Tuesday, October 18, 2011

recently overheard at an MTC planning committee meeting

"Actually you have it backwards - we lose money if we go into attainment."
MTC Executive Director Steve Heminger


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Perhaps the most short-sighted comment in an academic paper...ever?
With the advent of better and faster computers, it seems highly possible that in the not-too-distant future, road planning will become an exact science.
Hoffman and Pavley, 1958. "Applications of Digital Computers to Problems in the Study of Vehicular Traffic." Proceedings of the May 6-8, Western Joint Computer Conference.

Friday, July 22, 2011

on sb375

A white paper from Juan Matute at UCLA makes the bold claim that, "The primary barrier to successful SB 375 implementation is the lack of accurate and valid forecasting and measurement of GHG emissions from transportation."

I agree with this statement if you interpret "SB 375 implementation" to refer only to the precise achievement of CARB's per capita GHG reduction targets. If the model is not accurate and valid, it will fail to predict the effect of transportation policy and investment changes on travel behavior and thus GHG emissions.

But is the purpose of SB 375 to truly reshape our urban form, then the primary barrier is not our modeling tools, but rather the political will to do everything we can to improve transportation and housing choices for all California residents. We know the policies that will move us in the right direction - the best transportation policy is intuitive. HOV lane conversions, dropping transit headways on high-volume routes, jobs-housing fit (especially to accommodate low-income folks that typically in-commute, potentially providing relief from hellishly long and complex transit trips), selectively eliminating egregious highway bottlenecks, probably not constructing entirely new highways or interchanges, promoting active transportation by mixing land uses and income levels with greenspace, promoting user fees over sales taxes for finance, etc. In California, we've been aware of all of these methods (basically) since the late 60s.

The more fundamental question - the real problem with SB 375 - is whether unelected regional governments composed entirely of local electeds are capable of implementing a statewide policy goal. California's transportation planning history indicates that we are loathe to enforce state-level goals on lower units of government. In fact, our laws have evolved to make this nearly impossible. SB 375 creates a state-level mandate but does not touch the system of transportation and land use governance. How can we expect mid-level units of government with no enforcement authority to reshape cities now or ever?

I've been into California's planning history recently. It's got some surprisingly timely insights for today's debates. In May, 1977 the Director of Caltrans, Adriana Gianturco said,*
I do not have a grand plan.** I just do not think it is possible any more to come up with grand plans that last for 20 years. Conditions are just changing too rapidly. It is unrealistic to think that way. I think we need marginal changes, fiddling with the system in relatively minor ways, seeing whether it works, proceeding more along a certain line if it works, dropping it if it does not work.
One of the reasons why it's appealing to not enact change in this manner is that the long-term plans we enact (RTPs are typically 30 year plans coupled with shorter term improvement programs) normally don't have to demonstrate conformity with any performance targets. This is what's changing with SB 375, but it's not clear why such a long-term target is necessary. Why couldn't we use best practices combined with periodic updates? Let's still use models to plan particular infrastructure decisions, but why rely on them to meet climate goals? Looks like we need some wisdom from the 70s to be injected into current planning practice.

* Quote is from the May, 1977 issue of Mass Transit magazine.
**Under AB 69 (Chapter 1253, Statutes of 1972) Caltrans had been given authority to conduct (potentially meaningful) statewide planning. After fits and starts they still (kind of) enjoy this authority, but the statewide plans don't seem to really mesh well with regional plans anymore.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Thursday, June 9, 2011

wisdom from the mid-70s

"A proposed California Transit Plan may be an environmental fanatic's dream, but it will be a nightmare for every resident who owns an automobile and needs to use it."

Source: San Francisco Progress, December 1, 1976.

Monday, April 11, 2011

"[MPOs] consist of local elected officials who just do a lot of horse trading among themselves rather than looking at the region as a whole."

Sunday, March 20, 2011

oh, the power of lobbying

Doesn't this, instinctively, feel like a problem?

From the webpage of the California Business Properties Association (CBPA):
CBPA had a very successful year. Below are some of the highlights from 2010:
CBPA engaged on more than 500 pieces of legislation in the California State Capitol. Of the forty-nine (49) bills deemed “High Priority,” we opposed thirty one (31), 15 of which were killed in the Legislature and sixteen (16) were vetoed by the Governor. Eight (8) bills we supported were signed by the Governor. Most importantly zero (0) bills opposed by CBPA were signed into law.
In my gut, it seems like if there is a single organization that represents the interests of capital and that agency is able to advocate for and achieve specific outcomes from the government, then we do not live in a democracy.

Friday, February 25, 2011

nuclear power and conflicts of interest

Just scanned a new article by Kristin Shrader-Frechette in Science and Engineering Ethics. She provides evidence from 30 nuclear power cost estimates and shows that the industry consistently ignores certain costs, trims others and generally makes estimates of other parameters which make the final result appear favorable to the nuclear industry.

She attributes the underestimates of cost that result from these studies are most likely due to the obvious conflict of interest that industry-funded studies encounter. Further, most of the data are provided by the industry themselves, and many are shielded under proprietary privilege.

In any case, a very nice piece of work with interesting parallels for others in the energy sector.

Shrader-Frechette, K. (2011). "Climate Change, Nuclear Economics, and Conflicts of Interest." Science and Engineering Ethics 17(1): 75-107.

Monday, February 14, 2011

A letter to Governor Brown re: California Transportation Commission appointments

I just sent in this letter to Governor Brown via this link.

Dear Gov. Brown,

The current membership of the California Transportation Commission (CTC) is troubling. Not a single civil engineer or urban planner sits on the body charged with approving the State Transportation Improvement Plan - the key document outlining the state's vision for transportation as embodied in the projects listed within it. Instead, the commission is overwhelmingly populated by real estate developers. While their voice is surely important, it ought not dominate the discussion. Pursuit of the objectives of developers is often not the best course for the state as a whole.

As you consider new appointees to the CTC, I urge you to choose individuals who have demonstrated an ability to think critically about the state's transportation policies and priorities. California has a substantial amount of transportation research talent housed within the Institute of Transportation Studies spread across several University of California campuses (Davis, Irvine, Los Angeles, and Berkeley). Professors and researchers at these institutions have been on the leading edge of transportation and land use planning research for decades. Many of them would make excellent candidates capable of providing the well-reasoned input necessary to place California on a path to meet its ambitious 2050 greenhouse gas emissions reductions goals as required by AB32 and to improve land use planning as required by SB375.

With kind regards.

Friday, February 4, 2011

ab32 lawsuit

Looks like a devastating result for EJ advocates. I don't see how finding the alternatives analysis of CEQA to be in violation is going to lead to an improvement in EJ outcomes. The CARB will simply prepare an updated alternatives analysis that will still lead to cap and trade as the preferred alternative. California agencies have never (or, perhaps, rarely) seen an alternatives analysis as an occasion to change a preferred policy.


  • "Arbitrary and capricious" is the relevant standard against which the court will judge the ARB.
  • ARB's interpretation of the 2020 target as a floor on reductions is fine.
  • Costs are properly evaluated for the plan as a whole - not individual measures.
  • Exclusion of agriculture also okay.
  • "The statute does not support the argument that ARB must demonstrate that cap and trade will result in the same reductions as any direct regulation."
  • CARB justified in choosing cap and trade
  • "In the analysis of voluntary and incentivized measures for the agricultural sector, the record does not demonstrate that ARB used the best available models as required by AB 32."
  • AB 32 does not specify that analyses have to be quantitative (?)
  • Public health analysis fine (but no mention of the question of co-benefits)
  • No AB 32 revisions necessary - CARB gets wide latitude as a quasi-legislative agency
  • This is a program- as opposed to project-level EIR. They are assessed on different merits.
  • Location of biofuel plants was speculated upon in the SP, but CARB was justified in only giving a vague description of possible impacts. The case cited here (Rio Vista) refers to a county that generated a hazardous waste landfill plan, but did not specify particular locations, so it seems to be a little different.
  • The impacts portions of the FED are complete.
  • The "programmatic" label cannot be used to justify an analysis which is inadequate for informed public review and informed decision making by the ARB. Respondent has argued that more detailed analysis of alternative may come later during the implementation process. This claim has no credibility because the ARB has already proceeded, prematurely, with the implementation process.

Monday, January 17, 2011

funny passage from conference report on performance measures

For example, a transit project is sold or marketed to a decision-making group. The proponents say, "We have great fare box recovery ratio, unlinked passengers, etc." After the transit advocate goes out, the highway advocate comes in and says, "My VC ratio is going to go from .95 to .85, and my average speed is going to go from 35 to 37." That person leaves the room, and the decision makers sit together and say, "We don’t understand what these guys are talking about. It is very difficult to compare these two. So we are going to go with whomever we feel lobbied harder and seemed more sincere."

Friday, January 14, 2011

environmental justice and public participation

There's a new issue of Environmental Justice out that focuses on public participation. In it, there's an article by Neenah Estrella-Luna that analyzes the law structuring public participation in environmental review in Massachusetts. It's a nice piece, but doesn't go far enough (although the articles in this journal are quite short, so don't really allow the type of incisive, nuanced analysis required [IMO] for EJ work).

The article focuses on public participation in environmental permitting. The permitting decision is usually binary - either the facility gets permitted or it does not. She's specifically interested in the tradeoff between the interests of the permit applicant (or proponent) and the public-at-large. Who is more influential on the final decision?

But what is the appropriate way to measure influence when something either happens or it does not? It seems like the discussion of public participation in EJ misses this point - what would we judge as good public participation? How do we operationalize influence when a decision is binary? How many facilities should be permitted, and how many not for it to be considered just? Where does the facility go if not in the EJ community? Will it simply go to a rich neighborhood? to China? is either just?

Rather than arguing about individual permitting decisions, EJ should embrace its criticism of consumer capitalism and take it to its logical conclusions (a la Bedford). Seen in this light, the idea that harmful facilities should be placed in any community is unjust and we begin to see the nature of production and consumption as problematic. Environmental injustice is a symptom, the cure is not amelioration but something much more radical.