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Gav For Guv Short On Transportation Essentials

9:22 AM PDT on April 22, 2009

Electric_Vehicles_showcase.jpgNewsom extolling the glories of EVs, from mayorgavinnewsom via Flickr

So Gav made it official yesterday that he's running for Guv by tweeting it to his more than 283,000 followers, announcing it on Facebook, and even running a strange pseudo-article with a lot of donate hyperlinks in the Huffington Post, all of which made a splash among bloggers and traditional media icons.  All the hullabaloo aside, I need convincing on Gav's record on the issues important to this blog.

For his transportation platform, he leads with the right foot, making a strong link between transit improvements and climate change, job growth, and energy independence.

We must leave the era of the car behind and refocus our investment and energy on building smart, environmentally sustainable transit options

Creating robust mass transportation systems will connect our local and regional economies, create jobs, give Californians better affordable transit options and ease traffic congestion.

Amen, brother.  I couldn't have said it better and I hope all environmental and transportation advocates will hammer on those points this election cycle, namely that any candidate who claims green cred must embrace transit and that public transportation equals jobs. No governor serious about addressing climate change can stand by idly (or sit by in a hydrogen Hummer) as all state funding for transit is zeroed out and environmental review for highway projects is thwarted.  Any candidate for governor that wants my vote will immediately reverse the trend away from funding transit operations and widening highways.

So I'm sure the very first platform point will be a solution for restoring desperately needed transit operating money?  Hmm, not so much.  He leads with "innovative technology," claiming that he's modernized Muni with NextMuni and Translink. While it's important to give riders information and make their transfers more fluid, we learned in the kerfuffle over 311 work orders to MTA that more than 60 percent of total call volume to service were questions about bus and train schedules, which NextMuni provides for much less money.

Gav acted on this matter and came up with a cost-cutting solution, but only after Supervisor Bevan Dufty made it a priority.  In fact, if it weren't for Dufty, the matter of various agencies milking MTA for more than $83 million in work orders by 2010 would have slid by the wayside.  Gav didn't seem to have a problem with SFPD and 311 draining the monetary gains that Prop A afforded the MTA until the press picked up on it. 

Putting out fires is not my idea of visionary leadership. 

What Gav doesn't understand or doesn't want to admit is that Muni has a credibility problem that no amount of expensive efficiency plans and innovative technologies will fix.  It's terribly important to be sure that redundant and unnecessary service is eliminated and that Muni focuses its energy on the 80 percent of its ridership on the 15 most used lines, but when the agency faces $129 million in annual budget deficits, it can't even pay to implement its Transit Effectiveness Project, whenever that clears environmental review.  Muni needs money, plain and simple.  Every transit operator in the state needs money, so until you address this issue, I'm not taking your transit platform seriously.

Although he uses the good rhetoric quoted above, Gav offers no solutions for dealing with concerns of building  housing near transit, nor reducing driving to fight climate change. The state has two excellent bills on the books, AB 32 and SB 375, which in principle chart a course toward situating new homes near transit, toward reducing driving, and preventing sprawl.  As House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said, reducing the amount Americans drive is one of the biggest challenges facing our nation.  US DOT Secretary Ray LaHood and HUD Secretary recently announced a joint effort to improve regional planning, reduce sprawl, and encourage transit-oriented development. 

California governors like to think of themselves as cutting edge nationally, so why is Newsom so far behind on one of the most fundamental environmental, transportation, and energy concerns facing this state?  Mobile sources are responsible for more that 40 percent of all the state's CO2.  This might not be so obvious when you're driving around in your 18 mpg hybrid truck here in San Francisco, but the smog downwind in Sacramento is unmistakable.  

As for pedestrian safety and amenities, quality public realm, bicycling, traffic calming, speeding, and a whole host of other issues we livable streets urbanists consider important: nada.  What instead is the solution to our problems meriting inclusion in two platforms?  Of course, it's electric vehicles!

Not to harp on an issue I've written about in more detail already, but I will steal a quotation from a commenter on the Carfreeliving listserv: "Yay, electric traffic jams!"

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