A Critical Decision for Transportation in San Mateo County

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Kid on busUpdate: On July 24, 2018, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously (a week after the SamTrans Board did so) to approve the final investment plan and place a strong, forward-looking measure on the November 2018 ballot. TransForm and our TEAMC partners came out in strong support of the final investment plan, which ended up including even more of our suggestions since this blog post was orginally written. Read more about this victory from our friends at Youth Leadership Institute

Over the next month, San Mateo County decision-makers will finalize a multi-billion transportation plan that will be placed on the November ballot. Their decisions will shape the future of transportation on the Peninsula for years to come.

Last month, we caught you up on the Transportation Equity Allied Movement Coalition’s (TEAMC) effort to advance transportation justice in San Mateo County’s next transportation ballot measure, an $80 million a year half-cent sales tax that will come before voters in the next election. The Board of Supervisors and SamTrans Board of Directors will vote in July on what to include in the expenditure plan for the measure, guiding how tax revenues are spent.

The good news is that SamTrans and the Board of Supervisors are listening, and TEAMC’s advocacy is having an impact! The Draft Investment plan lays out a visionary set of core principles (inspired in part by our recommendations), and proposed allocations for public transportation and bike/ped improvements are better than where the last San Mateo County measure ended up.

But while the measure is headed in the right direction, there are several key opportunities for improvement before SamTrans and the Board of Supervisors approve the expenditure plan in July. These changes will help our communities and commutes, and we expect they will make the measure more popular with voters in November.

  1. Strengthen the draft plan’s Core Principles
  2. Link key Core Principles to spending requirements, including funding to reduce demand for solo driving and incentivize new affordable housing production.
  3. Maximize the traffic reduction potential of new affordable homes.
  4. Increase allocations for public transit, local roads, and bicycle and pedestrian improvements.

See TEAMC's letter to SamTrans for our complete set of recommendations.

Strengthening Core Principles

We appreciate the Core Principles of the measure presented by staff, which are holistic, comprehensive, and visionary. We are particularly excited about the following principles, (excerpted from SamTrans):

  1. Facilitate the reduction of vehicle miles travelled, travel times and greenhouse gas emissions
  2. Incentivize transit, bicycle, pedestrian, carpooling and other shared-ride options over driving alone
  3. Incorporate the inclusion and implementation of policies that encourage safe accommodation of all people using the roads, regardless of mode of travel
  4. Maximize traffic reduction potential associated with the creation of new housing opportunities in high-quality transit corridors

TEAMC also recommends incorporating the following principles into the Draft Investment Plan:

  • Prioritize service and access for those with the greatest transportation needs and barriers.
  • Reduce the combined costs of transportation and housing, especially for low-income residents.
  • Minimize the displacement of existing residents and transit riders.

Link Core Principles to Spending

The intent of the core principles is to help guide spending, but the link between the principles and actual spending in the investment categories is not clear enough. We recommend spelling out the following to ensure that the measure’s core principles are advanced in spending:

  • Transportation Demand Management (TDM) allocation: The Investment Plan also encourages TDM in Principle #2 above, yet there is no specific category or allocation for TDM to ensure it receives significant funding from the measure. We recommend that at least 5% of the measure’s funding from the roadway categories be devoted to TDM strategies focused on reducing demand for solo driving.
  • Incentivizing low-traffic Transit-Oriented Development (TOD): In order to ensure that Principle #4 translates to concrete results, we recommend that the Draft Spending Plan:
    • Require that a minimum of 5% of the measure’s funding be linked to the production of affordable transit-oriented homes, as outlined below.
    • We also recommend that “jobs-housing fit” be a criterion in project selection in the local roadway and bike/ped categories. In other words, prioritize projects in cities that are building workforce housing and therefore helping to reduce congestion.
  • Complete Streets: Although Core Principle #3 is strong, there is no specific language requiring Complete Streets or encouraging Vision Zero strategies.
    • We recommend including more specific language requiring Complete Streets for all roadway spending within the expenditure plan, particularly within the description of the Highway and Local Roadway categories.
    • We also suggest that jurisdictions with Vision Zero policies receive priority in local roadway and bicycle and pedestrian spending.
  • VMT and GHG Reduction: We recommend the following language be included in the highway and local roadway categories to implement Principle #1: “All projects funded by the measure must demonstrate a reduction in Vehicle Miles of Travel and Greenhouse Gas Emissions.”

Maximize the traffic-reducing benefits of new affordable homes

The housing and transportation crises in San Mateo County are connected, and this measure can help address both.

Today, we released a new report with the Housing Leadership Council of San Mateo, Moving San Mateo County Forward: Housing and Transit at a Crossroads, which lays out the problem in stark detail — as housing prices drive lower and middle-income workers away from San Mateo County, traffic gets worse as they commute back in to work.

Workers who make less than $50,000 make up 40% of the people commuting in from outside San Mateo County, and future job projections suggest that trend will continue. To solve our traffic woes, we need transportation options that are more attractive than driving, AND more affordable homes near jobs and transit. We can no longer afford to think about these problems separately.

Our recommendation: Reserve at least 5% of the measure’s spending, from the Local Roads and Public Transportation categories, to improve transportation options near new affordable homes. These funds could be used to connect residents of affordable homes to transit, jobs, and services with new bike lanes, pedestrian improvements, local shuttles, and new mobility options to increase access to opportunity and reduce traffic congestion.

Increase allocations for public transportation and bicycle and pedestrian improvements

While the proposed 5% allocation for Bicycle and Pedestrian Improvements and 50% for County Public Transportation Systems are a significant improvement over prior San Mateo County ballot measures, we recommend the Bicycle and Pedestrian and County Public Transportation categories be 10% and 55% respectively given the historic lack of funding of these categories, as well as the wealth of benefits that these investments will create for mobility, equity, health, safety, and environmental protection.

We support staff’s recommendation for 10% of the measure’s funding to go towards Regional Transit Connections, and we recommend that the Local Safety, Pothole and Congestion Relief Improvements category be at least 15% in order to ensure sufficient funding for the diversity of needs of local jurisdictions, including pavement maintenance, rail grade separations, TDM, and the affordable TOD program highlighted above.

We remain most concerned over the potential for increased traffic and pollution from Countywide Highway Congestion Improvements program, and recommend reducing this category in order to provide more investment in bike/ped, transit, and local roads. No matter what percentage ends up in the Highway category, TEAMC strongly recommends requiring all projects to reduce vehicle miles of travel (VMT) and carbon pollution.

We look forward to continuing to help develop a visionary measure rooted in community needs that will provide the greatest mobility benefits to the greatest number of people while advancing social equity, improving quality of life, promoting environmental protection and climate action, and enhancing public health and safety.

Take action!

Do you agree with our recommendations? Your voice can make a difference in this campaign, and decision-makers ARE listening.

  • Show up at 9am on Tuesday, June 19th for the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors meeting to share your story and perspective. We also invite you to join us at the final vote by the SamTrans Board on July 10 and the Board of Supervisors on July 24.
  • If you can’t attend a Board of Supervisors meeting, send the BOS an email — and please cc me at clepe [at] transformca [dot] org.
  • Sign our petition!
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About This Blog

TransForum is the blog of TransForm, California's leading transportation advocate. For more about our work, including ways you can take action and contribute, visit TransFormCA.org.