We don’t have much time left to fix transportation

Environmentalist Ed Mainland of Novato, CA speaks out:

Controversy has swirled around Marin’s Measure AA. Many proponents of Measure AA seem oblivious to TAM’s dismal track record and substantive arguments pro and con around TAM’s funding plan. Proponents point to the plan’s funding of transit, EVs, and Safe Routes to Schools. Others call the plan conventional, status quo, wedded to car culture, and lacking in real understanding of what is at stake.

Several things Marinites may wish to keep in mind:

1. A local climate activist recently compared TAM’s plan to Los Angeles’ plan and found TAM’s, by comparison, to be mired “in the 1950’s”. Electric vehicle advocates appear torn, describing TAM as mostly status quo even though a bit more EV funding may be granted.

2. It is fair to say TAM has largely ignored the total amount of driving (Vehicle Miles Traveled, or VMT) in its actual rhetoric, funding and planning. Worse, it is an agency that didn’t even give lip service to GHG reduction until the outcry this year from citizens who showed up a city council meetings hearing TAM’s plan and demanded real change. TAM’s stated purpose has long been to “ease congestion” — not reduce GHGs.

3. Transit ridership is dwindling. Fewer people ride transit. Poor people defect from transit as soon as they can afford their own car. This trend proves that transit as we know it desperately needs deep systemic change to reverse the erosion of ridership.

4. The state ballot measure to block gas taxes may presage trouble: polls show substantial opposition to even tiny increases in gas tax. Why is this? Could one reason be public disillusion with generations of broken promises by elected officials to “solve congestion” and “fix potholes” by continuing the expansion of freeways and the coddling of automobile culture?

5. Measure AA proponents say, let’s just get Measure AA passed, then we can hash out better solutions with TAM over time. What is it in the record of this unresponsive bureaucracy and its get-along go-along TAM politicians that gives any hope beyond tacit incrementalism?  Is locking in status quo solutions for decades in any way commensurate with the devastating climate challenge before us?

6. A German scientist told Marinites recently that 60 percent of the bird life and 80 percent of insects went missing in Germany during the recent unprecedented heat wave in Europe. Similar havoc is being reported in our own Western deserts and in other countries. Major climate engines — like the Atlantic Circulation — are ominously beginning to shift. Is this a time for weak GHG half-measures in transportation?

7. See Michael Moore’s new film “11/9”. One culprit he identifies is “compromising, compromising, compromising, compromising”. Don’t let perfection be the enemy of the good, say the compromisers. They have given us Trump, says Moore. Is Measure AA another example?

8. Do we have here a case of “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”? Will all Marin be caught, as many activists seem to be, in this conundrum? Meanwhile, as TAM fiddles, California’s GHG emissions from transportation continue to spiral upward.

9. If “winning the hearts and minds of the public” to embrace solutions commensurate with the scale of the danger is the business of environmentalists, then perhaps threatening defeat of Measure AA would be “tough love.” A strong enough shock to the system would push TAM and its politicians back to the drawing board, to conceive of truly radical and powerful transportation solutions — particularly reduction of VMT — ones that finally get a handle on GHG emissions and tip them into a downwards trajectory.

10. Those intending to endorse Measure AA should at least do so with a clarion call that the endorsement comes grudgingly, with a strong challenge to TAM to mend its ways. TAM should be challenged to give us real GHG reduction strategies, a strong reduction in VMT, and total electrification of transportation–not just lip service, not just workshops–real action. That’s what leadership is. We don’t have much time left to get things right.

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