A Livable Bay Area

Beyond the Sprawl Economy

Sprawl has hit the wall. The unsustainable home mortgage market collided with unsustainable gasoline consumption in 2008. The lowest-density suburbs, furthest from the centers of commerce and culture, were generally the hardest hit, while walkable urban neighborhoods have generally fared better.

The crisis of 2008 merely accelerated a larger cultural shift in American life. As documented by researchers like the Brookings Institution’s Christopher Leinberger, more and more Americans are expressing a preference for living walkable urban places. Unfortunately, most of the housing produced in the last few decades is in driveable suburban places, where walking, cycling, and public transit have been effectively designed out. This represents both a market failure – homebuilders missing the shift in cultural values – and a regulatory failure, caused by outdated zoning regulations that make compact, walkable communities illegal in most places.

Transportation and land use are intimately interconnected, and transportation expenditures should respond to and foster this shift in cultural values towards community and sustainabilty by infrastructure investments that support compact communities and sustainable transportation choices. Will transportation priorities, from Federal to regional and local, support compact, walkable communities, or continue to invest in sprawl?


Bay Area Projected to Grow by 2 Million by 2035

The Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) announced their population and job growth projections through 2035 at a symposium on Thursday December 14. According to ABAG, the region will add 2 million new residents, with the cities of San Jose, San Francisco, and Oakland adding the most residents. San Francisco is projected to add over 160,000 new residents, growing from nearly 800,000 residents today to over 950,000 in less than 30 years.

In order to grow without worsening the region’s housing shortages and encouraging suburban sprawl, ABAG recommends that the region’s growth be concentrated in walkable communities close to transit lines.

In San Francisco, most of the projected growth in new housing is being planned for the city’s transit-rich downtown and surrounding neighborhoods, as well as the city’s eastern neighborhoods and around transit hubs like Balboa Park station.

Livable City has been working to make sure that these neighborhoods are designed as complete neighborhoods that support car-free living, with complete streets, a range of housing choices, and networks of green streets and open spaces.

San Francisco Calls For an End to Bay Area Highway Expansion

In 2009 San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors  approved a resolution [PDF file] calling for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) to stop spending regional funds expanding highways, and instead redirect those funds towards improving transit. Livable City co-authored the resolution, which was introduced by Board President David Chiu, approved unanimously by the Board, and signed by Mayor Gavin Newsom.

MTC’s recently adopted a Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) proposes spending $6.4 billion on widening highways, despite the huge shorftalls for transit ($17 billion over the next 25 years) local streets and roads ($11 billion) and maintenance of existing highways ($13 billion).

The resolution also directs the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and California Department of Transportation to develop and fund projects which reduce the negative impacts of freeways on walking, cycling, and transit access and the livability of adjacent neighborhoods.

San Francisco’s new policy comes in the 50th anniversary year of San Francisco’s “Freeway Revolt”. In 1959, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed the first of several resolutions that stopped further freeway construction in San Francisco.

Livable City will soon release its action plan for improving – and possibly removing – San Francisco’s remaining freeways.

Regional Transportation Plan

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), a regional body empowered by the state and federal governments to plan and fund transportation in the Bay Area, recently adopted a Regional Transportation Plan (RTP), which guides investments over the next 30 years. The RTP must be updated every three years.

MTC’s planning got off to a promising start in 2008, with much talk of addressing climate change and promoting compact, walkable communities to prevent sprawl. The July 2008 draft RTP showed some distinct improvements over its predecessor; $1 billion towards a regional bicycle network, and big funding increases for the land use program, safe routes to school, and the regional lifeline transit program.

Unfortunately, MTC’s plan directs billions towards expanding highways, and neglects the transit needs of urban riders. The plan directs $6.4 billion towards highway expansion, even though vehicle miles travelled (VMT) in the Bay Area has begun to decline. Despite surging transit ridership, the plan puts nothing towards adding capacity to existing Muni and BART lines, which have become increasingly overcrowded. The RTP leaves huge shortfalls for capital replacement and maintenance at Muni (approximately $4.2 billion) and BART (7.2 billion) over the next 30 years.

If the RTP is adopted as proposed, transit will become slower, less reliable, and more crowded. This RTP does not support MTC’s stated land use goal of preventing sprawl and promoting compact communities; without investment, urban transit will not be able to accommodate the ridership growth resulting from job and housing growth in the urban core.

Livable City proposes shifting funding from suburban highway expansion towards creating an effective regional transit network; see our program below for details.

Livable City’s Program for Improving the Regional Transportation Plan:

What the RTP got right:

  • Doubling funding for MTC’s Transportation for Livable Communities (TLC) program from $27 million/year to $60 million/year.
  • Increasing funding for The Lifeline Transportation Program, addresses the needs of low-income communities ($400 million).
  • Increases funding for Safe Routes to Transit and Safe Routes to School programs.
  • Funds a comprehensive regional bicycle plan, and fully funds a $1billion Regional Bicycle Network (except for the toll bridges)
  • Electrification of Caltrain from San Francisco to Tamien ($626 million)

What it got wrong:

  • $6.4 billion for highway expansion, including widening State Route 4 (Contra Costa County), Interstate 580 (eastern Alameda County), State Route 24 (adding a 4th Caldecott Tunnel between Oakland and Orinda), US 101 (San Mateo and Santa Clara counties), and enlarging the I-580-I-680 interchange. This highway expansion will encourage sprawl and increase greenhouse gas emissions. Most of the highway widening is in corridors already served by transit (Caltrain and BART) or where transit investments are planned (Route 4 and I-580).
  • Huge shortfalls for Muni capital replacement and maintenance of Muni ($4.5 billion) and BART ($7.2 billion).
  • No funding for replacement and expansion of BART’s aging railcar fleet, and only $32 million for BART station capacity improvements.
  • No funding for adding capacity to Muni’s crowded light rail and bus lines, no funding for implementing Muni’s Transit Effectiveness Project (TEP), or expanding and improving Muni’s cramped and dated yards and shops.
  • Unsustainable BART expansion: BART’s Warm Springs extension robs $70 million from BART’s operating budget, and the Warm Springs and eBART projects don’t include any capacity funding to accommodate the increase in riders. eBART will worsen capacity problems on BART’s most crowded line (Bay Point-SFO), and the Warm Springs will pull rail cars off already overcrowded lines.
  • Unsustainable Muni expansion: Muni’s Central Subway project doesn’t include funding for enough new railcars to serve the line, nor does it fund capacity impacts on the Powell Street station.
  • The plan predicts a capital shortfall of $13 billion on the $17 billion needed to maintain state highways in the Bay Area. While the plan doesn’t commit discretionary funds to maintaining state highways, it also doesn’t begin to solve the budget gap – or explain why building over $6 billion in new highways can be justified, when the existing highways in the region can’t be maintained.

Livable City’s plan to improve the RTP:

  • Redirect funds from highway expansion to transit maintenance, capacity, and performance.
  • Invest in transit speed and reliability; funding the TEP would increase Muni’s average speed (8 miles per hour) by 30% or more.
  • Support compact, walkable communities by further increasing MTC’s commitment to the Transportation for Livable Communities, Safe Routes to Transit, and Safe Routes to School programs.
  • Expand transit sustainably, by requiring extensions to BART and Muni to add capacity to the system to accommodate the increased ridership.
  • improve connectivity between transit systems by improving physical connections, signage, real-time transit information, and funding for integrated transit pass programs, like the Muni-BART Fast Pass.
  • complete the regional High-Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) network by converting existing lanes to carpool and bus lanes, rather than adding new lanes.
  • Increase user fees on automobiles to cover the actual cost to maintain the region’s road and highway network, so as not to divert more funding from transit, health care, education, parks, public safety, and other essential needs.