Sustainable transportation for the San Mateo County 2040 transportation plan

San Mateo County is gathering public feedback for its County Transportation Plan 2040, which will shape policies – and spending priorities – for the coming decades.

The priorities may be particularly important since San Francisco and Santa Clara Counties are currently seeking to raise transportation funds in ballot measures in November, and San Mateo County isn’t yet, though local needs are accumulating, and the County has relatively new authorization to raise a transportation sales tax.   The priorities could be used to give guidance for a future ballot measure.

The County has held a series public meetings, and is taking comments until October 31, with a survey here that can be used to provide feedback.

Take a look at the materials, read this post, and share your thoughts in comments, and especially to San Mateo County before the deadline…

The materials presented at the community meetings  posed a variety of challenges to an outcome supporting climate and health goals. Here are some notes based on the materials presented the meeting in Menlo Park.

Budget needs presented focus on roadway expansions

There’s a proverb that you can tell an organization’s values, not from its mission statement, but from its budget.  In the posters, there were a lot of words discussing goals for sustainable transportation.  But on the poster that covered potential funding, the dollars and lists of projects were very heavily focused on major roadway expansion (see the project list on p. 107).

San Mateo County Capital Project Needs

Your blogger asked a staff member at the Menlo Park meeting about the project line items for Highway 101 which included added lanes. He replied that there were some places where there was enough room to widen the highway, and so that would be done to provide the best congestion relief.  However, there were some places where there was not enough room, so an auxiliary lane would need to be converted.

This is a different approach from the discussion at the recent 101 Solutions Forum, where a representative of the State transportation department explained how in general, adding lanes is likely induce demand, increase GHG/pollution, and quickly restore congestion.

Needs up-to-date Caltrain program

Looking at the posters and reading through the report, it’s not clear that the plan has the latest update to improvement plans for Caltrain.  Caltrain plans to build on the initial electrification investment to add longer platforms, allowing for longer trains and greater capacity, as well as level boarding for greater speed and accessibility.   Santa Clara County’s $300M ballot measure includes funding for this project, but it isn’t called out explicitly.

In addition, the Caltrain-related projects don’t seem to include enough to continue the county’s successful grade separation program, which has provided grade separations in San Bruno, Belmont/San Carlos, and soon San Mateo/Hillsdale. But the funding is soon going to run out, at or before the completion of projects in the works in Burlingame and Menlo Park, leaving roughly 20 more at-grade crossings in the county.

Regional transit connections

During the time period, there will be a need to improve regional connections, including higher capacity bus and rail connections to the East Bay, at the SF-Oakland, San Mateo, and Dumbarton crossings.   The plan should include strategic goals for these needs. Depending on the timing of the current Dumbarton study, the plan should include proposed funding for improved Dumbarton transit.

Lack of goals

The content on the walls showed many qualitative goals, but very few quantitative goals. In particular, the material lacked quantitative goals for lowering drivealone mode share, reducing carbon emissions, and increasing bicycle and transit mode share.
These goals are likely to be important to meet the new and stronger state climate goals required according to the state’s ambitious new climate law, SB32, requiring California to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030
Lack of Safety goals
There was a high-level qualitative goal to improve safety for road users.  It would be much better to have a strong “vision zero” goal to eliminate roadway fatalities and serious injuries, with a primary strategy of refining roadway designs to improve safety and reduce the risks and consequences of collisions.
Streets and roadways were classified using the mid-20th century scheme that focuses on the role of roads at moving cars – highways, arterials, collectors, local streets.  They do not focus on the roles for people walking, bicycling, and using streets as public space. There should be a goal to update the street classification scheme to consider how streets serve people not just cars.
Lack of goals and teeth for mode shift policies
The posters mentioned transportation demand management for major employers. But they omitted Transportation Management Associations, such as those operating in San Mateo, and in planning in Redwood City and Menlo Park, providing similar programs for a broader range of users beyond the largest employers. And the materials omitted residential transportation demand management, although it is being practiced successfully today in City of San Mateo.
TDM is mentioned in the materials, but not the strongest tools to get vehicle trip reduction results:
  • trip caps and required mode share goals
  • public reporting
  • reducing parking subsidies – priced parking and parking cashout
  • designing incentives so that the price of parking is higher than the out-of-pocket costs of other modes
Historically, San Mateo County staff have explained that because cities and places are very different (for example, Hillsborough vs. downtown San Mateo), it is impossible to set goals and standards, which need to be set, if at all, at a city level. But “place types” could be used to set different goals for different sorts of places, giving cities a leg up on their planning.
Stronger language on transit/transport integration
The poster on transit started with three pictures of Caltrain, BART and SamTrans, described each service, and proposed improved transit integration.
Screen Shot 2016-10-10 at 2.04.09 PM
But travellers care much less about brands of vehicles than about getting to where they are going seamlessly – the “mobility as a service” vision.
The county could use a goal to have fully coordinated transportation, integrating marketing/branding, schedules, and fares, and also integrating other modes including private services (bikeshare, TNCs, carshare), and bridging last-mile gaps with a variety of modes (safe active transportation, shuttles,  transportation networks such as Lyft/Uber)
Lack of focus and goals on TOD and housing
The posters mentioned transit-oriented development.  But there are no clear and quantitative goals to reduce VMT by adding housing closer to jobs, by improving jobs/housing fit, and by adding jobs closer to transit.
Transportation metrics
There was a slide discussing the state-level transition away from vehicle level of service to vehicle miles traveled to assess transportation projects.
However, on the slide focusing on projects (where the rubber meets the road, the slide defining budget priorities), the only metric used is LOS, and the goal used is relieving congestion as measured by LOS.  It would be good to have stronger language about adapting to new metrics for roadway projects including VMT, person-throughput (rather than vehicle delay), and access vs. mobility.
Traditional mid-20th century transportation focused on locating uses far apart, and designing roads for speedy travel between destinations. But this approach has stopped scaling; it requires most people to drive for most trips and results in increasing traffic.  An alternative approach considers accessibility.  If you have more destinations close by, you may not be travelling very quickly, but you don’t have to travel very far, and you have walking and bicycling choices that are impractical for long trips.