Wrestling with transportation+climate: Mountain View leadership and compromises; Sunnyvale generational divides

Like Palo Alto, Mountain View and Sunnyvale report that their largest source of greenhouse gas emissions is now transportation, and a similar pattern where the city is making progress on energy emissions but not yet on transportation. Both cities are going through intensive processes to update their climate strategies, with citizen task forces and large, well-attended public meetings.

The next two evenings, there are two presentations and discussions on these topics, including a session on Wednesday on how cities are wresting with transportation climate emissions, and on Thursday focusing on Electric Vehicles.

In Mountain View, according to a recent City Council report on April 24, the most significant sources of 2015 emissions were transportation (59.5 percent) and energy use (32.9 percent), accounting for more than 92 percent of emissions. Emissions from energy use decreased nearly 15 percent between 2005 and 2015, and water and waste emissions also went down by 38 percent and 53 percent, respectively. But these emissions reductions could not keep pace with steadily rising transportation emissions, which increased by 22 percent between 2005 and 2015.

Mountain View land use strategies to reduce transportation GHG. The city is moving toward adding substantial numbers homes near jobs, with initiatives including the North Bayshore Precise Plan adding up to ~10,000 homes in mixed-use neighborhoods near Google, and an East Whisman Precise Plan in the works to retrofit another aging office park with homes and services. Environmental studies consistently predict that adding homes near jobs is likely to reduce vehicle miles per person and climate emissions.

nbs modesharegoal

Mountain View has aggressive goals for sustainable transportation and vehicle trip reduction, including a 45% drivealone goal for North Bayshore, and ongoing analysis to craft a mix of policies to drive vehicle trip reduction and sustainable transportation in E. Whisman, which its Environmental Planning Commission is discussing this evening. 

Using GHG to assess transportation investments. In a related region-leading strategy, as part of developing a “Comprehensive Modal Plan,” staff will include GHG emissions reductions as one of the factors considered in prioritizing corridors for infrastructure improvements and services. The evaluation of GHG emissions will be based on known effectiveness of different types of transportation improvements, strategies, and services.

Wrestling with bicycle safety choices.  Mountain View also has a task force currently working on the next set of recommendations to reduce emissions, including and especially transportation emissions. A recent public comment in the task force process noted that of the 60% of emissions coming from transportation, two thirds of those emissions are from non-commute trips. Therefore, logical next steps to pursue include greater outreach around transportation alternatives (including cycling, walking and transit). The draft Task Force recommendation include a goal to: the goal to “switch 1/3 of all trips to alternative modes of transportation by 2030, by improving transit and biking, and restricting parking, encouraging alternative modes [to driving].”

Decision-makers are wrestling with the relative priority for cycling safety.  Just this week, the city council made a decision about a corridor that had been identified in the city’s bike plan as a “bicycle boulevard.”  Yesterday, city council approved a plan for the “Latham/Church Corridor”, but removed some features from the final plan, including traffic diverters which would have created short (.2 mile) detours for drivers in order to provide a safer and calmer path for bicycles.  On the positive side, the council members did not approve a request to allow neighbors to vote on specific speed humps, an important decision to prioritize safe walking and bicycling.

Sunnyvale generational divides

Sunnyvale shows the familiar symptoms of a transportation-heavy climate emissions mix with progress on energy and lack of progress on transportation. sv-mix

Like Mountain View, Sunnyvale is going through a process of updating its climate plans, including large, well-attended public workshops. Recent sessions focused on transportation strategies, revealing a deep generational divide.

The consultants laid out a range of strategies to reduce transportation climate emissions, such as a low-stress bicycle network, transportation demand management, denser mixed use infill development, housing affordability, clean fuel vehicles, and the use of remote communications technologies to replace in-person trips.

Various groups of residents were polled on their opinions, and one of the breakouts of the polling included age range.   Boomers strongly preferred a strategy that focused primarily on adopting electric vehicles, while lergely preserving to the city’s low-density, single use development patterns, with a steep housing shortage and high housing prices, and a high in-commute rate especially among low-income workers.boomer-preference

By contrast, Millennials preferred a notably different mix of strategies, with a high fous on mixed use development, transportation demand management, a low-stress bicycle and pedestrian network, increased investment in transit and use of ride-hailing, in addition to adoption of clean fuel vehicles. The carbon performance of the Millennials’ preferred scenario was substantially better than the boomers’ preferences. millennial preference

However, older voters tend to disproportionately vote.  Based on demographics, younger people are eventually going to become a majority of voters, but the disparity may affect the pace of change.