August 2, 1999
D.A. Odell, Deputy District Director
c/o Earl Sherman, fax 510-286-6299
Planning and Public Transportation
Caltrans District 4
P.O. Box 23660
Oakland, California 94623-0660
Re: California Transportation Plan, Discussion Draft, June 1993
Dear Mr. Odell:
This plan is the most honest that I have ever seen come from Caltrans. Although your traditional pro-highway, anti-everything-else policy still obviously reigns, you at least pay lip service to most of the concerns that people have about this. I applaud the courage you show in allowing this open discussion to take place, and I sincerely hope it continues. Of course, I have a few suggestions for improving your Plan.
First, don't lump unlike elements together. Combining "Roadway, Bicycle, and Pedestrian" improvements disguises important distinctions, and robs the public of the opportunity to "vote" for what it wants (namely, more bicycle/pedestrian improvements, and less roadway "improvements"). The same goes for "Rail and Aviation". A more useful pairing would be roads with airports, since both are maximally harmful to the environment. [By the way, please stop using inaccurate, prejudicial terms like "improvements". Not everyone agrees that freeway expansion is an "improvement". "Project" would be more honest.]
Clearly label your assumptions as assumptions. For example, it is not true that "we must ... accomodate continued population growth" (p.3). This assumption has given rise to most of the problems that we face today! "Accomodating" growth is equivalent to "subsidizing" growth. And we should subsidize only what we feel is unequivocally good (e.g. free access to public schools, libraries, and parks).
Transportation (mobility) is not necessarily beneficial. Transportation is mostly a means to get some goods or services, not an end in itself. In other words, we should be promoting access, not mobility. There is no inherent good in moving about, especially when one can satisfy one's needs with less travel. We should stop the adulation of "mobility". It is just as true that we are victims of excess mobility! Our current craze of motorized mobility is responsible for life-threatening and quality-of-life-threatening levels of noise, pollution, accidents, land degradation, wildlife and wildlife habitat destruction, injury, ozone depletion, and global warming, to name just a few of the harmful effects of road construction and the vehicles they carry.
Similarly, tourism doesn't depend on roads. If we choose (as has been done in Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, Point Reyes, etc.), we can have access to everything that a tourist could wish for, without the private motor vehicle. And we may even be better off!
Likewise, it is not obvious that "congestion relief" is a good thing. In fact, recent research by Jeff Kenworthy and Peter Newman of Murdoch University (Perth, Australia) suggests that highway expansion encourages long-distance travel and thereby actually increases (rather than decreases) emissions and fuel consumption. For the same reason, the long-accepted belief in traffic signal synchronization as a way of relieving congestion and reducing pollution and fuel consumption is turning out to be a myth!
One cannot "relieve traffic congestion" and at the same time prevent or "mitigate" the increase in vehicle trips and VMT that result. In particular, attainment of air quality and fuel conservation goals requires that we accept congestion as a good thing, just as nasal congestion is beneficial by signalling to us that we need to protect our health. Traffic congestion should not be followed by knee-jerk calls for highway expansion, any more than nasal congestion requires widening one's nose! Attack the cause, not the symptom!
It is nice that "transportation decisions at all levels will be made through an open, public process" (p.9), but in the past, the conclusions have almost always been predetermined (by what big business wants). The voice of the public has been ignored. What has changed, to make this public involvement not a waste of our time? Page 12 lists several admirable goals. However, your "track record" has been to ignore all of these goals, especially the environmental goals. Why should we expect anything different this time?
"Gap closure" (p.15) is a catch-all excuse that you have used to justify practically any highway expansion project. "Bypass" is another such euphemism. Neither are honest. [You would do well to try to eliminate all euphemisms from your language.] There are no "gaps" in the highway system, and there never have been. It is always possible to get from point A to point B. Continual "gap closure" is simply one more excuse for highway expansion. If we close every "gap" in the highway system, we would have to pave over every square inch of California! [By the way, by a mathematical theorem, if we aren't going to pave over all of it, then there has to be a specific date after which the area of pavement ceases to increase. So how about now?!] Likewise, "bypasses" don't really protect the cities that they "bypass".
You extol (p.22) the job-creating value of road construction, but if you were to be honest, you would mention that rail projects create more jobs per dollar spent, and higher quality, longer-lasting jobs.
IVHS has yet to be proven cost-effective (or even effective). And if it is used to increase vehicle throughput, rather than passenger/goods movement, it will be counterproductive. Speaking of goods, there needs to be a recognition that not all goods movement is worthwhile! A lot of food transport is simply necessitated by the fact that road construction and urban sprawl has destroyed all nearby food production. Although a high proportion of goods shipment is currently by truck, most of it could probably be accomplished by (preferably electric) train, followed by local delivery by bicycle. Not only would this create a lot of greatly needed jobs, but it will become practically the only sensible mode of transport after our oil supplies run out. According to the experts, this is due to happen in 30-40 years in the U.S., and 50 years in the rest of the world. Wouldn't it be wise for a long-range plan such as yours to consider this inevitable happening?
HOV systems and parking lots are simply two more ways of prolonging auto dependence and the auto subsidy. There is absolutely no evidence that they reduce emissions or fuel consumption, especially since the HOV lanes are almost always implemented by adding new lanes instead of converting an existing lane to HOV use.
You mention that new transit facilities can have adverse effects on wildlife habitat and human neighborhoods, but fail to say the same for roads, although the effects of roads are much greater. Come on! Be honest!
It is courageous of you to broach the subject of transportation funds being restricted to road projects. Bravo! I also applaud your support for a gas tax (however, I wouldn't want it to be used to further auto dependence, but rather to be spent on transit, debt retirement, or other worthwhile use).
None of the freeways in the Bay Area that are being expanded now are used above 66% of their capacity, according to your own traffic counts! Why don't you figure our how to make use of this excess capacity (mostly at night, and in off-peak direction), rather than spending $ billions on more land-wasting construction?
You are quite right to point to electronic channels for information transport. But why don't you address the enormous waste of those channels in advertisement, sports news, and other worthless programming?
In summary, isn't about time we got off the petroleum treadmill, and onto something that is actually beneficial both environmentally and economically, such as bicycling?
Thank you for listening.
Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.