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Impact of Sea Level Rise Headlines Bay Area Environment Data on Interactive Website

Final Phase of Vital Signs Data Initiative Launched Online

Depending on the magnitude of sea level rise over the coming decades, between 3 percent to 7 percent of Bay Area residents may be vulnerable to rising tides. Even with the most modest forecast for sea level rise — 12 inches from today’s levels — 220,000 residents in our region alone will be affected. These region-specific estimates of one of the more significant potential impacts of global climate change are contained in the latest round of data released as part of MTC’s Vital Signs website project (, an interactive compendium of key indicators affecting Bay Area quality of life. This data module, titled Vital Signs: Environment, covers such topics as greenhouse gas emissions, air quality and sea-level rise as well as roadway safety issues. The release rounds out the first complete cycle of Vital Signs performance indicators, joining earlier 2015 releases dealing with Transportation, Land and People, and the Economy.  

The sea level rise projections show that, despite the Bay Area’s commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, our region is not immune to a global trend that may seriously affect low-lying coastal areas across the world. The Vital Signs site contains an interactive map that allows users to zoom in on areas of specific interest, including their own community or neighborhood. “In addition to providing information of keen interest to individual residents, the map also will assist policymakers,” said MTC’s Vital Signs Project Manager Dave Vautin. “Understanding which neighborhoods are most at risk from rising tides should help the region set key priorities when it comes to building transportation facilities, adapting existing facilities to higher sea levels and planning for growth.”

Planning for the likelihood of rising Bay and sea levels is well underway in the Bay Area. MTC, in partnership with BART, Caltrans District 4 and the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission conducted a pilot study (PDF), released in December 2014, that assessed climate change and extreme weather vulnerability and adaptation options for transportation infrastructure in three Alameda County subareas. This project built upon earlier work done as part of the Adapting to Rising Tides (ART): Transportation Vulnerability and Risk Assessment Pilot Project (PDF), the results of which were released in November 2011.

In addition to the estimates of sea-level rise impacts, the Vital Signs: Environment release includes data on greenhouse gas emissions, Bay restoration, and air quality in terms of both ozone concentrations and particulate concentrations.  Another major focus of this release is roadway safety, with data showing both injuries and fatalities resulting from crashes involving motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists. Among the key findings:

  • The concentrations of particulate matter in the air have dropped by nearly half in the Bay Area since 2000.
  • Ozone levels are more than one-third lower today than at their high point in the 1970s.
  • The Bay Area has the second-lowest concentrations of ozone among major metro areas in the U.S.
  • 23 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions were attributable to Bay Area transportation in 2012.
  • Per-capita greenhouse gas emissions in San Francisco are half the regional average.
  • 968 acres were added to San Francisco Bay in 2013.
  • 18,482 acres have been restored to San Francisco Bay since 1969.
  • 360 people were killed as a result of traffic crashes on Bay Area roads in 2012 (approximately one per day).
  • Fatalities from crashes declined by 38 percent between 1991 and 2012.
  • The Bay Area has the third-lowest rate of traffic fatalities among major U.S. metro area.
  • In the Bay Area, 20 percent of serious injuries from crashes were sustained by pedestrians in 2012.
  • Bicyclists accounted for approximately 1 in 12 traffic fatalities in 2012.
  • Injuries from crashes declined by 16 percent in the Bay Area between 2001 and 2012.

The Vital Signs project was developed in cooperation with the Association of Bay Area Governments, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, and the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission.  

— Joe Curley

Video: Vital Signs Environment

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