One of the highlights of the joint meeting of the California Air Resources Board and the California Transportation Commission was the joint presentation by the eight valley metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs). Their presentations highlight several programs throughout the region that were bearing fruit in terms of community building and reducing emissions. The directors were expertly moderated by Stanislaus Supervisor Vito Chiesa (who–appropriately for the region–had to step out early because he had to get back to the walnut harvest on his family farm.)
After providing a nice takeaway pamphlet, the speakers highlighted the following programs and issues to provide a nice cross-section of the issues and challenges faced in the Valley:
- Mio Electric Car Share. Tulare (TCAG) and Kern (KernCOG) have partnered with the air district and UC Davis to start a unique electric carshare program called MioCar. It has just started and currently has 100 members. But the opportunity for rural residents to use the cars at a rate of $4 per hour is improving accessibility. Early results are very encouraging. Stay tuned.
- Highway 99 is Still Part of the Solution. Highway 99 is the economic and transportation backbone for the Central Valley. The goal is to ensure safe, efficient trips on the state highway. But there are still significant gaps in the quality of the infrastructure, that directly and indirectly cause more collisions, congestion, and the influx of transit on local streets and roads. (Editor’s note: Okay, we will say it; given that there had been significant local negative press about the proposed deprogramming of two important Hwy 99 projects in the ITIP, the directors were remarkably reserved and constructively positive; kudos).;
- Farm to Fork Stress on Local Roads. The nature of agriculture generates a lot of truck traffic on local roads. Take Tulare County, where a large concentration of dairies is great for the local economy but the truck traffic it generates puts tremendous stress on local roads. One full milk container truck generates the same wear and tear on pavement that is generated by 16,000 cars. And there are 600 milk container trips a day in Tulare County (which equals the equivalent in pavement wear of nearly 10 million car trips a day).
- Housing. Rosa de Leon Park from StanCOG made the point that housing continues to be an issue in the valley, but that they appreciate the planning funds coming to the Valley from AB 101 (the Housing Trailer Bill). (For more see How Regional Planning Helps California build 3.5 Million More Units).
- Vanpools. The state’s largest and most successful vanpooling program started in Kings County and has now expanded to include 18 counties throughout the state. The California Vanpool Authority is a joint powers authority (of which all 8 San Joaquin Valley MPOs are a member) that operates more than 800 vans statewide. These trips are saving more than 50 metric tons of emissions. The program is also serving farmworker transportation needs, which also serves local economic interests. And its self sustaining, most revenues are generated from the riders.
- No Sidewalks. Terri King of Kings County (no relation) recalled the time she reviewed state ATP awards where funds were awarded go to improve sidewalks for pedestrian use in areas that already had sidewalks, and then noted that in many rural communities in Kings County don’t even have sidewalks. Yet it’s difficult to access those grant funds.
- Balancing Rail and Bus. Andy Chesley noted the challenge of maintaining viable rail and bus systems in San Joaquin Valley. In large part to the jobs-housing imbalance between the Valley and Bay Area (causing 86,000 car trips daily over the Altamount and Hwy 152 corridors), the Altamount Corridor Express is growing by five percent per year. At the same time, ridership on local bus services is declining. These trends affect accessibility differently across socio-economic groups. The median income of an ACE user is approximately $100,000, but only around $30,000 for people using the bus. There is a challenge to use resources in a way that does not further exacerbate limitations on lower-income communities especially when transit service usage is declining.
- Studying Zero Emission Trucks. The Valley MPOs are studying the viability of electric, autonomous trucks on the I-5 corridor as a way to lower emissions.
- Innovations in Transit. Everyone is looking to innovate in transit. Tulare has a program that allows community college students to travel free just by presenting their student ID cards that have served 2.4 million rides to date; and they are expanding that service to four-year colleges. Fresno is finding ways to subsidize Uber and Lyft rides to certain populations to expand accessibility.
- Infill Challenges. Kristine Cai, Deputy Director of Fresno COG, shared that there are still a number of challenges making connections between land use and transit, particularly when redeveloping infill is so expensive when compared to greenfield development. Nevertheless, they are working to support more housing in bus rapid transit corridors and making accessory dwelling units easier as ways to make better connections.
In the end, the ARB & CTC seemed to appreciate the presentation and perspective that was offered. And we certainly did not capture the entire conversation in our short summary here. You can watch the discussion easily now that the CTC is using YouTube to post and store its live recordings. (Big improvement). Here is the link. Advance to the 3 hour and 20-minute mark.