December 6, 2016

Sierra Club sues for better Regional Transportation Plan–current plan doesn’t deliver on public-transit, city-planning, or climate-change goals

Cleaning up greenhouse-gas emissions should be a major priority for any transportation plan. 580 and I80 Traffic Jam.

Cleaning up greenhouse-gas emissions should be a major priority for any transportation plan. 580 and I80 Traffic Jam. Photo: Flickr / Walter Parenteau (cc)

On Aug. 19 the Sierra Club, along with Earthjustice and Communities for a Better Environment, filed a lawsuit in Alameda County Superior Court challenging the most recent Regional Transportation Plan of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Association of Bay Area Governments (see “Will regional planning stumble on climate change?).

Plan Bay Area is supposed to serve as a multi-decade regional plan to improve the reliability, accessibility, and affordability of public transportation in the Bay Area and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions while overseeing smart growth to meet the demands of the area’s growing population.

The Plan falls short of these goals. The Plan does not spend enough on public transportation, and instead invests in building new highways. The current Plan will result in more time on the roads and increased greenhouse-gas emissions. The Plan also fails to protect West Oakland and other vulnerable communities from the health effects of cars, trucks, ships, and rail that pass through their communities. The Plan will also displace low-income residents and residents of color from their communities.

For $292 billion of spending, we deserve a plan that dramatically reduces greenhouse-gas emissions.

The lawsuit challenges the environmental review of the agencies’ Plan Bay Area under the California Environmental Quality Act.

Matt Williams of the Sierra Club Bay Chapter Executive Committee says, “Climate disruption is a threat to Bay Area families, yet our planning agencies have failed to reduce reliance on cars and trucks, the number-one source of climate–disrupting air pollution in California. We need a Plan Bay Area that expands public transportation and creates more affordable housing near these transit systems. Bay Area planners should make getting around town easier, cleaner, and more affordable.”

The legal challenge cites the following problems with Plan Bay Area.

  • Under the current Plan, people will be spending more time in their cars and more time on the roads. Through 2040 (the life-span of the current plan), the number of daily vehicle trips is expected to increase by 22%, and the number of miles travelled during peak travel times is expected to increase by 51%.
  • The Plan does not spend enough on shoring up inadequate public transportation systems, and in fact, invests valuable resources in building more highway lanes. Only 7% of the Plan’s total budget is dedicated to expanding public transportation.
  • The Plan proposes housing developments without committing to investments in the public transportation serving those communities.
  • The plan fails to protect the communities closest to major transportation hubs, highways, and ports from increased toxic air pollution, as the region increases freight movement around them. Instead it defers these issues for future study. Without smart planning, low-income communities and communities of color located near these hubs, like West Oakland, will suffer.
  • The Plan fails to address the population growth and rising housing costs of the San Francisco Bay Area, which are causing more people to move to areas with inadequate public transportation. It will drive more people to rely on cars for their daily commutes, worsening air pollution, quality of life, and traffic.

You can read the complaint at


  1. Very sad to know. The authorized people need to take vital steps to implement an Eco-friendly plan which can be better in terms of environment as well as individuals. And while implementing any transportation plan people safety should be the main motto of any government. Hope, considering the current scenarios thing will transform in the near future.

  2. Peter Hensel says:

    As another endangered suburbanite under Plan Bay Area, it’s hard for me to believe that the Sierra Club is actually aligning with the Building Industry, suing because Plan Bay Area does not go far enough.
    Do you think that we will have enough food and water for 2.1million new residents by 2035? That is the number that PBA seeks to accommodate.
    Hard to convince me that urbanization of the suburbs the answer to population growth—as PBA masterminds fervently maintain.
    Not if the underlying ecosystem collapses from the weight and pressures of way too many people!!!

  3. Don Forman says:

    Peter, these 2.1 million new residents are going to live somewhere. Would you prefer to build homes for them on wildlands, or on prime agricultural lands? Until we can limit population growth, we have to make tough choices, and building in already developed areas is better than extending development to new areas.

  4. william spicer says:

    Metropolitan Transportation Commission has failed in there mission. Where was the Sierra Club when they bought that building in San Francisco, oh I forgot Sierra club is San Francentric.
    It was a extreme waste of Money and makes it harder for people to appear at the hearing held at that location . I believe they are completely out if control.
    We need to get back control of this agency..
    Metropolitan Transportation Commission has gone astray….

  5. Our neanderthal planners need to take a lesson from Amsterdam and other European cities that have fully integrated bicycle transportation into their planning. WIth our brilliant Bay Area weather, there is simply no excuse for not focusing on this healthiest of all forms of transportation. We should settle for nothing less than the best here in the Bay Area, and we consistently get the same old stupid ideas from the past! Where are our true leaders! We need new ones obviously.

  6. Karen Westmont says:

    MTC, ABAG and the State of CA have made a more egregious mistake than is is stated in the lawsuit: Plan Bay Area plans on Increasing the number of in-commuters from outside the region. The planned projected housing excludes those households that were exiled in previous plans to the agricultural counties such as San Joaquin Co. and San Benito Co. (confirmed by an MTC official after a SPUR forum and by a CalTrans official). Plan Bay Area wants the workers but does not want to provide worker housing, and hence plans the same ratio of in-commuters as now. The rural counties in their coming round of housing planning will have to plan for the Bay Area’s exiled workers, thereby threatening more farmland and increasing long-distance commuters.
    No one is accountable for the costs in inter-regional air qualify and traffic from these in-commuters.
    In addition, effectively every county in Plan Bay Area plans to worsen its ratio of jobs/housing.
    Note that environmental groups seem to have missed this part of the massive mis=planning.

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