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Could Transportation Plan Have Dreamt Bigger?




I received no less than  25 emails celebrating the passage of the 2035 SCAG RTP within the past few weeks. This stands for the Southern California Association of Governments’ Regional Transportation Plan and Sustainable Communities Strategy. Environmentalists, low-income groups and housing groups all cheered the vast improvements to the way regional planning organizations look at future development. This new, more comprehensive view ideally would address the twin goals of creating more economically vibrant communities and improving our environment.

ClimatePlan, the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network and MOVE LA, among other groups, have praised the projected greenhouse gas,  “vehicle miles traveled (VMT)” and traffic congestion reductions, as well as the forward-looking goals of increasing non-motorized transportation use, such as  bicycles and walking.

Yet while there is much to take heart in, I started to ask myself: Could the SCAG plan have aimed even higher?

I salute the planners and community activists who brought a progressive vision and spent many long hours working on shaping the plan into what it is. But there are few specifics to the new “green economy” that is expected to emerge from the build-out of the vast transit systems and transit-oriented development envisioned in the plan. There is no reason the plan shouldn’t have included all possible tools for addressing a socially and environmentally progressive approach to regional development in Southern California. All SCAG planners had to do was look in their own backyard for inspiration.

LAANE’s Construction Careers campaign has led the charge to create a more sustainable and economically just transportation system here in L.A. County. In January 2012, our coalition won a policy at Metro to create $6 billion worth of good, middle-class construction jobs with health benefits for economically hard-hit communities. This would result from the build-out of transit projects, including such upcoming projects as the Crenshaw Line and the Regional Connector. Yet despite receiving LAANE’s comments, the SCAG plan omitted Construction Careers policies and went so far as to examine economic stimulation tools that explicitly avoid creating good jobs: “The RTP/SCS can boost employment in two ways—providing jobs for persons in highway and rail construction, operation, and maintenance, and boosting the economic competitiveness of the SCAG region by making it a more attractive place to do business. As an example, policies that could reduce congestion while creating no or minimal construction jobs can still increase the economic competitiveness of the region. Congestion pricing is one possible example.”

Additionally, what separates planning from concrete change are enforcement mechanisms and, most importantly, funding. Within the plan, the former is lacking—there is no way to hold cities and counties accountable if they refuse to comply. And when it comes to funding, the plan provides not a penny. In other words, the plan has essentially no teeth or funding mandates that would actually advance its objectives of driving more environmentally friendly growth in Southern California.

I wonder, with state measures like SB375 and the Obama administration fueling the effort to bring more comprehensive land use, housing and transportation planning under the umbrella of the “Partnership for Sustainable Communities,” what the future of such massive planning undertakings will be. With the federal transportation bill not getting enough votes to even be extended and GOP representatives opposing building “green” transportation in favor of oil drilling, will there be a federal, state or local revenue stream to make this dream a reality?

If the state Legislature recognizes the opportunities to create equitable and environmentally friendly developments in Southern California and take real ownership of implementing the plan, then there is potential. Advocates ought to be examining ways to work with the Legislature to create incentives, mitigation funds and other pots of money that advance transportation and housing balances, multimodal transportation and good construction jobs in the region. Otherwise, the plan is just kicking the can of much-needed environmentally and socially just development down the road.

Stay tuned for another Frying Pan News piece in a series of SCAG planning critiques.

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