Send a Love Letter to Better Transportation & Land Use

Why you should comment on the draft SCAG 2012-2035 regional transportation plan/ sustainable communities strategy.

What is the RTP?

To read the plan in its entirety, click on the image.

The SCAG 2012 to 2035 Regional Transportation Plan/ Sustainable Communities Strategy  is a $525 billion, 23 year transportation and land use blueprint for the six county, expected-to-grow-to 22 million person Southern California Associations of Governments region. The 230 page draft report446 page list of projects to fund, 642 page environmental impact report, and numerous appendixes lay out a vision for transportation and land use in the greater Los Angeles region along with a plan to raise and spend over $520 billion to maintain, operate and expand transportation infrastructure through 2035.

Comments on the draft plan are due by 5pm on Valentine’s day, February 14, 2012. I’d encourage everyone interested in the future of streets, transit, sustainability or the built environment in the region to submit comments by emailing RTP@scag.ca.gov While not everything in the draft plan will get implemented, the RTP is a strong indicator of how transportation agencies, counties and cities will prioritize investments in transportation. If there are harmful or wasteful projects slated to be funded, you should encourage SCAG to drop them. If you want local governments to prioritize different transportation investment, you should let SCAG know. If you have ideas for other ways to improve mobility, to raise funds to pay for transportation, to encourage more sustainable land uses (especially housing patterns and locations), or otherwise transform how we move people and products, let them know.

I hope that some Streetsblog readers will check out the project list to see and comment on what is planned – and what is left out- for your part of the region and/or for the transportation sector(s) that you know best. For my comments, which I summarize below, I’ve tried to focus on the improved mobility and more sustainable neighborhoods that I hope to see evolve over the next 25 years. If the draft plan moves us in that direction, I’ll acknowledge the positive elements of the plan. Where the draft plan falls short or moves in the wrong direction, I’ll suggest changes.

A Vision for the Future

So what are some compelling but achievable long term visions for transportation and land use in the region? Mine would include:

  • Rapid implementation of more balanced transportation options. The region is still far from recovering from a frenzy of car-based development. The SCAG region has 21,638 center-line miles of road  (55,890 lane miles of roads), 4315 miles of bikeways of varied quality (almost zero of it protected lanes on streets), and 470 miles of passenger trains (only 80 miles of which is light rail/subway, the rest metrolink). Opportunities and infrastructure to walk, bike, and take transit should be rapidly expanded so residents have choices for how to get around.
  • Transportation that doesn’t kill us, make us sick, or destroy the future. Moving people by cars and materials by trucks and diesel trains and separating where we live from where we work and shop produces fatal collisions,  cancer and heart diseaseobesity and diabetes  and climate change, with a disparate impact on residents of low income neighborhoods bisected by highways and living near ports, warehouses, railyards and intermodal facilities. Shifting to active transportation and safer streets; insisting on zero emission technologies; promoting walkable land uses; and taxing polluting forms of transportation to pay for clean mobility options can help ensure we are not harmed by our transportation systems.
  • Streets for people, not roads for cars. Streets are our most important public spaces so let’s reconfigure them to be vibrant, safe, healthy places rather than sewers for cars. Why can’t we get some world class street designs implemented in this region, like the models for South Figueroa showcased by myfigueroa last year? At the least we deserve slower speed limits, more cross walks, and better sidewalks, not to mention more murals and legal street food.
  • A network of rapid buses as the primary way to travel Los Angeles in a vehicle. I like Jarrett Walker’s vision for Los Angeles streets in 2030  “Indeed, the Rapid has come to feel like a subway on the surface.  Nothing gets in its way, so it glides smoothly from one stop to the next past all the frustrations of other traffic.  In fact, the Rapid is the only reliable way to travel down most of the great boulevards of LA, if you’re going further than you can cycle.  And because it works, all kinds of people ride it.”
  • Good places rather than more sprawl. People are drawn to diversity in the built environment,  so municipalities should legalize interesting, mixed-use neighborhoods by getting rid of zoning rules that restrict mixed use development to a small fraction of cities’ land area. Governments should also not be contributing a single cent towards more sprawl so I’d like to see an end to road building and the provision of public sewers or utilities ingreenfield, exurban areas of the region.
  • An expansive network of protected bike lanes. The cycling rate in greater Los Angeles is pitifully low, although growing, with a severe gender imbalance. The main reason for this is likely that most people will not ride bicycles in traffic (or separated from traffic by a painted line). In the developed world, every nation with high rates of cycling has separated bike facilities while every nation with low cycling rates lacks this infrastructure. Let’s start creating a network of protected bike lanes/ cycletracks in all urbanized areas of Southern California, like the Dutch did beginning in the mid 1970s. I realize that protected lanes are frowned upon by state street engineering standards but this is a 23 year plan so we can assume that separated facilities will be legalized.
  • Expanded passenger rail for mobility and as hubs of walkable neighborhoods. New light rail in Los Angeles County has been one of the main positive trends in transportation and land use in the region. Planned and new lines should be rapidly built to fill in gaps in the system. From light rail to high speed rail, new lines and stations should be designed to encourage walkable, mixed use development, more affordable housing, and last mile connections by bike and foot (rather than land-wasting parking lots).
  • Less space for cars and trucks. Roads and parking currently take up too much of our land, which encourages car-based transportation and all the problems that accompany it. Driving increases when roads are constructed, lengthened or widened. Yes, it is that simple.  So we should not be building any new road space anywhere in the SCAG region. Instead we should remove space for cars by planning for freeway removal as smart cities are doing around the world;  implementing road diets to give car lanes to pedestrians, bikes and buses; barring cars from city centers either permanently or regularly as part of expanded ciclavias; and  ending all minimum parking requirements.

Comments on draft RTP

While I don’t think that the draft RTP moves far enough towards this improved transportation and land use end goal,  I would like to acknowledge some of the positive elements of the draft plan.

  • The planning process took account of the relationship between transportation, land use,  sustainability, environmental justice and economic development.
  • The draft plan calls for significant investments in transit construction, operations and maintenance.
  • The draft plan increases investments in active transportation compared to previous RTPs.
  • The draft plan anticipates that vehicle miles traveled will increase less than population growth.
  • The sustainable communities strategy quantifies how different forms of growth will have very different impacts on sprawl, energy and water use and other sustainability indicators.
  • The draft plan anticipates adoption of zero emission technologies towards the end of the plan time frame.
  • The draft plan supports high speed rail.
  • The draft plan anticipates a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from transportation in line with the goals of SB 375.
  • The single largest anticipated funding source in the draft plan is implementation of a fee on driving or an increase in the gas tax, either of which would discourage driving.
  • Much of the new highway space proposed in the draft plan is toll roads, HOV lanes, or HOT lanes (open to HOV or Tolls) and therefore may lead to less new, induced driving than the provision of free, multiuse lanes.

I think there are some major areas in which the RTP should be strengthened or modified

  1. Increase investments in active transportation from the $6 billion budgeted to the approximately $40 billion recommended by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health to fix sidewalks, implement jurisdictions’ bike plans; and invest in last mile infrastructure near transit stations.
  2. Budget an additional $1 billion for the construction of 1000-2000 miles of protected bike lines to increase rates of cycling among non traditional cyclists  (protected lanes recently constructed in Long Beach cost approximately $580,000 per mile).
  3. Expand and accelerate transit investments so all planned transit projects in the RTP are constructed by 2022. Existing and new transit services should be funded so as to be affordable with frequent service.
  4. Do not add any lane miles of highways or major arterials,  because as Duranton and Turner have shown, “For interstate highways in the densest parts of metropolitan areas we find that vkt increases in exact proportion to highways, confirming the ‘fundamental law of highway congestion’ suggested by Downs(1962, 1992). This relationship also approximately holds for other important roads in dense areas and for interstate highways in less dense parts of metropolitan areas.”  The SCAG region currently (base year 2008) has 21,638 miles of road and 55,890 lane miles of roads. The draft RTP anticipates adding 948 centerline miles/ 7419 lanes miles which would be a 4.4%/ 11.1% increase.  Converting mixed flow lanes to toll, HOV or HOT lanes or converting HOV lanes to toll or HOT lanes would be acceptable.
  5. Pay for additional active transportation and transit investments by cancelling highway expansion projects and by increasing fees on driving. I believe that the dozen most expensive road expansion projects in the RTP are: east west freight corridor ($15.2 billion),  Riverside to Orange County CETAP ($13 billion), high desert corridor ($6.9 billion), 710 corridor expansion ($6.1 billion), 710 gap closure ($5.6 billion), 5 north capacity enhancements ($5.3 billion), 241 expansion ($2.7 billion), mid county parkway ($2.3 billion), 15 widening ($ 1.7 billion), 405 widening in Orange County ($1.7 billion), 5 widening ($1.6 billion), and 79 expansion ($1.4 billion). Building these highways projects will expand driving, while cancelling them will allow $63.5 billion to be spent on active transportation and transit.
  6. Adopt alternative 3 (the envision 2 alternative) smart growth land use and housing patterns) rather than the planned project.  This alternative version of the plan relies on smart growth land use and housing patterns to achieve superior environmental results in air quality, aesthetics, open space and farmland preservation, water conservation, greenhouse gas emissions reductions, mobility, and land use.
  7. Encourage sensitive densification of existing single family zoned areas by encouraging municipalities to allow cottage housing, duplexes, accessory dwellings, and small lot subdivisions in R-1 zones.
  8. Encourage all jurisdictions to eliminate mandatory parking minimums for existing and new buildings.
  9. Set a goal to reduce rather than expand vehicle miles travelled within the region. Vehicle Miles travelled in the baseline year 2008 was 445,844 daily, approximately half on freeways, half on arterial roads. SCAG calculates that this number will rise to 546,806 daily by 2035 without any changes to roads (a 22.6 % increase). Under their plan, VMT will still rise, to 516,990 (16% increase). They also anticipate that VMT for trucks will grow even faster, expanding from 30,201 to 53,431 under their 2035 plan (a 76.9% increase).
  10. Plan for highway removal or modification. Learning from cities removing highways http://www.cnu.org/highways/freewayswithoutfutures2012 , agencies and municipalities should plan to remove, cover or alter and reclassify as arterials highways that divide communities, negatively impact valuable natural resources such as rivers and coasts, or channel excessive traffic into neighborhoods. Freeway stubs such as the 710 N above the 10 or the 2 as it approaches Silverlake are ripe for removal or conversion and the 101 through downtown Los Angeles has been the subject of advocacy for capping for a park.
  11. Do not invest in goods movement roads and rail expansion in the hopes that zero emission technologies will emerge decades later. Invest more in zero emissions trucks and locomotives now as a precondition before expanding freight infrastructure. Otherwise impacted communities will continue to suffer disproportionately from pollution from good movement.
  12. Price driving and parking to reflect the externalities of car and truck use. There are a variety of methods for increasing the price of driving, some of which are contemplated in the RTP’s financial plan.  Higher gas taxes, carbon taxes, charges based on miles driven, appropriately and dynamically priced parking, and congestion charges aimed at commuters entering central city areas are all useful policies.