California politicians want to lure – or force – the state’s 26 million licensed motorists to sharply reduce their driving.
Over the last decade, many legislative bills, numerous executive orders and a paper blizzard of plans and regulations from state agencies have declared war on petroleum-burning cars.
Adopted in the name of reducing climate-changing carbon emissions, strategies include spending billions on mass transit, goading local governments into fostering transit-oriented, high-density housing, raising driving costs, and allowing traffic congestion to worsen.
But, as with the Vietnam War, the War on Poverty and the war on drugs, so far it’s been a failure.
Californians are buying a near-record two-plus million new cars and trucks a year – and only a tiny fraction of them aren’t fueled by petroleum. Vehicular traffic is still climbing after a slight, one-year dip during the Great Recession, and transit use has been declining.
It’s not the first time that Gov. Jerry Brown has tried to curtail driving, nor the first time he’s hit stubborn resistance.
During his first governorship 40 years ago, Brown’s Department of Transportation suddenly restricted some lanes of the heavily traveled Santa Monica Freeway to carpools. The resulting traffic jams created an intense political backlash.
Initially, Brown defended the action, saying, “Obviously, the ethic of unlimited freeways that attempt to pour cement from one end of the state to the other is over, and it takes a while for people to adjust to that.”
As the furor escalated, however, Brown ended the experiment, claiming that “Diamond Lanes” were devised by predecessor Ronald Reagan’s administration, not his.
Since then, the state’s population has climbed by two-thirds, but vehicular traffic has more than doubled to 330 billion vehicle-miles a year. With very little expansion of roadway capacity, congestion has reached epic proportions.
A recent study of traffic congestion determined that Los Angeles County has 10 of the nation’s 20 worst corridors, including a No. 1 stretch of Highway 101.
The Brown administration’s newly published California Transportation Plan 2040 indicates that one strategy for moving Californians out of their cars is to let congestion worsen.
An earlier draft was quite explicit in that intent, saying the state should reject “road capacity enhancing strategies” and “avoid funding projects that add road capacity.”
Those words brought sharp criticism from highway advocates, including the California Transportation Commission, and were erased from last month’s final draft. But the plan’s intent is still implicit.
It offers multiple strategies it claims will reduce driving, but while acknowledging that “Californians continue to display their want to drive their cars …” it’s silent on adding capacity to meet demand.
Although state and local transportation officials continue to stifle roadway expansion as they spend billions on transit, the resistance among Californians is evident in the recent experiences of major transit systems.
The Bay Area’s regional transportation authority concedes, for example, that per capita use of transit in all forms has declined by 12 percent since 1991. Sacramento’s Regional Transit system of rail and bus service has seen a 9.3 percent decline in ridership in just the past year and is in serious financial straits.
Californians, it would appear, are voting with their feet – right feet, on accelerator pedals.