Governor releases ambitious Executive Actions. What’s next for California’s transportation system?

Almost two weeks ago, Governor Gavin Newsom released an ambitious set of executive actions targeted at advancing California’s climate leadership. California continues to set the bar for the nation in its efforts to fight climate change through its innovative policies. With laws like SB 375, which require regions in California to develop plans to show how they will reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) from passenger vehicles and light duty trucks—and an ambitious target of reducing emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030—it’s clear that California’s leadership on climate change provides a model with global implications.

However, the challenge for California continues to be in its implementation of climate policy as it relates to the transportation sector. Despite California’s best policies, transportation remains the single largest emitter of climate pollution in California. And research shows that the state’s ambitious climate goals are not reflected in how it allocates transportation funding. Specifically, most of the state transportation funding is going towards projects that actually increase driving and GHG emissions.

What’s included in Executive Actions?

Governor Newsom’s executive actions are important because, for the first time, the Governor is directing the State Transportation Agency (CalSTA) to leverage more than $5 billion in annual state transportation spending to reduce GHG emissions from the transportation sector. This means that California is finally moving the climate conversation as it relates to transportation beyond innovative (but limited) programs like Active Transportation Program and cap and trade (which only makes up 7%) of California’s total transportation funding) to looking at the larger transportation funding ecosystem.

16529816475_5f6894cf38_b.jpgThe Executive Order targets the state’s transportation investment in a much more specific way. It calls out key strategies to help the State Transportation Agency in its efforts, including:

  • Align the state’s climate goals with transportation spending on planning, programming, and mitigation to achieve the objectives of the 2017 Scoping Plan
  • Reduce vehicles miles traveled (VMT) by strategically directing discretionary transportation investments in support of housing production near available jobs and in accordance with the state’s smart growth principles.
  • Reduce congestion through innovative strategies designed to encourage people to shift from cars to other modes of transportation.
  • Fund active transportation options that contribute to the overall health of Californians and reduce GHG emissions, such as walking, transit, biking, and other active modes.
  • Mitigate increases in transportation costs for lower income Californians.

If you’ve followed ClimatePlan’s work, you know that we’ve been pushing for these type of action for years. We are thrilled about Governor Newsom’s direction to the State Transportation Agency, and are excited to partner with all the state transportation agencies to think critically about implementation.

What’s next?

We recently met with the new Secretary of Transportation David Kim. As our partners at Climate Resolve said, we are feeling quite hopeful after talking with him. In relation to the Executive Order, he mentioned that the State Transportation Agency is now focused on implementation; which will include working closely with stakeholders (like ClimatePlan) to develop that plan.

To help shape Governor Newsom’s approach to transportation in California, Climate Resolve worked closely with ClimatePlan and other partners to develop a transportation platform: Lead the Way, California. This platform was shared with Secretary Kim and other state transportation agencies, but in light of this Executive Order, here are a few key recommendations we’d like to highlight for the Governor and his team to help implement the Executive Order:

  • Examine exactly how state transportation funds are spent and why. Before effective change can happen, all the stakeholders need to understand where the money is going. We recommend the State Transportation Agency work with other transportation agencies to make transportation spending transparent and accountable. Specific legislative obstacles may exist to shifting funding away from road and highway projects and toward sustainable transportation; identify those obstacles (e.g., State Constitution Article XIX), and pass legislation to remove them.
  • Evaluate projects using state climate, equity, and health goals, and condition state funding on project performance. If we want to see better alignment between California’s climate goals and its transportation funding, we need to use better metrics and reward better performance. We recommend the state transportation agencies use relevant performance measures, such as reduction of vehicle miles traveled (VMT); improvement of transit service and other alternative modes of transportation such as vanpools in disadvantaged communities and to lower-income jobs for all state funding pots, not just “discretionary investments”. We also recommend that all state funds should provide incentives for projects that support sustainable transportation modes like public transit, biking, and walking as well as street greening—especially since trees and plants along roadways help protect people from poor air quality and climate change impacts.
  • Invest in sustainable transportation and help regions meet their greenhouse gas reduction goals. We recommend state transportation agencies work together to use road maintenance funds (e.g., the State Highway Operation Protection Program) to make streets better for walking, biking, and transit. SB 127 (Wiener) is sitting on the Governor’s desk right now; Governor Newsom’s signature on this important bill would help immensely in terms of implementing this Executive Order. We also recommend state agencies invest—and provide incentives—for non-traditional transportation ideas like vanpools and ridesharing for rural areas -- Green Raiteros and Van Y Vienen are two such community-led, culturally-informed EV ride-share initiatives that help address transportation challenges in rural communities.

With this new Administration and its focus on transforming the transportation system, we are excited to see the recommendations listed above, as well as others, move forward. We agree with Governor Newsom: we cannot continue to invest in a transportation model that doesn’t help California achieve its climate goals.

P.S. Two more things to share that (we hope) will shake up California’s transportation system

* There are two new appointments on the California Transportation Commission: Tamika Butler, Toole Design’s director of planning for California and Director of Diversity and Inclusion; and Hilary Norton, executive director of FAST (Fixing Angelenos Stuck in Traffic). In 2017, we helped pass AB 179 (Cervantes) because we understood that it’s not just about how the money is spent, but it’s also about who is making the decisions. Now, in 2019, we are excited to see that decision-making bodies like the California Transportation Commission are becoming more representative of diversity in California. We look forward to working with the new Commissioners, as well as the current ones, to continue to move California forward.

* Caltrans’ new director is Toks Omishakin, who comes from the Tennessee Department of Transportation and directed its Bureau of Environment and Planning. Mr. Omishakin also served on the board of directors for America Walks, and as Vice-chair of the AASHTO Council on Active Transportation. Given the Governor’s explicit call out for active transportation, it’s exciting that the incoming director of Caltrans understands the issues facing pedestrians and bicyclists. We are very excited for his leadership and hope to partner with him and others at Caltrans.

Image attribution: "Sacramento, CA" by Mr. Kaya is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 

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