High Marks but Few Takers on California Transit

So…if Bay Area transit is so good, why don’t more people use it?

(Photo: Craig Miller)

A new study from the Brookings Institution finds that compared with the rest of the nation, the Bay Area offers pretty good public transportation options.

Among 100 major metropolitan areas, San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont ranks 16th, and San Jose-Santa Clara-Sunnyvale ranks second.  Areas were ranked according to how accessible transit is to riders, how long it takes to get to work on transit and how often the systems run during rush hours.

So…if Bay Area transit is so good, why doesn’t anybody seem to take it?

Just one out of ten people in the Bay Area commute by public transportation, according to John Goodwin of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. He says that number hasn’t changed much over the years, despite huge investments in the system. And the Bay Area isn’t alone in that. A recent study by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) found that between 1990 and 2008, the share of commuters taking transit increased by less than one percentage point, from 5% to 5.5%, despite the construction of 217 new rail stations, and the fact that more than a third of California’s transportation spending since the early 1980s has gone to public transit.
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Report: Climate Change Hits Home

Flooding along San Francisco's Embarcadero during an extreme high tide in February. (Photo: Heidi Nutters/Flickr)

Even if the world stopped emitting all greenhouse gases today, scientists say, the climate would continue to change, perhaps for centuries, before it stabilized.  Since a zero-emissions world is unlikely, to say the least, and considering that global carbon emissions are continuing on their upward trend, finding ways to adapt to what many see as inevitable is getting more and more attention.

The San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR), a local think tank focused on sustainable growth, has just released a 40-page report that outlines the Bay Area’s biggest climate risks and lays out a road map for how communities can start preparing.

The upshot?  We’ve got a lot of work to do.
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Planners Seek Public Input on Bay Area Growth

How do you want the Bay Area to look in 2040?

Tonight the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) kicks off the first of nine “Plan Bay Area” workshops, aimed at gathering public input on plans for sustainable growth in the region. The planning agency is seeking comment on the Initial Vision Scenario, which was released by MTC and the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) last month.  This scenario is the first draft of the Bay Area’s Sustainable Communities Strategy, a planning document required under the state law, SB 375, which was passed in 2008 and requires planning regions throughout California to cut greenhouse gas emissions from cars by integrating land-use and transportation planning.

The Bay Area, Sacramento, and San Diego
have some of the most aggressive reductions targets: seven percent per capita by 2020 and 13-16% by 2035 (compared to 2005 levels).  The South Coast (by far the biggest region, including Los Angeles, San Bernadino, Ventura, and other counties) is shooting for an eight percent reduction by 2020, and 13% by 2035.
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Thin Climate Strategy in Bay Area Transit Plan

3273414070_fd61bfa09a_mThe new Draft Transportation 2035 Plan released Wednesday by the Bay Area’s Metropolitan Transportation Commission calls for $226 billion in spending over the next 25 years to “confront global warming and traffic congestion.”  But close up, the plans seems more like a sorely needed band-aid to patch up the region’s ailing transit infrastructure.  Fully 82% of the plan’s funding is designated for upgrading and maintaining the existing system, with 13% allotted for transit expansions.

The plan includes $400 million (0.2%) for a “Transportation Climate Action Campaign”  to raise public awareness about climate change and individual actions that residents can take to reduce the region’s carbon footprint. The campaign will also include a grants program to subsidize demonstration projects  for reducing auto emissions with alternative fuels or car-sharing projects.  An additional $1 billion is set aside for bicycle facilities and programs.

But when, by the MTC’s own numbers, 40% of the Bay Area’s emissions come from the transportation sector, $1.4 billion to fight greenhouse gas emissions seems paltry given that this is the plan to carry us through to 2035. By law, California’s greenhouse gas emissions need to be reduced approximately 30% by 2020.

MTC Executive Director Steve Heminger said the plan “tees up two strategies that we have consistently indentified as the most important in making progress in reducing environmental emissions like CO2, in reducing vehicle miles of travel, and those are road pricing, and a better link to land use without transportation investment.”

The idea is that reducing traffic congestion by increasing the cost of driving, be it with higher bridge tolls or charging drivers to use HOV lanes,  greenhouse gas emissions will decrease.  And by upgrading aspects of the region’s transit system, more people will choose to forgo the car and opt for public transit.

“From an infrastructure perspective, I think this plan is about as climate positive as it could be,” said Heminger.

Use the audio players to hear Heminger explain how the plan attacks climate change:

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