Subway freeway expansion negates agency’s other greenhouse gas reduction efforts – Streetsblog Los Angeles

In a damning report assessing Metro’s contribution to the climate crisis, Metro found that its transit initiatives are insufficient to offset the significant increase in greenhouse gases resulting from Metro’s freeway expansion projects.

While such a finding comes as no surprise, the report, titled Climate Emissions Assessment: Metro’s Indirect Impact on Greenhouse Gas Emissions Report, represents a change from Metro’s past of refusing to tie Metro freeway expansion to the increase in emissions.

In 2020, Richard Clarke, Metro’s then chief construction officer, said, “Most of our projects don’t affect vehicle miles traveled or greenhouse gas emissions because they focus on places specific areas where congestion already exists.” This kind of lie was often repeated by Abdollah Ansari, then Metro’s highway chief.

Metro has often described climate impacts as something beyond the agency’s purview. In 2020, for example, Metro’s staff report blamed regional development for taking housing too far away from jobs. And a November 2021 Metro staff report regarding road program impacts noted that “GHG [greenhouse gas] production and reductions go beyond assets controlled by Metro.

These dodgy rationalizations have allowed Metro to more than double its capital budget for freeway widening in the past two years.

Clarke and Ansari have since moved on.

New CEO Stephanie Wiggins has pledged to make climate one of her top priorities. And today, Metro has started to recognize how badly its freeway expansions are harming the climate.

The report quantified the climate impacts of the metro’s current initiatives – bus and rail transit, active transportation, and road expansion (“new track miles”) – as well as a possible future congestion pricing initiative.

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Chart showing the greenhouse gas impacts of Metro’s current and proposed initiatives – via Metro Report

Metro includes two different methodologies for estimating the amount of additional driving (VMT – vehicle-kilometres traveled) that will result from the agency’s planned road/highway expansion. The low estimate comes from a relatively conservative model from the Southern California Association of Governments. The highest estimate comes from the UC Davis Induced Travel Demand Calculator.

Overall, through to 2047, metro transit and active transportation initiatives are expected to reduce GHG emissions per 2.7 million MTCO2e (million metric tons of CO2 equivalent).

Meanwhile, expansions of metro routes increase GHG emissions per 2.6 million at 10.1 million MTCO2e.

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Metro chart showing comparison of greenhouse gas emissions. The two red boxes represent the high and low estimates of increases in greenhouse gas emissions due to the expansion of metro routes. The thin green boxes represent the Metro’s current transit and active transportation initiatives. The blue congestion pricing box represents a possible future initiative not yet approved. Chart via Metro Report

In response to staff’s findings, members of Metro’s Board of Directors addressed several issues.

LA County Supervisor Hilda Solis said the damaging effects of Metro’s freeway expansion go beyond climate, noting Metro’s plans to demolish neighborhoods along the 605 and 5 freeways.

LA Mayor Eric Garcetti wondered if the increased adoption of electric cars would reduce the increase in GHG emissions from the expansion of the Metro Freeway. Staff responded that the predicted levels of electric car adoption had already been factored into the emissions figures. Garcetti requested a December 2022 report on electrification and emissions. [Garcetti will leave the Metro board of directors in December, when his mayoral term ends.]

The climate emergency is already evident around the world, including record high temperatures in the United States last month and high and low temperature alerts in California this week – along with drought, wildfires, coastal erosion, etc. This crisis is real. At present.

It is heartening that Metro is finally acknowledging its own role in climate breakdown. Then comes the most difficult step: taking action. As Streets for All founder Michael Schneider explained in an op-ed in the LA Times this week, Metro needs to “completely stop investing in freeway expansion.” Hopefully today’s report confirming Metro’s contributions to the shows will inspire Metro management to respond with the urgency it deserves. Soon it will be too late.

Amanda J. Marsh