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The City of Sacramento Earns a Climate Participation Trophy

On February 8th, Sacramento City Council held a Transportation and Climate Workshop to discuss a variety of issues in preparation for unveiling a Climate Action Plan later this year.

A number of speakers involved in public transportation policy, both locally and from other cities, were given time to speak and gave some interesting and compelling presentations on things that have worked for them in the past, or on plans they have for the future.

All compelling stuff, and if you’re a policy nerd it’s worth a listen.

The city of Sacramento, however, decided to ignore the bold ambition and thorough detail provided by their guest speakers, and instead unveiled what they are calling “7 Big Ideas” to fight climate change and reduce emissions.

The “7 Big Ideas” are as follows:

Jackrabbit Trail

Niños Parkway

Two Rivers Trail

Morrison Creek Trail

Sacramento River Parkway

Low stress bikeways within 4 miles of the grid

Stockton Blvd bus lanes

In case you missed it: the first five “big ideas” are all bike trails.

Specifically, the city wants to create what they call Bikeway Super Highways, which connect all of the various bike trails within the city, making it easier for cyclists to get around. Idea #6 is in the same vein, but focused on improving streets to be more bike-friendly so that people within 4 miles of downtown are able to safely make it into downtown on a bike.

These are all positive things to do, and the city should absolutely do each one of them. But this is at best 3 Medium Ideas. No shade to city staff, but listing the 5 bike trails as 5 separate ideas feels like a classic high school trick to pad out your homework so it seems more detailed than it actually is.

More importantly, though, the ambition and sense of urgency necessary to have any hope of solving the climate crisis feels totally absent from this proposal. Making Sacramento more bike-friendly is a great goal, and if it had been presented in a different context it would be praiseworthy.

Unfortunately, it was instead presented as a series of Big Ideas to solve the climate crisis, and this list is simply not up to the task. Bike trails will simply never achieve anywhere close to sufficient emission reductions on their own, nor will bus lanes for a single street, nor will any of the previous work the city has done to improve electric vehicle infrastructure.

Anne Stausboll from the Mayor’s Commission on Climate Change put it best

What needs to be said is that we are moving way too slowly and too tentatively. The city hasn’t yet truly committed to the massive undertaking that’s needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The seven proposals presented by city staff are called ‘big ideas’, but the reality is that they are baby steps. As in the past, we’re leaving the big ideas to another day, and by that day we may have missed our opportunity.

That same commission made much bolder recommendations to the city, and has apparently been ignored.

Henry Li, from Sacramento RT, laid out a plan to increase public transit services by 85%, which he says would be the equivalent of eliminating 15 million car trips annually. His proposal appears to have been ignored.

Numerous presenters and members of the public who called in to make comments emphasized the dire urgency on this issue and the importance of taking bold steps instead of half-measures. The city appears to be ignoring them too.

Fortunately it is not too late to push the city into taking real action. The city was unclear about the timing of the next climate workshop, but it is likely to take place in March, and a number of council members seem to recognize that a better plan is necessary.

Alongside the usual suspects Katie Valenzuela and Mai Vang, Rick Jennings made several comments indicating that he feels the urgency of the climate crisis on a personal level. Even Jeff Harris, in the middle of a typically out of touch comment about how easy it is to lease electric vehicles, made some statements indicating that he recognizes the importance of spending quite a lot of money in order to address climate change.

If Councilmembers Vang and Valenzuela are able to find allies, it’s still very possible that the final Climate Action Plan will be something worth talking about.

But the city is very much not there yet. Please call in next month to make public comments for the next workshop.

Laurie with 350 Sacramento: laid into the City for taking half measures that are basically “delaying tactics”, emphasized how urgent this issue is and how solving it will take real action and not just performative gestures.

Daphne: made great points about how inequitable current transit is, as well as how inequitable some of the alternatives to it (such as a focus on electric vehicles, which are $20,000 on the cheap end) can be.

Roger: pointed out that currently there is more money than ever available for transportation and climate projects, and that the challenge for the city is to come up with the matching funds, but it's very possible to get a good amount of money.

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