The Solutions for Congested Corridors Program (SCCP) is a new $250 million (per year) competitive state grant program created under Senate Bill 1 to improve travel in traffic-choked corridors by providing more transportation choices that get people out of their cars. CalBike and our partners are leading advocacy efforts to ensure this program meets its true aim of multimodality.
The language in SB 1 that enacts the SCCP contains strong requirements for projects that encourage land use decisions that support compact infill development and reduce vehicle miles traveled. It also contains the goal of preserving the character of the local communities and creating opportunities for neighborhood enhancement projects. Coupled with the restrictions against use of program funds for “general purpose lane expansion” (i.e. your average new freeway lane), and a set of strong scoring criteria for projects, the SCCP provides a new opportunity for regions to tackle their most congested corridors. The SCCP requires regions to move beyond the business-as-usual strategy of building our way out of congestion with more lane-miles of highway, and instead incentivizes sustainable and efficient solutions to congestion that will benefit communities long overburdened by large, dangerous, and unhealthy freeway projects.
However, even though the objectives of the SCCP sound great, smart growth and sustainable communities’ advocates like CalBike cannot just sit back and relax through the implementation phase. The SCCP was designed for interested and affected stakeholders to improve it through the California Transportation Commission (CTC) program development process. Fortunately, CTC staff are poised to lead with a clear intent to promote sustainability in transportation investments. So far, CTC staff have held two SCCP workshops and have set a firm foundation for improving accessibility (people’s overall ability to reach desired services and activities)—rather than just increasing travel speed (mobility)—in our most backed-up corridors.
In particular, advocates have a critical opportunity during this pivotal program development process to ensure the program successfully addresses transportation justice. Disadvantaged and low-income communities of color who are more likely to be non-drivers will be shortchanged if all the SCCP funds go directly into the expansion of freeways (i.e. toll lanes, carpool lanes, managed lanes, freight lanes, etc.) for personal vehicles. The SCCP also needs to avoid any negative community impacts on neighborhoods adjacent to congested corridors that have suffered from pollution, dangerous and crowded streets, and blight while commuters from other parts of the region zoom past.
Overall, the SCCP is a major positive step in the slow transformation of transportation planning.California planners are finally beginning to institutionalize more sustainable and efficient practices to address traffic congestion. And it’s not just our planners that are changing their tune and approaches—several of our elected officials are pushing this change from the policy side. State Assembly Transportation Committee Member Laura Friedman (D-Glendale) stated candidly during a bill hearing in April that adding freeway capacity is a “20th century solution to a 21st century problem”. Her assertion reflects a growing understanding in transportation research and planning that “adding capacity does not decrease congestion—getting people out of their cars decreases congestion”–another of Assemblymember Friedman’s signature remarks.
Draft guidelines for the SCCP are expected to be released by the CTC in mid-October and be finalized by December 2017. Two more workshops will be held in Oakland and Sacramento before the Guidelines are published. As in all SB 1 programs, broad public participation is sorely needed. Community residents, commuters, advocates, and anybody who endures maddening traffic or is impacted by it has a stake in this program. With your help, we can ensure state policy decisions reflect not only Assemblymember Friedman’s visionary comments, but also the broad support of California’s residents and voters for a truly multi-modal transportation system.