Part two of our serial: Caltrans and sustainability get friendly

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"Sustainability is often misconstrued as only an environmental issue," says Steven Cliff, the sustainability assistant director for California's Department of Transportation (Caltrans). Do you agree? Listen to an interview with Cliff in the second installment in our series on California's transportation transformation.


If Caltrans is indeed going to get serious about sustainability, it has to set goals, shift funding, and align policies. Caltrans has made the first step, and in a big way. In my last blog, I mentioned that Caltrans recently released its Strategic Management Plan. The management plan has gotten a lot of press and for good reason--it exemplifies the best of accountable governance with clear strategic objectives, performance measures and targets.

For example, for the first time the state of California now has a target for reduction of vehicle miles traveled (VMT). The Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (AB 32) set a statewide greenhouse gas emissions reduction target, and the landmark Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act of 2008 (SB 375) set regional greenhouse gas reduction targets that are met through reduced VMT. But, the state has never had its own VMT reduction goal. Even though, as described in my last blog, the analysis in the draft California Transportation Plan 2040 makes obvious that the state needs to start moving quickly and boldly on reducing VMT to meet its climate goals, not to mention to achieve all the other health and fiscal co-benefits of improved transportation planning.

Here is a sample of some of the objectives, performance measures, and targets in Caltrans' new Strategic Management Plan:

Unfortunately, the new management plan also includes a performance measure and target based on vehicle delay, an antiquated transportation metric of how fast a car can travel rather than how fast you can reach your destination. It's hard to imagine how this automobile-oriented target will NOT conflict with the goal to reduce VMT. We also look forward to working with our partners and Caltrans to improve the focus on social equity as the plan is revised and implemented. And, the management plan mentions several performance measures that are still forthcoming.


But, all-in-all, kudos to Caltrans. The targets are set. The next step is to shift the outdated funding priorities and align the backwards policies, and we look forward to assisting. A simple start would be to heed the advice in UC Berkeley Law's Moving Dollars, and transform these performance measures into those that could be used on the project level so that the state can assess each transportation project and only fund those that are consistent with its goals.

Be sure to look out for the third and final installment of our audio series on new funding sources and innovation as California not only transforms its own transportation system but helps set the national agenda.