Saturday, December 16, 2006

Sac Business Journal Poll

The Sacramento Business Journal is running an online poll regarding the Highway 50 

You can vote in their poll here.

As a reliable indicator of what people in the region actually believe, these online polls are almost as valuable as reading the entrails of the chicken you cooked for dinner last night.  But who knows, maybe somebody is paying attention.  And nobody pays for internet service by the hour anymore, so vote away!  At minimum, you'll be skewing whatever reader data the Business Journal imagines it can collect from their website.

(This week's print edition of the Sac Business Journal has an article on the release of the DEIR for the Highway 50 expansion.)

Friday, December 15, 2006

Big Picture

While much of the NAST coalition's energy right now is focused on a single (incredibly important) regional transportation project, every now and then it's good to disengage long enough to ask what longer-term goals neighborhood and transportation advocates might articulate for the Sacramento area. I came across a provocative web page maintained by the Project for Public Spaces in New York that articulates an intriguing, if somewhat problematic approach to transportation planning. The essence of PPS' perspective seems to be that transportation is a place in itself just as much as it is a means of getting places. As a result of thinking about transportation as a place, PPS places less emphasis on speed (or mobility) and more emphasis on the quality of transportation corridors as social, public spaces:
Roads can be shared spaces with pedestrian refuges, bike lanes, on-street parking etc. Parking lots can become public markets on weekends. Even major urban arterials can be retrofitted to provide for dedicated bus lanes, well-designed bus stops that serve as gathering places, and multi-modal facilities for bus rapid transit or other forms of travel. Roads are places too!
I'm not certain that PPS' approach applies unproblematically to the planning of interregional transit, like freeways or medium-distance mass transit. And certainly, freeway expansion disguised as HOV lane is an approach that fails to perform even according to traditional, common-sense, mobility-oriented standards. Nevertheless, the PPS transportation site is provocative. What are the specific objectives of a just, equitable, and sustainable transportation system?

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

US 50 Expansion DEIR Released

The DEIR for Caltrans proposed project to expand Highway 50 has been released:

You can view the DEIR online here.  The document is also available for review at a variety of locations, including the Central Library, the McClatchy Library, and the McKinley Neighboorhood Library.

At first glance, there are a couple particularly interesting (and dubious) conclusions in the Summary:

  1. Caltrans projects "isolated traffic volume increases" near entrance and exit ramps, but concludes that the project's impact on traffic would be "less than significant."
  2. The Air Quality impacts are limited to "short-term construction-related air emissions." If construction contractors comply with best management practices, Caltrans procedures, and applicable law, Caltrans claims the air quality impact will be "less than significant."

Monday, December 11, 2006

DEIR Release this Wednesday!

One of our esteemed and connected members learned from Caltrans today that the DEIR on the proposed expansion of Highway 50 in Sacramento County will be released this WEDNESDAY, December 13.  After it is released, the public will have 60 days to review and comment on it. Caltrans will also conduct two 'workshops' to hear public commentary on the DEIR.

(DEIR stands for Draft Environmental Impact Report-- a document prepared by state agencies to review the potential environmental impacts of their actions and to propose mitigation of those impacts.)

This is our best opportunity to air our concerns about the environmental impact of the proposed project at both the regional and neighborhood levels. If you or your organization is worried about the prospect of increased traffic through central Sacramento and development of a regional transportation grid that encourages sprawl and automobile dependence, PLEASE take time to submit comments on the DEIR. Environmental analyses can be challenged in court, but only to the extent that the issues are raised during the public comment period following release of the DEIR. 

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Sustainable Transportation Projects

In case you were wondering how SACOG might otherwise spend the $195 million that CalTrans seeks for Highway 50 expansion, here are some suggestions (courtesy of Warren Cushman). These are all projects that should be included in the MTP and receive priority for funding:

  1. Double-tracking the Folsom light rail line.
  2. South line (light rail), phase 2.
  3. Street car service between West Sacramento and downtown
  4. Neighborhood shuttle service in Arden Arcade
  5. Expanded RT service on Watt Avenue
  6. Neighborhood shuttle service in South Sacrmento
  7. BRT (bus rapid transit) along Sunrise Blvd.
  8. Sacramento RT bus service to the airport

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The City Follows Through?

On November 22, Sacramento Vice Mayor Rob Fong and City Manager Ray Kerridge sent a letter to CalTrans Director Will Kempton. In the letter, they reiterate the City's
opposition to the expansion of Highway 50. They also clearly state the City's support of
"transportation investment that promotes density, increases transit ridership and walkable communities, and also alleviates congestion and improves air quality." The letter closes by requesting a meeting with Director Kempton "to further discuss the HOV lane project."

You can read the entire letter here.

The Vice Mayor and the City Manager deserve our congratulations for following through on the City Council's official position opposing this project. This is the sort of leadership we expect from elected officials and city staff. You might consider contacting them to thank them for their support.

(You also might consider contacting Mayor Fargo, who also serves as SACOG chair, to ask what she intends to do to make the City's opposition clear!)

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Bond funding and Highway Expansion

Paul Trudeau forwards a link to Daniel Weintraub's column on potential political wrangling over the expenditure of transportation bond funds authorized by Proposition 1B.  For many people, myself included, it was frustrating to be confronted with a bond measure that created a substantial pot of money ($4 billion) for transit projects at the same time that it earmarked more than twice that much for freeway expansion projects.  The devil is, of course, in the details, and it will take vigilant elected officials and voters to ensure that freeway funds are not used on boondoggle projects that provide only temporary congestion relief rather than sustainable solutions to our transportation issues.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Update on Highway 50 Expansion

CalTrans' proposal to expand Highway 50 from Sunrise Boulevard through
downtown appears to be in jeopardy! On November 14, Caltrans Region 3
Chief Jody Jones wrote to the Sacramento Transportation Authority (the
body charged with overseeing Measure A Transportation funds) to give a
"status report" on the Highway 50 Project. What her letter reveals is not
so much a status report as it is an entire redefinition of the project.
Ms. Jones' letter revealed that CalTrans has scaled back its plans to
expand Highway 50. Rather than widening the freeway all the way through
downtown/midtown, CalTrans is now considering whether to stop the
expansion at Watt Avenue or whether to continue as far as the 99/50
Interchange (in Oak Park). These are apparently the only "build"
alternatives that will be considered at length in CalTrans' environmental

It appears that CalTrans has, for the moment, decided not to defy the
wishes of the City and the central Sacramento neighborhoods by expanding
Highway 50 through downtown. I have absolutely no doubt that this is due
in large part to the pressure that NAST has exerted on our elected
officials and policy makers. It is not a coincidence that the new
alternatives avoid the areas where resistance to the project has been
greatest. However, despite our collective impact on the Caltrans planning
process, the project is still a threat.

Expanding Highway 50 from Sunrise to Watt or the 50/99 interchange will
still massively increase the number of cars travelling from the eastern
part of the region to downtown. Ultimately, those cars will filter
through Sacramento neighborhoods, either via the existing Midtown exits,
or via neighborhood streets between downtown and the terminus of the HOV
lane. As it currently stands, Cal Trans' proposed alternatives will not
only increase traffic in the neighborhoods immediately around downtown
(the point of departure or destination for most of the new traffic), but
will also have severe impacts on neighborhoods around the Watt Ave. exit
or the 50/99 interchange. Furthermore, widening the freeway to Watt or 99
is clearly an attempt to build out Highway 50 in stages. If completed, we
would undoubtedly see proposals to continue the expansion through the
downtown area. Although we have clearly had an impact on the design of the
project, we STILL have not convinced our transportation planners to
examine more sustainable, less auto-dependent transportation solutions to
the needs of our growing community.

NAST will be meeting on Thursday, December 7 at 7 PM at the common house
of the Sacramento Co-Housing Project (5th St. and T St.) We will be
discussing the next steps to take in response to the changes to the
project and in anticipation of the release of the environmental study of
the project. Please plan to attend this meeting, particularly if you
represent one of NAST's member organizations. We have demonstrated our
ability to have an impact on this project. However, to realize our goal
of seeing the resources from this project diverted to more sustainable,
transit-oriented alternatives, we will need to coordinate our efforts.