Greening Bay Area transportation
Helping the Bay Area's transportation system evolve towards protecting the environment is easier said than done.
Personal vehicles are among the greatest emitters of climate-disrupting greenhouse gases and toxic pollutants. Freeways lead to sprawl development that paves over and fragments open space. In the urban environment, cars and trucks, along with the parking and roadway construction that support them, are among the worst disrupters of life, both for humans and for remaining native plants and animals.
It's easy to say: let's all drive less, let's all use less-polluting vehicles, let's build our cities more compactly. It's harder to fit these changes into our existing world.
This Yodeler is focused on some of the difficult, complex situations where the Sierra Club Bay Chapter is working for more environmentally sound transportation. Happily, many of the articles are about situations where government is considering positive actions that can reduce driving, cut down on greenhouse gases and toxic pollutants, and lead to more sensibly planned cities. In other cases government is considering moves in the wrong direction. In each case the Sierra Club is working to improve the outcome, and we invite you to join our efforts. We also feature two articles about Bay Chapter volunteers who have made a difference for better transportation through their personal efforts.
One set of articles centers on public transit. AC Transit is planning a Bus Rapid Transit project that will speed travel and bring new riders to what is already the busiest bus route in the East Bay. We report the good news that the process has overcome some obstacles and is moving ahead. Two other welcome projects will be the state's construction of a High Speed Rail system connecting northern and southern California, and the rebuilding of San Francisco's Transbay Terminal as a more effective transit hub for the city and the whole Bay Area - but political threats may force the rail line to terminate 1.3 miles short of the terminal, greatly reducing the effectiveness of both projects. The creation of the SMART commuter-rail service in Marin and Sonoma Counties brings a host of environmentally significant questions and opportunities that the Club will follow closely. Most worrying is the planned extension of BART from Fremont to San Jose. Although Santa Clara County voters have approved a sales-tax increase to help fund this, the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority doesn't have the needed funds to run both BART and its existing bus services, and we are worried about a collapse of transit service in the South Bay.
A set of articles centers on the relation of land-use policy to transportation. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission has made slow but important progress over the years at recognizing the need to support smart land use, transit affordability, and bicycling and walking. Now it needs both to commit its resources and to acquire new powers for carrying out these new goals. Berkeley is preparing a Climate Action Plan to address the threat of global warming, and the plan needs to include effective actions to improve transportation. San Leandro has adopted a forward-looking Transit Oriented Development Strategy, and is acting on approvals for San Leandro Crossings, the first project to be built under the Strategy.
San Francisco is considering two environmentally friendly transportation moves: a charge for driving into the downtown area during hours of peak congestion, and a new way of evaluating the transportation impacts of proposed projects. It is also considering parking fees in some of the city's parks. This simple move can both improve the experience of park visitors and encourage people to shift from cars to public transit.
Parking is indeed a key influence on driving, but two of our local universities are not making good use of this connection. California State University-East Bay (CSUEB) is trying to build a parking structure of 1,100-spaces on its Hayward campus, even though a rapid shuttle bus could provide more effective transportation at a much lower cost. The University of California at Berkeley is retreating from policies that have helped encourage faculty and staff not to drive.
At the state level, the new budget drastically cuts funding for local transit, delays regulations that would cut emissions from off-road diesel vehicles (mainly construction equipment) and weakens environmental review for certain road-building projects. The state Air Resources Board has passed a program for reducing toxic emissions from diesel trucks, but the Port of Oakland is lagging at its local program towards this goal.
Our volunteer of the month is Casey Allen, a bicyclist and gardener who has blended his favorite avocations into his professional life as a gardener and his volunteer life as a bicycle activist. We also feature a set of four Bay Chapter volunteers who played major roles in the campaign against Berkeley's Measure KK, an initiative that could have derailed AC Transit's Bus Rapid Transit project.
The Bay Chapter looks forward to great progress in shaping Bay Area transportation to protect and enhance our environment.