Sally Fitzgibbons Foundation

Beginning the Academic Essay

In this study, I want to explore three stages of congestion in San Francisco due to motorization. I want to begin by exploring the current status of San Francisco’s congestion. Secondly, I want to address the problems in terms of the environment, and how congestion affects overall health in the city. Finally, I want to show workable solutions that are being considered within the California Legislature to help reduce congestion in San Francisco.
The cost of living in San Francisco is continuing to rise, and residents have increasingly started moving to cheaper areas. Locals are now leaving San Francisco than any other city in the country. Some people are keeping their city jobs and taking on extreme commutes instead. “Super commuters”, individuals that commute more than 90 minutes to work, in the San Francisco metro area more than doubled from 2.3% in 2005 to 4.8 % in 2016. 3 While this is not a sizable portion of the overall population, the increase across the nation over the same period was only 0.4%. 1 For those who do commute, this probably comes as no surprise to drivers who spend hours idling on major freeways from either leaving or entering San Francisco. But, the city by the bay was ranked 5th in the world and 3rd in the country for having terrible traffic congestion in 2017, according to a study done by INRIX. 2 Los Angeles topped the list, as well as New York City. However, San Francisco, which is continuing to grow, and is expected to reach 1 million people by 2030, is joining the group of cities that contribute to major amounts of pollution and is looking to turn around this current trend. In another study done by the Harvard School of Public Health, air pollution from traffic congestion in 83 large urban areas throughout the country contributed to 2,200 premature deaths each year, costing the health care system $18 billion. 2 So, to combat environmental issues such as congestion. Congestion pricing is no longer being prolonged but instead moving steps towards a pilot, that would allow dense California cities to find a strategy that best fits each communities’ needs.
If one is residing in any large city where there are tons of people commuting daily, then chances are effects of traffic congestion are no stranger. This gridlock can have an incredible impact on an individual’s personal life, future, and safety. Finding a solution to the problem of congestion could mean a safe speedy improvement in the quality of life among residents. The first that comes to mind when people think of congested roadways is the delay. During the morning commute, there is additional stress because delays caused by traffic can make people late for work. And towards the end of the day, the afternoon rush is again frustrating, because the workday is over, and people want to get home and relax, which traffic is preventing. Along with spoiling a day in traffic, the constant stopping and starting in jams burns fuel at a higher rate than the smooth rate of travel on the open highway. This increase in fuel consumption cost commuter’s additional money for fuel and contributes to the number of emissions released by vehicles. These emissions create air pollution and are related to global warming.
Smog hanging over a city skyline is the most obvious form of air pollution. Although up close, smog is not visible, its effects can be damaging to life in San Francisco. So, sitting in a car on freeway surrounds drivers in toxins that are damaging to their health daily for those who commute. Scientist have thought that emissions from vehicles idling on crowded roadways are detrimental to health. So, in 2016 a study was done and published in the Environmental Health magazine. Researchers used models to estimate the amount of traffic congestion and fuel pollution in urbanized areas from 2000 to 2030, adjusting for expected emission improvements over the coming years. 4 Authors of the research noted that premature deaths and the public health care cost associated with congestion have been declining slightly over the last decade but are expected to rise in 2030. 4 Collectively, automobiles like cars and trucks account for nearly 1/5 of all the nations emissions, emitting nearly 24 lbs. of CO2 and other greenhouse gases for each gallon of gas. 3 It appears innate that cars burn more fuel the faster they are traveling. Yet, cars consume the most fuel when they are accelerating to speed. Maintaining a constant speed will burn a constant amount. It’s when one is forced to slow down for the army of orange traffic cones ahead, in what appears to be like a parking lot than a highway, is when cars start to eat up gas. The continuing change from accelerating to braking of stop-and-go traffic kills gas, and therefore pumps more pollution into the city’s air. The connection between driving and pollution isn’t always direct. One study suggests that emissions start to increase when the normal freeway speeds drop below 45 mph. Emissions also surge up dramatically as the average freeway speed increases to above 65 mph. 3 So, the optimal middle for fuel consumption and emissions from vehicles may be somewhere between 45 and 65 miles per hour. 3 Therefore, leaving a predicament among urban planners who are attempting to develop new roadways that will reduce congestion among San Francisco streets with concern to reducing the pollution that traffic causes. Laying out traffic cones for major freeway expansion projects sends air-quality plunging, but the hope for these improved freeways is that once done, everyone will be able to cruise along the freeway at regular speeds. Ironically, since the average freeways speed for non-congested traffic is around 70 mph and above, air-quality will likely not improve and may worsen once those highway improvements are finished. The effects of pollutants found in the vehicle’s exhaust are significantly damaging to people living in urban areas like San Francisco. Elevated levels of nitrogen oxide are toxic to humans and Sulfur dioxide is the primary cause of acid rain. 4 Carbon dioxide is a major contributor to climate change as it insolates more heat into the atmosphere from the sun. And a polluted ozone can lead to health problems such as impaired lung function, especially for children and adults with asthma, with greater numbers of sufferers resulting in high traffic urbanized areas. 4 San Francisco, being a green leader, has taken a more ambitious approach to congestion within the city and has begun to plan to reduce congestion at and near central locations within the city as well reduce its associated environmental impacts, including cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
Drivers will soon need to pay a fee to enter downtown San Francisco. In a bid to tackle worsening traffic in the Bay Area, and to boost use of public transit, new legislation has allowed the creation of congestion pricing programs in the state. 4 Congestion pricing requires drivers to pay a fee in the form of a toll to enter specific parts of a city, usually a downtown city or dense urban area. The concept has been pitched for San Francisco before and has often met great opposition.
First introduced in mid-February, Assembly Bill 3059, a Congestion Pricing Demonstration Pilot Project called the Go Zone Demonstration Programs. 5 The bill would remove legal barriers at the state level and allow local jurisdictions to pass their own congestion pricing pilot programs, called “Go Zones,” in four unnamed California cities. 5 The bill says two pilots would be in Southern California and two in Northern California. Existing law prohibits local entities from “imposing a tax, permit fee or other charge” in ways that would create congestion pricing programs. Should the bill be approved, San Francisco would have the go-ahead to form its own congestion pricing pilot. A study conducted by the San Francisco Department of Public Health in 2011 found that charging drivers $3 to enter downtown could reduce collisions with pedestrians citywide by 5 percent. 6 Within downtown itself, collisions would decrease even further, by 9 percent. 6 The Bay Area is moving forward and implemented their own trials of congestion pricing. For example, the toll on the Bay Bridge was raised from $4 to $6 during rush hours to help loosen congestion. Toll lanes also received a price increase when traffic increases on interstate 680, a congested freeway that links commuters from the East Bay and Silicon Valley. Multiple projects are on their way as toll lanes are slated for highway 237 in the South Bay, and for Interstate 580 in the East Bay, higher tolls during peak hours are being considered for more inland bridges such as the Vallejo and Benicia bridges. San Francisco officials have floated a plan to charge motorist driving in downtown. So far, the experiments have yielded mixed results as traffic on the Bay Bridge has dropped 2.35% during the morning commute and 3.45% in the afternoon since the tolls were raised. 6 Hours between 5 and 10 AM, and 3 and 7 PM on weekdays the toll is $6, which is $2 more than the regular rate. Now, it’s unclear if congestion pricing will still be tough to convince residents in “The City”. As in 2016, many residents were overwhelmingly against congestion pricing. When surveyed, a majority, 72% said they were opposed to a scheme like this. 6 But other the past two years, a lot has changed and now, congestion within San Francisco has become the grand topic among business owners, drivers, and cyclist. Traffic congestion has also contributed to traffic related injuries and has raised concern among public health officials, and locals place blame on TNCs such as Ubers and Lyft drivers who swarm from around the bay to the quaint, San Francisco neighborhoods. Introduction of the bill would help immensely in reducing traffic around San Francisco’s central business district (CBD), along with reducing greenhouse gases in the densest parts of the city. The bill does indicate a few details and does contain requirements such as local regulations would need to specify the duration of the congestion pricing demonstration pilot, as well as the amount charged from congestion pricing. Collection and enforcement mechanisms would also need to be outlined by local authorities, and they would need an active transportation plan to implement alternatives, among “other necessary and related matters”. 6 Response to the bill is already dividing along expected lines, with transportation advocates in support and business groups voicing caution. So, now, congestion pricing is still in the works, however, it shall appear soon on the streets to regulate the incoming traffic of a growing population. As well as reduce the multitudes of unfriendly CO2 emissions that are spilled in congested traffic. Pricing on overcrowded streets will help stimulate the economy and appears to be San Francisco’s best option when it comes to collecting the tax to repair the cities numerous crumbling roads.

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