Major milestone in the Bay Area's Sustainable Communities Strategy

Clarrissa Cabansagan Headshot

Bay Area from aboveThe Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) meetings are getting more and more interesting, with substantive debates pushing staff and commissioners to change their proposals, and competing motions and amendments in many meetings.

Recently (May 17) MTC and ABAG officials voted to approve a draft long-range guide to the Bay Area’s transportation, jobs and housing. The “Preferred Land Use and Transportation Investment Strategy” was a key milestone in developing the final Plan Bay Area, which is due for adoption in April 2013. MTC also voted to approve the “One Bay Area Grants” (OBAG) program, and ABAG approved a draft housing allocation methodology for Bay Area cities.

The Plan Started Pretty Good …

The plan that went in front of decision-makers on May 17 had many good points to begin with:

  • 88% of the funds go to Fix It First: operations and maintenance of the existing transit & local roads (up from 81% in the last plan).
  • 99% of new homes and jobs would be in our existing urban footprint.
  • 80% of new homes and 66% of new jobs would be in Priority Development Areas (downtowns and neighborhoods near transit that cities have identified as the places they want to grow).
  • Proposed priority projects for New & Small Starts represent a focus on performance: the Caltrain extension to the Transbay Terminal and the BRT projects are cost-effective and feasible and are projects TransForm prioritized for inclusion based on the Project Performance Assessment.
  • Of the 3 projects we prioritized to keep OUT of the plan based on the Project Performance Assessment, 2 of them -- SR 239 Expressway and BART to Livermore -- were not included for construction. Instead the compromise was to allow them to be in the RTP for planning and environmental studies.
  • Of the 14 projects we promoted for INCLUSION in the plan based on the PPA, all were included in the plan to some degree. Eight were included almost exactly as we supported. For three more, the project was included but we need some additional research to determine whether the full project we wanted was included. And for three more, only a portion of the project we supported was included, and the remainder of the project will have to await further study. More on this in a future post.
  • The One Bay Area Grant (OBAG) program has a good overall intent -- to reward investment in priority development areas. We're glad it requires jurisdictions to have an approved Housing Element and good complete streets policies. We still have concerns over implementation -- both the lack of anti-displacement policies and the lack of guidance to counties on distributing the funds.
  • The Transit Performance Initiative is a good start; it should be bigger, but it should move the region towards low-cost, big-impact transit improvements.
  • There's a $10 million conservation program -- small by transportation standards, but a first-time dedication of transportation funds for conservation purposes


… and got better! Victory for Climate Innovative Grants

The big win of the night was restoring funding for the Climate Innovative Grants program:  funded at $226 million, up from $0 before May 17. Car-sharing also got a big win, tripling their funding from before May 17. This was TransForm's biggest push during April and May, with many letters and calls by TransForm and other allies made to MTC/ABAG staff and commissioners. The innovative grants are the source for parking reform and TDMs, alternative fuel improvements beyond current law, as well as out of the box ideas such as regional bike sharing and 'cold-in-place asphalt recycling'. This funding for Climate Innovative Grants is about the same on a per-year basis as what was included in the last RTP, but now MTC is planning the program for decades to come.

Interestingly, elected officials also added a new line item from the dais on the 17th:  a new $70 million investment for “PDA Planning and Implementation.” In an unusual move at an MTC or ABAG meeting, this was a brand new idea introduced only at the meeting itself. The only description of the program we saw given in the meeting was when Supervisor Scott Haggerty proposed the item, moving the funding away from the “Smart Driving Strategy” listed in staff’s presentation. TransForm supports providing more funds to plan for and implement needed improvements in PDAs in general, and we look forward to finding out what this funding will support as the rest of the plan unfolds.


But improvements are still needed

There are still many ways in which the plan still could and should improve, all of which are ideas that would help move the region towards meeting the 10 SCS targets the agencies adopted for this One Bay Area plan.

Most importantly, the agencies’ analysis shows that the share of income low-income families spend on transportation and housing will get worse, not better, and that displacement risk will get much higher in low-income communities. This plan can and should do better. For example, the OBAG program should require anti-displacement policies, at least in the next round of funding. The Lifeline transit funding program should have more investment.

With the express lane network and pricing in general, MTC has not done enough, conducting very little public engagement or planning on the express lane network as a whole. In partial response to concerns expressed by TransForm and members of MTC’s Policy Advisory Council, MTC has said they will investigate some alternative pricing approaches in the EIR, including aspects on the express lane network, parking pricing, and potential congestion or whole-road pricing in certain areas. TransForm will continue to push for more public engagement and analysis on the express lane network and other pricing ideas.


What’s next for the SCS?

The strategy MTC and ABAG adopted on May 17 will now be the “project alternative” to be evaluated as part of the plan’s Environmental Impact Report (EIR). In December 2012, the agencies expect to release the draft Plan Bay Area and EIR, which will be followed by public hearings throughout the region. That will be the next major opportunity to win changes in the plan, based on what comes out of the environmental review process. MTC and ABAG expect to adopt the final Plan Bay Area and certify the final EIR in April 2013.

Important Next Steps: (See the Plan Bay Area Planning Process Phase 3 & 4 Chart)

  • June 2012 – Select alternatives to be evaluated in Plan Bay Area Environmental Impact Report.
  • December 2012 - Release draft Plan Bay Area and Environmental Impact Report.
  • April 2013 - Adopt Final Plan Bay Area and certify final Environmental Impact Report.

To stay involved and help ensure the final plan addresses the region’s needs, contact Manolo González-Estay and check for updates on the SCS page on TransForm’s website.


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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