Traffic Talk

transportationSANTA CRUZ > The Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) is undertaking more than a few infrastructure projects. To help get the word out to the public, they’re trying something a little unconventional for a government agency: a television series.

The RTC’s Transportation Café series tackles a different issue that affects Santa Cruz County residents with each new episode. The series began as a quarterly event in September 2010, but a new episode now premieres every other month.

“There’s a lot of confusion about what the RTC actually does,” says Karena Pushnik, the RTC’s senior planner and public information coordinator. “We wanted to help the public understand the wide range of programs and projects that the RTC works on and to give people a better sense of the depth of those projects.”

The show’s most recent installation, which premiered on Community Television on Monday, Jan. 30, addresses the issue of sustainability and how it will affect the RTC’s long-term goals. The episode features a short segment detailing the allocation of funds for various transportation projects. The bulk of the 30-minute episode consists of RTC Executive Director George Dondero interviewing Grace Blakeslee, the RTC’s program coordinator, and Peter Hurley, project manager at the Portland Bureau of Transportation.

In addition to his work for the city of Portland, Hurley is also a key developer of an innovative transportation sustainability project. The project, known as the Sustainable Transportation Analysis and Rating Systems (STARS), is a set of guidelines that communities can voluntarily adopt to ensure that their transportation projects are sustainable for the long-term. The STARS system is similar to the widely used LEED program (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) which is used to evaluate building projects. In the episode, Hurley stresses the importance of what he calls “the triple win” when it comes to planning sustainable projects.

“To truly be sustainable, you have to have three key pieces,” says Hurley. “A healthy economy, a healthy planet and healthy people.”

The latest episode of Transportation Cafe comes on the heels of the start of construction on new auxiliary lanes on Highway 1 between Soquel Avenue and Morrissey Boulevard. That particular stretch of Highway 1 is notoriously troublesome for commuters, often becoming severely congested with traffic during peak driving hours. Though the project is still in its infancy, the construction will include the addition of one-mile-long traffic lanes connecting the on-ramp with the next off-ramp, along with the demolition and reconstruction of the La Fonda Avenue bridge. Pushnik views the highway construction project as a natural extension of Santa Cruz’s commitment to sustainability.

“We look at it as a system-wide approach,” says Pushnik. “When that part of the highway gets congested, the overflow traffic actually interferes with bicycling and walking. People feel less safe and less comfortable because there’s a lot more traffic in the roads trying to cut through and avoid the highway.”

To view the episode online, visit the RTC’s website at sccrtc.org.

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