MTC Adopts Aggressive 15 Percent Target for Reducing Emissions by 2035

2577326999_327ccb7f59.jpgPhoto: Keenahn

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), in a historic vote Wednesday that will help guide the future for more sustainable land use and transportation planning in the Bay Area, recommended a 15 percent per capita target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by 2035, the most aggressive goal to date among California’s metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs).

"Bay Area residents should be really excited about the 15 percent target. That’s because it’s high enough to trigger the transportation and land use changes we need to make the region more livable and affordable, especially as our population grows significantly by 2035," said Marta Lindsey, the communications and development director at TransForm.

Lindsey sent out an alert last week urging people to write emails to the MTC, fearing the commission would adopt a lower target of 10 percent, which its planning committee recommended at a meeting earlier this month.

"It’s a realistic target given MTC’s modeling and the kinds of investments and policies we already know really move the needle in terms of how much people drive their cars," said Lindsey.

Under the groundbreaking anti-sprawl bill, SB 375, most of the state’s 18 MPOs are required to set a target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions for passenger vehicles and light trucks by 2020 and 2035. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) recently adopted a set of draft targets (PDF) for the four largest MPOs (the Bay Area, Sacramento, Los Angeles and San Diego), which represent 80 percent of the state’s population. Each MPO will then be required to development a Sustainable Communities Strategy (SCS) to show how it will meet its target. CARB is expected to adopt final targets in September.

The recommended target for the MTC was between 3-12 percent of 2005 levels by 2035. The commission’s 8-4 vote for 15 percent followed a presentation (PDF) by Executive Director Steve Heminger and testimony from a diverse group of advocates who urged the MTC to adopt the stronger target. The dissenting commissioners — James Spering, Bill Dodd, Bill Glover and Amy Worth — represent Contra Costa, Napa and Solano counties.

Picture_1.pngDraft targets recommended by the California Air Resources Board. Sacramento’s target is among the highest because the region is forecast to have the most growth. While most MPOs are required to recommend targets by June 30, Sacramento’s MPO, SACOG, will not consider them until August.

In his presentation, Heminger told commissioners that combining an aggressive focused growth strategy (which would amount to a 12 percent reduction) with traffic diversion management programs such as telecommuting (a 3 percent reduction) and road pricing (8 percent) could probably bring the Bay Area toward an 18 percent target reduction by 2035. But he acknowledged that the region is less advanced in pursuing "road pricing, employer trip reduction, or ‘smart driving’ programs," which in many cities and counties are politically unpopular.

"It took us 20 years to get a congestion price on the Bay Bridge, so at that rate, god knows how long it will take to get the rest of the roads priced up," said Heminger. "That’s tough politics. It’s tough duty. It requires, in many cases, action by the Legislature, the Congress, whereas a lot of these land use strategies can be pursued on your own authority."

Using what the Natural Resources Defense Council has called a flawed model, Heminger calculated that a 25-cent fee per mile driven would be necessary to meet the MTC’s 18 percent target. He estimated the fee would generate $14 billion annually, costing the average household about $4,500. The money could be used to fund more transit services and subsidize affordable housing, low-income tax credits and commuter costs.

Amanda Eaken of NRDC, who served on CARB’s Regional Targets Advisory Committee along with Heminger, said the estimate was "significantly conservative" and that the agency wasn’t properly calculating the impact of the costs of driving. She said such a fee, when considering that trip lengths have been repeatedly demonstrated to change with higher costs, would have a much more significant impact on reducing GHG emissions if the model allowed trip lengths to change.
In an email, she explained it further:

Even a layperson can understand that if the model doesn’t allow trip length to change as a result of higher cost, something is wrong. The estimate is further conservative because none of the modeled scenarios actually re-invested the $14 billion generated through the fee to estimate the GHG reduction potential of providing higher quality transit and other transportation options.

Eaken cited a figure from Elizabeth Deakin, a planning professor at UC Berkeley, who she said estimated that a 2. 5-cent VMT fee "would get you a four percent reduction. So, extrapolating that out, your 25-cent fee would get a 37 percent reduction. Now that’s illustrative and there are certainly issues with that…but there are serious issues with this model."

Still, Eaken, in her blog post on The Switchboard, praised the MTC for its action. "This vote represents a significant improvement over MTC’s starting place just a couple of months ago, when their adopted RTP (Regional Transportation Plan) would have increased GHG emissions by 2 percent per capita over 2005 levels."

Her testimony was followed by Cary Knecht of Climate Plan who said that a much more modest fee of four cents would be all that is necessary to achieve the reduction.

Picture_2.pngMTC graphic

One of the most compelling figures was a chart showing the difference in health care cost savings for each of the proposed targets, a point that was hammered home in public testimony by Julie West, the executive director of the Bay Area chapter of the American Lung Association.

"The difference between a 10 percent target and a 15 percent target is 40 million dollars in health care savings, lost productivity, school absences and premature mortality. So, a strong implementation of SB375 is a top priority for the public health community, as you can imagine."

She noted that the Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, the Northern California Council of Hospitals, the American Academy of Pediatrics, local health departments and every local medical association had signed a letter of support in favor of the stronger target. "We support a strong implementation of SB375 to combat the negative outcomes associated with communities designed for cars from asthma, to obesity, to traffic injuries and deaths."

Several speakers testified that the higher target will also benefit and impact low-income communities and communities of color, particularly those who have been moving away from urban centers.

"We think that low-income communities are gravely impacted moving farther and farther away from the cities and it costs more money for them to use the public transportation system and we’d like to see subsidies and some type of protected measures implemented to reduce the economic impact on the low-income communities as they’re trying to get to work," said Azibuike Akaba, a policy associate overseeing the public health and equity impacts of SB375 for the Regional Asthma Management and Prevention program, or RAMP.

Parisa Fatehi of Public Advocates pointed out that her organization, along with 49 signatory organizations, including TransForm, sent a letter (PDF) to CARB’s Chair, Mary Nichols, calling for the agency to consider six steps for a social equity approach to its target setting recommendations that "account for all races and social economic backgrounds."

"What does that mean? For example, increasing housing and transit affordability, improving what we call the jobs-housing fit, will mean that all workers can live closer to their jobs, vital services and grocery stores and health care, and thereby reduce their vehicle miles traveled," she told the commissioners.

Henry Hilken, the research and planning director for the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, said much of the hard work implementing SB 375 will involve reaching out to communities to build support for the kind of ambitious land use and pricing changes that will be required to set the Bay Area on a path toward more sustainable communities.

"We think it’s going to be critical, in moving forward in the coming years, to really engage local governments, the public, businesses in a really frank discussion as to what those local land use decisions mean, what pricing decisions mean. Quite honestly, that’s probably more important than the specific number that’s set for the region."

  • Only in California would people be actually daft enough to believe that building condos will save the planet from global warming. This has always been nothing more than a Sacramento payoff to the BIA and CAR. The result will be the destruction of a lot of small California cities, nothing more.

  • i love how 15% in 25 years is considered aggressive. so in 100 years, at best, we could have a 60% reduction. not very aggressive. in fact i’d say it’s f’n pathetic.

  • Sam

    I am honestly very excited about this. Good for MTC.

  • Helen A.

    Imagine what our population will be in 2035 and then it’s clear how historic and important MTC’s vote was. I sure won’t want to live here anymore with several million more people unless we’ve seriously implemented smart growth. And that won’t happen without something like this emissions target to drive real transportation and land use reform.

  • State law says we have to reduce emissions 80% by 2050. 2035 is exactly half way between now and 2050. Therefore, 15% is not an aggressive goal for 2050.

    However, if 15% is high enough to start the state moving toward transit and smart growth, it is a step in the right direction.

  • The Vision California project underway by Calthorpe Associates calculated that we’d technically need a 27% reduction by 2035 to achieve 80% by 2050. The next 25 years would essentially set the framework for smart growth and improvements in technology, then we’d be able to coast through 2035-2050 with massive reductions due to a fully developed high speed rail and public transit network, a better land use framework, and much cleaner vehicles. 15% puts considerably more pressure upon us in those years, but it’s still much better than 10%. It’s also important to note that this is merely a baseline figure–there’s no reason we can’t push beyond 15%.

  • Clutch J

    @airAndMagic– I bet you didn’t know how much you and emerging GOP fave John Thune had in common! Google “Thune #mathfail” to learn more.

    @Helen– The 15% is per capita. Given population growth, overall emissions are unlikely to be reduced much under this scenario

    @Daniel– Thank you, but don’t forget, the state goals established by AB 32 are NOT per capita.

    @ ALL — Keep in mind that the regional targets being discussed don’t factor in cleaner fuels and vehicles, which will cause most GHG reductions in the transport sector in the coming decades. VMT reduction is useful but secondary from a GHG reduction perspective; obviously reducing driving has many other benefits.

  • ZA

    I’m happy the MTC is engaging in this way, even though I think the scale of the change needs to be greater and faster. The reality is that change is massing, and all authorities responsible for their piece of our shared problem need to side with the change.

    MTC’s proposals for telecommuting, traffic diversion, and road pricing are within its areas of influence – but ultimate success comes when these regional ideas translate to local action.

    Talking about jobs-housing fit is good, but future development that meets these needs can’t be delayed in the manner we’ve seen for Trader Joe’s in Berkeley or the Bike Plan in San Francisco. It’s how quickly we make the attractive alternatives available that will determine how quickly we get to these MTC goals.

    Let’s hope the local bike links, trains, ferries, and buses grow to make these regional goals real.

  • Nick

    Transit in San Francisco is operating off of infrastructure built around 1970. Is there any plan to rebuild the mass transit network between now and 2035? If not, it will be like relying on technology from 1945 in this year, 2010.

  • Ryan

    Yeah 15% isn’t that agressive but it’s b

  • Jeremiah

    why is the new baseline 2005 all of a sudden? what happened to 1990? like the rest of the world uses. That’s right because 15% below 2005 levels is still like 10% above 1990 levels. adjust the metrics to look like progress is being made. I know they are doing their best, but what they have to deal with (the driving electorate) is a reinforced concrete wall of resistance to behavior change.

  • I just followed the link to Daniel Jacobson’s site http://www.oaklandstreetcarplan.com/
    If you haven’t read about this plan yet in the Chronicle or elsewhere, I recommend that you check it out.
    Daniel, why not extend it just a couple of blocks further to Piedmont Ave?

  • @Charles: Short answer is lack of redevelopment potential and operations constraints on a such congested street–there’s a more in-depth discussion midway in section 2 I believe… Leaving the door open for Rockridge or MacArthur BART gives you more bang for your buck, plus the bottom stretch of Piedmont Ave will be transformed to better resemble the rest of the street in the next couple years with the redevelopment of the entire Kaiser Medical Center.

  • One very important comment was not described in this article.

    For real change, a Carfree Bay Area scenario, ideally a petroleum-free transport scenario, was requested by this speaker, as a step beyond the current targets “recipe.” Such a scenario needs to be studied in the Regional Transportation Plan and aggressively pursued.

    “Nothing else comes close to the benefits of the Carfree Bay Area scenario: not only for emissions reductions which cause climate change; but also for achieving health, economic, and other social equity and environmental sustainability benefits….whereas in contrast, the private automobile imposes a host of harms and costs rivaled only by war…”

    (On behalf of the World Carfree Network.)

  • david vartanoff

    And the Caldecott Fourth Bore and OAC will decrease GHG by …???

  • david, the 4th bore will relieve congestion, which we all know will help traffic flow better and decrease idling! Horray!

    You stumped on the OAC. No joke there. That’s just taking public funds and lining the pockets of friends of the BART board.

    But maybe it’s like the MTC is saying they’ll start now. Wait, no NOW. NOW…um, NOW!?

    It is admirable for the MTC to have this as a goal, but it has about as much traction as SF being a transit first city. Pretty much a talking point, gets media coverage, and maybe increases a board member’s chance of getting re-elected by burnishing their “green” credentials.

  • I wrote: “2035 is exactly half way between now and 2050.”

    Let my correct my error in arithmetic. Actually, 2035 is half way between now and 2060. It is more than 60% of the way to 2050.

  • AB 32 calls for California’s greenhouse gas (GHG)emissions to be reduced to 1990 levels by 2020. This represents a legitimate effort on the part of Governor Schwarzenegger and the State Legislature to do California’s part to stave off, or at least slow, down horrific climate change.

    In response, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission has just called for per capita GHG emissions to be reduced to 15% below the 2005 level by 2035. For this, it is unaccountably receiving praise in some quarters. First and foremost, in contrast to AB 32, MTC’s approach does not take into account Bay Area significant projected population growth, the rate of which is likely to pick up as the economy recovers and as other parts of the northern hemisphere get hotter and drier. Secondly, given the large increase in GHG production that occured between 1990 and 2005 a 15% reduction from the 2005 level…even if it did include provision for population growth which it does not…would still leave the GHG production level 20% above 1990 levels. In fact, given MTC’s weak response to the State mandate and considering the trend toward smaller vehicles and more efficient propulsion systems, the Bay Area’s regional planners have in reality positioned themselves with little if anything to do. This is underscored by the fact that MTC projects that its anachronistic highway expansions and largely impotent public transit developments will actually increase regional VMT (vehicle miles per day) from the 107.7 million that prevailed in 1990 to 202.8 million by 2030. See

    In other words, since the forthcoming increases in fuel economy will by themselves reduce emissions, MTC is doing virtually nothing to address California’s GHG problem. On the contrary, as evidenced by the above-indicated VMT increases, MTC’s programs actually make the problem worse.

    If there is anyone who seriously thinks that a 15% per capita reduction in GHG production by 2035 would get us even close to returning to a 1990 total emission level by 2020 as specified in AB 32, I have a shiney new bridge to sell them.

  • 2035 ? “I am happpy that to-morrow isn’t today” as a poet says.
    My solution?: see http://Trafikklogistikk.com
    Have a good day! Knut Bøe

  • courtney miller

    Climate change is baked into the cake, don’t yah think. Changing the way we live has a thousand benefits, not the least of which is suriviving economically. Though I wish I would be sanguine about human efforts to coungteract hundreds of years of human civilization and the resultant climate inertia we’ve placed in motion. Did you see how Katrina like Pakastan’s latest flooding is.

    Eco-density proponents should look at where we putting the densities with sea level rise a fait accompli. The Bay Area will sooner rather than later have to address this issue, if not by seeing people starting to vote with their feet. Isn’t that we do that in a modern day capitalist state – move to where things are better. Eternal Katrina refugees looking for that next promised land.

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