The county defines specific targets in its latest Regional Transportation Plan
Whether it’s a day trip to Big Basin or the road to success, every journey begins with a destination or goal in mind. And while some may enjoy the adventure of just winging it, we expect county officials to err on the side of caution—with precise plans and clearly defined objectives—when mapping routes to our future. Thankfully, they’ve delivered.
On June 26, the Santa Cruz Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) finalized and adopted a new version of its Regional Transportation Plan (RTP)—a roadmap that takes us from Santa Cruz County’s present day transportation situation to a measurably improved one in 2035.
“One of the big things we did in this plan that was not done in previous plans is define measurable targets,” says Ginger Dykaar, RTC transportation planner and RTP project manager. “We’ve taken the projects that are prioritized in this plan and developed methods that determine, if these projects are implemented, how they affect our targets, and how do they really advance our goals.”
The new transportation blueprint, which took two years to develop, implements a more performance-based approach by setting specific, well-researched targets within its broader goals, which include making the streets safer for cyclists and pedestrians.
“So, your goal is not just to improve safety, but to reduce the number of fatalities related to bicycling by 50 percent by 2035,” says Dykaar. “That’s a big difference.”
And to decrease noxious fumes spewing from cars and trucks in the county by at least 5 percent in 2035, the RTP aims to reduce the overall vehicle miles traveled. According to the plan, the average vehicle miles traveled in the county is 15.3 miles per person each day. If everyone in the county drove three quarters of a mile less each day, or five miles less per week, the county would reach a 5 percent reduction by 2035. And if someone who commutes alone to work decided to carpool or bike, or work from home one day a week, the county will reach—and most likely surpass—its emission reductions target.
Dykaar says the California Air Resources Board defines the goal based on what’s feasible for each area. Rural areas like the Monterey Bay often have a harder time reducing miles traveled, but that doesn’t mean we’re exempt. The state-mandated RTP and its emissions goals fit into the larger Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments (AMBAG) Metropolitan Transit Plan and Sustainable Communities Strategy, which incorporates Monterey, San Benito, and Santa Cruz counties, and is meant to steer the transportation needs of the region until 2035.
The Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act of 2008, or SB 375, obligates each region of California to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at specified intervals by 2035, and facilitate plans to reduce the amount of time people spend in their cars.
For the Monterey Bay Area, the emissions reductions required by SB 375 are lower than other regions in the state. In the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, emissions are set to be reduced by 15 percent by 2035.
But reducing emissions is just one of the plan’s many established sustainability goals and targets, which have been built upon the Sustainable Transportation Analysis and Rating System (STARS).
“We were one of the first in the country to do this,” says First District County Supervisor John Leopold, also an RTC commissioner. “It’s like the LEED certification process that you see in construction that’s been developed for transportation projects.”
The sustainability framework within the plan is defined by a “triple bottom line,” of “people, planet, and prosperity,” or what is essentially the economy, environment, and well-being of everyone in a community. With the triple bottom line in mind, the plan outlines three primary sustainability goals: improving people’s access to the places they need to go, reducing transportation-related injuries and deaths, and implementing the projects in the plan in a way that is cost-effective and benefits both people and nature.
While developing and prioritizing the long list of projects within the RTP, those at the RTC considered the plan’s goals, maintenance needs, funding constraints, related agencies and public.
“Our job is to try to balance all these interests and needs, and actually that’s what we’ve done,” says Karena Pushnik, RTC senior transportation planner.
In addition to improvements related to automobile traffic, such as adding more auxiliary lanes to Highway 1 and at intersections throughout the county, the RTP contains a number of projects that will improve the conditions for pedestrians and bicyclists, like creating separated bike and pedestrian pathways in Watsonville and Felton, among others.
With a limited number of dollars coming into our county for transportation, the RTP and our various cities are working together to spread funds over a multi-modal transit system. This includes a placeholder of funds for the potential uses of the 32-mile rail corridor that spans the coast from Davenport to the Pajaro Valley. Although no specific plans for the rail line are etched in stone just yet, the first public workshop of the Passenger Rail Study will be held at the Live Oak Senior Center on July 17.
“We want to intensify and increase transportation uses within that corridor,” says Pushnik. “We’re looking at freight uses, the bicycle and pedestrian path. We’re looking at passenger rail, and then we’re looking at recreational, excursion-type services like dinner trains.”
With the RTP completed, those at the RTC look forward to implementing its projects as funding becomes available.
“That’s the goal,” says Pushnik. “Let’s make some of these improvements. Let’s get some of these projects in our community so we can have more choices. I think that’s the bottom line. People want transportation choices. They don’t want to feel like there is only one option to get from point A to point B.”
INFO: Passenger Rail Study is Thursday, July 16. 6:30 p.m., Live Oak Senior Center, 1777 Capitola Road, Santa Cruz. PHOTO: KEANA PARKER