Change is hard. For decades, California government agencies have focused on reducing traffic congestion when looking at the pollution impacts caused by new development and transportation projects. The result has been a lot of bad decisions that, taken together, have led to longer commutes, urban sprawl, and a failure to invest sufficiently in public transit, bike lanes, and pedestrian pathways.
That is all set to change but there’s a little noticed battle going on that threatens this long overdue shift in agency decision-making practices.
Changing the decision-making process to focus on reducing vehicle miles traveled puts us on the right path.
This important but mostly well-hidden fight is over the implementation of SB 743, a California law passed in 2013. Starting in July, cities, counties, and metropolitan planning agencies will be required to consider and minimize or mitigate the number of miles driven in cars and trucks as a result of their decisions.
Caltrans is set to begin implementation for state highway projects in September. If it works, those who live in high traffic areas will, over time, be driving less and have better and safer opportunities to walk, bike, or take public transit.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has provided temporary relief from traffic jams and dramatically reduced emissions of pollutants that cause smog and climate change, it also emboldened developer lobbyists to call for additional delays in the implementation of SB 743. This is happening just when many us have discovered that we don’t need to drive to work everyday and we can spend the time saved enjoying walks and bike rides through our neighborhoods.
California is known for its horrible traffic and air pollution. Much of the blame for these problems rests with those who have been making transportation planning and environmental impact decisions using the wrong set of criteria. Changing the decision-making process to focus on reducing vehicle miles traveled puts us on the right path. It supports smarter development projects, such as those that locate houses, jobs, schools, and stores within walking distance of each other. Projects like that build a stronger sense of community.
Now is the time to accept the changes required by SB 743 and not give in to opportunistic calls for further delays. The public will benefit and have new opportunities to secure investments in and access to public transit, bike paths, and walkways. It’s time to embrace this change and seize these opportunities.
Editor’s Note: Joe Lyou is President & CEO of the Coalition for Clean Air and a member of the California Transportation Commission.