March 13, 1992
Berkeley City Council
City of Berkeley
2180 Milvia Street
Berkeley, California 94704
Re: I-80 Expansion -- a Trojan Horse
For some reason, Berkeley's transportation planning staff have been actively lobbying for this project from the very beginning, completely ignoring several clear and unanimous votes of the City Council and the Transportation Commission opposing it! It makes one wonder who they are really working for, and what they stand to gain from widening the freeway. For example, Susie Sanderson somehow managed to "lose" a unanimous resolution of the Transportation Commission opposing any widening of the freeway (she said "the tape was inaudible"). It was never sent to the Council.
If you will excuse my changing metaphorical horses in midstream (from Jonestown Massacre to Trojan Horse), this project is not what its promoters say it is:
1. The Berkeley Freeway Troika (BFT) say the project will improve air quality. However, they can not give, and have not given, a single iota of evidence to support that. Susie says "I believe it will improve air quality". She offers no evidence -- and she has none. Caltrans runs some computer programs (which are obviously not reliable evidence) that say the current project will reduce CO a bit, and the ultimate project (extended to Richmond Parkway or beyond) will increase CO. Jones relies on Caltrans's computer modeling. This nonsense (anyone with common sense can see that expanding roads does not reduce air pollution!) has been refuted by scientific studies by Jeff Kenworthy and Peter Newman, of Murdoch University, Perth, Australia.
2. The BFT say that widening the freeway will reduce the traffic on the City's streets. Again, they offer no evidence. They simply say that congestion on the freeway causes people to shift to city streets. By their own argument, however, the even greater congestion on city streets should force even more people to shift to the freeway! If two forces oppose each other, the greater one obviously wins. Or to put it another way, it it obvious that no matter how congested the freeway becomes, there is no realistic alternative for anyone who insists on driving any significant distance. For those who are just going a short distance, the freeway never was a very useful alternative. Anyone who has tried using city streets to drive a long distance knows how completely ineffective that is, and doesn't do it more than once (except in the rare case when an accident completely jams the freeway, in which case one usually finds out too late to escape!).
3. The BFT say that this project is revolutionary, in its concessions to public transit. This is hogwash. Portland stopped a freeway project and turned it into a light rail project. We can do the same. And we should. The 4% of project funds that are supposed to go to transit are no different from the crumbs that transit has always gotten from the transportation budget! Compare that 4% with the up to 100% allowed by the new Surface Transportation Act! Every highway project that we can stop will be replaced by one that is better for transit, just like the Embarcadero and Central freeway projects in San Francisco. MTC has already pledged that in future transportation projects in the Bay Area transit will take priority.
4. The BFT say that this project will be good for public transit. If that is our goal, why not fund transit directly?! In fact, what is our hurry to lay more pavement? Why not try some more cost-effective measures first? Like adding a couple more trains on the Capitol corridor (which has lately had standing room only)? Like implementing the Modern Transit Society's proposal to put light rail along San Pablo and across the Bay Bridge? We would need these lines anyway, to relieve the congestion caused by the construction on I-80. And we might just find that with improvements in transit in the corridor, it is no longer necessary to widen the freeway! And we would have saved over $300 million (Caltrans's projects are notorious for their cost overruns of up to 100%).
5. Caltrans's own traffic counts show that I-80 (and all Bay Area freeways) are at no more than 66% of their capacity. We should use that other 33% (which is mostly at night), before building any more lanes.
6. The BFT say that land use, not road constraints, should be used to reduce traffic. Why? As Chuck Siegel pointed out, traffic increases in the corridor have slowed to a crawl in recent years, due to congestion. Land use cannot be changed quickly enough to combat traffic increases, pollution, noise, global warming, and ozone depletion. We need to apply whatever means we have available!
It's high time that we stop giving preference to motorists and the automobile culture, and regain the huge proportion of our land and other resources that we waste in auto adulation. Leave the Trojan Horse where it belongs.
Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.