Sustainable transportation solutions
By Emily Beach
Feb 27, 2018
Gridlock on Highway 101 and our local streets reminds us how transportation investments have not kept pace with growth in our region. To maintain our quality of life, we need safe and convenient transportation that doesn’t increase traffic and cause irreparable harm to our environment.
Pedestrian and cycling infrastructure provides cost-effective solutions to help reduce congestion in ways that benefit everyone — including highway commuters. These improvements, however, require funding, community support, and the political will to enact them.
When more people leave their cars behind, roads become less congested, parking becomes more plentiful, travel times more predictable and fewer tax dollars are required to maintain public roads. Moreover, people who walk and ride bicycles gain additional benefits to their physical and mental well-being. Why then do relatively few people do so? Safety and convenience are big challenges. Many people fear riding a bike or walking on roads near speeding drivers without robust bicycle and pedestrian spaces.
But if we build it, they will come.
Research shows that people of all ages and abilities will choose walking and cycling for short trips when it is safe and convenient. Low-stress bike routes through neighborhoods, dedicated paths protected from cars, designated lanes which separate bikes from motorized vehicles, well-maintained sidewalks and visible crosswalks are proven methods to encourage people to walk or ride to nearby destinations. When these facilities connect with commuter rail and other public transportation, all travelers benefit exponentially. Given our mild weather, population density and more frequent electrified Caltrain service coming soon, our county is well suited to embrace cycling and walking in our daily commutes. Now even electric-assist bicycles in local bike-share fleets provide us access to the hills without breaking a sweat. Better infrastructure will make these choices easier.
Despite the known benefits, communities often struggle to secure active transportation dollars. For example, 44 San Mateo County bicycle/pedestrian projects recently requested a combined $16 million from our countywide sales tax Measure A funds ($5 million available) and a state grant program for local projects ($2.26 million available). In other words, the requests outpaced the available dollars by $9 million — which meant funding fewer than half the projects. Compare $9 million of high- impact bicycle and pedestrian network improvements to the price tag of a new highway interchange ($90 million-$160 million), the proposed Highway 101 Managed Lane Project ($500 million), or even a local parking garage ($10 million-20 million). For a fraction of those costs, active transportation investments help address the root cause of our traffic and parking problems.
For the Peninsula to thrive, greater investment in sustainable transportation options must be a priority. Congestion management is a complex issue. Robust public transit, intelligent land use decisions and thoughtful highway improvements are important parts of the puzzle. Thankfully, alternative fuel vehicles pollute less, but they don’t reduce gridlock or road maintenance costs. Cycling and pedestrian improvements will not solve all traffic problems, but they are a cost-effective and healthy way to connect transportation hubs and local destinations. Because these investments reduce congestion, every commuter benefits.
Active transportation has additional perks: it’s good for the body, spirit and pocketbook. I haven’t always been an advocate, but about five years ago my husband (who is an avid bike commuter) installed a bag on my old mountain bike. Quite unexpectedly, that tiny retrofit transformed my bicycle into a practical transportation solution. With the ability to conveniently carry a heavy briefcase or a bag of groceries, cycling liberated me from our car. I was hooked. I felt happier and was amazed how much faster I arrived at nearby destinations — mostly because I didn’t need to search for parking. Bicycles help our busy family get where we need to go with only one car, which may even save us about $10,000 annually in per-vehicle ownership costs.
Please join me in supporting sustainable solutions to our traffic congestion. This week, if you are able, try walking or biking on a short trip. See how you feel and think about what improvements would make you safer. Also, participate in the survey sponsored by the San Mateo County Transit District (SamTrans) to gather public input about possible future transit investments at GetUsMovingSMC.com before Feb. 28. This is a unique opportunity to advocate for active transportation in our communities. Your voice makes a difference.
Emily Beach is a member of the Burlingame City Council and serves on the San Mateo County Transportation Authority Board of Directors.