San Francisco Bay Chapter Sierra Club

I-580 and I-80 Traffic Jam

Cleaning up greenhouse-gas emissions should be a major priority for any transportation plan. I-580 and I-80 Traffic Jam. Photo: Flickr / Walter Parenteau (cc)

Must regional planning stumble on climate change?

The Sierra Club has filed suit to challenge the most recent Regional Transportation Plan of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) (see “Sierra Club sues for better Regional Transportation Plan–current plan doesn’t deliver on public-transit, city-planning, or climate-change goals").

Every four years MTC revises its long-term Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) for the Bay Area, and this revision was supposed to be the first to have climate change as a focus. Under SB 375, the Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act of 2008, California has introduced a new requirement for transportation planning agencies to develop a Sustainable Communities Strategy (SCS) to make sure that RTPs really incorporate the goals for reducing greenhouse gases.

The Bay Area’s combined RTP/SCS will be the blueprint for spending $292 billion through 2040. If it really addressed climate change, it could lead to big changes.

The plan, though, does not deal adequately with the climate threat. San Diego’s SANDAG was the first big transportation planning agency in the state to issue an RTP/SCS, which was thrown out in Superior Court for not effectively addressing greenhouse gases. (The case is now on appeal.) MTC's 2013 RTP risks a similar fate.
SB 375 also requires ABAG to mesh its eight-year Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA, pronounced REE–nah) with the SCS. Here too the housing plan may not produce the needed greenhouse-gas reductions.

The biggest problem with the RTP is that MTC plans to build 300 miles of new freeway lanes. Since 41% of the Bay Area's greenhouse-gas emissions come from transportation, it will be a remarkable trick to show how the freeway lanes might help cut carbon or support the goals of the Sustainable Communities Strategy.

» To learn about some of the other problems, see "Will regional planning stumble on climate change?" (Aug. 22, 2013).

» For an overview article see "A transportation plan for the Bay Area" (Aug. 24, 2011).

» For a copy of the Club's comment letter on the RTP, see Letter on Draft 2013 Transportation Improvement Program (pdf). 

» For other RTP-related news, see "TIPping the balance for Bay Area transportation" (December 2012-January 2013, front page).