Imagine gliding from Walnut Creek to Mountain View at rush hour without getting stuck in traffic or settling in for a ride to San Francisco International Airport from the North Bay knowing you won’t have to get up from your seat to make a transfer.
That’s the vision behind a multibillion-dollar idea to ease commute times and reshape transportation in the Bay Area over the next several decades.
Called the Bay Area Regional Express Transit Network, or ReX, the concept from transportation think-tank TransForm seeks to get commuters out of their cars by knitting together the region with next-generation buses that travel on an extensive network of dedicated lanes to ensure they don’t get bogged down in traffic.
Clarrissa Cabansagan, a policy director for California transit justice organization TransForm, said the onus is on the cities to set up a system requiring companies to improve outreach.
“The cities need to be more specific about how outreach should happen in low-income communities … and [be] held to that standard,” Cabansagan told The Hill, noting that she checks the scooter apps every day in Oakland and finds the vehicles aren’t located in poor neighborhoods.
Supporters of a sales tax hike who attended Tuesday‘s meeting included a couple dozen union carpenters. Representatives of East Bay environmental and community groups such as TransForm and Greenbelt Alliance also support the plan, Hayley Currier of land use and transportation nonprofit TransForm told supervisors.
The groups have worked with the authority to make the spending plan more sustainable than the one shot down in 2016 by adding more money for bus, pedestrian and bike improvements and prioritizing projects that reduce vehicle miles traveled and greenhouse gas emissions, she noted.
“We’re excited about the commitment to reaching communities of concern,” Currier said.
There’s also, of course, a huge equity component to that. As TransForm’s Clarrissa Cabansagan pointed out, a disproportionate number of black and brown people, thanks to the high-cost of housing, have been forced into outlying areas where transit is all-but unusable and streets are built for driving almost exclusively. They may have grown up in the city center, where they were accustomed to using transit, she added, but now “They’re buying a car because that’s the only way to move around.”
This situation is made even worse, she explained, by the 27-disparate transit operators in the Bay Area, and the lack of coordinated fares. As a result, it’s often cheaper to buy a car and drive than spend money on multiple fares, say on AC Transit, BART, and Muni. Car ownership, however, is fraught with unexpected repair bills, high insurance premiums, and predatory loans, further driving people into poverty. That takes away more money people desperately need for basic needs, such as housing. “We’re seeing the rise of the mega-commute,” she said, adding that people are commuting from as far away as Tracy to find ways to rent and buy affordable housing and make ends meet.
The takeaway from the panel: for one, most of the “new mobility” technologies aren’t actually new. Yes, GPS and smartphones have changed how they’re used, but as Cabansagan explained with the picture in the lead image of a woman on a scooter 100 years ago, these things aren’t actually as “new” as we sometimes think.
Clarrissa Cabansagan, a transportation advocate with the group TransForm, says companies need to be “held to a higher standard,” than what’s in the ordinance.
The plan would require that a majority of scooters be deployed in what are called “communities of concern” — a designation for low income and underserved neighborhoods. But that designation covers most of Oakland.
“That can mean all in the Lake Merritt area, downtown,” says Cabansagan.
Cabansagan, with TransForm, adds that scooter companies should work with community groups to spread the word about the affordable option, and how to ride safely. She also says scooters highlight a need for more bike lanes and better pavement.
“In places like deep East Oakland, people are riding on sidewalks and they’re riding on sidewalks because they feel safer on sidewalks, because sidewalks don't have as many potholes as the streets,” says Cabansagan.
Cabansagan says the scooter craze has opened a window of opportunity to invest in safer streets. Some scooter companies have already pledged to fund more bike lanes in the cities where they operate.
Here are a few examples of cities and tech companies that are collaborating to usher in a safer, more sustainable multimodal age:
Santa Monica is using $1.1 million in dockless scooter/bike permit fees to accelerate the construction of 19 miles of green lanes, bike signal detectors, and bike racks.
In Washington, DC, Uber and Lyft shared anonymized pickup and dropoff activity data with the city to help with street design, making the case to remove 60 parking spaces and improve safety along a popular nightlife corridor.
In Oakland, Lyft partnered with the city, local nonprofit TransForm, and the Scraper Bike Team to invest $700,000 towards a free bike library, community parklets, and better bikeshare station placement.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recognized that they don’t have all of the answers for autonomous vehicles, so they developed guidance in the form of a living document that will change over time.
From TransForm’s web page, which, along with the SVCF and Urban Habitat, is working on a ‘Green New Deal for the Bay Area,’ or a tax to raise that money:
Bay Area leaders and advocates are preparing to put a massive funding measure on the ballot in either 2020 or 2022 to raise funds regionally for transportation, housing, or both at a scale never before imagined. TransForm is coordinating with a wide range of partners and allies to ensure the mega measure will have strong equity provisions, and moves us towards our climate goals by reducing driving and greenhouse gas emissions.
It is critical to elevate community voices early in the process, and ensure the development of the measure and its projects and priorities is transparent. We’re convening public and private conversations and events for stakeholders and voters to learn about the opportunities a mega measure can create, and weigh in on the process.
Save Mount Diablo and more than a dozen partner organizations are pushing the CCTA to make certain commitments on this measure. They want the money to go towards making Contra Costa County more affordable, safe and healthy. They also would like to see efforts made in removing transportation barriers for seniors, youth and people with disabilities.
The coalition asks that concerned residents contact decision-makers on these issues as well. The group would like the CCTA to focus on:
- significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and commit to no new GHG and VMT-inducing projects.
- increased funding on public transportation
- an outcomes-oriented approach with measurable performance targets and binding criteria NOW, before the expenditure plan is approved, to determine how dollars are spent and ensure the plan results in the greatest public benefit for every dollar spent.
- prioritizing social equity and improving transportation options for all, especially those with the greatest transportation barriers, including youth, seniors, people of lower incomes and people with disabilities.
- a commitment to transparent public oversight and deep community engagement going forward
Save Mount Diablo has partnered with the following groups in this call for action. To download a more detailed list of their asks, click here.
- 350 Bay Area
- Bike East Bay
- Contra Costa Citizen’s Lobby
- Contra Costa Climate Action Network
- Contra Costa MoveOn
- Elders Climate Action
- Greenbelt Alliance
- Indivisible ReSisters Walnut Creek
- Orinda Progressive Action Alliance
- Monument Impact
- Sunflower Alliance
- Sustainable Rossmoor
- Urban Habitat
“OakDOT was created at the same time as the City created a Department of Race and Equity to encourage all city programs and policy-making to center racial equity. As investment and development continues to flood the city, Kaplan is proposing to kill the city department that has become a national model for upholding this commitment to equity,” wrote Clarrissa Cabansagan, New Mobility Policy Director at TransForm, in an email to Streetsblog. “The repaving plan and soon-to-be-adopted Oakland Bike Plan represent a culture shift, where long-neglected communities are now being more authentically engaged and are collaborating with government. Eliminating OakDOT just as it is gaining momentum would itself be a huge waste of resources, and a step backwards for the city.”
Edie Irons at TransForm, an advocacy organization in Oakland working to create sustainable communities, points out that the CASA compact–the Committee to House the Bay Area, convened in summer 2017 to find ways to protect tenants, preserve existing affordable homes, and produce more homes of all types–has supported fourteen housing-related bills, and thirteen of those are still alive. She offers a summary of a few of them here.
Not that there aren’t sincere people trying to make the bill better and improve the housing situation in California. From Edie Irons at TransForm, which hasn’t taken a position on S.B. 50:
We urgently need more homes, especially affordable ones, near transit and jobs. We’ll keep analyzing the bill’s impacts and working with allies on both sides of the issue, as well as Senator Wiener’s office, to make it as balanced and effective as possible.
…there are still many groundbreaking housing bills that are alive and well in this legislative session. These include critical tenant protections that can immediately help stop the bleeding while we figure out how to increase housing production, like Just Cause eviction protections and anti-rent gouging protections for most rental properties in the state (A.B. 1481 and A.B. 1482), plus a tenant’s right to organize bill (S.B. 529), and rental assistance and legal aid for people facing eviction (S.B. 18), to name just a few. Hopefully the advocates who’ve been single-mindedly focused on S.B. 50 might put some muscle behind these other important bills.
The classroom that saw the greatest percentage of green trips at each school received a Golden Sneaker Trophy, the commission said in a statement.
The school district and the city of Fremont have been working to create a comprehensive update to each school’s best routes for walking and biking, and plan to make some safety improvements to the routes as well.
The Golden Sneaker Contest and Platinum Sneaker award are sponsored by Alameda County’s Safe Routes to Schools Program, funded by the transportation commission, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.
Oliveira has participated in the Safe Routes to Schools program since the 2012-13 school year, and has “Walking Wednesdays.”
Last year, TransForm, another member of the coalition, released data showing low-income users made up 20 percent of the Bay Area’s bike share program, the largest proportion of users of any system in the country, whose customers tend to skew white, affluent and male. But Jui said that doesn’t mean the coalition wasn’t without its blind spots.
One solid suggestion for using the money comes from the Sustainability Communities for All Coalition, which includes the California Housing Partnership Corporation, Move L.A., Safe Routes to Schools National Partnership, TransForm, the California Bicycle Coalition, Housing California, and ReLeaf. In a letter to the chairs of Senate and Assembly budget committees, the coalition asks for a relatively small investment of $190 million from the GGRF to bring the state closer to its goals of creating sustainable communities. Specifically, they are asking the legislature to include:
- $65 million to bring energy efficiency and solar energy to low-income residents
- $5 million to expand access to electric bikes
- $120 million for “greening” in disadvantaged and low-income communities
It doesn’t help that buses also get struck in traffic, which has been worsening as the population grows and as people stop taking buses, said Chris Lepe, a regional policy director for TransForm, a transportation advocacy nonprofit.
Efforts by the VTA to dedicate traffic lanes to buses to make them more attractive have been met with fierce political opposition, Lepe said. Even making small improvements, such as enhancing the traffic signal technology so buses and light-rail trains get the green light, has been met with push-back from city officials and residents.
“The built environment has trapped people in their cars, but also, it’s trapped them mentally inside a box of auto-orientation,” he said. “So, a lot of people in those cities, they end up opposing the very kinds of improvements that could speed up the bus and increase ridership and create greater efficiency.”
The VTA’s Board of Directors is expected to approve the new service plan in May, but Lepe said he wouldn’t be surprised if the agency found itself in the same position in another five or 10 years.
“It’s going to take a lot of political will and a wake-up call from the folks making decisions in and out of the VTA in order to shift course,” he said, “and to be able to really address congestion and climate change and equity issues, of which transportation is a really big part of the solution.”