By Michael Park
Posted February 5, 2004
Since its founding in 1972, the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission never intended to meet the transportation needs of residents. Rather, it has sought to shape their travel habits and manipulate their lives through behavior modification programs, the diversion of funds into fiscally irresponsible and largely unwanted alternative projects, and the intentional negligence of much-needed highway improvements.
The year was 1975. The Vietnam War had ended and the Watergate culprits were put in jail. OPEC voted to raise oil prices by ten percent, NASA sent the first Viking probe on a trip to Mars, and Pol Pot came to power in Cambodia.
Fully a third of the people currently living in Santa Cruz hadn’t been born, but the effects of that year continue to touch our lives. 1975 was the year that the first Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) was established in Santa Cruz County and a generation of manipulation and behavior modification began.
Since its founding a few years earlier in 1972, the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission never intended to meet the transportation needs of residents. Rather, it has sought to shape their travel habits and manipulate their lives through the diversion of funds into fiscally irresponsible and largely unwanted alternative projects, and the intentional negligence of much-needed highway improvements.
A plan for Santa Cruz County transportation
The first RTP was idealistic, ambitious and aggressive. The only thing it wasn’t, was realistic. It called for strategic planning over the next two decades that would get one in four drivers out of their cars. Accordingly, it projected a significant rise in transit use.
Henry Baker, Deputy Director of the Planning Department, told the Board of Supervisors that in order to gain that share of transit patronage (an astounding 30%), they would have to bait people with a carrot and discipline them with a stick. Make it easy to use, he said, with reliable service and improved scheduling, and it will be attractive. But if that doesn’t work, make auto usage difficult, costly, and inconvenient. “Permit road congestion to increase,” he said. “Do not build in anticipation of demand.”
The Regional Transportation Commission knew in 1975 that roadway expansion was needed in order to alleviate rising congestion — and the need would only become more urgent as the years passed — but it hoped to preclude roadway expansion by pursuing alternate forms of transportation.
Plan not working, more aggressive behavior modification
In 1986, after more than a decade of planning transportation according to the strategy outlined in Baker’s presentation, the Transportation Commission released a revised RTP. It wasn’t the first revision, but it came at a time when one might expect that certain goals had been accomplished.
On the contrary, the 1986 plan was replete with statistics showing that auto use had actually grown a small amount, while the use of alternative modes had declined slightly. Highway 1 would have to be widened, the plan said, or traffic would be totally gridlocked by 1995. If nothing was done by 2005, six lanes would be insufficient; it would take eight lanes to make a dent in congestion. Public input at various Commission-sponsored workshops indicated there was a “major concern about increase in traffic congestion on local streets and highways and the need to increase the capacity of the transportation system.” Thus, highway widening became a “high priority” action item in the 1986 RTP.
However, “high priority” status meant little in the end because, instead of changing the strategies to meet the demands of the public, the Commission continued on its mission to change the public to meet its pre-determined goals.
Supervisor Gary Patton, who told a group of open-space advocates in 1984 that the role of planners had shifted from anticipating future demand to molding future demand, placated his constituents by reassuring them that the highway widening project was the Commission’s “very highest priority”. In hindsight, this is chilling, for one hears the same rhetoric more than sixteen years later — but nothing has been accomplished!
In actuality, Patton and the other members of the Commission were employing a technique in transportation planning called Transportation Systems Management (TSM). One component of TSM is Demand Management, which, according to Patton, seeks to “modify the behavior of those persons [using the highways] so as to reduce traffic flows…” Nearly two decades later, transportation planning experts still can’t find the data to show that Demand Management works.
Linda Wilshusen, Executive Director of the Transportation Commission, expressed her opinion in 1988 that “this concept of ‘traffic management’ has very little to do with science and engineering and a lot to do with sociology, marketing and behavior modification, as well as land use, parking and fuel availability, demographics and the like.” Wilshusen continues to be one of the biggest proponents of unpopular and fiscally irresponsible projects.
A Generation of Manipulation and Behavior Modification by Michael Park