San Antonio Needs A Clear Vision for Transportation Sustainability

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Commuters board a VIA Metropolitan Transit bus at the corner of Travis Street and St. Mary's Street.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Commuters board a VIA Metropolitan Transit bus at the corner of Travis Street and St. Mary's Street.

In keeping with other U.S. cities, emission inventories show that power generation and transportation are the two main sources of carbon pollution, making up 80% of San Antonio’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Fortunately, CPS Energy has been a national leader in solar and wind energy, and aggressive in the pursuit of energy conservation. It was just named “Power Utility of the Year” by the Smart Electric Power Alliance due to its leading-edge efforts in renewable energy, energy storage, and distributed energy.

By comparison, local progress in reducing vehicular travel is “flat/getting worse” according to the SA2020 dashboard. Appropriately, the SA Tomorrow Sustainability Plan, adopted on Aug. 11, 2016, calls for a substantial 26% reduction in vehicle miles per person from 2013 to 2040. (One vehicle going one mile is a vehicle mile.)

Reducing vehicle miles travel has many positive impacts beyond just environmental ones. A mere 10% reduction in vehicle miles of travel would, for example, increase average household disposable income in San Antonio by nearly $600 per year and reduce annual auto accidents by more than 2,200. The State of California now requires transportation and land development plans to be evaluated based on the expected reductions in vehicle miles.

Lessons can be learned by studying the only three urbanized areas the size of San Antonio that have reduced their average vehicle miles per capita in the last 20 years: Portland, Ore., Sacramento, Calif., and San Jose, Calif. All three cities have opened light rail systems in the last two decades, have less than 0.9 mile of freeway per 10,000 population, and have increased population density to at least 3,500 persons per square mile.

By comparison, San Antonio has a relatively underfunded bus transit system, more than 1.5 miles of freeway per 10,000 population, and a density essentially the same as Portland’s in 1995. In the 20 years ending in 2015, the average vehicle miles per capita in the San Antonio urbanized area has increased by 6.7%.

Unless San Antonio wants to see vehicle miles continue to climb, it needs to develop a 21st century transit funding approach, redirect road investment to improve local street networks, and continue to integrate multimodal transportation with efficient land development.

3 thoughts on “San Antonio Needs A Clear Vision for Transportation Sustainability

  1. With regulations that support lower density in the city’s core, like the Beacon Hill NCD standards, SA will never be able to support good transit, will continue to be not affordable to most, and promote sprawl. SA gives NA/NCD’s too much power to make decisions for the current city home owners and these decisions do not take into consideration future generations and renters.

  2. Having historic Districts is great. San Antonio is doing a great job at preserving the past, HOWEVER, you can’t save everything. Every neighborhood can’t be ‘Historic’. The historic designation is already blocking the natural maturing of the City. Trinity University growth has been choked off and areas adjacent to urbanized areas are going to form awkward walls and property tax rate confusion and disputes. Sensible development with thought being given to the future as well as the historic would be best.

  3. Via makes it harder to ride the buses, not easier. What was an easy park n ride suddenly had not enough parking. Then they changed the routes so you have to pay for a transfer and transfer in what was before a straight shot which also added more time to the commute.

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