San Jose: Incorporating TDM strategies in the transition to VMT
In February 2018, the San Jose City Council adopted a new Transportation Analysis Policy to comply with Senate Bill 743. SB 743 mandates a shift from level of service to vehicle miles traveled (VMT) as a primary environmental measurement for CEQA transportation analysis. Cities across California have until 2020 to comply with SB 743.
The City's implementation of SB 743 is split into two phases. The first phase, which was completed in 2018, involves the update of the City's Transportation Analysis Policy (i.e. shifting from LOS to VMT and establishing significant thresholds and screening criteria) and the development of the VMT calculator. Phase 2, which would begin in 2020, is to revisit the City's parking requirements, TDM ordinance, among other items.
The City of San Jose’s Transportation Analysis Policy requires all new developments to account for the amount of vehicle travel they would produce, rather than just its impact on traffic at nearby intersections. This metric aligns with the Envision San Jose 2040 General Plan and its goals for smart and focused growth, accessibility, affordability, economic development and environmental sustainability. The Transportation Impact Analysis Guidelines include TDM measures for CEQA transportation impacts that aim to reduce and mitigate VMT. This case study outlines the TDM aspects of the Transportation Analysis Policy and the associated VMT calculator.
The Transportation Analysis Policy requires projects that don’t meet the initial screening criteria (as identified within the policy) to analyze their VMT and mitigate the identified impacts. To assist with this process, the City developed a VMT Evaluation Tool to assess a project’s potential VMT based on the project’s description, location, and attributes. Projects in high-VMT areas are required to include a set of VMT reduction measures that would reduce VMT to the extent possible. Mitigation strategies are classified into four tiers: 1) Project Characteristics; 2) Multimodal Network Improvements; 3) Parking; and 4) Programmatic TDM. The proposed project should prioritize physical design mitigation strategies (Tier 1, 2 and 3) before considering TDM (Tier 4). Physical design mitigation strategies are prioritized because they are more permanent and benefit both the existing population and the occupants of the building, whereas programmatic TDM measures are difficult to enforce over time and primarily benefit only the building occupants. (The mitigation strategies are on page 22 - 25 of the Transportation Analysis Handbook.)
Developers are generally supportive of the policy update because the City engaged developers early on in the process to address their concerns regarding long approval time and cost uncertainty. With the VMT calculator, developers no longer need to spend time and money on a lengthy and complex LOS report. Instead, the calculator outputs a transportation report that includes a few pages of the calculator results and a mitigation package. Developers will still need to analyze local traffic conditions outside of CEQA but the scope will be much smaller than before.
In addition, the City estimated that the overall cost of transportation improvements will be comparable to before the policy, if not lower. The policy will help streamline the approval process and lower the transportation improvement cost for a dense or mixed-use development built in infill growth areas, but not for a low-dense, single-use development in suburban areas.
Due to a lack of local data demonstrating the effectiveness of individual TDM strategies, the early version of the City’s VMT calculator is based on literature review of research papers with worldwide study sites and is therefore not as localized as City staff originally intended. However, the new transportation analysis policy requires developments to submit annual monitoring reports to show that they have implemented TDM strategies. As more local data is sent to the City, the City should be able to understand more about how effective each TDM strategy is for the region and improve the VMT calculator.
San Jose City Staff recognize that reducing VMT is a regional matter and requires all cities to work together to improve accessibility of places and mobility of people. More regional implementation of SB 743 is critical in order to achieve cross-jurisdictional transportation improvements. San Jose has actively engaged with other cities and agencies to work towards statewide implementation, including ideas of a regional VMT bank and exchange, statewide research on VMT-reducing strategies, etc. Santa Clara County’s Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) is planning to develop a VMT calculator for the entire county to ensure consistent calculations among cities. This regional collaboration is a step in the right direction.