MTC Opposes Regionalism, Yet Again
In 2013, MTC adopted a regional plan called Plan Bay Area, in response to state requirements under SB 375 to reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs). Continuing its long history of putting politics before its mandate of improving the Bay Area, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission voted today to adopt an eviscerated set of Guidelines for Bay Area counties. Draft Guidelines had been developed that called for counties, when developing their Countywide Transportation Plans, to look to the goals of Plan Bay Area.
That draft was then amended by MTC’s Planning Committee and the adopted as the MTC CTP Guidelines (the yellow highlighted text on PDF page 8), under the leadership of Solano Supervisor Jim Spering, to explicitly call the Guidelines voluntary–something that is obvious in the very word Guideline. The net result was to send a message to counties that they can safely ignore what goes on at the regional level. Spering, backed up by a roster of business entities, opposed the coordination of planning for the purpose of achieving regional results. Anyone wondering why MTC is such a failure at regional governance need look no further than the list of businesses that supported the Committee’s amendments. Why they don’t want an effective regional government that can achieve results remains mysterious, and seemingly contrary to their economic interests.
Comments to the Commission
TRANSDEF’s President offered these remarks to the Commission:
Today is your opportunity to set a direction, by formally notifying Bay Area transportation agencies of their responsibility to do their part to reduce GHG emissions and achieve other regional goals. This is very much needed, because transportation professionals have spent their entire careers thinking of VMT growth as the inevitable consequence of development.
Alameda CTA unapologetically adopted a plan with a 46% growth in VMT. CCTA is now workshopping a plan with a 35% increase in VMT. The heart of these plans is the implicit assumption that life will continue just as it has for generations of suburban development.
This is a time of profound change in transportation-land use planning. After a great deal of study and thought, MTC adopted Plan Bay Area. These Guidelines ask the counties to become full partners in implementing that plan. The Planning Committee’s amendments unfortunately reject that request and respond: “We don’t need no stinking guidelines.”
Agencies need an official notice that times have changed. That’s what these Guidelines are. They are guidelines, not mandates. That’s why the Planning Committee’s amendments are so off-the-mark.
Let’s call those amendments what they are: a declaration that someone else needs to be responsible for dealing with climate change. Those amendments are an adamant refusal to acknowledge that Bay Area counties share a common fate with the rest of humanity. Keeping that common fate from turning catastrophic is the responsibility of each of us.
Just as racism is no longer considered socially acceptable, the amendments’ rejection of our common fate must not be allowed to infect these Guidelines.
The Climate March and UN Conference on Climate Change bring home the importance of local action to protect the climate. These Guidelines are the single most important action MTC can take in the near-term to benefit the climate. Transdef urges MTC to adopt the draft guidelines, minus the Planning Committee’s amendments. By doing so, MTC will play its part in this historic week of climate action.
Comments on the Draft Guidelines
TRANSDEF submitted these comments on August 28, 2014 during the development process for the Guidelines:
Having been part of the CTC Working Group that twice revised the RTP Guidelines, I am very familiar with what is needed to create useful guidelines. The draft Countywide Plan Guidelines fail to provide an adequate context for transportation planning.
What’s missing is an introduction that sets the stage for what amounts to a revolutionary change in transportation planning. In a total break from a past of politically driven pet projects, the new reality of climate change demands that scarce transportation funds be spent strategically. Unlike the past, transportation investments now need to produce tangible results on the RTP performance measures.
As an example of past non-strategic investments, many billions of dollars invested in BART extensions have resulted in the total ridership of the Bay Area’s top six transit operators now being lower than it was thirty years ago. (See chart.)
Unless Countywide Plans are directed towards achieving results on RTP performance measures, the region will see a worsened environment and worsened quality of life for Bay Area residents.
A recent example comes to mind: the Alameda County Transportation Plan projected a 46% increase in VMT. (The agency recently backtracked, claiming the increase is “only” 27%, or roughly the rate of population growth.) Plans that maintain–or even worse, increase–VMT per capita keep the region on an unsustainable trend to ever-greater GHG emissions and congestion.
The CTP Guidelines need to have a frank introduction that makes it clear to both staff and decisionmakers that the old days are over, and that a new regime has arrived. Unless such an introduction is provided, only slow incremental change will occur. Given how extreme conditions are becoming at the North and South Poles, that would be too little and far too late.