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Listen to Susan Handy
Professor Susan Handy, the Director of the Sustainable Transportation Center at UC Davis, explains, in an interview recorded on January 29, 2016, why widening a highway not only will fail to relieve traffic congestion but also will increase vehicle miles traveled, and will be environmentally damaging.
Click on the audio strip below to listen to this 20-minute interview. She summarizes her recent study done for the Air Resources Board. If you want to read a transcript of the interview, it is here.
A brief summary of Susan Handy's talk
On May 14, in our own Louden Nelson Center, Susan Handy treated us to a fine presentation. Here are a few of her main points:
For decades, our road engineers have used
“Level Of Service” (LOS) as a
criterion to characterize traffic flow on our
roads. Level “A” is freely flowing
traffic, and level “F” is a
traffic jam—when the demand is greater
than the capacity. The idea has been to raise
the LOS by adding capacity, i.e.,
lanes to the road. Susan showed us this photo
of the “Katy Freeway” in Houston.
At 23 lanes, it's the widest freeway in the
world, and it's still at level
“F”. Click on the image to
enlarge it. See this link for more
Recently the trend has been to replace LOS with “Vehicle Miles Traveled” (VMT) when evaluating the environmental impact of a road widening project. Now the idea is to reduce the VMT. An increase in VMT always implies an increase in Greenhouse Gas emissions.
- Whenever a road is widened, there is the probability that more cars will eventually be induced to travel on the road, as is described in Linda Booth Sweeney's video below. This is called “Induced Travel”, a phenomenon that has been dismissed by Caltrans, but is gradually now becoming accepted by them.
- Any increase in the capacity of a road—even auxiliary lanes—always leads to an increase in VMT, and hence to an increase in Greenhouse Gas emissions.
- To reduce the demand for automobile travel, one may either (a) make driving less attractive, or (b) make alternatives more attractive. Which would you prefer?
Watch this good video
For a good companion to Susan Handy's presentation, watch this excellent video by systems educator Linda Booth Sweeney. In two and a half minutes she provides a clear explanation for why widening a highway does not relieve traffic congestion. ◀
Watch two good videos
Here are two good videos by renowned planner Peter Calthorpe. Click on the links to watch them.
- Here Calthorpe describes what Portland did in 1990—a key decision that encouraged sustainable transportation and resulted in a livable downtown.
- Here Calthorpe summarizes the steps to take to achieve Transit Oriented Development, with excellent illustrations, both negative and positive.
New definitions are needed
It has long been the case that the phrase “alternative transportation” has meant walking, or riding a bicycle, or using the bus or other modes of public transportation. The implication is that the primary mode is driving a car. However, everyone walks. Unless you are disabled, you cannot get through the day without walking.
Furthermore, in our planning for the construction of transportation-related projects, short shrift is frequently given to pedestrian amenities such as sidewalks and crosswalks. Bicycle amenities, such as bike lanes or bike paths, are often only added as an afterthought.
Therefore: It's time to re-define what we mean by “alternative”:
Alternative Transportation Mode: Driving in a car, especially as a single occupant.
Primary Transportation Modes: Walking, and bicycling or using public transportation.
If you're driving a car and there are pedestrians around, speed matters a lot. Data for this graph come from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Traffic jams. Lots of cars. Parking problems. Air pollution, neighborhood degradation, global warming.
Nearly 90% of the cars on our streets and roads have only a single occupant.
In California, roughly 40% of greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation (50% in the Bay Area), mostly from private cars.
What shall we do?
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Lots of New Stuff
September 26, 2016: We've posted Lewis Mumford's relevant essay, entitled “The Highway and the City”. To find out more, click here. Please read it!!!!!
September 14, 2016: Our timetable for the Highway 17 Express—Caltrain schedules (see this page) has been updated to reflect METRO's service cuts done on September 8.
August 29, 2016: Read the truth about the claim—made by the RTC—that Measure D will reduce Greenhouse Gases by 17.9%. Here is a new four-page analysis by Richard Stover, showing that the claim is false.
August 27, 2016: For up-to-date information regarding Measure D, including texts of ballot arguments, see this link. Our argument opposing Measure D is posted there. Rebuttals to the ballot arguments (including ours) are now posted at the above link.
August 19, 2016: The current issue
of Transit California, the monthly
magazine of the California Transit Association, has a
Featured Story that highlights our
own METRO, which just received a federal grant of
$3.8 million for new “zero-emission”
The article quotes METRO's CEO Alex Clifford:
“This grant could not have come at a better time. Our agency has been facing a fiscal crisis that has prevented us from replacing our aging bus fleet and last year the Board directed us to seek opportunities to add electric buses to our fleet in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Thanks to Congressman Sam Farr's (D-Calif.) efforts, we will use the federal assistance to address both of those challenges.”
To read the full story, click on this link and consider sending notes of thanks and congratulations to Alex Clifford and Congressman Farr.
August 19, 2016: After extensive and lengthy discussion, involving up to fifty of our active members, we decided, by a super-majority, to oppose Measure D, the transportation sales tax measure that will be on the ballot on November 8, 2016. We have created a special website, called WideningWontWork.org. Click on its link to visit it. It describes our campaign and outlines our reasoning for reaching this decision. We would welcome your support, so consider writing to us here if you would like to help.
July 12, 2016: We have recently received comments by the Center for Biological Diversity on the Draft Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Assessment (DEIR/EA) for proposed Highway 1 construction projects. Their comments may be found here. Other comments, by local attorney Bill Parkin are here (with appendices here), and those by CFST are here.
June 23, 2016: We are not safe, and we can be safer. Steve Piercy has created a map showing all the collisions involving pedestrians and bicyclists in Santa Cruz County for any time interval between 2002 and 2015. To learn more, and see his map, click this link.
June 12, 2016: Liz Levy of Soquel wrote an excellent letter to the RTC. We urge you to take a look at it. Just click this link.
Sunday, May 22, 2016: We had a lively (and breezy) celebration for Nancy Abbey this afternoon at the “MAH”. Good talk, good munchies, and a new song: Widening One Won't Work. Click on this link if you would like a copy. There are lyrics, a piano score with guitar chords, and an mp3 file.
May 14, 2016: Susan Handy came to Santa Cruz, and gave us a good presentation at our Louden Nelson Center. Her talk, entitled “Stuck in Traffic: Will More Lanes Help?”, was followed by many good questions from her large audience. It was well-received. We have now posted a short summary of her remarks. You may also listen to a recent interview of her by Charles Marohn of Strong Towns, and watch a short informative two-and-a-half minute video by Linda Booth Sweeney. Click on this link to learn more.
March 23, 2016: We have a new page of Stories by Bus Riders! Put together by Dana Bagshaw, it is right here. These are folks who enjoy using the bus to get around, and on this page, they tell you why.
February 7, 2016: We need financial support for the expenses that go with our volunteer advocacy work. Please make a donation to the Campaign, either on-line, or by mail. Just click here, or on the new green Donate tab in the navigation bar above (under the header photos).
October 27, 2015: Please see our Rail Line Info page, with lots of facts and figures about the RTC's Passenger Rail Feasibility Study. There are also a couple of informative videos. Click here to read it.
July 3, 2015: A summary of a transportation survey of County voters, done in early May, 2015, is now available here. Please read it and let us know what you think.
June 25, 2015: We've updated our Big Basin and Fall Creek pages. We've added a new loop hike in Big Basin, to visit the park's main waterfalls, and you can also download Bob Garrison's notes about our county's geology from the Big Basin page. Also updated: our time table for the 17 Express-Caltrain transit service.
April, 2015: Weekend bus service to Big Basin began March 14, 2015, and will run through the summer and fall until mid-December. The #35A leaves Santa Cruz at 8:30 am and 6:30 pm each Saturday and Sunday, arriving at the Park Headquarters at 9:45 am and 7:45 pm. You can hike down to Waddell Beach on the coast, where the #40 will pick you up at 5:15 pm for the trip back to Santa Cruz, arriving by 5:55 pm. A complete description for possible hike routes (with useful maps) is available here.
March, 2015: Responding to the proposal by Caltrans to widen Highway 1 in Pacifica (through Vallemar), Pacificans for a Scenic Coast, Pacificans for Highway 1 Alternatives and the Center for Biological Diversity are planning to file a second lawsuit. See this link for details. See also the PH1A Facebook Page.
March, 2014: We are proud to be a participant in the Caltrans Watch Coalition, a group of some 28 organizations who are keen to “put the brakes on Caltrans”, campaigning to stop some five egregious highway widening projects being pushed by Caltrans in Northern California. This coalition was formed through the efforts of the Center for Biological Diversity. Click on the above link for details.
February, 2013: Be sure to check out our special page: Car-free hikes. At the moment there are descriptions of good hikes in both Big Basin and the Fall Creek watershed. We expect to add more hikes in this category.
Anytime: Be sure to write to us (click here) if you have any comments or suggestions or if something about this website does not work for you.