California legislation aims to reduce sprawl: Watch Out for Unintended Consequences


By Dom Nozzi

November 2007

In the fall of 2007, a member of the new urbanist email list I was subscribing to posted the following news: “CA bill to tie transportation funding to reducing sprawl”

“Enter state Sen. Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, who has written a bill that would reward land-use planning that reduces sprawl. Specifically, it would require the California Air Resources Board to set greenhouse gas targets for metropolitan areas. Then regional agencies would have to devise growth and transportation plans to meet those targets. And future transportation funding would be tied to meeting those targets.”

My response was to state that I certainly hoped this bill was properly crafted to avoid what I fear can be a tragic unintended consequence.

Over the years, I’ve regularly heard the sprawl lobby claim that road widenings are needed on congested roads to reduce air pollution and gas consumption. To a great many people — including some environmentalists — the argument makes sense. “Widening a congested road creates more free-flowing traffic, which means less gridlock, which means less pollution and gas consumption due to a reduction in idling cars.”

Of course, some of us now recognize that widening roads usually does the reverse, because Carmageddon highwaywidening typically induces more car trips (i.e., an increase in pollution and gas consumption) and a quick return to congestion — not to mention an inducement to more sprawl.

My fear, therefore, is that the bill will actually create a new justification in CA for more road widening (and more sprawl) as a way to “reduce” greenhouse gases.

Does the bill specifically state that road widening is not an allowable greenhouse gas reduction tactic?

I hope so.



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Filed under Environment, Sprawl, Suburbia, Transportation

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