Fragmented or Aligned Climate Action: Assessing Linkages Between Regional and Local Planning Efforts to Meet Transportation Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Targets

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Fragmented or Aligned Climate Action: Assessing Linkages Between Regional and Local Planning Efforts to Meet Transportation Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Targets


Amid the rising climate change concerns, California enacted Senate Bill 375 (SB 375) to tackle transportation greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. SB 375 requires Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) to develop a Sustainable Communities Strategy (SCS), a regional transportation and land use vision plan, to reduce GHG emissions. Meanwhile, a local government can develop a Climate Action Plan (CAP), a non-binding, voluntary plan to reduce GHG emissions that may align with the regional SCS. Recent progress reports indicate California is not making sufficient progress to meet SB 375 emissions reduction targets, which raises important questions: (1) Are the transportation and land use strategies and targets in SCS plans reflected in the local plans to build sustainable communities? (2) Does the alignment of regional and local transportation and land use strategies mitigate GHG emissions through vehicle trip reduction? (3) How different are the effects of independent local action and alignment of local and regional actions on vehicle trip reduction? The study results are exhibited in an ArcGIS web application ( using the Alignment Score metric. The research team developed this metric to quantify the local and regional climate policy alignment. The Alignment Score is a weighted value based on the auto-trip reduction impact of each climate strategy. The web application displays five web maps with the overall Alignment Scores for each of the 25 analyzed cities and the scores for four climate strategy categories (Transportation, Land use, TDM, and Cross-cutting issues).

Through an in-depth content analysis of plans and policies developed by five MPOs and 20 municipalities and a quantitative analysis of the impact of local and regional strategy alignment on vehicle trip reduction over time, this study shows that the patterns of local and regional climate policy are diverse across the state, but poor alignment is not necessarily a sign of limited climate action at the local level. Cities with a long climate-planning history and the capacity to act innovatively can lead regional efforts or adopt their own independent approach. Nonetheless, there are clear patterns of common strategies in local and regional plans, such as active transportation strategies and planning for densification and land use diversity. Well-aligned regional and local level climate-friendly infrastructure appear to have the most significant impact on vehicle-trip reduction, on average a 7% decrease in vehicle trips. Yet, many local-level strategies alone, such as for goods movement, urban forest strategies, parking requirements, and education and outreach programs, are effective in vehicle-trip reduction. A major takeaway from this research is that although local and regional climate policy alignment can be essential for reducing vehicle trips, local action is equally important. 



Dr. Serena Alexander is an Associate Professor of Urban and Regional Planning and Director of Urban Online at San José State University. Her research predominantly focuses on developing and implementing cutting-edge strategies to address climate change and the environmental impacts of transportation. Dr. Alexander has recently joined the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) Climate Change Center (CCC) and the Office of the Under Secretary as a Visiting Scholar, where she provides leadership and research on the development of policy centered around all major transportation issues, such as infrastructure development, climate, innovation, and equity. She has published several peer-reviewed journal articles and technical reports and presented her research at national and international conferences. She has also established the American Collegiate Schools of Planning (ACSP) and Association of European Schools of Planning (AESOP) collaboration platform, focusing on climate justice and best practices of climate action planning. Dr. Alexander has worked with many multidisciplinary teams and aims at bridging the gap between technical knowledge, policy decisions and community values. Before joining the SJSU faculty, Dr. Alexander conducted community economic development and environmental policy research at the Center for Economic Development and the Great Lakes Environmental Finance Center at Cleveland State University, where she also received her doctorate in Urban Studies (Specialization in Urban Policy and Development). She holds master’s degrees in Urban and Regional Planning from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, and Architecture from Azad University of Tehran.


Dr. Ahoura Zandiatashbar is currently an Assistant Professor of GIScience at San José State University (SJSU). He has a rich level of experience in the application of geospatial analytics and statistical modeling in mapping U.S. geography of high-tech zones, and exploring the role and quantifying the impact of urban form and transit amenities in building an equitable and robust knowledge economy. His research activities have resulted in multiple publications in top-ranked journals such as the Journal of Planning Education and Research, Journal of Urban Studies, Landscape and Urban Planning, Transportation Research Record, Technological Forecasting and Social Change, and Cities; two national awards and more than 20 presentations and talks. Prior to joining SJSU, Dr. Zandiatashbar was a key member in developing Illinois Map The Count 2020, Illinois COVID-19 Vulnerability, and Chicago’s Tap Water web-maps in the Urban Data Visualization Lab at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Author 2 received his doctoral degree from University of Texas Arlington in Urban Planning and Public Policy, where he was also an interdisciplinary urbanist researcher at the Institute of Urban Studies and Center for Transportation, Equity, Decisions and Dollars (CTEDD). In CTEDD, Dr. Zandiatashbar has led multiple data-driven research projects in partnership with communities and policy makers to support their informed decision making. He also has a Master’s in Architecture and Urbanism from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. 


Branka Tatarevic graduated from the Master of Urban Planning (MUP) program at San José State University in May 2022. She received her bachelor’s degree in Urban Studies and Planning from San Francisco State University. During her studies, she served as a teaching assistant in various GIS courses. She uses geospatial techniques to analyze and visualize the data that illustrate environmental, transportation, and housing problems affecting our communities.

November 2022
Climate action planning
Climate change
Transportation emissions
Greenhouse gas emissions reduction
Senate Bill 375 (SB 375)



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