I am a member of RAFT, the Regional Alliance for Transit. We were asked to propose principles for RAFT to advocate in the coming period, leading up to the next Regional Transportation Plan, to be published by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission in 2013. This is a slightly revised version of a paper with which I responded originally in the Fall of 2009.
January 16, 2010
Proposed principles for RAFT
RAFT urges these principles on the MTC and other regional agencies:
-- Reflecting on-the-ground practical realities, land use and transportation public policies and investments should be fully integrated.
-- Using both land use and transit policy, all new growth and settlement intensification should advance the region toward a Bay Area that is much less automobile-reliant. This means purposefully replacing the old goal of maximizing motorized mobility by instead prioritizing walking and bicycle access, and steadily reducing individual auto movement by supporting and improving collective (transit) travel. This is intensified "smart growth," a long-range, post-suburban vision of a Bay Area that avoids sprawl and pursues "walking transit-oriented development" (WTOD), creating carefully designed high-density "Centers" around transit stations and stops.
-- In its planning work, MTC should advance in letter and spirit the sustainability purposes of SB 345 and California's legislation for climate protection, AB 32. Responding vigorously to the imperative of climate protection, the Bay Area should aim strategically for the earliest possible carbon-neutral transportation system and region. Immediately foster the earliest possible replacement of unsustainable fossil transportation fuel (petroleum) by electric vehicles. This implies supporting state and national investment in non-fossil electric power supply to our region.
-- In service of the principles above, regional agencies should operate in a true regional perspective, not see themselves as coordinating and stapling together local and special interest projects.
-- The MTC and other agencies should practice transparency to the public in accounting and policy-making.
-- The MTC should seek functional improvement for every dollar of investment. Apply cost-benefit analysis in selecting all projects, and to all parts and levels of all projects. It should end the present practice of gold-plating some transit projects at the expense of other meritorious ones that go unbuilt.
-- In the management of regional circulation, the policy should be "Transit First," and connectivity of public transportation should be prioritized. Where needed in mixed situations, transit should receive operational priority, for example in bus control of traffic signals.
1. Michael Kiesling would like RAFT members to shape the wide range of their thinking into a set of principles. We'll then apply these principles as agreed standards to the proposals and projects that flow continuously through the region's public transportation policy process, particularly decisions by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.
2. One RAFT member has proposed "transparency," particularly financial transparency, as a principle that we could call for regularly as we observe the MTC in action.
3. Another principle is surely that the MTC, with its very substantial data and analytic resources, should work on the Bay Area's nine counties as a true region. Greatest good for greatest number for longest-time span region-wide. In developing its quadrennial RTP and other plans, the commission should abandon its tradition of largely "stapling together" a collection of the essentially local or special interest projects and investments that are insistently advocated to it.
4 Land use and transportation should be analyzed and managed together, not isolated from one another in the bureaucratic tradition that MTC and ABAG clung to for years. This just reflects the basic reality that land use and transportation are in fact and on the ground totally entwined with each other.
5. In a region-wide, long-term perspective, MTC should apply cost-benefit analysis more consistently and and also more broadly. Working within the modernizing vision of our second principle, the MTC should generally be more technical, analytical and long-range in its planning, and less "political," meaning less responsive to narrower local and institutional interests which often dominate regional planning and investment now, and which generate many sub-standard investments. The commission needs to learn to fight the bias that comes with its composition by locally elected officials.
6. The Commission should avoid what might be called internal violations of cost-benefit standards. This means that in a situation of huge demand for transportation and smart growth capital, the MTC should avoid wasteful goldplating of the projects it selects once they are agreed upon. Every feature, not just the overall concept and function of a project, should justify its costs. This is where some of the most expensive and egregious errors are made. The MTC invests in transit, which at the strategic level is correct and meets the cost-benefit criterion, but at the tactical level, actual transit projects, including major ones, are often wasteful, parochial and inefficient. Because the merits at the strategic and the tactical levels diverge, this kind of waste is much more difficult for transit advocates to fight, although its costs mount into the many billions. Examples are the BART extension to SFO, extending BART to San Jose, the Oakland Airport Connector, and the Muni Central Subway in San Francisco. (Building a new west span of the Bay Bridge from scratch for $6 billion, rather than seismically upgrading the existing bridge, can be also be seen as an extravagant version of a necessary project, and is a major mis-allocation of resources.)
7. "A region-wide perspective, technical scrutiny, systemic cost-benefit analysis, and a long range view," however could be seen as process improvements, not substantive goals. Beyond calling for them, RAFT believes that the region as a whole, and specifically MTC, should point toward a vision of the region's future which is very different from a simple extrapolation of the status quo. Although our focus is on the MTC, RAFT believes that all the regional organizations, such as MTC, ABAG, BAAQMD and BCDC, should be employing their regional reach, and the professional skills of their staffs, to work out the implementing specifics of that goal, the "New Bay Area," (is this overall name good or bad? Centered Bay Area?) and to encourage steady movement along a path toward it. RAFT has clear thoughts on how that goal situation differs from the present situation, and what it should look like.
8. RAFT wants the relevant regional transportation and land use planning authorities to move decisively away from the region's traditional automobile-freeway transportation system toward transit-oriented land use planning and much greater use of high-quality public transit (electrified, mostly rail-based and already existing). This implies reversing the long standing pattern that the region grows through outward geographic extension (sprawl). Population, as well as qualitative, growth is inevitable and desirable for the Bay Area with its vigorous very modern economy and attractive and complex geography of water and hills. Exactly contrary to further outward sprawl, the region, should be increasing population density in its already urban areas, which will make the provision of transit more economically feasible and self-supporting. In a large region with both cities and suburbs, it means moving from a suburban vision to one that is more urban, stressing for example, maximizing personal access to destinations, often through walking proximity, in place of an endless effort to increase motorized personal mobility across the substantial distances within the region. Within the cities, this goal is sometimes sloganized as "Transit First." In this regime sought by RAFT, vehicle miles traveled (VMT) will go down.
9. Land use and transportation planning strongly influence each other. The land-use corollary of "Transit First," is Transit Oriented Development (TOD), and the strongest form of TOD is walkable TOD (WTOD), in which housing and other destinations are grouped closely enough to high-frequency transit service so that people can walk to their transit station or stop, rather than use cars to reach them. Such stations/stops are likely to have plazas, then mixed uses, civic facilities and housing around them. They are not surrounded by large parking lots.
10. Carbon dioxide from human energy use is the main cause of global warming, the great threat of our age. For RAFT this makes systematic reduction and early elimination of carbon emissions a critical and urgent goal of public policy in all spheres, very much including land use and transportation. In California, agencies at every level of government and society should suport AB 32 in letter and spirit. Public transportation emits less CO2 than do petroleum fueled cars. When it is electrically driven, as in the case of rail service or electrified buses, transit can emit virtually no CO2 if it uses power is generated without fossil fuels. Bay Area power is already more renewable than the national norm, and should be made entirely renewable as soon as possible.
11. It should be MTC's mission to provide the most possible access and mobility at the least possible cost. Due to its individual, retail character, transportation by private car is expensive. Collective transportation is in effect purchased wholesale, and systematically costs less.
12. There are limits to the rational scalability, or "market share", of the car-based mobility system. These limits differ in rural, suburban and urban settings, and therefore, the limits of the car-based system are inevitably an issue when urbanization is going on, as it is here. The present huge annoyance and expense (in time as well as money) of traffic congestion and parking make it clear that with automobiles providing 90+% of transportation, we have reached or exceeded those limits in many important parts of the Bay Area. Major long-term economic gains can now be harvested by stopping marginal tinkering with the automobile system (for example, Shoup-style reforms of parking and talk about "intelligent highways"), and instead evolving toward a structurally different and more urban system. RAFT believes that as the Bay Area moves into and through the next stages of its urban development, our region should avoid the temptation to overspend on mending and preserving the exhausted automobile system, and instead should focus, under MTC leadership, on designing and building a new, more efficient and more sustainable system of transportation, supported by appropriate land uses. In fact, MTC has to some considerable extent come over to this way of thinking. It now has a whole bubbling vocabulary about the thrills of change, but in fact this lip-service masks much inertia and resistance to change.
13. SB 345 is good. RAFT supports its vigorous affirmative implementation in letter and spirit, rather than the present cautious efforts to go very slowly and bureaucratically, despite the just mentioned "change" and "sustainability" window dressing.
14. The FOCUS program of the regional agencies' Joint Policy Committee, with its Priority Development and Priority Conservation Areas, (PDA and PCAs) is good. It is headed in the right direction toward TOD, but is too gradualist.
15. Gradualism in this field raises its own important problems because the amount of land in the Bay Area around transit stations/stops which can be used for TOD, especially serious, walking TOD, is physically finite. Once a transit-adjacent parcel of land is developed, but at an inadequate level of intensity, it is extremely hard to redevelop it again before at least a couple of generations have passed, because first-generation residents living at a relatively low density come to have a vested interest in resisting further or new development. This means that the initial low intensity development around a transit node, which is characteristic of a the present gradualist approaches, effectively rules out higher density development for the indefinite future. But the Bay Area is a growing, already significantly urbanized region with extremely high housing costs. Its core, the Bay-touching cities, needs a major expansion of housing supply, which is to say that it needs quite high-density TOD development, even though there is much traditionalist and NIMBY resistance to high densities. This significant point --that in this case gradualist sub-optimal projects are systematically harmful for needed denser good projects-- is clearly illustrated by the restrictions imposed on the Hayward Park development in San Mateo, and by the struggles about density increases and the height of buildings in downtown Berkeley with its major BART Station.
16. We can think of a much more transit-rich "New Bay Area", to be achieved over the coming thirty years. The "New Bay Area" is a vision, concept, or a "goal situation" which should control the land development and investment principles applied starting now. What would it look like?
A. It will be based on carefully designed nodes (Centers) of high population density built within about 2,000 feet around transit stations. They will be linked together by frequent very high quality transit (HQT) service, mainly rail or Rapid Bus, forming a regional network.
B. The overwhelming bulk of transportation will be provided between Centers by HQT, and within nodes by walking or bicycling, not by cars.
C. This creates a map to be overlaid on the geographic map of the region, featuring Centers (typically 10,000 people within walking distance around the transit station/stop) and their connecting links. RAFT believes that nodes and linking transit systems should absorb as much of the new incoming population of the next thirty years, and as much of the transportation investment as possible.
D. Among different kinds of transportation, the region should accelerate and exploit certain patterns which are already emergent, strengthening certain relationships, divisions of labor, and hierarchies. As between modes, transportation policy should should seek complementarity rather than competition. This means that for a given kind of trip or corridor, a judgment should be made and the best mode should be selected and favored for investment and optimization, rather than trying to treat modes "evenhandedly" and maintain a range of options for every transportation situation. A corollary of this is that connectivity should be stressed, and policy and station design should make transfers between modes (bus-rail, car-rail, bus-car, air-rail) as easy as possible.
E. Travel beyond 500 miles in length will normally be by air, while inter-regional travel between significant cities more than 100 miles, but less than 500 miles apart will normally be by rail, eventually High Speed Rail (HSR). Within the metropolitan region, travel between nodes is by frequent HQT. Travel between nodes and "the field," that is surrounding non-node areas, and between two destinations which are both in the field, will be by car. (In real life, there will be a set of middle options and territories: the hourly rental car, the taxi, buses and the bus-served spur from a main network trunk route served by HQT. These intermediate situations and facilities are omitted from this discussion to bring out the main ideas as clearly and simply as possible.)
F. Within metropolitan regions, proximity of destinations (bringing them to walking distance, and walking as such) are to be maximized. Richard Register's good motto is "The shortest distance between two points is to bring them closer together." A classic instance of this is that most people's house or apartment, and their supermarket, should be within walking distance of each other.
G. Beyond walking/biking distance, we will recognize two types of trips: Trunk trips (as in trunk line) and non-trunk trips. Trunk trips are trips which are common and frequent and for which significant public capacity is provided. Trunk trips generally include most home to work trips (commutes), radial (center-periphery) trips in a radially organized region, or trips between two nodes. The most basic principles of land and transportation planning policy for the coming decades should be two: 1) to use land in such a way that the share of trunk travel is maximized (i.e., pull people into nodes), and 2) to optimize/maximize the capacity, frequency and quality of public transit service on trunks. Such trunk transit can be highly specialized, and can be highly capitalized since it serves large number of people.
H. Non-trunk trips are all the others, in a certain sense a giant miscellany or residual category. Although in aggregate there may be more non-trunk trips than trunk trips (certainly, say, in a Los Angeles), each non-trunk trip is of low frequency, and they have little in common, which is why they cannot be grouped into trunks. Sideways trips in a radially organized region, multi-destination trips (since mode choice for a trip is controlled by the lowest frequency segment), trips with origins or destinations, or both, outside nodes (that is, in the "field" area), and significantly, trips, even on a trunk route, at a low-frequency time of travel, such as late at night, are generally non-trunk trips.
17. The attraction of the automobile is in its flexibility. Combined with the road system that has been built for it and now exists as a fixed asset, the car can go anywhere at anytime. It is genuinely an agent of personal freedom, which is part of its very deep and great appeal. It is great for non-trunk trips, which are by definition retail, one-off, and indeed it functions as the default, residual mode. The problem with the car comes when it comes out of that retail residual mode in relation to an adequate transit system, and the car becomes the universal mode, as it has in most of America. When the private car is used for trunk travel within a metropolitan region, rather than as the back-up, utility infielder in a system with transit, the misfit presents itself in the form of high expense, frustrating road congestion and the onerous burden of providing and using parking. In that case, the car is an unspecialized mode or instrument being used for a task that has grown large enough that it could be handled by a specialist instrument, and there is an inevitable loss of efficiency. This dysfunction is masked by the other roles that the car has come to play in our culture: status symbol, protective personal carapace, and so forth, but the bad fit in an urban setting between the car and its most basic function nonetheless takes a steady toll. As low cost, wholesale oriented Costco is gradually outcompeting and capturing the functions of true-retail Macy's, the car will be inexorably forced out of cities through its own inefficiency and the operations of the fundamental "natural" economy. But RAFT is urging the MTC and the Bay Area to look ahead, see the basic logics, and plan to accomplish the transition/replacement task faster and with less pain, rather than wait passively for economic forces blindly to work their course. If this modernizing change can be made quickly, the available gains, in money, time and quality of life, are huge.
18. A metropolitan region -- a Bay Area -- in which most trips by most people are handled by either walking or trunk transit, will be a better region--and more socially equal region. The world of the fossil-burning internal combustion engine automobile, today a large domain of waste and negative side effects will be substantially reduced in scope. In a "New Bay Area" there will be as much mobility and access as ever, or more, but they will cost less in both money and time, and the savings will be usable for other things, like education, health care, family life, recreational and cultural life, husbanding the environment, and ending poverty. Moving on as straight a path as possible toward this better city and region is what RAFT is all about. It is the task of transformation in which we are trying to enlist the MTC and other relevant public policy bodies.
A proximate climate protection target of opportunity.
19. Advancing these principles for a better metropolitan city is RAFT's purpose, and there is no reason to let go of it. The goal of a better Bay Area as RAFT sees it is a valid one. However, science and technology have in the last couple of decades have also revealed a major new problem and also created a major new set of policy options in metropolitan transportation. Familiar negative side effects of private transportation using the internal combustion engine (ICE), such as congestion were mentioned above. But now we have major new knowledge. An informed public knows, and the general public is learning, that the most important damage from mass automobile use is the very large scale emission of CO2 from petroleum-burning engines. The proportion of CO2 from cars is particularly high in the Bay Area. Greenhouse emissions are in themselves one of the most important reasons, and, alone, a fully sufficient reason, to reduce, and to end as soon as possible, mass use of the ICE car and truck. The long-range way to do this, and to achieve other important objectives, is to move as rapidly and decisively as possible toward the transit oriented metropolitan area that RAFT advocates as discussed above, in the context of a twenty year time-span running to 2030.
20. However, independent of progress toward more rational and efficient cities, a new and potentially much quicker way to end fossil greenhouse emissions from cars in a metropolitan region has emerged. This is the plug-in electric vehicle, either hybrid or entirely battery powered. With its relatively low-carbon electricity (2% coal, 45% natural gas) from a single, relatively progressive electric utility (PG&E), the Bay Area is well positioned to use electric drive to cut its transportation greenhouse emissions. Although the "New Bay Area" continues to be justified by other goals, if the introduction of vehicle electrification is smooth and rapid, it could promise quicker and deeper cuts in greenhouse emissions than steps toward a "New Bay Area."
21. There will doubtless be suburbanites, land use traditionalists and other interest groups eager to create an either-or relationship between the two policy paths of WTOD, on the one hand, and rapid diffusion of electric vehicles, on the other. That would be a mistake. They can and should be complementary. The two policies, WTOD and vehicle electrification, both target decarbonizing transportation, which is a RAFT goal, although switching to electric cars does not have all the positive results that RAFT seeks, notably in improving collective transit and in a more social and egalitarian urban layout. Both policies fall potentially within the operating area of the MTC and other agencies of the regional Joint Policy Committee, such as ABAG and the Air Board. The two policies differ mainly in their respective time ranges: vehicle electrification could be a seen as a short-range policy, an effective quick-fix or tech fix, while TOD is longer range, and in a sense more thorough, although even the most dynamic TOD policy will not remotely end car use for non-trunk trips and in the large non-node ("field") areas of the region. RAFT should vigorously advocate both policies to the MTC and other regional entities, including the cities and counties.
22. The regional agencies obviously cannot market electric drive vehicles. For the MTC and the other agencies, regional support at this stage in the emergence of electric cars (see Economist's September 3 review article) would present itself as a policy to hasten regional readiness. If effective, it is quite possible that the agencies could make our region the national leader in the introduction of electric vehicles. The MTC should put together a team with the Air Board, a few relevant state officials, and PG&E to review what the regional, county and city levels of government in the Bay Area can do to bring in BEVs and PHEVs as quickly as possible. The team could, for example, 1) propose public/private subsidies to make a free (and hands-free) plug-in point ready for each new BEV/PHEV buyer, either in their garage or in a public location, and 2) assure that owners of electric drive vehicles or plug-in hybrids will continue to have reduced rates for night-time off-peak power. A third step is debatable: the MTC has an unused public authorization to raise taxation on gasoline. This measure would increase the comparative cost advantage of both transit and electric vehicles region-wide, but it would be fraught with political risk. The Commission is unlikely to impose it without a great struggle.
23. Let's conclude with an alternative formulation of principles for RAFT to urge on the MTC:
1. MTC should practice financial and planning transparency.
2. MTC should plan for the region as a whole, not staple together a package of sub-regional projects.
3. MTC should actively cooperate with ABAG, BAAQMD and BCDC in integrating land-use planning and transportation planning. The interdependence of land use and transportation should be fully recognized. Public awareness that transportation savings can be realized through personal and public land use investments, and vice versa, should be increased.
3. MTC should practice cost-benefit analysis of both projects and policies, and also of the functional components of projects and policies. It should maximize functional performance of all its investments, and scrupulously avoid gold-plating in both whole projects and component projects and details.
4. In its planning work, MTC should advance in letter and spirit the sustainability purposes of SB 345 and California's legislation for climate protection, AB 32.
5. The MTC, ABAG, and the BAAQMD should move beyond its verbal commitments to Smart Growth and A Region of Villages, and should study and endorse the concept of Walking TOD (WTOD). Integrating land use and transportation planning, the regional agencies should systematically and operationally advance the transition toward a "New Bay Area" made up of a network of high density WTOD nodes in their planning and investment work.
6. MTC, ABAG and the BAAQMD should advance the implementation of WTOD in the Bay Area, both through fostering WTOD projects as these arise from other entities, and by intensely sponsoring particular experimental/demonstration WTOD projects.
7. MTC should give serious support to regional transit connectivity. When a project such as the TransBay terminal/Caltrain DTX, is within one city or county but has connectivity implications that are region-wide, MTC should define the project as regional, not local, and be ready to intervene or invest for regional goals.
8. MTC should seek to reduce, not increase automobile Vehicle Miles Travelled (VMT). It should do this by supporting land use planning that increases citizen access to frequent destinations through proximity rather than mobility, and by channeling regional mobility demands toward optimized trunk (high frequency) transit services.
9. In cooperation with BAAQMD, the State government and PG&E, starting now, MTC should invest to prepare the Bay Area proactively for the earliest possible diffusion of plug-in (partially or completely) electrically driven vehicles in order to reduce and eventually virtually eliminate the now massive greenhouse emissions from the region's transportation sector.