Surging forward toward California’s climate solutions

 Noah BergerIn transportation, it’s easy to become frustrated by the slow, dribbling pace of change.  New bus lines can take years to complete.  New trains can take decades.  Financial downturns can stall affordable housing near transit, and even simple improvements like bike lanes and sidewalks require thorough (sometimes drawn-out) planning.

But right now in Sacramento, climate policy is surging forward with unprecedented speed.  And two recent events drove home how TransForm and our wonderful allies are at the crest of this movement, helping win the changes we need for our communities and our future.

Advising the Legislature on climate and planning

First, I was invited to testify at a hearing on climate change last week before the California Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Resources and Transportation. 

Speakers from the Nature Conservancy and the California Environmental Justice Alliance joined me on the panel, reflecting an understanding that we need to explore solutions from diverse perspectives and fields.

My task was to answer two main questions.  How much could we reduce climate pollution through better urban planning, and what are the opportunities to improve planning in order to achieve the greatest reductions in greenhouse gas emissions?

These are critical questions in a state where nearly 40% of greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation. And TransForm’s research shows that better planning can make a big dent in climate pollution – and also in household expenses. If all neighborhoods matched our best level of public transportation, we could save families up an average of over $3,800 per year while cutting transportation-related emissions by 34%.

As our state faces a growing affordability crisis, we need to pay attention to the financial benefits of carbon-cutting transportation strategies.

Those benefits get even greater when we consider the opportunities to shape new development as our state grows. There’s incredible potential to curb climate pollution through innovative planning: from investing in more affordable housing near public transportation, to providing free transit passes for youth, to allowing housing developers to build less parking and provide residents with other options. And when our leaders encourage combining these solutions, as the Strategic Growth Council has started to do in their cap-and-trade grant program, then we can get communities that are both affordable and helping fight climate change.

I’m so grateful that our state leaders want to hear about and implement these solutions. I’m also thrilled that TransForm can take our extensive planning experience and translate it into important state policy.

Serving as a model for successful collaboration

The other exciting event was yesterday’s publication of a new paper by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. This paper explores the impact of our Sustainable Communities for All (SC4A) coalition as a case study for cross-sector partnerships that benefit low-income communities.

TransForm co-coordinates SC4A with Housing California. Over the past three years this strategy has proved to be a highly influential for shaping the state’s cap-and-trade spending plans.  Based in part on our effective research and advocacy, state leaders designated 35% of all cap-and-trade funds for public transportation, affordable housing, and sustainable communities.

But as this paper stresses, the secret to our success was our intentional, patient approach to working together and building trust.  “Too often, these factors are presumed to develop on their own,” the author writes. “It may be tempting to attribute the coalition’s success to any one of its tactical efforts…but it’s important to remember that all of these achievements were enabled by the trust that existed among partners.”

This is something that TransForm has prioritized and practiced for years, beginning with our founding work on Bay Area regional planning and continuing to this day. As we move ahead in building a statewide movement to transform transportation, we will expand our partnerships and encourage other regions to form similar coalitions.

Join the transportation wave in Sacramento

It’s exciting to rush forward with the rising tide of state climate policy, but to keep the momentum going requires even more.  It will take a groundswell of Californians speaking out for better public transportation, more affordable communities, safer places to walk and bike, and a guarantee that these options will be available for people of every income, race and ability.

Will you join us?  We’re planning to make a splash in Sacramento in less than two weeks with our fourth annual Transportation Choices Summit, and we need you there.  Learn more and register now.


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