State Attorney General Rejects SANDAG’s Regional Transportation Plan for Being too Inadequate

California Attorney General, Kamala Harris. Photo from Wikipedia.

Last Friday, the State’s Attorney General, Kamala Harris, rejected SANDAG’s 2050 Regional Transportation Plan for being far too inadequate in meeting the requirements set in the State’s Senate Bill 375 [pdf link]. This bill was signed into law in 2008 and was heralded as being one of the most important pieces of land use legislation since the California Coastal Act of 1976. SB 375 has been called an anti sprawl bill, but the specifics that relate to implementing effective strategies to promote, encourage and increase the number of bicyclists in the state are also encompassed in this law.

Specifically, the law calls for a “reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles and light trucks in a region.” As such, the State’s Air Resources Board was designated as the governing body to set emission reduction targets for the automobile and light truck sector. SB 375 detailed that the California State Legislature had concluded that the state’s transportation sector was primarily responsible for poor air quality. This very transportation sector was responsible for 50 percent of air pollution in California, and 70 percent of its petroleum consumption. As such the law calls for transportation “mode splitting that allocates trips between automobile, transit, carpool, and bicycle and pedestrian trips.” The law specifically requires state transportation agencies to forecast how they intend to increase  bicycle and pedestrian modes of travel .  To that end, SB 375 determined that all of California’s transportation planning agencies would “prepare and adopt a regional transportation plan directed at achieving a coordinated and balanced regional transportation system” that would meet or exceed goals set in SB 375 to reduce pollution, and green house gas emissions  in addition to solving other environmental issues. The law required that all regional transportation plans [would] “be action-oriented and pragmatic, considering both the short-term and long-term future, and shall present clear, concise policy guidance to local and state officials”

The San Diego region was one of the first in the state to prepare the 2050 Regional Transportation Plan and Sustainable Community Strategy.

Bike San Diego had announced the release of the 2050 Draft RTP back in April of this year. I  had noted that in SANDAG’s promotional video, there was a glaring omission of bicycling as a mode of transportation and a method to help solve the problems that SB 375 sought to resolve.

The actual RTP was devastatingly mediocre in its goals when it came to thinking beyond the automobile as a mode of transportation. Despite San Diego having the seventh worst ozone problem and the fifteenth worst particulate pollution problem specifically arising from smog primarily caused by automobile and light truck emissions, the goals of the Bicycle Plan, that was a part of the overall Regional Plan, was disappointingly vague. The goals were listed as follows:

Goal 1: Significantly Increase Levels of Bicycling throughout the San Diego Region

Goal 2: Improve Bicycling Safety

Goal 3: Encourage the Development of Complete Streets

Goal 4: Support Reductions in Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Goal 5: Increase Community Support for Bicycling

In 2007, the American Community Survey showed that only a pitiful 0.6 percent of San Diegans commuted to work by bicycle. This was an increase from 0.48 percent in 2003.  SANDAG decided to play with the numbers and reported that the figure didn’t include residents who use multiple modes of transportation, because the survey didn’t count those who rode to school or to transit. Thus, SANDAG decided to inflate that 0.6 percent by including those missing riders and coming up with a  2.7 percent figure as being the total number of cyclists in the region. Thus, the projections on how many cyclists would exist in 2050 was based on the 2.7 percent figure. SANDAG, through its calculations, forecasted that in 2050, the total number of bicycle mode share in San Diego County would be 7.0 percent. This forecast predicted by SANDAG was included in their 2030 Regional Bicycle Plan (incorporated in the 2050 Regional Transportation Plan), and was “based on increases in cycling on newly built bikeways in San Francisco, California; Portland, Oregon; and Seattle, Washington”

Meanwhile in Portland, in 2008 their bicycle mode share was 8% all accomplished by increasing the number of bicycle specific infrastructure built from just 1 percent of the state’s transportation budget. However, Portland’s commuter ridership was 18%. Meanwhile in California, Davis currently has a  bicycle mode share of 18%.

So in light of where other cities on the West Coast are with their existing bicycle ridership, San Diego’s targets were absolutely disappointing.

In a future article, I will discuss both the Attorney General’s letter in greater detail and offer some strategies that the region can do to increase bicycle modal share in the region. Additionally, I intend to write a follow up article on how SB 375 will come into conflict with Proposition 13, popularly called the People’s Initiative to Limit Property Taxation, or the 1978 California Constitutional Amendment that encouraged the sort of land use practices that exacerbated the problems that SB 375 seeks to address and solve.