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Envisioning the Future of Transportation

Blog: Project Update
Wednesday, June 28, 2017
Author:
Jenny Wagner

On June 23rd, over 40 people from across the Sacramento region gathered for the Cleaner Air Partnership (CAP) Quarterly Luncheon to hear from leaders in transportation and environmental sustainability. As our region grows in population and progresses in community revitalization, transportation innovation and subsequent air quality considerations are more important than ever. In 2016, the Community Health Needs Assessments consistently identified affordable and accessible transportation as a significant need impacting the health of communities across the Sacramento region. Particularly in under-resourced communities, transportation is too often a barrier to accessing healthy foods, health care, employment opportunities, and other resources or services vital to creating the conditions which allow individuals and communities to thrive. At last week’s CAP Luncheon, speakers highlighted potential solutions to update the Sacramento region’s transportation infrastructure in ways that promote health and economic vitality while advancing the region’s air quality improvement efforts.

Speaker James Corless, CEO of the Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG), shared an empowering exploration of the transportation future of our growing region. James emphasized five key points, starting with his view of ‘next generation buses,’ which he firmly believes will be an important part of our region’s transportation future. Encouraging the concept of Sacramento’s own bus rapid transit (BRT) system, James highlighted the success of Cleveland’s ‘HealthLine’ BRT system, which increased ridership by 48% in the first year and has delivered more than $6.3 billion in economic development along Cleveland’s Euclid Corridor. James went on to discuss the importance of mixed-use development in merging urban and suburban areas and integrating our communities through transportation improvements that subsequently lead to economic development and prosperity over the long term. There is no doubt that we will see major shifts in transportation infrastructure and behaviors over the next ten years – with increasingly popular rideshare services and the emergence of autonomous vehicles, transportation planners will need to develop thoughtful incentives to send the right signals to consumers. Here in Sacramento, we have the opportunity to leverage public-private partnerships, to study the impact of transportation innovation, and ultimately to decide what next generation transportation looks like for us. James asserted five key elements to improve transportation and air quality together in the Sacramento region: (1) make transit – and buses – work better; (2) encourage suburban infill and revitalization; (3) make our region a testing ground for new mobility; (4) work with employers to green their trips; and (5) get creative with community engagement.

Associate Director of the Local Government Commission, Paul Zykofsky, talked about the intersection of the built environment, transportation and health, emphasizing the need to design our communities in ways that encourage active transportation and promote health. Paul explained that the growth in vehicle miles traveled (VMT) over the past decade far outpaces our population growth, and that whether or not we achieve our goal of reducing VMT depends on how we build our communities. Specifically, Paul advocates for mixed-use, compact environments with more density of development, ultimately as a means to create more walkable communities and bring in more tax dollars for cities. Considering the alternative, poorly planned communities can have numerous health costs – to both people and the environment – such as accelerating global warming, increasing air pollution, and intensifying the urban heat island effect. And these issues will have a disproportionate impact on residents of under-resourced communities, where socioeconomic inequities, environmental injustices, and unaffordable or inaccessible transportation services create barriers to health and community vitality. Provided that much of our public spaces are taken up by roads, Paul stressed that this area should be shared, advocating for complete streets in city planning and revitalization efforts.

Valley Vision’s own Patrick Guild, Executive Assistant to Chief Executive Bill Mueller and Project Lead for the Epic Trails Initiative, shared an insightful overview of Valley Vision’s drive to connect a network of recreational trails spanning 100 uninterrupted miles across the Sacramento region. This ‘Epic Trail’ would extend from the western end of Yolo County to the eastern end of El Dorado County, making it the longest trail in California and one of the top five in the nation. In a recent public opinion poll conducted by Valley Vision in partnership with the Sacramento State Center for Social Research, 54% of area residents said that their quality of life is most affected by parks and trails, more so than any other civic amenity. With this striking outcome, it’s no question that the Epic Trail is something that communities across the region would value and utilize. Not only would the Trail create an immense regional asset, attracting tourists and businesses to the area, but it would present new opportunities to connect separated populations in the region and for jurisdictions across cities and counties to come together to promote healthy living, active transportation, and environmental sustainability. Valley Vision is working with Alta Planning and Design to conduct a feasibility study for the project. For more insights on the Epic Trail project, read the opinion piece by Valley Vision Board Member, Charlie Downs, published in the Sacramento Business Journal.

The event was held at the offices of SACOG in Sacramento. John Lane, Project Manager at Teichert Materials and Chair of the Cleaner Air Partnership, provided opening and closing remarks to the group, reminding us that it is “worth looking in the rearview mirror” at what we, as a region, have accomplished together. While there are copious examples of transportation and air quality success stories around the country, the Sacramento region has come far enough to a point where we too are a model for other regions. We look now to the future of transportation and air quality – what our growth as a region will look like and how we can set an example for other metros across the nation.

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Jenny Wagner is a Valley Vision Project Associate working on School2Home, the Cleaner Air Partnership, and other Healthy Communities-related initiatives.