How to Secure Transportation Funding? Commit to Growth

By Egon Terplan, Regional Planning Director, and Aaron Bialick, SPUR intern
November 2, 2011
Image courtesy Flickr user Schaffner

The Bay Area is in the midst of a major planning initiative to identify where to grow and how to allocate scarce transportation dollars to support new population and jobs over the next 30 years. The goal of the Bay Area’s Sustainable Communities Strategy (SCS), laid out by state legislation, is to grow in a way that reduces per capita greenhouse gas emissions from driving. City agencies have been consulted in the development of the SCS, but recently they got a chance to respond publicly to the plan and raise concerns about its three proposed growth scenarios. Staff members from the San Francisco Planning Department and the San Francisco Transportation Authority presented their response at a public forum last month.

SPUR agrees with much of the city’s response, but we differ on a few key points. Namely, we believe that San Francisco, alongside other dense urban places with good transit access, should absorb a big share of the future growth. Where better to add a large portion of the region’s projected 770,000 new housing units and 1 million new jobs than in walkable urban areas where residents have access to sustainable transportation?

In their response, city staffers argued that San Francisco cannot support the level of growth envisioned in the SCS’s Core Concentration Scenario, which would allocate 111,000 new housing units and 207,000 new jobs to San Francisco — that’s about one-seventh of the region’s new housing and one-fifth of its jobs. We don’t think this is unreasonable growth for San Francisco. The city has the most extensive transit system in the West, and its existing walkable, bikeable neighborhoods make it one of the few logical places to add new jobs and population.

The staffers went on to argue — rightly, in this case — that to accommodate some of the projections, San Francisco would require a much greater share of regional transportation funding than the city has historically received, not to mention funding to support affordable housing, open space and other amenities that make a complete community. For its population, jobs and number of transit trips, San Francisco does not get its fair share of resources to maintain and grow its transportation system. Muni is the workhorse of the Bay Area, carrying well over 700,000 daily trips, far more than any other local transit system in the region and twice that of BART. And if you consider regional transit providers as well, San Francisco accounts for more than 60 percent of the region’s transit-trip destinations. If San Francisco is to stem the tide of rising automobile emissions as it grows, the SCS needs to include much more robust investments than those proposed in order to make Muni, bicycling and walking more attractive transportation options for a larger share of residents and commuters.

But in order to receive, cities must be willing to give a little. The truth is, urban places like San Francisco will have the moral authority to demand more regional transportation investment only if they are also willing to accept a larger share of growth. SPUR will be working closely with San Francisco city staffs and other stakeholders to craft an urban-focused response to the proposed SCS scenarios and related transportation investments.

Read San Francisco’s response to the SCS scenarios [PDF] >>

Read more about the three SCS scenarios [PDF] >>

View a map of the Core Concentration Scenario [PDF] >>

Read past San Francisco staff letters about the SCS >>