Sacramento Is Spinning Its Wheels in the Wrong Direction

With wildfires, tornadoes, drought, floods, hurricanes, and typhoons decimating communities across the globe, there is no denying we are in a climate crisis.

So what are our elected officials doing about it? In many ways, California stepped up to be a leader in setting climate action goals, at least as far as efforts in the U.S. go.

California’s Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 was the initial legislation to set a limit statewide on greenhouse gas emissions. This showed a state-level commitment to transition to a more sustainable energy economy. In 2016, the state passed a bill with even more stringent requirements, with the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030.

Just last month, Governor Newsom signed five new climate and energy bills into law.

Sacramento, however, is not evolving and continues to make decisions that only add to our climate crisis.

Measure A Will Set Us Back

Exhibit A is Measure A, the disastrous proposed tax increase that will appear on our November ballot. While being promoted as helping to fund transportation projects, let’s be clear. The priority will be building more roads and adding more lanes to existing roads and highways. As anyone who has studied transportation planning knows, you can’t build your way out of congestion. Additional space for cars only brings more cars, which lands you back where you started: clogged roads and increased emissions.

With the recent housing boom, proposed developments are being planned farther and farther outside of Sacramento, adding to our inbound commuting population. Many of these communities will not have mass transit access, leaving only one means of transportation to get around: the single-occupancy vehicle (SOV). In the U.S. vehicle emissions account for roughly a third of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Adding to the region’s congestion by serving these far-flung, low density single family developments with additional highways will prevent the state from reaching its climate goals, clear and simple. It’s bad for Sacramento and it’s bad for our planet.

But the issues surrounding Measure A and other such proposals go beyond climate. Our local leaders seem incapable of comprehending the lack of equity with regards to adding more vehicles and roads. Studies have shown that non-whites are exposed to 21% more air pollutants than California’s white population. It’s yet another blind eye turned to transportation inequality in our area and across U.S. cities.

And cars are expensive, often the second-highest monthly expenditure for folks, second only to rent or mortgage payments. Not everyone can afford a car, registration, and insurance, not to mention the constant consumption of gas needed to feed the beast. Instead of subsidizing driving, we should be dedicating resources to developing alternative, affordable, and convenient mass transit strategies to move more people in the most efficient and equitable manner possible.

Lastly, the proposed tax on the ballot is regressive, which means that everyone pays the same tax rate on purchases no matter their income level. It’s yet another hit to those who can afford it least.

Let’s Move Forward

Americans have turned the corner on accepting electric vehicles, which helps with emissions but not congestion. There’s a much simpler and obvious solution right in front of us and it’s not a newfangled invention, nor is it inaccessible to most. The solution is the humble bicycle.

What if we defeated (vote no on A!) the passage of Measure A? What if instead we held our elected officials accountable to provide safe and accessible transportation for everyone?

What would this look like? The possibilities are limitless, but as a community we should start with demanding a comprehensive, connected bicycling network that serves everyone in all areas of Sacramento—not just those who can afford cars. This would include bike lanes that are physically separated from cars, traffic signals that give priority to people biking or walking, intersections engineered to reduce crashes, and neighborhoods with ‘greenways’ or streets with speed limits of only 20 mph.

More than half of Americans from numerous cities have stated that they’re “interested but concerned” about riding a bike for transportation. Their concerns are centered around safety issues. If Sacramento County prioritized building safe, networked bike routes and paths, we could tap into this interest and increase our currently abysmal mode share, which hovers at 2%. The city’s bike mode share goal is 12%.

Instead of building more roads, what if we brought rapid bus transit to Sacramento. Instead of another highway to Folsom, why not invest in mass transit to connect our communities?

These are the types of initiatives that SABA could get behind and that would increase quality of life for so many residents of Sacramento County. And they would help reach the state’s reduced emissions goal.

With dedicated investments and a strategic plan, SABA believes we can get there, but not if Measure A passes in November.

The Time Is Now

COVID brought a boom to bicycling not seen in the U.S. in 50 years. People were comfortable riding bikes, often for the first time in decades, on emptier roads. We saw how clear skies were in many California cities during lockdown. Reducing the number of cars on our roads—in part by getting more folks on bikes—makes for a healthier lifestyle in many ways.

Cities closed roads off to cars (read that again) to build communal spaces for all to safely and happily enjoy during the pandemic. San Francisco closed the popular Golden Gate Park Road to cars and city officials faced a backlash when they tried to revert it back to automobile traffic. Bay Area cyclists recently celebrated a victory that keeps cars off the road permanently. Sadly, Sacramento only committed limited resources to such ‘green streets’ efforts; hence, we’ve not seen any lasting, long-term improvements.

There is nothing to suggest the uptick in cycling will be slowing down anytime soon. E-bikes have outsold electric vehicles in the U.S. the last two years. The number of Americans embracing bicycling is growing! This is a movement our city council and mayor should be celebrating and embracing.

Why do our elected officials support ‘if we build it, they will come’ for cars but not for bicycles? The last thing Sacramento needs is more cars.

What’s Next

So, what can you do?

  1. Vote NO on Measure A
  2. Get engaged: reach out to city council and state officials and tell them you want forward-looking transit solutions not more cars
  3. Ride your bike and help a neighbor or colleague get riding by helping with route suggestions
  4. Support SABA and increase our voice. We’re stronger together.

These are simple steps everyone in Sacramento can do to bring real change to our city.

Written by Amy Morfas, former deputy director of Bicycle Colorado and freelance writer at Inspired Content, LLC.

UPdate: Early returns in the November election show that Measure could be defeated. Read about it in the Sac Bee.