LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS OF THE BAY AREA
An Inter-League Organization of the San Francisco Bay Area
1611 Telegraph Avenue, Suite 300, Oakland, CA 94612
STATEMENT TO THE FEDERAL TRANSIT ADMINISTRATION AND FEDERAL HIGHWAY ADMINISTRATION REVIEW TEAM
METROPOLITAN PLANNING ORGANIZATION REVIEW, JULY 8, 2003
The League of Women Voters of the Bay Area, representing 21 local leagues in the nine-county San Francisco Bay region, has been observing the Metropolitan Transportation Commission since its inception in 1970. We have frequently commented on MTC's regional transportation planning process and the Regional Transportation Plan as it has been updated over the years. Our comments and suggestions have reflected long-standing League positions on a balanced, multimodal transportation system and on comprehensive planning based on compact growth. We see a need to integrate planning of transportation, land use, environmental and natural resource protection, social services, housing, economic development, and safety.
Since the review in 1999, we observe improved public access by internet to MTC meetings and to transportation information. The minutes of proceedings now reflect most of the issues raised. The essential connection between land-use and transportation and potential roles of the transportation agency in leveraging better land use are now being explored, a refreshing change from the former rote response, "MTC has no land use powers". MTC has been a major participant in a regional Smart Growth effort with four other regional agencies and has expanded a modest grant program to encourage development at transit stations.
Much remains to be done.
The most essential reason for having a metropolitan transportation planning organization is to plan and implement a mass transit system. The Bay Area has a plethora of transit providers without even a prospective map of how the standard gauge commuter rail services and the special rail BART are supposed to connect. Needed connections of BART & ferry with San Joaquin, Capital Corridor, ACE and prospective SMART and HSR rail remain uncharted. There is no evaluation of alternative route and hub possibilities to engage public interest and to arrive at a cost-effective, informed transit framework plan. Instead, plans are pursued to provide both BART and commuter rail in low density areas of the Bay Area while frequency of service and connections in densely populated, often low-income, areas are too limited to optimize ridership.
Greater use of mass transit is a major health concern in California because of air quality and projected growth. Mapping a comprehensive future system and constantly improving transit trip times on that system is essential to increasing transit use and maintaining public health.
Transit investments best meeting established criteria are displaced by county sales tax measures guided by special interest campaign financing and focus groups for projects that are sound-bite attractive - without benefit of MTC comment or environmental analysis. At fault for this ballot box planning may be the California initiative process, captured by paid signature gatherers, and a fiscal system hamstrung by Proposition 13. But MTC's responding swings in the evaluation of projects discredits their project evaluation process and confounds long-range planning. Sustaining huge capital projects with inadequate sales tax revenues while cutting essential bus services is now exacerbating transit inequities beyond reason.
We were gratified that the sanctity of uninformed "voter mandated" projects was finally questioned at MTC's successful kick-off for the next regional transportation plan. MTC has been primarily committed to getting the biggest possible share of federal and state money and, as a corollary, has simply accepted the results of county sales tax measures without raising the essential questions about cost-effectiveness and assumptions made by proponents. As the League of Women Voters is concerned about the use of public resources at all levels of government; enhanced ridership projections unsupported by specific land use plans do not seem a public service.
MTC has begun to incentivize transit station development with TLC and HIP programs but has yet to embrace more comprehensive regional planning. The Smart Growth vision for the Bay Area needs systematic resolution of remaining transit system and urban limit issues to bring it into focus as a regional plan. Rather than working on a regional growth framework, MTC recently turned to the nine County Congestion Management Authorities to do land use planning. A retreat to arbitrary, historic county boundaries for planning of the Bay Area when many of our issues occur at and across county boundaries is an abrogation of responsibility for an MPO. As it particularly frustrates mass transit planning, we wonder if the concept would even be considered if there were representation of major transit agencies on MTC. Lack of a comprehensive planning agency commits us to continuing pattern of sprawl, increasing VMT, deteriorating air and water quality and wasted energy.
We must, therefore, reassert the two yet unrealized recommendations of our five 1999 recommendations for conditional certification. We hope to assist MTC and ABAG in shaping a regional agency that can manage the needed comprehensive planning. LWVBA recommends:
MTC shall develop a capacity for comprehensive planning either in an agency merger with the Association of Bay Area Governments or by providing funding for ABAG under an interagency agreement. Review of transit station area specific plans and of new areas proposed for development to achieve more sustainable, equitable, multimodal land use patterns seems a critical function. Comparative analysis of alternative transportation system investments to inform public decisions is another critical function.
MTC shall achieve a more equitable representation of the Bay Area population and extend representation to transit agencies in relation to ridership.