Friday, July 27, 2007

NAST and ECOS file suit against Caltrans

ECOS and NAST have jointly filed a lawsuit challenging the adequacy of
Caltrans' environmental analysis for the Highway 50 expansion project.
While it's unfortunate that we had to resort to litigation, it's also
exhilerating that we've been able to put together a coalition to
forcefully stand up to the state's leading transportation agency to demand
honesty and accountability concerning the impacts of this project for our
region and our neighborhoods.

I've posted our press release that gives more details.

The story has also been picked up by the Capital Public Radio and by the Sacramento Business Journal.

Litigation is, of course, expensive, and we are actively soliciting support. PLEASE continue to support this effort by sending us a check. Friends of ECOS, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, is accepting donations specifically for this lawsuit. Mark your check "Highway 50 litigation fund" and send it to:

Friends of ECOS
909 12th Street, Suite 100
Sacramento, CA 95814

Donations are tax deductible.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Lawsuit Fund

On June 21st, Caltrans approved a project to add lanes to Highway 50
for what APPEARS to be a noble cause: carpool lanes. What's not to

The PROBLEM: These lanes will only be carpool lanes a few hours of
the day. The vast majority of the time, they will be UNRESTRICTED,

Despite that, Caltrans has the AUDACITY to claim that the project
"will not have a significant effect on the environment." YES, YOU
READ THAT RIGHT. They claim that adding new lanes will not increase
car trips, gas consumption or air pollution.

More lanes means more cars and more AGGRAVATION. Who hasn't felt
ROAD RAGE being stuck in traffic, burning ever-more-costly gas,
breathing fumes and getting nowhere? There is an epidemic of OBESITY
in this country, partly because most of us are stuck in our cars and
can't easily walk or take transit to our destinations. Serious car
accidents, skyrocketing insurance premiums, lifelong health
problems. IT DOESN'T HAVE BE THIS WAY. We CAN become a society less
dependent on cars, with healthier, more enjoyable and less costly
options for getting around quickly and conveniently.

We believe that carpool lanes have a place in our future
ABOUT THEIR REAL IMPACTS, and allow for public debate about their
total costs and benefits relative to alternatives like light rail,
commuter rail, expanded bus service, and neighborhood shuttles.

The time to shift our public investment to support more sustainable

Neighbors Advocating Sustainable Transportation (NAST) is a
Sacramento coalition of neighborhood, community and environmental
associations. We have no staff. We have no budget. But we have a
vision of a better future for Sacramento.

PROJECT, so we need to raise money to hire a lawyer RIGHT NOW.
Friends of ECOS is hosting a litigation fund for NAST.

Please spread the word about this critical need. MAKE YOUR CHECK OUT
TO "FRIENDS OF ECOS", include a note directing it to the NAST
Litigation Fund, and send your donation NOW to:

909 12th Street, Suite 100
Sacramento CA 95814

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Final EIR for Hwy 50 Expansion Released

Caltrans has released the Final EIR for its proposed Highway 50 expansion. Moreover, prior to sending out public notice of the document's release, Caltrans made the requisite findings and approved the project.

Yet more evidence of Caltrans' deep commitment to transparency and public participation...

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Why so quiet?

It's been a while since I've posted on this blog, but that's not because NAST has gone away. Instead, I've been posting my musings on the relatively new ECOS Transportation/Air Quality Blog. The interests of ECOS in transportation largely overlap with the interests of NAST, and I hope that the new ECOS blog will foster more dialogue between the self-identified enviros and the self-identified neighborhood activists. Check it out!

I will continue to post NAST-related items on this site from time to time. Stay tuned for an announcement of our next meeting to discuss the forthcoming final EIR on the Highway 50 project.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Oh Irony, Thy Name is Caltrans!

Most, if not all, of the organizations in Sacramento that commented on the Caltrans DEIR
analyzing Highway 50 expansion expressed disbelief at the idea that expanding the carrying capacity of the freeway by somewhere between 20 and 25 per cent would not increase traffic volumes. Nevertheless, that's what Caltrans claimed.  The Caltrans party line is that the 
project would accomodate growth (and an increase in traffic) rather than inducing it.  What's really growth inducing, they say, is land use policy.  From Caltrans' perspective, transportation planners merely work to clean up the messes created by land use decisions by local governments that permit sprawling urban and suburban growth.  Highways don't cause traffic; people cause traffic.

Caltrans' denial that its projects induce traffic demand may sound disingenuous or tongue-in-cheek.  Apparently, however, the agency is dead serious.  Caltrans has developed this notion to the point where its legal arm is now suing local governments to recover "impact fees" for increased traffic on the state's freeways caused by urban development.  Until very recently, one of the local jurisdictions to feel the wrath of the Caltrans lawyers was the City of Sacramento.

Local governments, needless to say, are not happy about competing with the state 
transportation agency for impact fees.  And advocates for
equitable and sustainable transportation might be tempted to view the Caltrans
position with equal measures of cynicism and disbelief.  When Caltrans focuses its litigious energies on high-density 'smart-growth' projects in highly urbanized areas (as it did in Sacramento), it is particularly easy to view the agency's position with a jaundiced eye.

But to tell the truth, Caltrans may have a point.  Both
land use policy and transportation policy have direct impacts on traffic volumes and air quality.  Allowing jurisdictions to build out at will without accounting for the costs of the increasing traffic demand is just another way that we subsidize automobile travel.  And if developers and local governments were forced to pay for the impacts of their projects on state highways, then they might seriously consider whether congestion-reducing mass transportation projects offer more bang for the buck.

Could Caltrans' aggressive position toward land use policies eventually drive local governments to increase investment in 
light rail or other forms of mass transit? 

No CEQA review for highways?

Even when talk of global warming, alternative fuels, and reducing dependence on petroleum is all the rage among the elected set, too often it's still the legislation that facilitates traffic and 
sprawl that moves forward.  

Case in point: This story from the Victorville Daily Press about the plans of the San Bernadino Associated Governments and certain Republican legislators to exempt some road projects from environmental review mandated by CEQA.
Many Victor Valley officials share a frustration with EIRs and have alleged that they hold up road construction when cities have the funding to move them forward.

[Victorville City Councilman Mike] Rothschild is a vocal opponent of the studies on some projects, and initiated the discussion at SANBAG by asking the association to lobby for elimination of EIRs on interchange projects along existing highway corridors.
Thankfully, the Legislature's leadership has turned a cold shoulder in recent years to legislation that would further soften up CEQA.    It's a good bet that this proposal won't get very far either.
Still, it's indicative of the mentality of those policymakers who continue to see road construction as the panacea for traffic-related growing pains in California.  For some, the environmental impacts of road projects are unimportant, or at best incidental.  And the legal  requirement that an agency need to determine the impacts of road projects is a bureaucratic inconvenience that keeps federal funds from raining down on local construction projects.


Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Land Use Humor

Wanna see something funny?

If you're ever down on your own job, take a moment to pity the poor
planning staff in Sac County who are working on the General Plan. Their
job is to pretend to treat with utmost seriousness the suggestions made by
AKT, and similarly mercenary developers, that capture the fancy of the
supervisors. They must treat these proposals without condescension or
sarcasm. Unlike us, they're not allowed to dismiss proposals based on
common sense or suspicions about the source.

We already know that AKT has proposed opening up portions of rural
Sacramento County at the extreme eastern frontier to development, in total disregard of the existing Urban Services Boundary. We know
that county staff opposes the suggestion, pointing to the immense amount
of developable land within the existing USB and the moderate expansion
area proposed by staff. We know that even SACOG objects to the idea of
developing the Eastern Sacramento/El Dorado frontier, since it would
effectively eviscerate their "Blueprint" land use model. Still, county
staff has to take this proposal at face value.

This is county staff's response.

Don't be fooled by the sober and understated tone. Page by page, this
document makes a mockery of the Tsakapoulos development plan. With
admirable restraint, county staff destroys the notion that the development
of this region is justified by the minimial amount of development
occurring on the El Dorado side of the line. With a saintly lack of
sarcasm, they consider the question of whether the proposal is consistent
with the blueprint, and whether the project would result in traffic
impacts or increased infrastructure demands on the county.

Please take a moment to thank county staff for their hard and honest work
by speaking to their bosses on Wednesday afternoon at 4 PM-- that's when
the BOS will hold a workshop on the proposed "update" of the county
General Plan.  If there is any justice in the world, the whole county planning staff should get a raise that is recuperated from the salaries of any supervisors who support the AKT land use scheme.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Mass Transit To Lose Federal Funding?

Mary Brill sends along this link to a piece in the February 15 issue of the APA Advocate:

The president's fiscal 2008 budget proposal requests $9.42 billion for the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), down $430 million (4.4 percent) from the $9.85 billion provided by Congress in fiscal 2006. The proposed funding is $309 million less than the level authorized by SAFETEA-LU. The proposed funding represents an 18 percent cut from anticipated levels. Most of that cut would come from the New Starts program, which would drop from $1.7 billion to $1.4 billion. The Small Starts program, authorized in SAFETEA-LU, is included in the transit budget at $100 million, however that funding is part of the larger New Starts program. Small Starts was created to expedite development of smaller transit projects, such as streetcars. The cut in transit funding from SAFETEA-LU targets already has sparked bipartisan criticism from leaders of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

DEIR Comments a Go-Go!

Several organizations and individuals have submitted comments on the Highway 50 expansion DEIR. As I locate copies of those comments, I will post them.

So far, in addition to NAST's comments, I've added links to comments from the City of Sacramento, Sacramento Area Bicycle Advocates, Southside Park Neighborhood Association, and ECOS member and air quality expert Earl Withycombe.

If other organizations can forward comments, preferably in PDF format, I'll post them as well.

Added to the list are DEIR comments from: East Sacramento Improvement Association, Winn Park/Capitol Avenue Neighborhood Association, Sierra-Curtis Neighborhood Association, Land Park Community Association, and Sacramento Coalition to Save Public Education.

Friday, February 09, 2007

NAST and ECOS submit DEIR Comments

ECOS and NAST jointly submitted their comments on the CalTrans DEIR for the Highway 50 expansion project last night. The comments are available here.

Many people helped with the drafting and review of these comments. I won't try to thank them all by name, especially because some of them would prefer to remain nameless. Nevertheless, my heartfelt thanks go out to all of you who pitched in on this project!

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Planner "Pete" spurns driving alone in HOV lanes

Sacramento Bee reporter Tony Bizjak notes the following in his "Backseat Driver" Column:

Since we're talking reports, here's one about hybrid cars in carpool lanes.

Remember the state law allowing 45-mile-per-gallon hybrids with just one occupant to use the carpool lane? It's an incentive for people to buy environmentally friendly cars.
A state report tells us there are 3,000 hybrid owners zipping around Sacramento with the yellow decals.

That is, minus one guy we know, Pete. Pete got a decal, but he won't use it. He just wanted to take one decal out of circulation, on principle.

He's a planner. Carpool lanes are for carpools, he says.

It's good to know that at least one policymaker sees the disconnect between current HOV lane policy and the objective of increasing the number of carpools. (We can only wonder whether "Pete" is SACOG's Pete!)

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

If You Build It, They WON'T Come?

Whatever one's opinions about Caltrans' plans for Highway 50, nearly everyone agrees that the so-called "carpool lane" is about expanding capacity so that the freeway can carry more cars. Pete Hathaway says so. Caltrans also says so in the project description.

It boggles the mind, then, that the planners and engineers at our state's largest transportation agency think that they can expand the capacity of a freeway by 20% to 25% without any effect on the volume of traffic! However strange it sounds, it's true. Below is an excerpt from an email from Caltrans in response to a question asking for justification of their claims that widening Highway 50 will not increase the total number of Vehicle Miles Traveled, and furthermore will not increase the total number of Diesel Vehicle Miles Traveled:

This project will not increase average daily VMT, but rather it will help to maintain mobility in the face of such growth.

The bus/carpool lanes are not built to facilitate diesel truck traffic or accommodate more diesel trucks to use the carpool lanes. The percentages of heavy trucks were not assumed to change in the future build models. The bus/carpool lane was not assumed to have any effect on heavy trucks, as they are not allowed to use the bus/carpool lane, even if they have the required number of occupants.

The only percentages that did increase over time were for bus/carpool vehicles (buses, vanpools, 2+, 3+ autos). There was a corresponding decrease in single-occupant vehicles. Buses can be either diesel powered or other (e.g. gasoline-hybrid, CNG). It's likely that non-diesel powered commuter buses would increase over time. Small delivery trucks were not considered as HOV vehicles.

In other words, Caltrans thinks that you can add an extra (HOV) lane to a congested freeway without affecting any increase in the total volume of traffic on the freeway! Furthermore, Caltrans thinks that no trucks or diesel vehicles will be added to the freeway, even though the project creates more space for them in all lanes. "Increased capacity" apparently doesn't mean "increased volume" to Caltrans planners.

What a relief to know that our state's engineers have mastered the magical thinking skills that allow us to continue to build freeways free from negative impacts of the increased traffic that they are built to accomodate!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Photo from the NAST press conference

NAST supporters with Sacramento City Council Member Rob Fong and California Assembly Member Dave Jones at the NAST Press Conference, January 17, 2007.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Highway 50 Workshop Recap

It's as if we showed up for a gunfight and instead were treated to reruns of "Bonanza"...

Thanks to those of you who took time out of your busy schedules to come to the Highway 50 workshop this evening. We had expected an opportunity to engage CalTrans staff, on the record, and get some clarification on some important questions on apparent gaps in the environmental review of their proposed Highway 50 expansion. I'm sure there were others, like me, who made a point of taking off from work early so we could be there at 5.00 PM sharp.

CalTrans, clearly, had other, less ambitious plans. The informal, science fair-style workshop offered no chance to ask the agency as an entity to clarify or explain the DEIR, and there was no opportunity to verbally enter comments onto the record. We were offered the opportunity to drop handwritten comments in the suggestion box, however!

CalTrans clearly missed a chance to take substantial public input on the DEIR. Consequently, our clarifying questions will need to be submitted along with our written comments, and CalTrans' only chance to respond will be in the Final EIR. That means that there is less chance that the public and CalTrans will be able to come to terms on the proper content of the environmental impact report, and there is a greater chance that the final document will be deficient. Nevertheless, we clearly showed that the community cares about the potential impact of this project.  And we learned more about how democracy works in the world of California transportation planning, where the region's decision makers are one level removed from the will of the voters.

Thanks again to everyone who took the time to turn out!

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Highway 50 Expansion: Congestion relief—or accommodation for more traffic?

“The project purpose is to…improve traffic operations by reducing congestion and travel time.”

- Sac 50 Bus/Carpool Lanes and Community Enhancements Project DEIR, p. i (emphasis added)

“Do carpools relieve congestion? Temporarily, but basically, no. They add capacity to the corridor and they provide more people per vehicle.”

- Pete Hathaway, SACOG Director of Transportation Planning, in comments to the Sacramento City Council,
November 1, 2005

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Public Hearing on Hwy 50 Expansion Next Week!

CalTrans has released the DEIR on its proposed project to widen Highway 50 from Sunrise into central Sacramento. They have scheduled two public workshops-- one in Rancho Cordova and one in Sacramento-- to hear public comments on the project. For most of us living in Sacramento, this may be our best chance to demonstrate the level of community opposition to this project.

The Sacramento hearing on the Highway 50 project takes place NEXT WEDNESDAY, January 10th, from 5 PM to 8 PM at David Lubin Elementary School, 3535 M Street. PLEASE take this opportunity to share your thoughts on the impact, on our region and our neighborhoods, of increasing vehicular traffic along the 50 corridor. Even if you're not willing to speak, your presence to support the speakers is crucial. A strong public showing of opposition is politically very important.

For those of you who have been waiting for an opportunity to help NAST fight this project, this really is, um, where the rubber hits the road. Or the steel wheels hit the rails. You choose the metaphor!

Please distribute widely! Bring your friends and neighbors!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007, 5 PM to 8 PM
David Lubin Elementary School
3535 M Street
Sacramento, CA