Bay Area Advocates Unveil New VMT Reduction Incentive for Developers

Among the many strategies to reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and attendant greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from private vehicles, Bay Area smart growth advocate TransForm has developed a new certification called GreenTRIP to encourage architects, developers, and municipal officials to build transit-oriented development and implement transportation demand management (TDM) solutions for future tenants [PDF].

"What we strive to do with GreenTRIP is create something that is very easily implementable so that it can be done early in the development process," said Jeffrey Tumlin, Principal of Nelson Nygaard Consulting Associates and a member of GreenTRIP's advisory board. "We want to focus on the key things that developers and municipalities can do to have a positive impact on greenhouse gases."

Tumlin added, "GreenTRIP tries to change the regulatory process."

Developed explicitly to complement areas where the LEED Neighorhood Development (LEED ND) green building certification falls short of being prescriptive, GreenTRIP rewards projects that reduce traffic and make a strong connection between sustainable development and pollution from the transportation sector, which accounts for more than 40 percent of California's GHG emissions. Funding for the new certification comes from grants from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Silicon Valley Community Foundation.

Using the URBEMIS emissions model developed by the California Air Resources Board, GreenTRIP gives developers credits for reducing overall driving relative to the average regional VMT. GreenTRIP attempts to impact developments at the beginning phases of design, encouraging developers to situate near transit and take steps to reduce driving [PDF].

Developments must have one or more of the following: unbundled parking, free car-share membership, and provide at least one 50-percent discounted transit pass per unit for the life of the project. These thresholds to reduce driving must result in no more than 35 VMT per unit per day in less dense areas, and no more than 25 VMT in dense areas. Bay Area average VMT is 50 miles per day. Likewise, parking ratios cannot be higher than 1.5 spaces per unit in less dense areas, or .75:1 in dense areas [PDF].

"By really focusing on this element--how much traffic [developments] generate--we think this tool is a huge complement to existing LEED and will serve an important function that LEED doesn't get to," said Stuart Cohen, TransForm's Executive Director. "The best thing is the reaction from cities and developers: they are hungry for this."

John Norquist, President of the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU), which helped develop LEED ND with the US Green Building Council and the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), said that the URBEMIS estimates might be too generalized to gain immediate support from the Building Council. "We welcome what they're doing. I think a 'green building' doesn't need to have a monopoly on these ideas. We are trying to figure out how to measure it properly."

The Ohlone

The first project to receive a conditional GreenTRIP certification is The Ohlone, an eight-acre mixed-mixed use development on land along West San Carlos and Sunol Streets near Downtown San Jose. Unlike the suburban character of adjacent residences, The Ohlone will be up to 150 feet in height, will have 800 units, and will develop up to 30,000 square feet of ground-floor commercial space.

One of the bigger impediments to the project was San Jose zoning code, which prevented dense development outside of the downtown core. In early December, with TransForm explaining the project's conditional GreenTRIP certification, the San Jose City Council voted unanimously to grant an exemption in the General Plan for The Ohlone. The exemption allows the the developer to build up to 150 feet from the standard 90 feet and permits density of 125 units per acre, up from 100 per acre. The Ohlone will have 1200 parking spaces, or 1.5:1, the mandatory minimum in San Jose.

Green Republic's Michael VanEvery, Project Executive for The Ohlone, said the support from smart growth advocates was pivotal for passing the city council hurdle. "This was the first project of its type approved for this density outside of the downtown core. This was a bold step for the city," he said.

"I thought it was really intriguing, because oftentimes when developers propose high density, especially in San Jose, Oakland, West San Francisco, we get stymied by how do you park a project," added VanEvery. "With GreenTRIP, it's not how many cars you park, it's how many you can't park. It changes the landscape of the debate and allows local governments to practice what they preach."

San Jose Department of Transportation Acting Director Hans Larsen applauded the process as well. "We are pleased to have the GreenTrip program as an addition to the toolbox for building sustainable communities. Since transportation contributes 40 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, programs that help reduce vehicle travel are important for the environment. The Ohlone project is reflective of San Jose's continued evolution as the urban center of Silicon Valley and San Jose's leadership as a sustainable community."

Green Republic has committed to all the basic criteria of GreenTRIP, but will also provide protected bike lockers and two bulk-rate discounted VTA eco-passes per-unit for the life of the project, or at least 40 years. Using URBEMIS modeling, the Ohlone's travel demand management program is expected to result in residents driving no more than 20 VMT per day, 60 percent less than the regional average.

VanEvery said GreenTRIP was common sense and that it encouraged other cities to reduce parking minimums like San Francisco has done in certain districts. "San Francisco has broken the mold of one unit-one parking stall and guess what, it's one of the most vibrant areas in the country."

Because TransForm brought the possibility of GreenTRIP certification up so early in the process, said VanEvery, he could convince his design team to develop the project principles early on.

"We're trying to produce less cars through development," he said.

UPDATED: Wednesday, December 23rd, 1:30 pm