Ensuring Equitable VMT Mitigation in California

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MTI researchers examine how off-site mitigation could unintentionally impact disadvantaged communities
December 8, 2021
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San José, CA

California’s Senate Bill 743 brought a significant change to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by establishing vehicle-miles traveled (VMT) as the transportation impact measure to promote the state’s climate goals. While this significant shift has been well received, concerns remain about how to apply SB 743 effectively and equitably. New Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) research, Safeguarding Equity in Off-Site Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) Mitigation in California, examines the equity implications of off-site mitigation strategies,  ties the microscale built environment features (e.g. sidewalks, benches, and trees) to VMT, and explores the generally favorable current perception of the VMT transition process among transportation and planning professionals.

SB 743 presents opportunities for off-site VMT mitigation (via “banking” through contributing to accounts held by local or regional authorities or “exchanges” through choosing from a list of pre-approved—or recommended—jurisdiction-wide mitigation projects). Although promising, off-site mitigation projects could unintentionally burden disadvantaged communities. For example, constructing transit-oriented communities is a highly-favored VMT mitigation strategy found in SB 743, but it also presents a potential equity issue. Research suggests that transit-oriented development could lead to higher housing costs and consequently to the displacement of low-income households. 

Some key findings from the study show that:

  • Overall, disadvantaged communities had significantly lower VMT than did advantaged communities.

  • On average, macroscale built environment features (e.g. land use, density, housing, and employment access) had the largest impact on reducing VMT (35%), as compared to transit access (15%), microscale features (13%), and income (6%).

  • The combination of all four factors (macroscale, transit access, microscale, and income) must be considered when reducing VMT.

“Ensuring the equitable and proportionate distribution of VMT mitigation benefits means we must first identify communities of concern. Then, we can engage with these communities to analyze how the investments affect them,” explain the study’s authors. 

Based on the results of this study, a combination of access to dense neighborhoods, high-quality microscale urban design features, and transit access is especially important for mitigating VMT in low-income communities and ensuring that transportation equity and sustainability efforts improve the lives of all individuals. 

 

ABOUT THE MINETA TRANSPORTATION INSTITUTE

At the Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) at San Jose State University (SJSU) our mission is to increase mobility for all by improving the safety, efficiency, accessibility, and convenience of our nations’ transportation system. Through research, education, workforce development and technology transfer, we help create a connected world. Founded in 1991, MTI is funded through the US Departments of Transportation and Homeland Security, the California Department of Transportation, and public and private grants, including those made available by the Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017 (SB1). MTI is affiliated with SJSU’s Lucas College and Graduate School of Business.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Dr. Serena Alexander is an Associate Professor of Urban and Regional Planning and Director of Urban Online at San José State University. Her research focuses on developing cutting-edge strategies to address climate change and climate justice. Dr. Mariela Alfonzo is CEO of State of Place and has over 20 years of expertise in the field of urban design and behavior research. She is a Research Assistant Professor at NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering in the Technology, Culture, and Society Department. Kevin Lee is a graduate student in San José State University’s Urban and Regional Planning program.

 

Media Contact:

Irma Garcia, 

MTI Communications and Operations Manager

O: 408-924-7560

E: Irma.garcia@sjsu.edu

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