Researchers encourage California policymakers to expand environmentally sustainable transportation

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In a study published this month, researchers at UC Berkeley and UCLA are encouraging California policymakers to improve the state’s transportation infrastructure and pursue more environmentally friendly options.

To reduce traffic congestion, curb levels of air pollution and improve state transportation cost efficiency, the study recommends lowering the percentage of votes required to pass transportation measures, reducing parking requirements in busy areas and dedicating new revenue for nonautomobile transportation improvements, among others.

The study, jointly produced by UC Berkeley School of Law’s Center for Law, Energy and the Environment and UCLA School of Law’s Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, explains how state and local policymakers fail to coordinate some of the more crucial decisions about the state’s transportation infrastructure, which costs about $28 billion per year. Regional and local governments provide approximately 49 percent of the state’s transportation funding, with state funding accounting for 27 percent and federal funding accounting for 24 percent.

According to the report, most of the funding allocated to transportation is funneled into the automobile industry, with less money for more sustainable forms of transportation like biking, walking and public transit.

“We‘ve got crumbling roads … and transit systems that are overcrowded,” said Ethan Elkind, UC Berkeley associate director of the Climate Change and Business Program, who authored the paper. “We have too much traffic in general … and nowhere for people who are biking or walking.”

Elkind also said low-income individuals who commute to cities with limited options for transportation often experience increased costs of living because they sit longer in traffic and therefore spend more money on gas.

In October, policy experts and transportation officials, including an official from BART, assisted the researchers with their study at a day-long workshop. BART spokesperson Alicia Trost voiced the agency’s need for continued funding to “fix and modernize” the BART system, including replacing its 40-year-old trains. She added that BART will likely require $4.8 billion over the next 10 years to renovate its system.

Some policymakers, however, are reluctant to place their faith entirely in the new modes of transportation. Assemblymember Katcho Achadjian, R-San Luis Obispo, who is vice chair of the assembly’s transportation committee, expressed concern over the paper’s focus on alternative modes of transportation such as biking and walking.

“In rural districts like mine, good roads and highways are critical,” Achadjian said in an email. “While I support expanding alternative means of transportation, the needs of Californians and our economy demand that we make it a priority to expand our current transportation infrastructure.”

Contact Anna Sturla at [email protected].