Transportation in Sonoma County

From some perspectives, the transportation system in Sonoma County is pretty good. If you have a car and don't mind the cost of buying, fueling, maintaining and insuring it, and your activities don't require you to be on or near Highway 101 during the peak travel hours of the day, your travel may be accommodated pretty well. But if you don't fit this traveler description, it's not so good. You may have to choose between a place to live and a way to get to work.

Another perspective is how the transportation system looks from the outside of the car; when you are in your house, your yard, your neighborhood. If you can afford to, you probably pay more just to be away from its side effects – the noise, the danger of speeding and reckless drivers, the fumes, the ugliness of auto-oriented sell-scapes.

All of this "getting away from the traffic" brings people to Sonoma County, and encourages them to travel long distances after they get here, in the hope of avoiding the traffic related problems they sought to leave behind. Their use of the transportation system furthers its degradation..

Is it just going to keep getting worse? What could we do to make the transportation system compatible with a sustainable and enjoyable lifestyle for all? The SCTLC and many others are trying to figure that out. We remain optimistic that there can be a better transportation future for us all.

Another reason for optimism is the high cost of the current system. Although the changeover will have costs and disruptions, the long term prospect is for a lower cost transportation system. Why? Because by most measures, the U.S. transportation system, with its heavy dependence on automobiles, is one of the most expensive in the world. A redesigned system has little chance of being as costly.

More choices

Except for rail transit, which disappeared years ago, Sonoma County may appear to have the usual number of travel mode choices. Unfortunately, the ascending dominance of private motor vehicles has rendered them ineffective, as it has most everywhere else in the country.

The bus services in the County are pretty well run — the operating cost per passenger is comparable to many of the best bus systems. However, they are entirely too sparse to be taken seriously.

There are some reasons to be very concerned about the low levels of transit:

• Potential near term disruptions in the supply of oil.
• The beginning of the permanent decline in oil supply.
• Steps being taken toward rail passenger service.
•The reduction of Golden Gate Transit bus service.

To get serious about better choices, we should get away from the idea that we provide transit for the poor. Transit providers have been given the assignment of providing service for the poor, because the poor were left behind when the mainstream transportation system shifted from transit and walking to cars. They carried out their mandate, and the result is poor transit. It is transit for the people who only have one choice.

In Sonoma County average transit ridership is roughly 10 trips per person per year. Contrast this with LA, where the average is about 50, and Zurich, where it is about 500. Would anyone believe that Zurich got where it is by designing its transit for the poor?

New priorities

How are we to get from where we are today to a transportation system that better serves the citizens of Sonoma County? We could start by getting our priorities right. The SCTLC advocates new priorities as follows: pedestrians first, then bicyclists, then transit riders, then deliveries, and last, private autos.

This doesn't mean that all of the money being spent on cars will be spent on pedestrians instead. But it does mean that where there are conflicts, decisions are to favor the priority modes of transportation.

SCTLC is one of many organizations working toward the day when there will again be a choice. We are confident that it won't be too far off. At a later time we'll show why the current system is so costly, and why another can be both better and cheaper. We'll attempt to provide a satisfactory explanation of the arcane realm of  transportation funding and propose some improvements in funding mechanisms for Sonoma County.

12/2/04

 

 

Modes of transportation

transportation funding

transportation data sources

rail station access

campaign for transportation choices

transportation agencies

travel patterns

transportation safety