SCAG (the Southern California Association of Governments) will unveil the preferred scenario for the “2012 RTP/SCS” on Thursday, October 20 — a $450 billion plan for population and job growth and transportation projects in the six-county region through 2035. The preferred alternative shows:
• a tripling of funding for bike and pedestrian projects, from $1.8 billion to $6 billion
• a big shift in the housing mix, from a majority of single family homes to a significant majority of multifamily housing units
• a vastly improved jobs-housing balance across the 6 counties
• significantly more transit and more walkable, bikeable neighborhoods near transit
• shifts in growth and density away from outlying areas and into downtowns and around transit stations
• a prioritization of transportation system preservation projects over new projects.
While the plan is good and seemingly signals that a new era is dawning in Southern California — one which could result in more housing and transportation choices for residents — the question is whether SCAG’s Regional Council will endorse it. We urge you to attend and let council members know how important it is that we plan for land use policies and transportation investments that improve public health, reduce the cost of living by reducing housing and transportation costs, make it easier and safer to walk and bike, and create jobs in places that don’t require long commutes.
SCAG, the metropolitan planning organization that governs the six-county Southern California region, develops a regional transportation plan or RTP every four years, but this is the first that also includes a sustainable communities strategy or SCS. The SCS was mandated by SB 375, the state law that requires regions to plan for transportation investments and land use strategies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The GHG reduction targets in Southern California have been set at 8 percent in 2020 and 13 percent in 2035.
SB 375 has given SCAG new authority to promote more focused growth, transit, pedestrian and bicycle projects with the goal of reducing driving, which will reduce GHG emissions. The plan calls for more transit-oriented development in LA County and around all 55 stations on the Metrolink system (which serves LA, Orange, San Bernardino, Riverside and Ventura counties) and calls for “transit-ready development” — compact, mixed use — in places that don’t have transit yet.
Normally an agency that has not had much public involvement, SCAG has seen a significant increase in the number of people — including advocates for affordable homes, public health, better air quality, and bike and pedestrian projects, as well as developers and environmentalists — weighing in on this planning process.
SCAG has developed three alternatives besides the preferred alternative. There have been two emerging issues with the RTP. The first is a funding shortfall of $125 to $155 billion due to the economy, the continuing decline in gas tax revenues as cars become more fuel efficient, and decreasing state and federal transportation funding — also because of the economy, California’s recent budget crisis, and the failure of Congress to pass a new federal transportation bill.
The second emerging issue has been concerns about the deteriorating condition of Southern California’s transportation system, and the need to spend more money on repairs. A study was released by the national nonprofit Transportation for America on October 19 that showed that the LA metro region has 91 of the most heavily traveled structurally deficient bridges in the U.S. — and that every second 396 drivers in the region cross over them. The Transportation for America study is available at http://t4america.org/resources/bridges/