December 8, 1988

Re: 1988 Caltrans District 4 State Highways: System Management Plan

To the Editor:

The Greenhouse Effect has been on the front page of every newspaper. It threatens coastal flooding, heat waves, drought, famine, and the extinction of thousands of species of plants and animals that are unable to migrate rapidly enough northward or adapt to the quickly changing climate. Many of those species will be ones upon which we depend for food. A major cause of the Greenhouse Effect is the automobile.

The Ozone Depletion has also been on the front pages. However, although the effects above Antarctica are well known, it is not as well known that N2O ("laughing" gas -- one of the products of automobile pollution) has a hand in destroying this stratospheric ozone layer. Already, the ozone layer above the U.S. has been reduced 3-5 percent. The end result will be an epidemic of skin cancer and cataracts.

And, of course, "ordinary" air pollution produced by the automobile continues to cause cancer, anemia, brain damage, developmental problems in infants, and countless other debilitating, demoralizing, and lethal effects.

The federal Clean Air Act requires federal, state, and local governments to decrease air pollution levels, and to put a halt to highway construction, when necessary, to allow that to happen.

The California Clean Air Act (Sher Bill) and the Cortese Bill just passed by the State Legislature require steady reductions in VMT (Vehicle Miles Travelled -- traffic, in other words), until strict State air quality standards are met.

CEQA (the California Environmental Quality Act) demands that an agency produce an EIR (Environmental Impact Report) when contemplating any action that might have a significant negative effect on the environment.

Recent research has proved what residents of Los Angeles have known for decades: more freeways mean more traffic (VMT), more urban sprawl, and more smog. Freeway expansion, like drug addiction -- very much like drug addiction, in fact -- does not solve the problem that gave rise to it, but just exacerbates that problem.

In spite of and totally oblivious to all of this, back at Caltrans District 4 offices in San Francisco, it is business as usual. Their recently released System Management Plan (SMP) proposes about $7 billion worth of new or expanded freeways. Isn't it time that we sent Caltrans back to school, to learn how to design fast, clean, efficient, quiet rail transit, that can get us where we need to go without destroying our health and wealth? Get a copy of this revealing document. Ask Caltrans to extend the comment period, so that you can let them know how you feel about it. And please don't be fooled by its promise of cleaner skies. You know better.

Respectfully yours,

Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.