May 19, 1991
Berkeley City Council
2180 Milvia Street
Berkeley, California 94704
Re: "Interstate 80 and Air Quality" -- Driving the Wrong Way
Everyone who is knowledgeable about transportation, air quality, global warming, ozone depletion, and related issues agrees that a substantial reduction in our use of, and dependence on, the automobile is essential for our health and that of all other forms of life on the planet. All of the natural resources that make life viable and enjoyable are rapidly being destroyed by the expansion of our road system and the consequent overuse of the automobile and its relatives. And Brazil is not the only place this is happening.
Not one iota of this information, apparently, informs the statements and actions of Caltrans, most politicians, big business, developers, highway construction companies, David Jones, Elizabeth Deakin, Greig Harvey, MTC, and the other elements of the highway lobby. They have an extremely lucrative pork barrel operation going, and are not about to allow anything to interfere with that money pipeline, even to the extent of jeopardizing their own health and that of their family and friends. Even as the Air District (BAAQMD) and local newspapers announce that "Dust in the air can kill" (S.F. Examiner, May, 1991), and that "Santa Clara County losses 40 victims a year", business groups are saying that air pollution in the Bay Area is "not so bad".
But it is bad. It is so bad that it has still not been cleaned up, over 20 years after the passage of the Clean Air Act. And everyone is still pointing their finger at someone else, and blaming them for not solving the problem. Obviously, this is an enormous problem, that is not going to get solved unless everyone does their part.
The part that is within the power of the City of Berkeley includes: (1) not signing a freeway agreement with Caltrans for any form of freeway expansion; if anything, it is time to begin dismantling roads and reversing the damage they have done to our environment, while we achieve the same access needs through carefully planned rail lines and other clean forms of transportation; (2) not creating any more parking facilities, even those associated with public transit; we should begin converting parking facilities to much-needed parks and affordable housing; (3) repealing the ordinance that sets minimum parking requirements for residential and business sites in the City; (4) controlling traffic lights not according to automobile speed limits, but according to the arrival of pedestrians, bicyclists, and public transit vehicles (give the former a button that they can push for instant service, and the latter an electronic override); (5) wherever possible, closing streets to motor vehicle traffic, and giving the streets back to the people; (6) forming a committee to begin planning for the end of oil, which in the U.S. is estimated at only 30 years from now; (7) repudiating the tired old myths about the need to speed up auto traffic (which always gave priority to cars rather than people) and (8) in every other way possible, consistently giving priority to clean forms of transportation.
It is time to recognize that halfway pseudomeasures are no longer enough. HOV lanes, when they involve adding vehicle capacity to roads, are counterproductive. So are park-and-ride lots, that encourage people to "cold-start" and "hot-soak" their vehicles every day, and that siphon off enormous sums of money to benefit auto users that could be put to much better use benefitting thousands of nonpolluting transit users. For example, one parking space in a parking garage coule finance 1000 free transit passes, instead of subsidizing a single driver.
It is time to expose the numerous lies that are used to further the aims of the highway special interest groups. For example, computer "models" are being used to "prove" that highway expansion is necessary and beneficial, while hiding the unsupportable assumptions and bad data that supply the Garbage In for that Garbage Out. Similarly, unscientific polls like the Chronicle's (5/15/91), performed by the Field Institute, say that 83% of the public want highway expansion, with "a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points". Then, when you read the fine print, you find out that only drivers were polled (and probably mostly from the auto-dependent suburban and rural areas). The "margin of error" is misnamed, because it seems to mean that the true value for all of California is between 80 & 86%. That is a clear misuse of statistics. How would Mr. Field & the Chronicle explain that the MTC (certainly not an anti-highway bunch!) found only 19% of the Bay Area to support highway expansion???!
Jones admits the possibility (e.g. pp.3-4) that highway expansion worsens air quality, but cites nothing other than his own opinions to resolve this issue. He allows that "development" can increase driving, but ignores the more immediate effect of newly opened pavement that causes people to make use of it to lengthen their trips and make them more often, due to the faster access to distant locations. (I have relatives in San Jose that I never visit, simply because I perceive the trip as too time-consuming. However, if speedy access were to suddenly open up, I would consider making the trip.) He chooses to concentrate on long range factors (e.g. job formation) and ignore the direct effects, thus skewing his conclusions: he asserts that highways only shift development around, rather than increasing it (p.7). This ignores the extremely strong lobbying done by developers for highway expansion: why would they do that, if total development were not affected by highway expansion? Obviously, because it is.
Jones asserts that "environmentalists ... overstate the adverse effect of induced growth", but offers no evidence to support the assertion. He does admit, however, that "it is travel per se and not congestion that accounts for the lion's share of automotive emissions", which is a great leap forward.
The bottom line is that there is no way to expand highways as an honest air quality measure. Jones and the other highway lobbyists can only "prove" their case by ignoring the benefits of rail and other cleaner forms of transportation, and the enormous list of proven negative effects of highways and motor vehicles and our near century-long catering to them instead of to the needs of people. Mr. Jones and his friends would like to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic. I would like to see us begin to repair it.
Jones does an excellent job of debunking Caltrans's faulty logic. But his is equally flawed. Please treat it as the "opinion for hire" that it is.
It is abundantly obvious that we cannot survive if we pave over all of California. I ask you simply, therefore, when are we going to stop trying to do just that, and begin to reverse the enormous damage that has already been done? It can't hurt to try other alternatives prior to freeway expansion, and see how they work, and at what cost, especially since we need them anyway.
Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.