One thing that I have notices in all of this discussion about Santa Cruz County Transportation problems is that none of the politicians or planners seem willing to take a look at the big picture. Everyone looks at one little facet of the problem--UCSC traffic, bad transit, San Jose commuters, Santa Cruz city traffic, Highway 1 traffic, etc. To really find a cohesive, extensive, and ultimately successful transportation plan, we must look at all of these parts--what they are, how they interconnect, what role they play in the problems that plague our county. As a result of this, I have decided to create a subsection of my web site devoted to some solutions to the county transportation problems, viewed from as large and interconnected a perspective as possible.
Problems with past approaches
To my mind, the problem with our county's approach to our transportation problems is that it doesn't take into acount all aspects of the problem, instead focusing on one segment of the problem and being surprised when a solution to that subproblem doesn't solve the problem as a whole. Take for example the recent (1998) Major Transportation Investment Study (MTIS). The results of this study found that no matter what transportation solution is chosen (either increased rail, bus, or highway widening), traffic along Highway 1 will continue to get worse over the next 15 to 20 years. The widening was the only alternative of the eight studied that would lessen the degree of congestion, but congestion would still continue. Why did widening have more success than transit? Because of the focus of the study. The study looked exclusively at the Watsonville-to-Santa Cruz/UCSC commute. All of the transit options focussed on this commute; however the widening proposal would in reality have a broader appeal. Widening the highway would benefit not only those commuting into Santa Cruz, but also all truck traffic in the corridor, and commuters to Scotts Valley and San Jose. None of the transit options studied would have helped these additional people, thus limiting their success in overall reduction of automobile traffic. Also, few of the transit options (especially the rail options) would have helped increase the effectiveness of the Highway 17 Express bus, currently the only mass transit option for San Jose commuters. Thus, the fact that the study limited its focus to a sizable but not uniquely large segment of the commute population limited the overall appeal and successfulness of its studied options.
Looking at the issue in another way, why did mas transit fail versus widening? The MTIS study found that the majority (about 80%) of the transit boardings for the transit options studied would occur between Capitola and UCSC. The reason for this is that people in this area are already used to taking mass transit instead of driving. Many have no other choice. Those that live in Aptos, however, are more likely to be Highway 17 commuters, who currently have no choice but to drive to work, or at least drive to Dominican Hospital or Scotts Valley to catch the Highway 17 Express. These drivers must be incluced in any comprehensive county transporation plan. They were left out of the MTIS.
Highway 17 commuters, especially those from Mid and South County, are less likely to give up their cars. This is because of limited options, due to the uncompacted nature of housing in this county. Standard mass transit via slow busses, frequent stops, and multiple connections will not draw these people, nor anyone else who currenty used cars as a primary means of transporation, out onto mass transit. While these people won't switch easily to standard mass transit, their longer commute does make them ripe for change to a mass transit system targeted to thier needs. This means a low-cost, convenient, fast, and efficient transportation such as express bus or light rail system. This is how the current light rail system in San Jose works--people from moderately-populated areas such as the Almaden Valley drive, walk, bike, or take the bus to a park and ride located at a station, then take the light rail up to either their destination or transfer to an express bus or shuttle bus to within a few blocks of their destination. It works, and it can work for Santa Cruz County. It will help draw more people out of their cars than any of the MTIS options.
While I don't doubt its effectiveness, I do doubt its cost effectivness. Any solution to our transportation problems will cost a very large amount of money, but to be worth the investment it must be able to attract a large number of riders. The MTIS study showed that attracting just UCSC students and staff won't work--you need to appeal to more segments of the population. You need to attract Highway 17 commuters, Cabrillo College students, employees at Watsonville, Harvey West, Live Oak, and Natural Bridges industrial parks, seniors, lower income county residents, and especially tourists. To do this wil require coordinated efforts from city, county, transit, and state governments and organizations to allow the entire integrated transportation system to work together seemlessly. Nothing of the sort has happend as of yet. Santa Cruz officials warn of the end of the world if Highways 1 and 17 are widened and improved, but only offer as alternatives undefined solutions that address solely internal Santa Cruz problems. Mid and South County officials call Santa Cruz's bluff on the widening issue, but aren't willing to take the blame for causing the problem through massive unplanned development and few mass transportation options in their jurisdictions. Until we can come together on this, the year 2020 will come along and we'll all still be sitting in traffic.Some Solutions
Now I appologize for being so gloom and doom in those previous paragraphs, but it's unfortunately the state of affairs right now in this county. I'll now move on to some solutions. There are some different ways one can approach the problem. No matter which way you look at it, the key to the system is diversification--many different modes, allowing different options for the diferent needs of our diverse community. Roads must be widened and improved. Bike lanes and bikeways must be added. Bus service must be improved. Light rail can be added. No one mode of transportation can fix the problem, at least not in the long term.
I will now look at each component of the system individually, and then discuss how they fit together:
Our county road system is in shambles. The problem is that the whole system was designed poorly. Part of the reason so many people use Highway 1 is because they have few or no fast or direct alternatives. The Broadway/Brommer extension by the yacht harbor must be built, at least as a bikeway, to increase alternatives parallel to Highway 1. More through traffic should be encouraged in Aptos and Rio Del Mar to reduce the demand on Highway 1 and Soquel Drive. Many of the interchanges and bridges along Highway 1 should be widened and improved. I applauded the recent work to signalize the interchanges at Rio Del Mar Bl. and State Park Drive. The interchange at Soquel Avenue/Soquel Drive is also way too congested and needs major improvement and redesigning.
I also feel that new vehicle and pedestrian overpasses, especially in Live Oak, are desparately needed. Such an overcrossing at either 17th or Chanticleer Avenues would help reduce traffic on the Soquel Drive and 41st Avenue bridges, thus reducing congestion some at those intersections. This is again part of my drive for diversity--spread the traffic out over a wider area, thus allowing more direct traffic flow and reducing congestion. Politics and NIMBYism ("Not In My BackYard") have led to most of our county's traffic being focused in a couple of key corridors (Highway 1 freeway, Mission Street, Soquel Drive, etc.) and little traffic everywhere else, which has led to traffic volumes beyond the capacities of those corridors. Spreading out the traffic more uniformly by creating and enhancing parallel corridors will lead to less congestion in the transportation system as a whole. Such a method also reduces the effects of "induced traffic" (where people migrate to a newly improved road and recreate congestion) because the alternative routes are just as attractive as the improved ones in terms of directness and speed of travel.
Induced traffic is a concern of many people when it comes to widening Highway 1. It is a real phenomenon, and it cannot be eliminated. However, I don't see it as a major problem along the Highway 1 corridor, and what little there is can be reduced and managed effectively. First of all, over the majority of Highway 1 from Santa Cruz to Aptos, there are few road alternatives that allow the speed and directness of travel that Highway 1 does, especially east of Capitola. Thus, there are few roads from which the induced traffic can come from. The majority of induced traffic will probably occur between Highway 17 and Soquel Avenue in Santa Cruz, already the most congested portion of Highway 1. The best way to manage this is to create more incentives for traffic to stay on parallel arterial streets such as Soquel Avenue and Water Street instead of taking the freeway, by increasing the amount and width of lanes, the appearance of safety while driving down those streets, and the syncronization of traffic signals. Some induced traffic in this section will also be caused by any eventual reconstruction of the Highway 1/17 interchange (the Fishhook), where people currently taking detours along the neighborhoods northeast of the interchange will go back to the highways again. But this and any other induced traffic can also be managed by concurrent increases in targeted bus or light rail service, which will take some of the normal and some of the induced traffic off the highway.
In terms of the actual widening, there are many options. The next page will detail my views on what is best and why I feel that way.
Comments? Questions? Corrections?
E-mail Jeff Waller (email@example.com)