For just the second time, the California Air Resources Board (ARB) and the California Transportation Commission (CTC) held a joint session to discuss potential alignment in transportation decision-making and investments. While CalBike and our partners who work closely with these powerful agencies remain hopeful, we’re concerned that December’s meeting saw abundant discussion…and meager alignment.
Central to this 2nd joint meeting’s agenda was the Air Resources Board’s newly-released jarring and unambiguous report in response to Senate Bill 150, analyzing why our state is failing to reduce greenhouse gases from California’s transportation system. How did these two agencies respond to the report’s message? The ARB, with the authority to enforce policy changes to achieve that reduction in car trips, was mostly quiet. The CTC, with the power of the purse when it comes to transportation investments, was mostly defensive. The California Bicycle Coalition helped win and continue to support one of the reforms mandating these meetings, just as we’ll continue our efforts to engage, attend, and report on future meetings, because we understand the impact day-to-day advocacy can offer our state’s climate and communities.
Although reforms like the one that mandated this joint meeting are critically needed, attendance was light, and two of our state’s most important agencies essentially told an audience mainly comprised of transportation bureaucrats and a small party of advocates that joint action was complex, and little could be done about it.
We disagree, and we also remain hopeful.
The current membership of those two agencies may be unwilling to push back against the political and economic interest groups that maintain California’s climate-destroying status quo, but the winds of change are strengthening. Both agencies have taken some important steps – both individually and working in junction. But as the report bleakly lays out, these initial efforts have been unsuccessful in meeting California’s greenhouse gas reduction goals.
What steps exactly has the state taken thus far? One of the report’s key findings is clear: “the overall ratio of dollars planned to be spent on roads versus on infrastructure for other modes in the largest regions of California has shown remarkably little shift”. In other words, the agencies may be making some progress in implementing robust California Climate Investments (CCI) or making a billion dollars of active transportation investments in the past five years, but these are minor solutions to a massive and urgent problem that demands significant action.
As the ARB’s damning report also spells out, goals and mandates for 2030 and beyond “will not be met without significant changes to how communities and transportation systems are planned, funded, and built.”
“We know both agencies have dedicated and hard-working staff who are effectively bettering the environment, beginning to redress a transportation system that was designed to foster environmental catastrophe and social exclusion. The recently released SB 350 report describing the potential coordinated actions they can take to ensure our most vulnerable populations have access to good and clean mobility opportunities is a great example.
“But they’ve simply refused to take the joint action needed to make the transformative change that the report makes clear is necessary to meet our climate change goals and reduce vast mobility inequities,” said Jared Sanchez, CalBike’s Senior Policy Advocate.
Refusing to take joint action in light of recent trends is essentially a statement of defeat and powerlessness, something our state’s implementing agencies are hardly known for. Approving billions of dollars of investments in our transportation system every year is hardly a feeble responsibility. As we have documented in the past, both the ARB and CTC have a long way to go, and it’s not the number of actions that they take but the quality of those actions that actually redress the systemic threats of deadly pollution, climate devastation, and entrenched mobility inequity. Sanchez also noted that the excuse heard several times at the joint meeting – that taking action to reduce the number of miles traveled in vehicles will hurt the economy – is based on the oft-repeated talking point that our transportation system is our state’s ‘engine for economic growth. This is not only a morally bankrupt argument, but one that rests on notions of outdated economic principles. Research has shown that inequity is, in fact, bad for economic growth.
CalBike is dedicated to ensuring that public attention on this issue does not dissipate and that the Legislature, leading officials, and most importantly incoming Governor Newsom make it clear that they take this report seriously. Our state cannot afford to lapse into a paralysis of indecision and wait for the next dire report to scare us before drifting once again into apathy and inaction.
We challenge the notion that the ARB and CTC can do little of substance. They have wide-ranging authority that has too often been used to support the bottom line of private industry in the name of economic progress – whether it’s the freight and goods movement, oil and natural gas, automobile, or the always-alluring emergent technology industries. While the needs of the privileged are catered to, it’s already been shown both agencies are clearly failing to meet the basic needs of the most marginalized communities in California.
Will this most recent SB 150 report impress upon both agencies the critical need to act now? Our regulators are well aware of the data suggesting that “more and accelerated action is critical for public health, equity, economic, and climate success” within our transportation sector. The report, and this second meeting, highlight the many ways that mobility shapes climate change and inequality in our state. The enduring actions and inactions shape the daily lives of not just the Californians today, but those of generations to come. CalBike will continue to advocate for California’s transportation policies to better serve all Californians, and we’ll update you as the state’s Air Resources Board and Transportation Commission continue their invaluable first steps at collaboration.