Experts Weigh in on Decision to Move California to VMT as Metric for Impacts

In a significant effort to shift from sprawl toward incentivizing low-carbon transportation options, California is revising the way it measures traffic impacts of development projects under its Environmental Quality Act.

2 minute read

April 29, 2016, 11:00 AM PDT

By rzelen @rzelen

The California Governor's Office of Research and Planning (OPR) recently released a second draft of the CEQA guidelines that will impose Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT), as a new metric for traffic impacts. The new guidelines replace the congestion-related Level of Service (LOS) metric with VMT, which aims to encourage alternative modes of transportation. This piece is a follow-up to The Planning Report’s September 2015 coverage.

As San Francisco has already moved to adopt the new metric through a local process,The Planning Report interviewed two Bay Area-based experts to further explore the issue in a point/counterpoint.

Pro-adoption of the draft guidelines is the National Resources Defense Council Director for Urban Solutions Amanda Eaken, who argues that putting an end to California’s congestion-oriented policies is urgent and long overdue. Eaken states that moving towards VMT as soon as possible will make it easier for developers to meet state goals around sustainability, density, and transit-oriented development.

Environmental lawyer Jennifer Hernandez, a partner at Holland & Knight, supports the overall goals of the switch to VMT and lauds San Francisco’s move, but worries that the proposed guidelines leave too many questions unanswered and take a one-size-fits-all approach to diverse development needs.

Hernandez takes a cautious approach to statewide implementation, noting that "San Francisco’s action has brought us full circle to the question: How should communities use CEQA to advance greenhouse-gas goals, and how does CEQA need to be changed to make sure it doesn’t impede those and other environmental goals?"

Eaken, on the other hand, actively supports OPR’s draft guidelines. Eaken believes that since "we’ve identified a significant structural flaw in our world-renowned Environmental Quality Act, we have a duty to fix it."

Read the arguments from Hernandez and Eaken in The Planning Report.

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