Why Environmentalists Should Oppose RM3

The general public has plenty of reason to distrust MTC and RM3. That said, environmentalists and especially climate activists have compelling reasons to actively campaign against RM3. Half of California’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are produced by motor vehicles. We must fight back against MTC’s Business as Usual priorities, which result in continued emissions growth. MTC stubbornly refuses to change its priorities, even though the climate emergency clearly demands an entirely new focus: reducing GHG emissions. That requires shifting where the region’s transportation money is spent, something resisted by local governments. For the Bay Area and California to reach its climate goals,  the trend towards ever-increasing GHG emissions from transportation must be stopped and reversed, For that to happen, MTC itself must be forced to change. That makes this measure too critical for environmentalists to sit on the sidelines for this election. MTC will have no reason to rethink its priorities if the voters give them RM3’s $4.5 billion in new revenue

Where MTC is taking the Bay Area

After analyzing the impacts of the 2017 Plan Bay Area, it is indisputable that MTC’s policies lead to ever-higher GHG emissions. The following key statistics from MTC’s Draft Environmental Impact Report nail down exactly where MTC is going. All page and table references are to the DEIR.

Plan Bay Area, based on Business-as-Usual local and county plans, leads to a  21% increase in miles driven (VMT) by 2040 (Table 2.1-14.). This indicates that the region is continuing to sprawl and that it is not moving towards transit and alternative travel modes. This increased VMT will cause increased congestion: Delay in 2040 is projected to increase by 44%. (Table 2.1-14.) San Francisco is projected to have a 150% increase in slow and stalled traffic (Level of Service F) during the peak afternoon commute period. (Impact 2.1-3.)

These roadway traffic service levels reflect the impact of total VMT growth exceeding the growth of roadway capacity on a county level. (p. 2.1-31.)

Our region keeps growing in population but not in roadway capacity (because of physical, environmental, and fiscal constraints). The sheer number of person-trips clustered into the peak-period commute demands a level of capacity that only a mass transportation approach can provide. The City of Cupertino’s animated film Silicon Valley’s Transportation Futuredemonstrates this point brilliantly. Committing scarce system expansion funds to road capacity projects like Express Lanes is the formula for gridlock in the long term. Supporting solo drivers (the only purpose of Express Lanes other than collecting the tolls) is short-term thinking in an attempt to woo voters. 2018’s dual challenges of climate change and congestion demand bold long-term thinking.   

The Plan Fails to Influence Mode Choice

Table 2.1-15 projects the solo drivers’ percentage of all travel to remain static between 2015 and 2040. Because of this failure to shift mode shares, Table 2.5-7 projects that GHG emissions per capita remain nearly static between the years 2020 and 2040, even as total GHG emissions climb with population growth. This is an overt refusal to implement climate policy, especially that contained in SB 375.

With total regional transit ridership declining in absolute numbers since 1982–and declining even more strongly in per capita numbers–decades of MTC’s regional plans have resulted in the following outcomes:

  • Failure to achieve effective transit-oriented development, and
  • Failure to keep transit competitive with other modes, and
  • Failure to plan the construction of transit that captures new residents.

By way of contrast, Portland has managed a significant reduction in VMT/capita, and maintained that reduction compared to national averages. Obviously, Portland has succeeded in shifting mode shares. (Portland has a directly elected Metro Board.)

The Consequences for GHG Emissions

The first Table 2.5-10 (p. 2.5-40) discloses a 10% increase* in regional GHG emissions from these transportation sources, directly contrary to the intent of SB 375. Between 2005 and 2035, a mind-boggling 61.8% of the claimed per capita emissions reductions come from so-called Climate Initiatives. (Calculations using data from Table 2.5-7.) TRANSDEF believes the only way MTC was able to claim SB 375 compliance while increasing VMT and GHGs was to rely heavily on off-model adjustments. That’s clearly not what SB 375 intended.

This knowing increase in GHG emissions should be reason enough to declare No Confidence in MTC’s leadership. But the situation is even worse. MTC shockingly claims that:

There are no additional land use strategies available to feasibly bridge the gap between the proposed Plan GHG emissions and 2030 (and beyond) targets. (p. 2.5-43.)

What MTC is actually saying here is that there is no way it can meet the future targets while continuing to do Business as Usual. This statement is an open declaration of profound resistance to change. In this statement, MTC is making it clear it refuses to act to reduce VMT and GHG growth.

Regional Measure 3 would raise bridge toll receipts by $4.5 billion, giving MTC the resources it needs to implement key parts of Plan Bay Area. A vote for RM3 is a vote to support MTC’s climate-hostile direction, and ignore the ever-increasing congestion, VMT and GHG emissions disclosed in MTC’s own documents. Let’s fight back and let MTC know we’re not willing to go where they want to take us!

If RM3 is defeated, those organizations that took leadership will have increased influence over the future direction of MTC. This election is a rare opportunity to vote on whether to continue with the status quo, or firmly reject it.

Because of MTC’s national prominence, a defeat by environmentalists would send a shockwave throughout the country about transportation policy and climate. This is leverage! It is a way to finally get a handle on the half of GHG emissions that come from motor vehicles.

*Note that this figure is net of the claimed reductions for the MTC Climate Initiatives Program, which TRANSDEF distrusts. We suspect the real number is close to a 21% GHG increase, the amount of the VMT increase.

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