TransForm's initial analysis of Plan Bay Area

Clarrissa Cabansagan Headshot

Our regional agencies have taken their shot at solving the puzzle of how to cut greenhouse gas emissions by reducing driving. The draft of Plan Bay Area, our regional 25-year transportation spending blueprint, was released on March 22nd. For the first time ever, this plan includes a specific section dedicated to curbing climate pollution as required by state law.

If done well, Plan Bay Area could bring more affordable, walkable communities to the Bay Area while reducing greenhouse gas pollution and meeting our region’s equity, health, and safety targets.

Over the past two years, TransForm and our allies have worked to influence every step of the process – and we’ve definitely had an impact. But while the draft Plan Bay Area is headed in the right direction, there are still at least two critical aspects of the plan that need to be better to truly meet the future needs of our region.

Here’s our initial analysis of the draft Plan Bay Area. Regional agencies, led by MTC, also just released the draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for Plan Bay Area, so we may have more to say once we’ve had a chance to review that as well.

Overview: We can see the big picture, but some pieces are missing.

The draft Plan Bay Area is a step in the right direction – but it could be so much better. Like a jigsaw puzzle in progress, we can see a picture starting to emerge in the draft plan. Yet key pieces are missing, even though they were laid out in earlier versions. Now it’s up to us as a region to put those critical pieces in place and make the picture complete.

What’s good about the draft Plan Bay Area:

  • The plan prioritizes fixing the existing transportation system, so we can keep our buses and trains running on time and fill potholes on our streets.
  • The plan largely focuses growth in areas best suited for it, so that housing and jobs are closer to one another and more of the Bay Area’s natural open spaces remain intact for recreation, clean water, and scenic beauty.
  • The plan has a stronger emphasis on choosing the best-performing projects than ever before, so we get more transportation service for the taxpayers’ investments.
  • The plan creates a new program to reward cities that move the regional vision forward. The One Bay Area Grant program invests in local projects that support focused growth in areas well served by public transportation.
  • The plan invests in innovative programs to cut greenhouse gas pollution, so the region can pursue high-impact strategies to reduce greenhouse gases, such as bike sharing and updated parking policies.
  • The plan starts a small investment in a new Transit Performance Initiative, so the region can more systematically support low-cost, big-impact public transportation improvements.

The biggest things missing from Plan Bay Area are:

  • The plan still spends too much money on building new highway lanes that will continue the cycle of “more pavement, more driving,” leading to increased congestion and greenhouse gas emissions in years to come. If we prioritize choice, equity, and innovation in the proposed Express Lane Network, we can create more transportation options that that would help all Bay Area travelers, not just drivers, get where they need to go faster – and for less money. Since the flawed network is already included in the draft Plan Bay Area, we’ll need widespread support to win changes. Read more about our position on express lanes here.
  • The plan predicts and accepts a dramatic increase in the cost of housing and transportation that will price out our most vulnerable neighbors. Compared to all of the alternative plans studied, the draft plan has the highest risk of displacement. MTC expects low-income families to spend a whopping 74% of their income on housing and transportation alone, leaving little left over for food, clothing, education, and other basic necessities. Instead of just planning for a future that is worse for low-income families, the final Plan Bay Area must take action to help make it better.

Finding the missing pieces in the Equity, Environment, and Jobs Alternative

Over the past several months, the regional agencies analyzed several alternatives to their proposed plan. They identified the Equity, Environment, and Jobs (EEJ) Alternative – developed by several public interest groups, including TransForm, Public Advocates, and Urban Habitat – as the “environmentally superior alternative.” The EEJ Alternative performs better than the current draft on the majority of performance targets that MTC has set for the plan.

The EEJ Alternative succeeds in several ways. It adds more homes, including affordable homes, in the places with the most opportunities: places with lots of jobs, access to public transportation, and good schools. Instead of investing billions in highway expansions, it invests more money in filling potholes and creating more robust transit service. It adds more incentives for cities to prevent displacement and support building more homes that people of all incomes can afford.

As a result, the EEJ Alternative would bring us less traffic, healthier residents, fewer traffic deaths, more affordable neighborhoods, and it would do a better job of allowing our most vulnerable neighbors to stay in their homes. TransForm will encourage MTC to incorporate key elements of the EEJ Alternative as they develop the final Plan Bay Area.

The next steps for draft Plan Bay Area

We need to speak up and demand that MTC find the missing pieces and finish the puzzle to create a more complete and inclusive vision of the Bay Area’s future. MTC is accepting comments on the draft Plan Bay Area through May 16, with public hearings in each county starting next week. Add your voice to make sure we don’t leave the table with key pieces of our future still in the box.

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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.