For a region that is widely considered to be the sprawl capital of the world, creating a vision for the future that reduces traffic congestion and air pollution while accommodating an estimated four million new residents is no easy feat. But that is precisely what the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) has done.
Today, SCAG adopted its 2035 Regional Transportation Plan and Sustainable Communities Strategy which will guide the region’s growth and transportation systems for the next 20 years. The plan, a marked improvement over the previous RTP, is the result of nearly two years of outreach efforts on the part of SCAG. The agency met with nearly every local government in the region (not as easy task considering the region is home to more than half the state’s population), held numerous public workshops and hearings, and worked with stakeholders in the region to put together a plan that the entire region can stand behind. And they succeeded. At a recent Air Resources Board hearing on the plan, elected officials from all across the region testified in support of the plan.
I have personally spent the last several years growing my own carbon footprint, flying back and forth to Southern California, to monitor SCAG’s process. During that time, I’ve watched the dialogue at SCAG’s governing body go from fractured and suspicious to unified and forward-looking. I watched with amazement as bike lanes and childhood asthma became leading topics of discussion. I’ve also watched diverse organizations from across the region, many of whom had never before worked with SCAG, step up and become champions for a regional vision of sustainability. Their efforts to mobilize stakeholders and educate local elected officials were essential to making this transformation happen.
We are especially excited that this plan:
– Directs a greater share of new development into areas near transit, giving more people better options for getting around
– Reduces traffic congestion, air pollution and vehicle miles traveled (VMT) over much of the region
– Triples funding for bicycle and pedestrian improvements
– Meets the SB 375 target for greenhouse gas reductions in 2020 and exceeds the 2035 target
But as we applaud Southern California for how far they’ve come, we must also recognize that there is more work ahead. While the land use element of the plan is very strong, we have not seen the changes on the transportation investment side of the equation. The plan still invests in wasteful and unnecessary road and highway expansions, particularly in outlying Riverside County. In addition, the analysis of the plan’s impacts to environmental justice communities is inadequate; in particular, those living close to transit that are vulnerable to displacement, and those living adjacent to heavily congested freeways will be disproportionately affected. SCAG should do more to pinpoint communities that are most vulnerable and identify strategies to protect them. And lastly, when it comes to implementing the plan, there is a massive shortfall in funding.
We were heartened to see some of these issues addressed in a resolution that was adopted along with the plan, and will continue to work with SCAG and others to be sure the plan is implemented well, and implemented fairly.
Click here for additional details about the plan.