Climate Action Plan for Transportation – Bay Area Scenario

CA High Speed Rail

A growing number of people want to live, work, and enjoy life in the San Francisco Bay Area, now home to 7 million. With the population growth, emissions have grown from cars, buses, trucks, and a variety of on-road vehicles.

By 2020 on-road vehicular greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions can be less than in 1990. By 2035, emissions can be 61 percent less and 80 percent less by 2050 due to a variety of strategies discussed in this scenario, which outlines a reduction from over 28 million tons of CO2e this year to only 5.2 million tons by 2050. There are five major drivers in lowering emissions and improving our lives:

1.     Focused Growth Enabling Reduced Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT)

2.     Connected Transit

3.     Electric Vehicles

4.     Efficient Fleets using Low Carbon Fuels

5.     Employer and Community Programs

Currently the Bay Area is being asked to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent by 2035. Some argue that this will be difficult because we will add 1.5 million people. Yet average emissions of gasoline cars are falling. New CAFÉ standards are mandatory. This scenario shows that average car emissions are likely to fall from 438 CO2 g/m today to 194 CO2 g/m, a number that is still less than today’s Prius. Over the next 25 years we can do better in reducing emissions and we will with the focused growth being planned, better transit, electric vehicles that cost less to run than today’s gas guzzlers, employer and community programs.

All of these strategies are discussed in this paper. Early Bay Area success stories are shared.  In theory, just one of these strategies would accomplish our goal of GHG reduction. Most likely, it will be a combination such as the one described in this scenario paper. Throughout the Bay Area, different communities and programs will emphasize different strategies.

The California Energy Commission forecasts over 1.5 million electric vehicles for California by 2020. By 2020, electric cars are likely to be less expensive to buy and are already less expensive to fuel than current gasoline models.  Off-peak smart charging, renewable energy, and hybrid cars to hybrid heavy vehicles using low carbon fuels will further contribute to shrinking emissions.

VMT peaked in the SF Bay Area in 2005 at 57.8 billion VMT and has already declined by over one billion miles due to a range of factors including record urban density, growth of transit use, and flexwork requiring less travel. Some planners now argue that we should assume the return of VMT growth and widen highways, encouraging urban sprawl. Instead we can reduce GHG by implementing the focused growth facilitated by SB375 and encourage more transit-oriented development.

By 2050, this scenario envisions 3.9 million vehicles in the SF Bay Area; lower than today’s 4.6 million, even though population will grow by over 2 million people. There will be fewer cars, but more rail, buses, car sharing, and hybrid trucks with low carbon fuels. This summarizes SF Bay’s transportation future (numbers are tons of CO2e):

SF Bay 80 2050

Even though this scenario envisions a better life for people in the Bay Area, it may not happen because it requires investing in public transportation, cleaner vehicles, and focused growth. Eighty percent by 2050 will happen if people ride clean, ride together, and ride less. The report on the following pages outlines alternative strategies to achieve each 2050 goal:

1.     Passenger vehicle GHG emissions will dropping to one-third of today’s average, reduced vehicle miles traveled (VMT), and due to a modest reduction in the number of vehicles. VMT will result from focused growth, better transit, and safe routes for increased walking and bicycling.

2.     Heavy-duty vehicle GHG emissions will drop 2 percent annually until 2020, then 3 percent annually until 2050. Delivery fleets are buying hybrid and electric vans.

3.     Bus GHG emissions will increase slowly even though ridership may triple by 2050. Transit operators like Muni are using electric buses, and AC Transit hydrogen fuel cell buses. Light-rail, BRT, and connected systems will make transit more efficient.

This scenario only covers on-road vehicle emissions. This scenario does call for political leadership and market signals so that people will want to increasingly ride clean, ride together, and ride less.

Climate Action Bay Area Transportation Paper (PDF)


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About Author: John Addison

Founder of the Clean Fleet Report, author of Save Gas, Save the Planet. John writes about electric cars, renewable energy, and sustainability.

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