Marin’s Climate Action Plan – Moving into Checkmate Position

Marin’s Climate Action Plan – Moving into Checkmate Position

Fighting climate change is important – but what seems to have become even more important to special interests groups is placing significant impositions on the greater population, sometimes for profit, but also in the simple belief that everyone should make sacrifices to fight climate change, no matter how imposing and how minimal the actual impact is. These impositions surface as:

  • High density housing appearing in your neighborhood, and you discover all ability to oppose it has been undermined (we have to do it to save the planet!)
  • Noise and polluting transportation projects appearing right next to your house that encourage further development, cause congestion and ultimately a negative spiral towards apartment blocks served by trains and trolleys
  • Money that could have been used to address severe traffic congestion problems is instead diverted to pet transportation projects that are entirely cost-ineffective at fighting climate change or moving any significant number of people
  • Higher taxes, cap and trade funds used to pay for the above (high density housing, cost-ineffective transportation projects)

Special Interests Moving into “Checkmate” Position

checkmateWhat few know about, or realize, is that transit advocates, housing advocates and local government have been getting busy drafting their plan for how Marin should do it’s fair share to fight global climate change. Only a few of us realized what’s been happening – but it’s now time to pull the alarm cord and expose what’s going on.

The drafting of Marin’s  Climate Action Plan 2014 Update is akin to special interests playing a game of chess, and moving their queen into position for checkmate. This action plan can be used in a plethora of ways, and referenced as chapter and verse policy that must be adhered to in documents such as:

  • Future County Housing Elements
  • Planning documents and planning decisions, e.g. approving what will replace the Strawberry Seminary
  • Transportation planning. E.g. instead of fixing a congested road serving thousands build a bike path instead that may serve a couple of dozen riders.

In other words, this plan is not to be underestimated. Through selective use of statistics, and a bias towards certain solutions, the plan serves to increase emissions while progressing a political agenda that is adverse to the quality of life of Marin’s residents. We need and deserve a plan that does it’s level best to both reduce emissions AND preserve our quality of life.

How Can You Help – What Action Can You Take?

All through this article I will show callouts with links that if clicked will open up a mail message addressed to the county supervisors for you to customize and send. I encourage you to click on and send emails for each topic that concerns you. Remember to customize the message and add your name to the end of the email.

Upon submitting these comments to the county I received this county planning department response:

Thank you for submitting your comments on the Draft Climate Action Plan. We will review the comments and consider them as we develop the Final Climate Action Plan to be released in November.

What exactly would you expect the county to do with these comments? Unless others of you reading this article send emails demanding that the supervisors address these concerns I would expect these comments to be discarded.

Issue #1: Marin’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions Aren’t Put into Perspective

Marin CO2 Emissions

Marin’s emissions compared to other regions. Click for larger image.

While the policy recommends many imposing changes, the document does not provide any kind of context to show how Marin contributes to different emissions. In 2012 Marin produced 0.14% of the emissions of the United States. Marin produced just 0.07% of the emissions of China, the country that emitted the most emissions. To think that Marin can achieve a meaningful impact on reducing climate change and fighting global warming must be held in perspective.

However, it is also important not to gloss over the issue. Marinites could be doing more. Here are the per capita emissions of CO2 (metric tons) for 2012:

Marin:         27.5 tons
California: 12.0 tons
USA:            16.4 tons
India:             1.6 tons
China:           7.3 tons
World:         4.9 tons

Email IconWhat Can You Do? Insist  Marin’s Emissions are Put in Perspective
Tell the supervisors that the County Climate Action Plan 2014 Update should clearly state Marin County’s contribution to state, national and global emissions  as a percentage and in pi-charts.

Send an email on this topic to the Marin County Supervisors
(This will open a compose window using your default email application with a pre-composed message. You should customize the message and add your name before sending)

 

Issue #2: Different Transportation Modes’ Emissions Aren’t Clarified

The Climate Action Plan is a dream for transit enthusiasts and cyclists. The plan fails to frame the relative emissions of different modes of transport.

The Climate Action Plan does state that Pavley legislation “Will reduce GHG emissions from automobiles and light-duty trucks by 30% from 2002 levels by the year 2016”. But the county plan fails to mention and take into consideration the much more significant Pavley II legislation which was federally enacted over 2 years ago is already further reducing emissions, and it does not appear to take this legislation into account. This failure artificially inflates the emissions of cars in comparison to transit.(Note this failure is also in part to the California Air Resources Board who have yet to incorporate Pavley II legislation into their EMFAC emissions data – the data used by the county report).

While the automobile receives it’s now routine demonization in the Climate Action Plan, with stringent efforts recommended to suppress it’s use (which will also suppress economic growth) other modes of transit are encouraged that have higher emissions per passenger mile.

Click to see a larger image

Emissions per passenger mile for modes of transportation specific to Marin. Click to see a larger image

To address this, the Climate Action Plan should include a chart identifying the CO2 emissions per passenger mile of different transport modes over the coming years. This should be based on EMFAC data and transit ridership data. It should include a footnote that due to absence of incorporation of Pavley II data the passenger car figures are lower than those shown. This chart is important to illustrate the emissions per passenger mile of different transportation modes, and precisely how CARB anticipates these changing:

  • Ferries. Ferries are very high emitters, but they serve to reduce congestion on highway 101 and other roads in Marin during peak commute. They are popular and the personal preference of many commuters. If the Climate Action Plan were to take a uniform approach to eliminating transportation emissions then all ferries from Larkspur and Sausalito should be eliminated.
  • The SMART train. While SMART has published the emissions of its 1.1mpg diesel multiple units, quantifying SMART’s emissions per passenger mile is challenging as any ridership figures that have been published have since been disputed as inaccurate. This dispute did not come from the author, but from SMART’s board, the Transportation Authority of Marin, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and Dowling – the authors of the forecast itself. Applying US average train ridership figures, which is very generous as most US trains serve major employment centers which SMART does not, then it is clear that SMART will emit more per passenger mile than cars starting in about 2023. But this also gives the train an artificial advantage – in reality train ridership will gradually build. In actuality the car is likely to always have lower emissions than the SMART train.Again if the intent is to reduce emissions, then the County Action Plan should be recommending terminating the SMART train.
  • Buses. Combining the California Air Resources Board data with Golden Gate Transit published ridership we can see that buses will continue to emit more per passenger mile than passenger cars.However, I hear some cry, if we get more people to ride buses won’t average ridership increase and emissions per passenger mile drop? Not so – the relationship is actually the reverse. The reality is that the most popular transit routes are already served. Peak routes may be at or near capacity. But this works on a bell curve with diminishing returns. If you add more passengers they will spread over other less popular times. As more buses are added diminishing returns apply and actual emissions per passenger mile will increase.
  • Cars. The harsh reality for the writers of the Climate Action Plan 2014 update is that cars have caught up with transit in terms of reducing emissions and are actually overtaking. In Marin we have a very high number of hybrids, and many newer cars – where newer cars emit less – compared to other counties in California.


Email Icon
What Can You Do? Insist the Plan Frames Transport Emissions Correctly
Tell the supervisors that the County Climate Action Plan 2014 Update should conduct the analysis and publish a chart, such as the one above, that puts emissions for different transportation modes into perspective. Argue that use of Marinites preferred form of transportation, the passenger car, is unfairly and inaccurately being suppressed which will have adverse impact on quality of life and economic growth.

Send an email on this topic to the Marin County Supervisors
(This will open a compose window using your default email application with a pre-composed message. You should customize the message and add your name before sending)

 

Here is how the plan frames the problem:

In addition to supporting smart land use and trip reduction, alternative transportation, Trans-2 [alternative transportation], Public Transportation, promotes an integrated, multi-modal transportation network that will support alternative forms of transportation and help reduce VMT. (Source, page 83, Marin County Climate Action Plan 2014 Update)

While focusing exclusively on VMT – an obfuscating planning term meaning Vehicle Miles travelled – the plan fails to acknowledge that not all miles are equal in terms of emissions. Miles travelled by a passenger using SMART, buses and especially ferries result in considerably greater emissions than traveling in a passenger car.

[Note: The author finds it remarkable that the Climate Action Plan further obfuscates the term “alternative transportation” from layman readers by replacing it with the esoteric term “Trans-2” which the reader has to lookup]

Attempting to Solve for Two Divergent Factors

What the plan fails to acknowledge is that transportation is really about mobility. If transit tries to solve for both CO2 emissions and mobility then it will fail as these factors are at odds with each other. The worst thing about this is that the plan affects those on lower incomes the most – suppressing transit through a policy diverting funding from cost effective low carbon modes of transportation to cost-inefffective high emitters.

Issue #3: Diverting Money to Transportation & Ridership Impact

Bay Area Transit Ridership

Bay Area Transit ridership has consistently dropped since the 1980s. Are we to believe this trend is about to magically reverse?

The  plan’s focus on promoting transit fails to consider historic lessons of “causality”. Simply because a region has increased investment in transit has not led to increased transit ridership. In fact, looking at our own region – the Bay Area – transit investment has steadily increased since the 1980s yet per capita transit ridership has actually dropped.

Build it and they will come
The plan should show the adjacent chart to provide perspective. 
Any suggestion that these longstanding trends will reverse (which is currently implied by the CAP) should be thoroughly explained and all assumptions provided.
MarinCommuteTrendsThe data becomes even more relevant as we look at the trends in transport usage based on US Census data for Marin County.
The chart on the left shows how public transit usage has been steadily dropping since 1990. The big winner, which continues to reduce emissions, is the rapid growth of “working from home”. A factor touched on  almost as an afterthought on page 228 of the Climate Action Plan Update.
Just think, if the plan could divert resources to encouraging and promoting employers and employees to let their employees work from home it could be a double win – reducing both emissions and traffic congestion.
Instead of trying to swim upstream and reverse longstanding trends promoting working from home could be a major tactic of the action plan, instead it’s an overlooked footnote.


Email Icon
What Can You Do? Insist the Plan Frames Transport Emissions Correctly
Tell the supervisors that the County Climate Action Plan 2014 Update should include a chart showing the relationship between investment in public transportation and per capita ridership. Another chart should show US Census data for 1990-2012 for how workers commute.

Send an email on this topic to the Marin County Supervisors
(This will open a compose window using your default email application with a pre-composed message. You should customize the message and add your name before sending)

Issue #4: Over-Representation of Bike Commute Impact

A photo on page 59 misrepresents suggesting highly popular bike path usage

A photo on page 59 misrepresents suggesting highly popular bike path usage

There should be clear identification of the impact of increased investment in bike paths has had in bike ridership. A significant recommendation of the plan is that a shift from cars to bikes can be accomplished. However, according to data from a Congressional Report despite investment of $28m in bike paths in Marin ridership  declined.

The plan includes a photo on page 59 of a packed bike path implies that this is a significant way in which emissions can be reduced. It is not. This misleading picture should be removed from the plan.

Once again this brings into question the issue of causality. Policy may encourage bike commuting, but sinking substantial amounts of county and federal money into developing bike paths has failed to move the needle, and based on evidence has moved the needle the wrong direction.

 

Email IconWhat Can You Do? Insist the Plan Frames Transport Emissions Correctly
Tell the supervisors that the County Climate Action Plan 2014 Update should include a chart showing investments in bike paths, alongside changes in bike path usage during commute. Tell the supervisors that bike usage is not enough to make significant impact on climate change. Consequently it should not be a focus of the Climate Action Plan.

Send an email on this topic to the Marin County Supervisors
(This will open a compose window using your default email application with a pre-composed message. You should customize the message and add your name before sending)

 

Issue #5: Failure to Acknowledge Planned Sonoma County Growth

The Climate Action Plan should reference the impact of planned growth in adjacent counties and it’s impact on traffic congestion on highway 101. For instance, Sonoma County has 24,010 additional housing units planned for Priority Development Areas. Each unit representing ~3 additional people and 6.72 daily car trips – some of which will be on highway 101. Any assumptions around these new residents using the SMART train should be clearly identified and reconciled with SMART’s limited connectivity to major employment centers.

The consequence of this growth, which as yet does not appear to be considered by any Marin County plans such as the Housing Element, is to contribute substantially to traffic congestion. Standing traffic is not only a needless cause of emissions, it degrades resident’s quality of life and economic growth.

 

Email IconWhat Can You Do? Insist the Plan Considers Sonoma’s Planned Growth
Tell the supervisors that the County Climate Action Plan 2014 Update should reference the plans of Sonoma County to grow, and consider the likely impact of the additional residents on traffic congestion and emissions.

Send an email on this topic to the Marin County Supervisors
(This will open a compose window using your default email application with a pre-composed message. You should customize the message and add your name before sending)

Issue #6: Promotion of Transit Oriented Development Based on Flawed Science

The plan consistently promotes a policy of transit oriented development, yet as identified above this presumes, incorrectly, that in a suburban area such as Marin transit has lower emissions per passenger mile than cars.  This represents a fundamental flaw to the plan.

Transit oriented development is a program based on new additional housing growth in the unincorporated county. The current carrying capacity of the county is very limited due to water supply, traffic capacity – especially with Sonoma County’s growth placing significant further burden on 101 and suitable land that is not subject to flooding or toxicity. Given these significant constraints any policy that presumes significant growth is inappropriate and fails to consider major constraints.

Furthermore many Marin residents have strongly opposed attempts to impose transit oriented development – opposing such development in:

  • Larkspur
  • Civic Center
  • Strawberry
  • Tam / El Monte
  • Marinwood
  • St Vincent / Silveira

All reference to transit oriented development and promoting transit with the objective of reducing emissions should be removed.

Issue #7: Promotion of “City Centered Corridors”

The notion of “establishing city centered corridors” referenced 4 times in the plan should be clarified. It should be noted that many residents do not support expanding the urbanization of the county, except for in already urbanized downtown San Rafael. 

Issue #8: Remove Workforce Housing

The notion of reducing vehicle miles travelled by locating housing near jobs should be either struck, and/or references made to the following peer reviewed paper by Genevieve Guliano of UC Berkeley “Is Jobs Housing Balance a Transportation Issue?“. This paper identifies multiple reasons why VMT does not drop when building new housing near transit:

  • Work location is one of many factors in deciding on housing location
  • People prefer to live near friends or relatives rather than move nearer to a job
  • People will commute further to live in a larger house / more desirable location
  • Households contain workers with multiple jobs
  • Frequency of job change is increasing. One may move close to ones current job only to change jobs
  • People will commute further to get to higher paying jobs

Propagating the myth that by building housing in Marin people who work in Marin will move to the new housing and commutes and emissions will be reduced is not based on fact. The new residents cannot be limited to Marin workers. Furthermore there is nothing to prevent the new residents, who may previously have lived in Sonoma or Vallejo (for instance), electing to now take higher paying employment in San Francisco or Oakland.

Issue #9: Clarify (Remove) Transportation Demand Management Programs

What "Transportation Demand Management" means in English (prohibitively expensive parking ticket not shown).

What “Transportation Demand Management” means in English (prohibitively expensive parking ticket not shown).

Page 69 of the plan recommends transportation demand management programs. Transportation Demand Management is an obfuscating term that really means discouraging car use through reduced parking and increased parking charges. Given that often the alternatives are transit, which have higher emissions – this is counter-productive. Furthermore this is likely to have an adverse impact on:

  • Quality of life, people can no longer drive to shops
  • Economic growth, shops will suffer reduced patronage

This term should be explained in plain English.

Email IconWhat Can You Do? Insist the Plan Removes Transportation Demand Management
Tell the supervisors that the County Climate Action Plan 2014 Update should remove references to “transportation demand management”.

Send an email on this topic to the Marin County Supervisors
(This will open a compose window using your default email application with a pre-composed message. You should customize the message and add your name before sending)

it should be clarified in laymans English precisely what this means. If this imposes parking fees, and these fees may increase costs for those on lower incomes, then this should be clarified.

Issue #10: Remove All References to “Multi-Modal Transit”

The plan makes repeated references to “multi-modal transit” should be removed. This is a vague statement – but it’s designed to sound persuasive,clever and convincing to the reader. Multi-modal transit spans a variety of transit modes including ferries, buses and trains, but not cars. Remember – cars now have lower emissions than all of these forms of transit.

All references “multi-modal” should be removed.

Also use of the term “multi-modal” is misleading as it can imply that bike commuting is a potential solution when investments of $28m+ by the county have proven over an extended period that this has either no effect, or may actually result in a reduction in bike commuting. Again it is strongly suggested that this misleading term is removed.


Email Icon
What Can You Do? Insist the Plan Removes “Multi Modal”
Tell the supervisors that the County Climate Action Plan 2014 Update should remove references to “multi modal transportation”.

Send an email on this topic to the Marin County Supervisors
(This will open a compose window using your default email application with a pre-composed message. You should customize the message and add your name before sending)

it should be clarified in layman’s English precisely what this means. If this imposes parking fees, and these fees may increase costs for those on lower incomes, then this should be clarified.

A Plan that Fails to Reduce Emissions that Degrades Quality of Life

Essentially the draft plan, if enacted, serves as a powerful policy tool that can be referenced and used as justification for future land use and transportation policy across the county. While well intentioned, it has been usurped by special interests to progress a specific agenda based on transit oriented development – an agenda that simply does not align with the vision of the residents of Marin.

So start clicking on the email links – I’ve made it easy – each link composes a pre-addressed email and starts you off – what are you waiting for – get emailing, help fight climate change and preserving the quality of life here in Marin.

  • Pat Ravasio

    Your research is exhaustive. I am with you on most things. One notable exception is your distain for programs and infrastructure to promote bicycling and multi-modal personal transportation. With Marin County’s exceptional weather, and Central Marin’s generally level land and close proximity to schools, shops, restaurants and parks — plus the combination of an amazing and abandoned railroad right of way — we are the perfect environment to grow a new kind of community with ample biking, rolling and walking — and not just for recreation. A great deal of our congestion is due to school traffic. Surely if we have safe and separate pathways — to schools, shopping, and the Larkspur Ferry terminal, we will get more cars off the road, especially as traffic worsens.

    • @Patricia – I agree that we should allocate a modicum of transportation funding to improve our bike infrastructure. But things are getting out of hand and we need to be careful allocating funds.

  • Jasper Carmichael

    How many cars does it take to pollute as much as one bus? You’d think that even if cars are ‘greener,’ giving one to every transit rider would surely result in more pollution than if they all rode the bus. Yes there are times when buses are empty, but I feel like that is a result of the inefficiency of the land use system as opposed to transit itself. I don’t use the bus because it takes longer to get to the store and work, but if these uses were located closer to me I would be more inclined to to ditch my car. I’ve also never heard of TDM before (thanks for the explanation!), but it seems to make sense that if you take away free parking, people might use transit more, which would raise revenue to improve operations. Finally (sorry for the novel), as a driver who is frustrated by a lack of free parking, even I can see that this provision is not a guaranteed right for all citizens, and should stop being viewed as such.