How is Assembly Mullin’s bill planning to address congestion on the 101 corridor? As his staff member notes, the bill is a placeholder; he expects crafting the policy to take another year. The text of the bill’s introduction has some hints, and Michael Cunningham of Bay Area Council, which encouraged Assembly Member Mullin to introduce the bill, answered questions about the preliminary thinking. Bold is the blogger’s question, italic is Cunningham’s answer, and the rest of the paragraph is background and commentary.
The bill intro says: “A coordinated agency response that integrates carpool or express lane development and operations, adaptive ramp metering technology and operations, and ridesharing can deliver meaningful commuter relief within a five year period and can serve as a model that other highway corridors in the state can emulate.”
Q. Does this mean that the main goal of the bill is to add new lanes on 101? Would the proponents support TransForm’s “optimized HOT lane” proposal which would instead convert an existing lane into a toll lane, and use the funding to support sustainable transportation? A. Cunningham says the answer is yes – they are aware of the TransForm approach, and would consider it. TransForm’s high level analysis suggests that this approach would result in more congestion and GHG reduction than adding a new lane. San Mateo County is currently having this option studied, as part of its 101 toll lane study, but it would require a change in state law to allow the lane conversion.
Q. How about enabling public transit to provide cross-county express bus service? A. Yes, this has been considered and could be part of the policy. Currently, the big tech companies, Google, Facebook and others, run cross-county express shuttles in part because the public transit system makes creating such routes very difficult. Currently, each county transit agency has a monopoly on its territory, and creating a route that crosses territories (like the DB route, which crosses the Dumbarton Bridge from Alameda to San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties) requires a complex bi-direction or multi-directional negotiation.
Q. How about handling the multi-jurisdictional complexity of a congestion pricing policy? A. Yes, high occupancy toll lanes use congestion pricing, and the goal of the bill is to bring the 3 counties together. A few years ago, a congestion pricing proposal for 101 by San Francisco failed following opposition by San Mateo County. This bill could bring the parties together to create a solution that would work for all
Q. How about a governance structure that could manage multiple transportation modes on the corridor with a mode shift goal. A. Possibly. There will be a process to gather ideas and evaluate what to do to achieve the goals of the bill. The placeholder text (see below) discusses creating “governance structures as may be necessary” for new approaches for solutions crossing all 3 counties.
The opportunity for coordination. Transportation on the 101 corridor that cross multiple counties are currently hard to coordinate and fund. The bill is an opportunity to solve several types of barriers that have gotten in the way of transportation improvements. The exact policies really aren’t decided in advance, there will be discussions over the coming year about which policies and technologies ought to be implemented.
The risk of congestion relief – “induced demand”. One big potential problem with the framing of this bill is the framing in terms of “congestion relief” which has too often been a false promise undermined by induced demand. Historically, this has meant adding vehicle capacity to roadways. And historically, adding vehicle capacity to roadways has quickly been followed by additional vehicle travel on the roadways, consuming all of the extra capacity, and bringing congestion back to previous levels and worse. Adding vehicle capacity can also reduce the effectiveness of transit; when 101 was widened down to Gilroy, Caltrain ridership to South Santa Clara County plummeted.
California state environmental policy is moving away from defining transportation quality in terms of congestion relief and improving automotive “level of service”, toward reducing vehicle miles travelled and greenhouse gas emissions. But state law governing state highways still focuses on “congestion relief.” For drivers stuck in traffic, “congestion relief” sounds like a welcome goal. The language sounds politically popular, who can argue with “congestion relief?”
The alternative is looking at the corridor as a whole, and looking for alternatives to improve the market share of space-efficient, climate-friendly transportation. Today, perhaps a half-million drivers use the 101 corridor, and perhaps 10% use Caltrain and private express buses, and a tiny percentage carpool. There is nobody in charge of a goal to reduce vehicle miles travelled and greenhouse gas emissions on the corridor, across all modes.
The ambitious vision for this bill would be to create an entity with a goal, authority, and funding to reduce vehicle miles and greenhouse gas emissions on the 101 corridor, using different modes and technologies, including familiar technologies that need investment and coordination (trains and buses), and new technologies as they become available (ride-sharing apps, autonomous vehicles). Could this be done in our infamously fragmented region?