Is San Diego Ready for California’s Climate Protection Act?

Bike Lane with Bus

State planning officials have been working to change the way traffic impacts are analyzed, from level of service (LOS), a car centric measurement, to vehicle miles traveled (VMT), a multi-modal measurement, pursuant to the recently passed Senate Bill 743.  

But is our San Diego region traffic planning world and local jurisdictions really ready to implement the change? It appears the answer is “no” for the most part, but they should be. With the adoption of SB 743, known as the “Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act,” the legislative intent is clear… “to encourage land use and transportation planning decisions and investments that reduce vehicle miles traveled and contribute to the reductions in greenhouse gas emissions...” The connection between vehicles miles traveled and the reduction of greenhouse gases is important to California where the main source of greenhouse gas emissions is from vehicles  

In order to achieve our climate action goals, we must drive less, which means we need to carefully locate development so that driving is not the primary mode of transportation. New development needs to be located near transit, bicycle, and pedestrian facilities. There is no better way to consider location than tracking how far people must travel to and from said location, in other words, tracking VMT.  

Here is why it is important for jurisdictions—rural and urban—to adopt the new VMT standards:

  1. First and foremost, because it will be the law of the land.
  2. Second, to start highlighting—with meaningful data—the locational concerns of proposed projects.
  3. Third, to extract multi-modal mitigation (actual physical improvements) from project developers.

This last one is important. With VMT measured impacts we can start to build actual multi-modal mitigation projects—improved bike lanes, sidewalks, and connections to transit—as a result of new development impacts. Currently, impacts to LOS only require development projects to fix or improve roads to mitigate for traffic conflicts. This shift is a very real opportunity to fund multi-modal improvements by those who are doing the developing. Mitigation where it matters! To build better sidewalks, connections to transit, and bicycle facilities. This is especially important for the City of San Diego which has just completed several Community Plan Updates and is embarking on several more. These documents are laying out future development and how those future impacts are being mitigated for . . . do we want to think in terms of mitigation for cars and delays on the roads (e.g. wider roads) or for land uses that reduce the need for those same cars on the roads?

While the state planning officials have not yet published final VMT implementation guidance, the expectation is that these guidelines are forthcoming in January of 2017. There have already been two Draft guidance documents released by OPR. The state is close. The cities of Oakland, San Francisco, and Pasadena have had the foresight and determination to adopt VMT metrics. We look forward to our local jurisdictions approaching this new requirement with the same vigor and eagerness. Let’s get going San Diego!