The TRANSDEF Smart Growth Alternative

The TRANSDEF Smart Growth Alternative demonstrates that a program of Smart Growth, excellent public transit and market-based pricing does more to increase accessibility and reduce congestion than the conventional response to congested highways: highway widening.

Every four years, MTC is required to adopt a Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) for the Bay Area. The RTP identifies how all transportation funds for the next 20 or 25 years will be spent.  Starting back in 1994, transit activists working together as the Regional Alliance for Transit (RAFT) urged MTC to reorient its RTP.  They were concerned about the enormously expensive BART extensions, the continued reliance on private autos, and the assumption that development would continue to sprawl at the fringes of the Bay Area, requiring one car per person.  (See our comment letter on the 1994 RTP.) 

MTC stonewalled all criticism of that RTP, and continued to ignore the public during the 1996, 1998 and 2001 RTPs.  In response, TRANSDEF initiated a series of lawsuits in an attempt to stop MTC from further degrading the Bay Area.  (See Litigation.)  In the settlement of one suit, MTC agreed to study the TRANSDEF Smart Growth Alternative in the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) of its 2005 RTP.  MTC released a draft of that plan, called Transportation 2030, in November, 2004.

In its Smart Growth Alternative, TRANSDEF was able to test out the ideas it had advocated for the past decade. The Alternative assumed that all development between 2005 and 2030 would take place in already urbanized areas, without any urbanization of greenfields.  Existing neighborhoods were, for the most part, not affected by this infill development, which was targeted at failed shopping malls and strip centers. 

The Alternative’s transit plan was designed to meet the potential demand for transit service at the lowest cost.  A series of new Rapid Bus lines, additional service on existing bus lines, three conventional-gauge commuter rail lines and High Speed Rail, accessing the Bay Area via the Altamont Pass, would provide substantially more transit service than is affordable under MTC’s plan. 

In contrast to MTC’s policy of never reconsidering its prior commitments to projects, the Alternative evaluated the cost-effectiveness of those previously committed projects that were not already under construction contract.  Finally, the Alternative tested a new way of responding to traffic congestion:  rather than widening highways (i.e., increasing the supply of lane-miles) a series of pricing initiatives would reduce demand for auto travel by encouraging transit use and making single-occupant auto travel bear more of its costs.

MTC’s analysis showed that the TRANSDEF Smart Growth Alternative has less traffic congestion, less air emissions, and preserved more agricultural, habitat and open space lands than the RTP MTC adopted.  Not only is the Alternative environmentally superior and more sustainable, it is more beneficial to low income communities and communities of color, and saved billions of dollars. 

The TRANSDEF Smart Growth Alternative demonstrates that ending the traditional practice of widening congested highways saves large amounts of money and leaves a better environment, when coupled with aggressively implemented Smart Growth, excellent public transit and market-based pricing.