Thursday, June 25, 2015

Traffic congestion: Excuse to bully motorists?

Will California use congestion to coerce motorists?

When Jerry Brown staged a symbolic “groundbreaking” for his pet bullet train project in downtown Fresno five months ago, he traveled to his event by car.

He wasn’t alone. The 350 miles or so he traveled on his round-trip that day were a minute fraction of the approximately 900 million miles that California motorists drive on streets, roads and highways each day.

Or to put it another way, autos account for well over 90 percent of Californians’ transportation. Even the most optimistic projections of non-automotive travel say that’s unlikely to change much in the future as the state’s population and transportation demands continue to grow.

That fact and years of political neglect generate two problems---the nation’s worst traffic congestion and its third-worst pavement conditions.

Brown says he wants to do something about the state’s deteriorating roadways and has called a special legislative session to explore ways to put billions of dollars more into maintenance and reconstruction.

However, he is silent on congestion. The special legislative session may bring a simmering dispute over that facet of the transportation conundrum into sharper focus.

Three months ago, Brown’s Department of Transportation, fulfilling a 2009 legislative mandate, began circulating a draft of a California Transportation Plan, aimed at setting policy for the next quarter-century.

Citing California’s commitments to reducing greenhouse gases and improving access to non-automotive transportation, the CTP proposes to reduce automotive travel by increasing motorists’ taxes, flatly rejecting “road capacity enhancing strategies,” and urging the state to “avoid funding projects that add road capacity.”

Implicitly, therefore, it contends that increasing traffic congestion and the cost of driving would compel Californians to abandon their cars in favor of transit, bicycles and other non-automotive modes.

A punitive approach doesn’t sit well with the California Transportation Commission.

This month, the commission declared the CTP “is planning for significant actions that will fundamentally alter how Californians will utilize our transportation system” and urged that it balance “environmental goals with economic and mobility needs.”

The CTP, the commission says, puts too much emphasis on reducing automotive travel and too little on technological advances, such as electric cars, that could reduce fossil fuel use---Brown’s goal is a 50 percent cut---while maintaining personal mobility.

Californians support greenhouse gas reduction. But do they also want the state to compel them to change their lifestyles by parking their cars, jumping aboard trolley cars and bicycles, and trading their single-family homes for denser housing, as the CTP and other state policies assume they must?

It would be interesting to put that question on the ballot.

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At 4:15 PM, Anonymous Gregski said...

"It would be interesting to put that question on the ballot."

I recall a few years back a ballot initiative to increase the tolls on the Bay, San Mateo and Richmond bridges. The proceeds were slated to go mostly to non-road, non-bridge projects including bus stations, BART and ferry services.

The initiative, which applied to the Bay Area counties, passed, surely thanks to a huge vote from motorists who, on the surface it seemed to me, were voting against their own interests.

Then some letters to the editor appeared in which a few of these motorists explained themselves. They thought paying auto tolls to underwrite ferries was a good idea because it would enable all the OTHER drivers to leave their cars at home and take the ferry thereby opening up space on the Bay Bridge for our letter-writers to continue their happy motoring.

Imagine what life would be like if most motorists thought, and voted, this way. Oops, no need to imagine. Just take a drive on the Bay Bridge this afternoon. Or take a ferry ride to Sausalito on a business day; I guarantee you'll find a cozy, empty seat awaits you. Or hang out at some High-Speed Rail public ceremony and watch who steps out of the governor's shiny black SUV. Same voters.

At 11:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rob, did you see where the Caltrain board decided to dump the idea of bathrooms on trains so that they could increase bike storage capacity. I saw this over on Streetsblog.


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