Through a combination of carrots and sticks—but mostly carrots—the federal government has encouraged state DOTs to take ambitious steps to lower the environmental impacts of transportation and to invest in more sustainable travel options. Two years into the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), notes Adie Tomer at Brookings, it is still hard to know the impacts. Many states are still operating under the status quo. Others, however, including many SSTI partners, are seizing the opportunity to bolster ongoing local sustainability initiatives.
Many areas of the country are not well served by public transportation, resulting in households without access to a personal vehicle being significantly disadvantaged. In such areas, travelers may rely on a combination of ride-hailing services, informal car-sharing and ride-sharing, and even medical transport, or they forgo trips altogether. A lack of transportation options can keep people from getting to work, accessing essential services, and make gathering necessities difficult.
There’s new evidence, from academia and a prominent real-world case, that ever-expanding highway capacity is a futile strategy for reducing congestion. Crosstown, a data-analysis project at the University of Southern California, looked at vehicle speeds on the 405 over five years, capturing the last year before the new lanes opened and the period since. One example does not confirm the Fundamental Law of Road Congestion, but the 405 case is consistent with that theory, as is a new comprehensive study of induced demand, by Kent Hymel of Cal State Northridge.
Since passage of S.B. 743 in 2013, California agencies have wrestled with questions around the added travel and emissions resulting from land use and transportation projects. On the land use side, see SSTI’s recent webinars about land-use review reforms in San Jose and Pasadena. On the transportation side, the National Center for Sustainable Transportation has developed an induced travel demand calculator designed to calculate the percentage of additional annual VMT when highways are widened.
Electric bicycles (e-bikes) are becoming more popular as more options become available. So far, ten states have updated their laws to reflect this trend and accommodate the technology. An additional 20 states have defined e-bikes but have not fully defined their operation under law. The remaining states have no e-bike laws at all. So far, the technology and its adoption have been outpacing legislation. It is now up to states and localities to determine how to best regulate them.
As reported in the Los Angeles Times, California has met its target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions below 1990 levels four years early, an impressive feat, and one that comes while the California economy continues to flourish. But the reductions come almost entirely from the generation of electricity, while emissions from transportation continue to rise. More driving, public preferences for larger cars, lower gas prices, and a booming economy are all to blame for the rise. Despite the relative lack of progress in transportation, the Trump administration announced on Aug. 1 that it plans to eliminate the waiver California enjoys from national mobile source pollution rules, allowing the state to impose GHG emissions limits.
A California law prohibiting drivers from holding their phone in their hands for any reason has succeeded in getting drivers to put down their phones. However, the crash rate has not decreased significantly. As SSTI has pointed out in the past, although cell phone use has been shown to cause distraction, crash rates are much more closely tied to VMT than the presence of distractions.
California’s new fee on rail deliveries of certain hazardous chemicals, including crude oil, is being challenged in federal court. The new state regulation, set to take effect this year, requires railroad companies to collect a $45 fee from their customers for each rail car carrying any one of 25 hazardous materials into the state. The funds are to help the state pay for improvements to its emergency response capabilities so it can better respond to spills resulting from train derailments.
The California Department of Transportation sponsored a newly released report, Transit Performance Measures in California, by the Mineta Transportation Institute, as part of the agency’s efforts to understand what data and performance measures are being used by MPOs and transit agencies in the state.
A new report published by a coalition of legal and civil rights organizations highlights the race and class discrepancies in driver’s license suspension and its effects in California. As more low-income people locate in suburbs farther from jobs and transit, a driver’s license becomes ever more important to reach jobs, schools, and other destinations. Additionally, many jobs and training programs require a driver’s license, and employers sometimes screen out those without a license even if their job duties do not require driving.