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.

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.

Thursday, April 21, 2016 in The Planning Report

Street-level view of sharrow symbol on asphalt with parked car in background

How Sharrows Became Cycling’s Most Hated Symbol

Originally designed as a low-cost way to encourage safer road sharing between bikes and cars, the sharrow has become a symbol of the lack of commitment to protected bike infrastructure in many cities.

August 2, 2022 - Denverite

A image of the World's Columbian Exposition overlayed with a picture of Keanu Reeves in the rain from the movie Point Break.

Keanu Reeves Set to Play Daniel Burnham in ‘The Devil in the White City’

Planning is going to get a new level of star power as a limited series adaptation of The Devil in the White City gets ready for television screens in 2024.

August 8, 2022 - Reel Chicago

View from middle of street in downtown Telluride, Colorado with mountains in background

Marrying Urban Identity and Economic Prosperity

A new book posits that truly successful communities have a strong economic base and a firmly rooted sense of place.

August 5, 2022 - Governing

Rendering of downtown Milwaukee sports stadium with soccer field

Sports Stadiums Bring Few Economic Benefits

While their developers often tout jobs and local economic development as benefits of major stadium projects, research shows these venues often make little impact on local economies.

29 minutes ago - Urban Milwaukee

Dallas Freeways

A How-To for ‘Freeway Fighters’

Ten recommendations for effective freeway removal advocacy.

1 hour ago - Strong Towns

Rendering of elevated rail ine

Miami Rapid Transit Project Moves Forward

The county completed the draft environmental impact study for a monorail and people mover planned as part of its rapid transit system.

2 hours ago - The Next Miami

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Hand Drawing Master Plans

This course aims to provide an introduction into Urban Design Sketching focused on how to hand draw master plans using a mix of colored markers.