The built environment, particularly the transportation sector, significantly impacts the health and safety of our communities. For example, widening roads and adding freeway lanes increases vehicle miles travelled and urban sprawl, forcing our reliance on automobiles. These infrastructure decisions, among many others, result in dangerous areas where increased air pollutants and extreme heat make the air toxic and communities unhealthy. California, home to 10 of the 25 most polluted cities in the nation, must take more action to address the pollution emitted by the transportation sector — the largest generator of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
The California Transportation Agency, or CalSTA, coordinates with various state agencies to develop the policies and programs that achieve the state’s mobility, safety and air quality objectives from our transportation system. The agency is currently in the home stretch of developing the Climate Action Plan for Transportation Infrastructure, or CAPTI, which is a key part of the solution needed to address the impacts of the transportation sector. CAPTI lays out a set of strategies intended to combat climate change, support public health, and advance equity by transforming how we prioritize state transportation dollars.
The plan has been in progress since September of 2019 when Governor Newsom ordered CalSTA to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the transportation sector by leveraging discretionary state transportation funds. CalSTA is accepting public comment until May 19, 2021 and plans to submit recommendations to the Governor and Legislature on July 15, 2021.
CalSTA is working hard to develop this plan, aligning our transportation infrastructure spending with our clean air and climate goals is both necessary and long overdue. CAPTI is only the first of the many steps needed, but starting out strong is critical as the state continues to experience the increasing severity of climate change.
The transportation sector accounts for about half of California’s global warming pollution, contributing not only to climate change and increased air pollution but also to the public health risks of frontline communities living near congested freeways, ports, and, increasingly, warehouses and logistics centers. In these areas, dangerous air pollutants like nitrogen oxide and diesel particulate matter pollution have especially dangerous health impacts. Communities of color and low income areas have a long history of being marginalized and displaced by transportation spending decisions that allow freeways, dangerous and unwalkable streets, and freight routes to fracture neighborhoods, while cleaner transportation infrastructure like access to transit, high quality walking and biking routes, and housing near essential services are available only in wealthier, whiter neighborhoods.
CAPTI is an important opportunity for the state to begin to address the long overdue health and equity impacts previous transportation decisions have created. The current draft plan builds towards an integrated, statewide rail and transit network; safe and accessible active transportation infrastructure; investments in light, medium, and heavy-duty ZEV infrastructure; zero emission freight systems; infill development; and more. The current CAPTI has many important aspects, but it can be improved upon by placing more emphasis on equitable active transportation investments, more closely tracking the climate performance of projects, and doing more to help accelerate the electrification of our state’s most polluting vehicles.
The plan should prioritize projects that provide a holistic approach to active transportation solutions that benefit air quality, public health, and mobility. Safe and shaded routes are critical for public safety and effective implementation of active transportation projects, therefore, urban greening/forestry programs must be a vital component of CAPTI and should align with at-risk areas where it is too hot to walk or bike. At present, the Active Transportation Program is over-subscribed and long overdue for increased funding. Allocating supplemental and permanent funding streams for active transportation is a critical component of CAPTI and must be prioritized.
CAPTI should also provide regular progress reports, track, and publish the expected and realized GHG emissions and other outcomes related to specific investments. By reporting on vehicle miles travelled reductions and which programs/actors are accountable will allow agencies to prioritize projects that actively reverse the devastating trends of climate change and sprawl.
CAPTI should also include investments in light, medium, and heavy-duty zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) infrastructure to support the transition to ZEVs everywhere, but we must also think realistically about how our past and present decisions about other forms of infrastructure — including how we choose to allocate space for cars versus other forms of transportation — affects equity and our ability to meet our climate targets. Engaging communities and measuring projects and programs based on their ability to support our state’s equity and climate goals is crucial to prioritizing funding in a thoughtful, equitable way.
By adopting these recommendations CalSTA can more thoughtfully prioritize transportation funding and put forward a stronger, more enforceable set of strategies in the final version of CAPTI.
CAPTI is an important step for advancing climate action in California and NextGen strongly supports the direction this plan takes to reduce GHG emissions by at least 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. We look forward to the development of CAPTI in becoming a more actionable, measurable strategy.
To follow the CAPTI process and provide your own comments specific to your community, click here or check out CalSTA’s CAPTI Page. Also make sure to follow us on Twitter and sign up for our climate email list to keep up to date on California’s latest climate policies and NextGen’s legislative priorities.