shifting our spending to these modes. Every dollar spent on expanding or widening roadways and freeways for privately owned vehicles directly harms transit, walking and bicycling because it encourages and subsidizes privately owned vehicles. It encourages people to live further away from jobs and services. It induces traffic, which congests our roadways so that transit can’t work as well. It encourages inappropriate speeds that endanger walkers and bicyclists.

nonewroadsBefore we can start doing right, creating system that truly serves people’s desires for access in livable communities, we have to stop doing what we were doing. It think we can keep doing the wrong stuff and just add in the right stuff, we are wrong. We need to stop expanding and widening roads. Now, and for ever. #NoNewRoads

Myth: driving is supported by user fees

Another myth promulgated by people who support roads over transit is that transit has to be subsidized while motor vehicles pay their way. “Transit, particularly rail transit, is very expensive to build, operate, and maintain. While driving is pretty much self-supporting through user fees, transit must be heavily subsidized by taxpayers.”

Roads for motor vehicles are anything but self supporting. For the state and federal highway system (from the interstates all the way down to some arterial streets that many people don’t realize are designated highways), gas taxes pay for roughly half of constructing those roads. Where does the other half come from? Out of our pockets, from the general fund, through income taxes and other fees. You may have heard that the federal highway trust fund is out of money, but highways are still being built. How is that possible? Well, money keeps getting dumped into transportation to make up for the lack of gas tax income. Though it is now down to 50%, if the gas tax is not raised, it will be a continually declining percentage until nearly all of our transportation funds come out of the general fund.

So if the gas tax doesn’t pay for maintaining roads, what does? Nothing! Very little money is being spent on maintenance, and our roads have deteriorated in a way that is obvious to anyone who drives, or rides a bike, or even walks. Politicians give lip service to fixing roads, but when it comes to spending money, it is all about big new roads and ribbon-cutting opportunities. Or even big new transit projects and ribbon-cutting opportunities.

For local roads, those paid for by counties and cities, very little comes from the gas tax. Counties and cities in California do not have gas taxes nor income taxes (though they do in some other states). So where does the money come from? Sales tax, and out of the general fund, which is mostly property tax. Self supporting? Hardly. Counties and cities do get some state and federal funds, some of which comes from gas taxes, but it usually is only for new construction (not that it has to be, but that is what is asked for and given), and it is a small part of what it takes to build and maintain local roads.

And then there are the externalties of a car-centric transportation system. Climate change, air pollution, sprawl, unemployment or underemployment for people who can’t afford to get to jobs, death and severe injury on our roads ($80 billion per year, for just injuries, not including fatalities), high portions of both family income and family wealth devoted to just one purpose, the car, deteriorating infrastructure, foreign wars for oil (if you think the war in Iraq was about freedom rather than oil and profit for Halliburton and Dick Cheney, you haven’t been paying attention).

All forms of transportation get some subsidy. Motor vehicles, bicycles, buses, trains, airplanes (the subsidy here is probably the highest percentage of any), all get subsidized. Though rail freight is subsidized far less than other modes, which is why it seems to not be competetive with road and air, when it would be if the playing field were level. The real question is whether the subsidies result in a transportation system that serves all citizens, and not just those who choose to drive or are forced to drive by a lack of choice. My opinion is that we have our priorities all wrong.

So why do we still keep spending money we don’t have on highways and roads, rather than a rational transportation system? The “asphalt lobby” as it is called. This is a network of engineers, construction companies, government workers, and politicians who profit incredibly from continuing to spend our money on their pet projects. AASHTO (American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials) and ASCE (American Society of Civil Engineers) are probaby the most prominent proponents, but there are organizations and lobbyists too numerous to list. OK, I can’t resist: the Asphalt Paving Alliance, the Asphalt Institute, the National Asphalt Paving Association. Not to mention: the American Concrete Pavement Association, the American Concrete Institute.

Time to stop!

#StuckInTraffic

There was a Twitter townhall today hosted by Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx and House Transportation Infrastructure Committee Chair Bill Shuster, organized around the Twitter hashtag #StuckInTraffic. I was expecting the worst, given that the hashtag presupposes that the main issue is congestion, but was pleasantly surprised. The questions they answered were softball questions, but the cars-first, highways-only message was absent in their answers, and that has to be a good sign.

The #StuckInTraffic hashtag has all the related tweets and provides a wider range of opinions, but other than the Heritage Foundation cars-only fringe pushing their Transportation Empowerment Act, there was a surprising across-the-board support for a true multi-modal transportation system.

I believe that we should have a multi-modal system, but I also believe that we have already spent enough money on highways and stroads, and that we should now be spending money only on maintenance, walking, transit and bicycling. What multi-modal should mean going forward is that we make up for our past cars-only mistakes by not spending any more on that ultimately dead-end enterprise. One of my favorite transportation graphics of all time is below, showing Chicago’s transportation priorities. Though the mix may be different in different locations, it is good place from which to start discussions at all levels, federal, state and local.

20130412-163310.jpg

No to the southeast connector

In response to the Viewpoint: Sacramento County Needs SouthEast Connector by Roberta MacGlashan and Steve Miklos in the Sacramento Bee on Tuesday:

ConnectorClientMap2bThe southeast connector is a 1970s solution to modern transportation questions. It is based on the model of people living a long way from where they work, and commuting long distances, for example, from El Dorado Hills to Elk Grove. Many people are looking now for a different way to live, with home, work, shopping and cultural amenities all close to each other. They are looking for transportation alternatives, which are scarce in the Sacramento region.

The southeast connector will also produce sprawl all along the corridor. Even before the project is scheduled for construction, developers are wanting to turn agricultural land into yet another subdivision. Cordova Hills is just one example. The Sacramento region already has an oversupply of suburban housing and suburban office parks; we don’t need any more. Some people will continue to choose suburban living and long commutes, but the question is why the rest of us would want to subsidize that choice to the tune of $456M dollars.

The Sacramento region certainly needs transportation infrastructure, and some small part of that infrastructure might be new roads, but what we really need to meet the demands of people for livable places and a vibrant economy is alternatives to single occupant cars. We need a more extensive light rail system, a bus network that serves more people, frequent Amtrak service, and streets that are safe and welcoming for bicyclists and pedestrians. We won’t get that if we spend huge sums on the connector.

We know that freeways such as the connector do not reduce fuel consumption or air pollution. Instead, they induce more driving and increase both. If you don’t believe that freeways induce traffic, just look at Interstate 80. It has been under an almost continuous process of expansion, yet it is always congested, and the new construction underway will be full as soon as it is finished. The economic and freight needs of Interstate 80 could be met by a four-lane freeway. The other lanes are there for commuters. I don’t accept long-distance commuting as an economic benefit, in fact it is quite otherwise.

Though the viewpoint talks about $456M as being the “total cost,” it is only just the beginning. There will be interchanges and widening and enhancements, costing in total many times as much. It would be better to cancel the project right now and re-think the transportation network we need in the Sacramento region.

Capital SouthEast Connector JPA website