NMA E-Newsletter #301: Caution! This is a Completely Hypothetical Exercise that could become Reality.

The California Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Resources Board (ARB) recently put on a presentation titled “The Science behind Sustainable Communities Strategies.” The stated goal was to provide “an objective review of the empirical evidence on how effective various transportation and land use strategies are at reducing vehicle miles traveled (and thus greenhouse gas emissions).” A representative from one of the NMA’s allied organizations in California, Robin Cole with the Association of California Car Clubs, attended and provides us with a first-hand account below.

Robin’s comments remind us of how hostile urban planners are toward automobiles as they spread their vision of densely populated urban areas where cars are seen as a threat. Robin notes that the presenter, Dr. Susan Handy with the University of California—Davis, relied mostly on assumptions, not facts, to support her claims. This approach reminds us of the rationale for mandating the 55 mph National Maximum Speed Limit (NMSL) during the Arab Oil Embargo. The government claimed that lowering highway speed limits would reduce fuel consumption by more than two percent. In reality, the reduction was less than half a percent, yet it took more than 20 years to fully repeal the onerous NMSL.

California recently implemented a “pilot” program for a Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) tax through the enactment of Senate Bill 1077. By limiting where and when people can drive, such schemes will prove critical to the long-term success of sustainable community initiatives. We cannot remain passive as planners and bureaucrats seek to reduce the transportation choices available to citizens; we’ll reach a point where the momentum to do so will be hard to overcome. Here is Robin’s account:

First, I would point out that although the California EPA /ARB building is beautiful, it is not energy efficient or economical. Apparently, California’s environmental officials do not practice what they preach. 

Most of the presentation attendees were master’s or higher degree students in city planning. This means they were soaking this up. The presenter was Dr. Susan Handy with the University of California—Davis and the National Center for Sustainable Transportation. The purpose, she stated, was to reduce vehicle use and emissions. 

Most of the results she cited dealt with reducing vehicle miles traveled and getting people to walk more, and use only bicycles and public transit. She explained her research was done by reading other people’s papers and that there isn’t a lot of research out there. Regarding capacity reduction, there is a lot to study in California but most of the information came from Europe. She had no data from the Oregon VMT tax pilot project. Yet, that program was used to push for passage of SB 1077. She could not say what geographic area, region or even what size of an area she used to come up with her “statistics.”   

She did not include socio-economic information in the study either. Yet the seminar was called “The Science behind Sustainable Community Strategies.” The “Regional Travel Demand Forecasting Module” was based on assumptions, per Dr. Handy. Several pages had charts of “empirical data” but underneath was the following statement: Caution! This is a completely hypothetical exercise. 

The bottom-line goal of all of this is to get people out of their vehicles by making it more expensive to drive (gas, parking, tolls, etc.) and by getting people to live near where they work, play, shop, etc. 

The scary part is that while you’re listening to the presentation, at first it sounds attractive. Things would be convenient and cost less. I guess they did not do much research on the communities they are describing. I guess I was the only one in the room who remembered from history classes those towns which existed in the 1920s, where the steel mill or the mining company owned the town. Everyone worked at the same place, walked to work, had the company grocery and other stores, company medical providers and hospital or clinics. Anything a person earned went back to the company. So does a sustainable community mean being a “company man or woman?” Are these planners proposing socialized communities under the guise of air quality? 

And like SMOG the figures are all made up and created without science. There are no actual figures based on anything actually measured or measureable. 

This should scare everyone.

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