SCAG Transportation Committee Meets to Discuss Regional Plan One Last Time

What make a good regional transportation plan?

This question has become a complicated one in recent years as a new legislative mandate requires that the regional bodies responsible for creating these plans, plans which decide the funding direction for large parts of the state, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 and again by 2035.  We’ve already seen how a plan hailed for its progressiveness upon passage by the San Diego Association of Governments now finds itself in court, with the state’s attorney siding with the plaintiffs.

The current round of regional plans will direct funding until 2050 and are the first ones passed since the passage of the state’s greenhouse gas reduction law in 2008.

Soon the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) will have its chance to finalize a regional plan.  An important step in that process will happen later this morning, when SCAG’s Transportation Committee meets to discuss the plan for the last time before it’s 83 member board of directors votes on the plan next month.  Rarely does SCAG meetings or plans attract as much attention, but, spurred by the Safe Routes to Schools National Partnership, Move L.A. and local groups such as VC Cool, hundreds of people have commented on the plan either asking for greater investment in transit, or active transportation.

This has led to two camps forming within transportation reformers.  On one hand, Move L.A. is praising the plan with few conditions.  An op/ed by Move L.A.’s Gloria Ohland (also a Streetsblog contributor) lays out the positives of the plan.  Ohland’s full piece appears at the end of this article:

The broad interest in charting a new direction in community and transportation planning has resulted in a remarkable $530 billion regional plan that enhances the region’s economic future and jobs growth by reducing traffic congestion despite a projected growth in population of 4 million residents. It locates 87 percent of all jobs and 82 percent of all housing within a half mile of transit, and more than triples funding for bicycle and pedestrian projects.

The plan promises to yield a $3,000 annual savings to each household because of lower auto, fuel, water and energy costs, and a 24 percent reduction in pollution-caused respiratory problems, resulting in a $1.5 billion/year less in health care costs. The plan envisions future revenue sources including the substitution of a fee on vehicle miles traveled, a “VMT fee,” for the current gas tax.

 

Meanwhile, the Safe Routes to Schools National Partnership with its allies, including Ventura County’s VCCOOL, who is responsible for the above video, continue to press for more funding for bicycle and pedestrian projects. A recent report by the L.A. County Department of public health estimated a $40 billion need to make the six county SCAG region a safe and attractive place for people to walk and bike. Funding for these projects in the transportation plan that stretches to 2050 is less than $2 billion.

But it’s not just a lack of funding that worries the partnership, it’s the lack of a long-term vision to create safe streets for all road users, especially those without cars. The coalition for transportation options also wants SCAG to increase funding for implementing a complete streets policy, creating a Safe Routes to Schools strategy and funding an effort to solicit and earn larger grants to make streets safer.

One of the many groups that are working with the Partnership is VCCool, a small Ventura County based non-profit who has used video and public presentations to make the case that investing in transit, but not bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, is creating an unbalanced transportation system that can be inherently unsafe.  You can see their most recent video above, and download their presentation by clicking here.

At this point, it seems unlikely that any major changes will happen to the SCAG plan, which means the question posited at the top of this post could be decided in court, just as it will in San Diego.

While Congress Fiddles, Southern California Shows How to Get Things Done

–Gloria Ohland, Move L.A.

When a delegation from the LA Chamber of Commerce visited Congress earlier this month to lobby for passage of the federal surface transportation reauthorization, members were greeted warmly by federal transportation officials who noted that LA was providing a model for Congress on how to get things done.

“You check your politics at the door,” said US Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, who with US Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Federal Transit Administration head Peter Rogoff, complimented the chamber delegation on the bold and broad business-labor-environmental coalition that is supporting massive investment in LA’s public transportation system.

Congress has bogged down in partisan and ideological brinksmanship over the transportation reauthorization—and many other issues—so often during the past four years that the federal transportation bill will have to be extended for the ninth time when the current extension runs out March 31. While the Senate approved its bipartisan version of the bill this week under the leadership of Senator Boxer and Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK), House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) had to abandon his bill, which linked infrastructure programs with domestic oil production.

The lack of a federal bill means states haven’t had the funding assurances they need to begin major multi-year infrastructure projects that could provide hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of jobs to American workers.

While the grand coalition that championed the Measure R sales tax for transportation in LA County in 2008 is one example of how to get things done in a bipartisan manner, another perhaps even grander example of how cooperation, community and bipartisanship can yield impressive results is currently underway in Southern California.

Every four years the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) adopts a 25-year regional transportation plan (RTP) that has to “meet conformity” with the federal Clean Air Act in order for the six-county region to continue to receive federal transportation funding. During this planning cycle the RTP was for the first time paired with a “sustainable communities strategy”(SCS)—mandated by the state’s new GHG reduction law, SB 375—that lays out a plan to reduce GHGs by reducing driving.

The public rarely shows up at SCAG, an agency governed by a bipartisan 83-member Regional Council, but the SCS has drawn hundreds of people into SCAG’s planning process. Meetings have been crowded with advocates demanding more transit, bike lanes and pedestrian improvements and more affordable housing choices, and doctors and academics testifying that in order to deal with the health and obesity crisis the region needs to create “active environments”—because auto-oriented communities have literally engineered physical activity out of our lives.

The broad interest in charting a new direction in community and transportation planning has resulted in a remarkable $530 billion regional plan that enhances the region’s economic future and jobs growth by reducing traffic congestion despite a projected growth in population of 4 million residents. It locates 87 percent of all jobs and 82 percent of all housing within a half mile of transit, and more than triples funding for bicycle and pedestrian projects.

The plan promises to yield a $3,000 annual savings to each household because of lower auto, fuel, water and energy costs, and a 24 percent reduction in pollution-caused respiratory problems, resulting in a $1.5 billion/year less in health care costs. The plan envisions future revenue sources including the substitution of a fee on vehicle miles traveled, a “VMT fee,” for the current gas tax.

There seems to be general agreement across the region that our single-minded focus on building single-family residential neighborhoods connected by highways has reached the point of diminishing returns. Demographic changes—a majority of single-person households and a rapidly aging population—and rising gas prices are causing Southern Californians to demand a wider range of housing and transportation choices.

LA County voters demonstrated this when they passed the Measure R sales tax in 2008 to provide $40 billion for transportation—$30 billion of it for transit—by almost 70 percent. The Measure R investment together with the bike and pedestrian improvements and the increase in jobs and housing near stations is responsible for much of the GHG reductions in the RTP/SCS. And in the final run-up to plan adoption, SCAG staff may be recommending even more funding for transit, bike and pedestrian projects.

Prior to passing the transportation bill in the US Senate, Senator Inhofe said he’s always believed “conservatives should be big in two areas: national defense and infrastructure.” We can only hope that the spirit of collaboration and bipartisanship evidenced both in the US Senate and in Southern California—and the acknowledgment that transportation investments and the jobs they create are critical—will inspire the US House of Representatives to move forward.