Cutting greenhouse gas emissions is only the beginning: a literature review of the co-benefits of reducing vehicle miles traveled.
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Cutting greenhouse gas emissions is only the beginning: a literature review of the co-benefits of reducing vehicle miles traveled.

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    Traditional evaluation of the transportation system focuses on automobile traffic flow and

    congestion reduction. However, this paradigm is shifting. In an effort to combat global warming

    and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, a number of cities, regions, and states across the

    United States have begun to deemphasize vehicle delay metrics such as automobile Level of

    Service (LOS). In their place, policymakers are considering alternative transportation impact

    metrics that more closely approximate the true environmental impacts of driving. One metric

    increasingly coming into use is the total amount of driving or Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT).

    Since passing the seminal Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32) in 2006, California has enacted

    two major laws over the past decade that are spurring efforts to reduce VMT: Senate Bill 375

    (2008) and SB 743 (2013). SB 375 addresses regional GHG emissions reductions from passenger

    travel. For each region in the State with a metropolitan planning organization (MPO), the law

    requires the California Air Resources Board (ARB) to set and regularly update per capita GHG

    emissions reduction targets for 2020 and 2035. To achieve those targets, SB 375 requires each

    MPO to adopt a “sustainable communities strategy” (SCS) as part of its regional transportation

    plan. VMT reductions are a key strategy in SCSs.

    Senate Bill 743 (2013) directs the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR) to revise

    the guidelines for determining the significance of transportation impacts during analyses

    conducted under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). SB 743 requires a

    replacement metric that will “promote the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, the

    development of multimodal transportation networks, and a diversity of land uses.” It mandates that “automobile delay, as described solely by [LOS] shall not be considered a significant impact on the environment” under CEQA, except in “locations specifically identified in the guidelines, if any.” VMT is OPR’s currently recommended replacement metric (OPR, 2016).

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