We were disappointed to see AB 1778, Assemblymember Cristina Garcia’s bill to end freeway expansion in environmentally disadvantaged communities, die in the Senate Transportation Committee. But, at CalBike, we know that we often lose before we win. We’re in it for the long haul because critical advances like refocusing California’s resources away from climate-killing car-expansion projects and toward active transportation are worth fighting for. That’s why CalBike joined 17 other advocacy organizations to send a letter to Caltrans asking for a list of legacy freeway projects.
A change at Caltrans with a loophole big enough to drive a truck through
Transportation and environmental justice advocates won a victory in May when L.A. Metro canceled a plan to widen the 710 freeway in Southeast Los Angeles County, an area already overburdened by pollution. It’s the kind of project AB 1778 targets, but it represents another challenge in greening our transportation system. Caltrans started planning the 710 expansion in 1999 when California’s climate goals and priorities were very different from today.
Recently, Caltrans leadership has embraced its Complete Streets policy, including bike and pedestrian safety improvements in many more new projects. But legacy projects, some of which have been in the pipeline for years, may not meet those goals.
The groups signing the letter to Caltrans have requested a list of all projects that will increase vehicle miles traveled, so those projects can be reevaluated through the lens of community needs for public health, climate change mitigation, and transportation equity.
Why freeway-building should stop
Not every freeway project is the same, and there may be freeway projects that serve drivers’ interests. However, most freeway expansions and extensions are counterproductive in several ways:
- More lanes = more congestion. It’s counterintuitive but also empirically correct that widening highways increases congestion rather than reducing it. If you live near a freeway that’s added lanes, you have probably experienced increased traffic due to induced demand.
- Freeway construction often perpetuates environmental injustice. From San Francisco to San Diego, California cities have built freeways through historically Black, Latino, and Asian neighborhoods, breaking up communities and driving people from city centers. The practice isn’t consigned to history: It wasn’t long ago that City Heights CDC had to fight hard to reduce the impact of a freeway expansion that would primarily serve suburban communities but was routed through a disadvantaged San Diego neighborhood already suffering from elevated pollution levels.
- California needs transportation alternatives, not more cars. Electric cars are a vital element of our climate solution, but they are just one element. We need to fundamentally change how we get around to have any hope of mitigating climate change. This means more public transportation, better biking and walking routes, and more options for all Californians. Freeways often create barriers and hazards that discourage active transportation. We need to start thinking about tearing them down, not expanding or extending them.
Moving forward without freeway expansions
Supporting AB 1778 and seeking transparency on legacy road-building projects is just the beginning of CalBike’s efforts, joining many community organizations already doing this difficult work. Alongside the many environmental, social, and racial injustices, we see reducing freeway construction as a broader transportation justice and equity issue, and we will continue to partner with others at the state level to improve health and safety for all California communities.