SCTLC and Climate Change

by Jack Swearingen

Transportation and Land Use in Sonoma County, California: what’s the connection to climate change? Practically everything. These three issues are joined at the hip—along with a few others such as housing, air and water pollution, runoff, open spaces, endangered species, energy use, and even social issues like road rage.

But individual contributions to these problems are insignificant, and individuals can’t affect the global picture—Right?

Wrong. Environmental impacts on a global scale are the summation of contributions from seven billion people living their individual lives. SCTLC operates on the principle that individuals can make a difference. We can drive less, use public transit, carpooling, and ride sharing, consume less, and teach our neighbors how to do so. We can influence public policy makers by writing letters, making phone calls, and giving public testimony at City Councils, the Board of Supervisors, and any number of topical meetings.

Individuals can multiply their influence by working with advocacy groups such as SCTLC, Sierra Club, Green Belt Alliance, North Bay Organizing Project, Transportation for America, TransForm,etc.

Members of industrialized societies like North America, Europe, China, Japan, Korea, and India consume the great majority of energy and materials, and contribute the great majority of waste into the biosphere (air, water, and land).

In Sonoma County we don’t generate electricity from fossil fuels and we have very little heavy industry. But we heat our homes and businesses with natural gas, light them and cool them with electricity, and discard tons of plastic—some of it on roadsides. Nearly two-thirds of greenhouse gases in SoCo come from vehicle tailpipes.

How is transportation connected to land use? Because they are 2-dimensional, roads provide access to all land that is paveable. And our system of development allows subdivisions to be built far from urban centers and services, requiring new roads must be built and more vehicle miles to be driven. Unfortunately it falls to the County to maintain the roadways — and in Sonoma County we have built far, far more road miles than we have the funds to maintain.

And while we are on the topic, pavement changes the albedo of the land, absorbing more infrared light from the sun and increasing surface temperature. And because pavement is impervious, oil drips collect on the surface and run off into the shoulders with the rains. This is not a trivial problem; it is big enough to pollute the soil. To prove this point to him/her self, reader might wish to do their own calculation. Estimate the number of vehicle miles traveled, the number of drips per vehicle-mile, the size of each drip, and see what you come up with. My guess is that you will be startled.

Conversely, trains are 1-dimensional; they promote transit-oriented development near stations. And the ballast on the right-of-way is permeable; rainwater percolates instead of running off. As a contingent benefit, rail transit stimulates economic development more than buses because it is permanent. Investors can anticipate a long-term future near transit stops.

And then we come to energy. Fossil-fueled vehicles with solo drivers of are the most energy consumptive form of transportation out there. Yet this represents the lion’s share of transportation in our county, in the State, and in the U.S. Electric vehicles (EVs) can reduce the use of fossil fuels, but they won’t reduce congestion, sprawl, or land use. Thus far the impact of ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft has been to increase congestion in urban areas.

Buses consume less fuel per passenger-mile than autos when they are full; but until the public shifts from autos to buses in significant numbers, no real gain is manifest. And buses are subject to the very traffic congestion that they are intended to reduce.

Steel wheel on steel rail is the most efficient form of transportation that we have. But getting from home to station to work and return is the obstacle. If people would leave their autos at home and ride the bus to the train, the net result would be more buses, more trains, fewer autos, less congestion, reduced emissions, and—shall I say it?—less road rage.

Transportation, energy consumption, land use, pollution, smog, climate change (read anthropogenic global warming): these issues are joined at the hip. Amazingly, the solution to one is a solution to all. It begins with our willingness to be inconvenienced slightly for the sake of the planet and the creatures that live upon it.

The importance of reducing VMT by 1% per year

by Steve Birdlebough

Many cities and counties are adopting emergency declarations regarding the Climate Disruption crisis. Some places have shown progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions from their water and power sectors, however it seems much more difficult to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the transportation sector.

Reports and studies by the Air Resources Board tell us that during the next 15 years it will be necessary to reduce average vehicle miles traveled by more than 1% per year for each California resident. Merely shifting people into electric vehicles will NOT achieve the needed reductions in GHG emissions. In part, this is because many vehicles now on the road will be emitting greenhouse gases for years to come.

A 1% per year reduction in driving may seem small, but steady reductions in our collective driving habit (vehicle miles traveled [VMT] per capita) will become significant.

The SCTLC can play an important role by educating local policy makers about equitable strategies to reduce driving while maintaining a healthy economy. Depending on the geography, work force, and economic drivers, policies to be considered are:
– Support climate-friendly sharing of autos, electric bicycles, scooters, etc.
-Make more employers aware of the benefits, and ways to manage telecommuting.
– Convenient, attractive & safe trails for bicycles, horses, and pedestrians
– Make low cost transit passes and free shuttles widely available
– Improve the quantity and convenience of bus, train and shuttle services
– Cease subsidizing automobile parking (progressively unbundle parking costs)
– Build most new residences near shopping, work places, and public transit
– Avoid construction or expansion of roadways that invite more congestion

In November, 2018 we saw the power that groups and chapters exercised in defeating Proposition 3 (the pay-to-play water bond). The Transportation & Sustainable Communities Committee is urging every chapter and group to engage policy makers in efforts to significantly reduce per capita VMT and GHG emissions related to
transportation.

City councils and boards of supervisors should begin to receive VMT per capita progress reports annually. Within a few years, candidate interviews can present an opportunity for discussion of these issues.