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Posts from the Smart Growth Category


Bridge the Gap!

bikes_small.jpgPhoto: Matthew Roth
As I climbed the steps out of the Lake Merritt BART station this morning I heard loud chanting. "Wow," I thought, "those bicyclists have really pulled out the troops!" But the demonstrators that greeted me across 8th Street in Oakland were pile drivers, iron workers, carpenters and other trades workers, chanting "Jobs for Oakland Now!" Not far from their boisterous demonstration in front of the main doors of the Joseph Brot Metro Center were a few cyclists showing their signs to passersby, "Bridge the Gap Now" "All the Way Across the Bay" and "Safety Path!" Across the street, Transform and Urban Habitat were also making their presence felt, opposing the Oakland Airport Connector that the building trades unionists were clamoring for.

Democracy in action, I suppose. Long-time bicycle advocates from the East Bay and San Francisco converged on this meeting, hoping to convince the Bay Area Toll Authority (BATA) to support using some of the new tolls ($5 on all bridges as of July 1, with $6 congestion pricing on the Bay Bridge during rush hour, and for the first time, a half-price toll for carpoolers) to fund a new west-span bicycle/pedestrian/maintenance/safety lane to make the bridge safer, and to finish the transbay route for bicyclists and pedestrians too, not just motorized vehicles. But that effort was bureaucratically sidetracked before this meeting even started.



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].


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A Message from Copenhagen: Climate Plan Must Include Walkable Urbanism

household_energy_use.jpgThe energy-saving benefits of transit aren’t limited to the transportation sector. Image: Jonathan Rose Companies via Richard Layman.

a panel discussion yesterday at the Copenhagen climate summit, American
policymakers and transit experts delivered a clear message: Walkable
urban development must be part of any effective plan to reduce global
greenhouse gas emissions. Thanks to the magic of live webcasts, I can
relay a few highlights for Streetsblog readers.

directing future development toward walkable urbanism, the climate
impacts of sprawl will overwhelm other efforts to curb greenhouse gas
emissions, said Robert Cervero, a professor specializing in
transportation and land use policy at UC Berkeley. "Urban development
patterns have a significant role to play in carbon reduction," Cervero
told the audience. "Otherwise we’ll just get knocked back by land-use
patterns. Sustainable urbanism has to be part of the equation."

benefits of walkable development extend far beyond the efficiencies of
trains, buses, and bikes compared to cars. As journalist (and befuddling congestion pricing critic) David Owen has documented superbly, city dwellers use far less energy to, for instance, heat homes than suburbanites.

attached some rough numbers to these "embedded energy savings." While
transit investment alone can achieve a 10 to 20 percent reduction in
America’s per capita greenhouse gas emissions, he said, factoring in
the embedded energy savings of walkable development boosts that figure
to 30 percent. That’s 30 percent compared to present-day emissions
levels. The reduction could reach as high as 60 percent, Cervero added,
compared to the level of per-capita emissions that would result from
continuing business-as-usual sprawl-inducing policies.

Read more…


New Study Quantifies High Personal Costs of Building CA Cities for Cars

Household_transpo_costs_small.jpgClick to enlarge: Annual household transportation costs in the Bay Area.
California residents living in sprawling suburban developments could save billions of dollars every year if they lived in denser, urban zones and along transit corridors, according to a study released today by smart growth and transit advocates TransForm. Analyzing four metropolitan areas--Southern California, the San Francisco Bay Area, San Diego, and Sacramento--Windfall for All found that shifting populations in those regions to denser development along transit corridors would save save $31 billion per year, or $3,850 on average per household [Report Summary PDF].

In the Bay Area, where annual car ownership costs on average over $8,000 per person, individuals spend roughly $34 billion every year on personal transportation costs, compared to only $4.6 billion spent by public agencies on transit and roads combined. Households with poor access to public transit not only spend double the amount per year on transportation when compared to those with good access to transit, they produce more than double the amount of CO2, a greenhouse gas.

"The most astounding thing is that agencies pinch their pennies on transit and cut back and we feel like we can't afford not to save that service," said Stuart Cohen, Executive Director of TransForm. "We're already spending more than seven times as much as our agencies spend on public transit and roads just on buying and operating our vehicles."

What's more, the report points out that fuel costs represent a small minority of the cost of owning a car, so the craze for electric and other low-emission vehicles will not dramatically reduce the transportation costs for those living far from their jobs and far from transit. The best solution to combating climate change, the report notes, is to build walkable, vibrant communities where residences are situated close to job centers. 


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Can State DOTs Be Trained to Kick the Sprawl Habit?

I had the chance to listen in yesterday to top staffers from USDOT explain their collaboration with HUD and the EPA -- the "Partnership for Livable Communities" that was first unveiled in March and touted again by President Obama in July. Three officials, including one of Ray LaHood's top deputies, Beth Osborne, outlined their plans via conference call to several hundred people from all parts of the country.

The details didn't go very deep, but now we know that DOT has $100 million to spend on planning grants next year to foster more sustainable development. They've received 1,400 applications for so-called TIGER grants, a $1.5 billion pool of stimulus money set aside for "innovative" transportation projects. (For a full recap that gives you a flavor for the Obama DOT's priorities, read this blog post by Gary Toth of Project for Public Spaces, which organized the event.)

So the language is encouraging and there are some new pots of money being put to good use. We have quite recent evidence from the stimulus saga, however, that once federal highway funding goes out the door to state DOTs, sprawl projects will follow. So I want to focus on one key moment yesterday, when a participant asked how the feds plan to get state DOTs on board with a livability agenda. Here's how Osborne answered:

The DOTs are wide-varied. Some states are well ahead of the federal government, and some states are not sure that these are the priorities they want to set for themselves. The program we have now is not self-funding anymore. In addressing it at the federal level, there is an expectation within the administration that money that is spent from the federal government is going to have to be spent in a way that allows us to be accountable to our taxpayers. That’s going to realign the program to some extent. The more people learn about livability and sustainability priorities, they see it aligns with their priorities more than they realized (economic growth, development, housing affordability). When you show people the choice between the priorities we have laid out and what they have laid out, it's amazing the headway you can make. We have some training to do, we have some challenges to meet, but we feel confident we can meet them.

Deciphering an answer this cryptic is a bit like reading tea leaves.


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More People, Less Driving: The Imperative of Curbing Sprawl

Experience with case studies has made it clear to many urban planners and environmentalists that to maximize the benefits of transit investments, and to slow growth in traffic congestion, vehicle miles traveled (VMT), and carbon emissions, you have to focus on land use.

sprawlComp.jpgPhoto: Penn State.
This knowledge has begun working its way into the policymaking world, to the extent that local and state legislatures are beginning to craft rules that explicitly factor the carbon impact of land use effects into decisions about new development and infrastructure construction. In a few years time, the federal government may follow.

But there's not as much in the way of hard studies of the effects of land use as we might like -- mainly because it's been a non-issue, so far as most of the country is concerned, for much of recent history.

Aiming to address this (and acting under a congressional mandate), the Transportation Research Board recently completed a study that has now resulted in a very large report: "Driving and the Built Environment: The Effects of Compact Development on Motorized Travel, Energy Use, and CO Emissions."

The report is actually five mini-papers, and at nearly 200 pages long it makes for a lot of reading. But the findings reported in the introduction give an idea of what it's all about.

The authors conclude that compact development is likely to reduce VMT: "The effects of compact, mixed-use development on VMT are likely to be enhanced when this strategy is combined with other policy measures that make alternatives to driving relatively more convenient and affordable." No surprises there.

Finding No. 2 is: "The literature suggests that doubling residential density across a metropolitan area might lower household VMT by about 5 to 12 percent, and perhaps by as much as 25 percent, if coupled with higher employment concentrations, significant public transit improvements, mixed uses, and other supportive demand management measures."

They note that were you to move the residents of Atlanta to an area built like Boston, you'd lower the Atlantans' VMT per household by perhaps 25 percent.

Better land use results in reductions in energy use and carbon emissions, the authors report, from both direct and indirect causes. (Direct causes would be a reduction in VMT; indirect include things like longer vehicle lifetimes from reduced use and the greater efficiency of smaller or multi-family housing units.)

But one of the crucial pieces of data included in the report is this:

As many as 57 million new housing units are projected to accommodate population growth and replacement housing needs by 2030, growing to between 62 and 105 million units by 2050 - a substantial net addition to the housing stock of 105.2 million in 2000.

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The Power of Transit-Oriented Development

Back in the late 1970s, when Washington's Metrorail system first began operating in Arlington County, Virginia, the future of Arlington and other old, inner suburbs was far from certain. Across the Potomac, the District of Columbia was suffering from depopulation, rapidly rising crime rates, and serious fiscal difficulties.

3760052394_3a4a1356a0.jpgBallston Metro station, Arlington Co. Photo: Point Images/Flickr
Meanwhile, on the other side of Arlington, Fairfax County was enjoying a stunning period of growth. People were flocking by the hundreds of thousands to Fairfax's sprawling residential subdivisions, and employment centers popped up and grew rapidly around freeway interchanges.

The future looked as though it belonged to Fairfax County, and Arlington's decision to target development around its new Metro stations seemed quixotic and anachronistic.

But now, with the benefit of 30 years of hindsight, Arlington seems to have been extraordinarily foresighted in its decision to grow around Metro. From 2000 to 2008, Arlington's population grew by 10 percent -- all of it infill development, and a remarkable achievement for an inner suburb.

Even more remarkably, this growth has led to a negligible impact on local traffic. Daniel Malouff, author of the BeyondDC blog, reported this week on a meeting with Arlington's Department of Transportation, at which officials recounted some numbers that had emerged from research on the effects of county development choices.

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New Report Quantifies Benefits of Adding Smarth Growth to Climate Bill

As a new non-partisan analysis of the House climate change bill -- proving that capping CO2 can save money for the poorest fifth of the nation -- continues to make waves on the Hill, it's worth noting that the legislation could yield even greater savings by focusing on reducing transportation-based emissions.

waxman_markey1.jpgHouse Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), his climate legislation co-author. (Photo: Washington Independent)

In a report released Friday, the Center for Clean Air Policy (CCAP) quantifies the benefits of setting tangible goals for reducing the carbon footprint of transportation, which currently accounts for about one-third of total U.S. emissions.

Using smart growth policies to reduce per-capita VMT by 10 percent below 2005 levels would achieve emissions reductions equivalent to taking 35 large coal plants off-line or taking 30 million cars off the road by 2030, according to the CCAP analysis.

The report, viewable in full here, offers some interesting examples of how smart-growth proposals can pay environmental dividends. For example, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the International Energy Agency -- hardly known as bastions of the environmental movement -- have found that emissions reductions of up to 14.5 percent can be achieved at a cost of less than $3 per ton of CO2 simply by encouraging carpooling, telecommuting and eco-driving.

Perhaps most politically relevant conclusion in the CCAP report, however, deals with a topic very much on the minds of Congress these days: how to push regionally favored industries, from Rep. Collin Peterson's (D-MN) agriculture producers to Rep. Gene Green's (D-TX) oil refiners, to accept their share of the emissions-reduction burden.



Call for Regional Coordination of Land Use and Transportation

It appears a consensus is forming among local governments that building more livable and sustainable communities is an immediate priority. At a conference in San Francisco yesterday, elected officials from across the Bay Area, along with business, housing, development and transportation groups, called for a coordinated land use and transportation planning strategy to account for the nearly two million more people projected to live in the Bay Area by 2035. 

map.jpgClick to enlarge: "Smart spots" for development identified in Grow Smart Bay Area report

Jeremy Madsen, Executive Director of the Greenbelt Alliance, presented the Grow Smart Bay Area plan and challenged regional leaders to adopt its principles to accomplish sustainable growth, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and improve quality of life for residents. The plan emphasizes infill development in transit-rich areas, and identifies seven "smart spots" that the Greenbelt Alliance says could accommodate 4/5 of the region's 25-year growth.

In a panel following Madsen's presentation, regional leaders, including San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed, pledged to work to implement the Grow Smart Bay Area vision. Will Fleissig, a developer with Communitas Development in San Francisco, expressed optimism that the political environment and demographic trends were auspicious for more sustainable growth.

"I think that we all have to admit there are some tectonic policy plates that are converging," said Fleissig.

He said that an aging population and the trend for young people preferring urban neighborhoods bodes well for increasing transit-oriented development. "Where are the x and y generation people going to want to live? They don't want to live out in the suburbs. It's just not going to be the case."

San Jose Mayor Reed described the plan's vision in terms of San Jose's economic survival. "My challenge as mayor is to make sure San Jose stays the capital of Silicon Valley, and Silicon Valley remains the innovation center of the world," said Reed. "So that's a pretty big task considering that we have to continue to create jobs and we have to continue to make room for the people who are going to hold those jobs."

Reed said that San Jose had already managed to grow its population by half a million people in 30 years, and was prepared to do so again. "We have added about 500,000 people" without significantly expanding the city's boundaries, Reed said. "This plan, the elements of this plan, are things we've had success with already in San Jose as we added those 500,000 people to our city. So we will be working around those elements again."



MTC Approves Sweeping Regional Plan, Debates New Toll Lanes

Bus_and_bike.jpgPhoto by bvohra via Flickr
The Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) yesterday approved its 25-year "Change In Motion" Regional Transportation Plan (RTP), after more than two years of work coordinating with the 26 regional transportation operators, the public, and the many authorities under its control. A slew of bicycle and transportation advocates lined up to thank the MTC for the more than $1 billion it has committed to completing the regional bicycle network and increased funding for Safe Routes to School (SRTS) and Safe Routes to Transit (SRTT) programs.

Andrew Casteel, Executive Director of the Bay Area Bicycle Coalition, urged commissioners to start funding SRTS, SRTT and bicycle network improvements within the first two years of the RTP.  Citing climate action plans in Portland, Oregon, to realize 20 percent of all trips in the city by bicycle by 2030, Casteel said, "The more available infrastructure for bikes, the more people will shift into bikes as a mode of transportation.  The investment in bicycling can be done quickly.  Completing out that network has a lasting effect after it's put there.  It does continue to create that mode shift."

Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Christine Culver echoed praise for increasing funding for the regional bicycle network and for SRTS and SRTT funding, explaining how she traveled by bicycle to Golden Gate Transit from Marin into San Francisco, then took BART to Oakland.  "I like Safe Routes to Transit; this rocks!"

While most of the public comment was laudatory, some expressed concern the RTP fails to make meaningful inroads in meeting climate change goals set out in AB 32 and SB 375.  Stuart Cohen, Executive Director of TransForm, called it a "test run," and said the commission needs to reevaluate the way it plans RTPs and should think outside the box.

"Our objectives used to be congestion relief and mobility, and now it's saving our planet and some pretty imperative stuff," said Cohen. "There's a lot of discussion about how far regions can go in really addressing vehicle miles traveled. What is becoming clear is that if any region is going to lead the way, it's going to be ours.  There's not a lot of innovation that I'm seeing coming out of the other MPOs."