Can Greater L.A. Ever Embrace Cleaner Transportation? Regional Plan Says, “Yes, We Will”

In 2008, the State of California passed SB 375, a landmark environmental law that aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through better planning.  The state mandated that each of the mega-regions come up with a plan to reduce emissions by completing transit projects, mandating more walkable and bikeable communities and by developing walkable mixed-use communities.  At the time, critics complained that reaching these goals would be painful at best or just undoable at worst.

To read the plan in its entirety, click on the image.

But thanks to the passage of Measure R by L.A. County voters later that year and a new focus on building mixed use communities with improved bicycle and pedestrian networks, Los Angeles County and the surrounding counties can will meet those standards.   The region’s first draft Sustainable Communities Strategy (SCS), released today by the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), shows that the region will meet its 2020 greenhouse gas reduction target and exceed the 2035 target, double the number of people who live near high-quality transit, and reduce traffic congestion — despite the fact that the population is expected to grow by 4 million by 2035.

The draft plan shows increases transit investments by 13 percent and even as the federal legislature debate slashing funding for bicycle and pedestrian projects, the Southern California region will triple.  The current long term plan shows a $1.8 billion investment in people powered transportation, but SCAG proposes over tripling that total to $6 billion. the funding for bike and pedestrian projects. On the transit side, it plans for the build-out of 12 new rail lines and other Measure R projects.  For the rest of the region: bus rapid transit projects in Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside counties and enhanced Metrolink service with the goal of doubling Metrolink ridership.

SCAG hardly has a reputation for progressive transportation planning, but in recent years that reputation has slowly begun the change.  Today, environmentalists and progressive transportation reformers alike praised the new draft plan for being a crucial step in creating a sustainable Southern California.

“The draft RTP/SCS shows the region is on track to meet air quality and GHG reduction goals, and to provide people with more choices about where to live and how to get around,” said Denny Zane, executive director of Move LA. “It also shows cities have been doing good planning, which will put Southern California ahead of national trends in the real estate market and the energy economy.”

The plan also shows that the number of new homes that will be built in neighborhoods with high-quality transit will increase from 34 percent of all homes to 51 percent. The number of new jobs near transit will increase from 39 percent to 53 percent.

“Clearly somebody’s been paying attention,” added Amanda Eaken, NRDC’s deputy director of sustainable communities. “This plan reflects the market realities of the 21st Century: Most people want to live closer to their jobs and shops, and don’t want to spend hours stuck in the car or looking for parking. This plan gives us more choices to get out of our cars and the freedom to spend the time and money on more enjoyable activities.”

The plan also shows that this more compact development will save 400 square miles of open space, and the plan results in other significant benefits, including:

  • Providing for transportation improvements that will create 4.2 million jobs;
  • Reducing VMT (vehicle miles traveled) by 10 percent;
  • Increasing investment in public transit by 13 percent;
  • Resulting in savings of $3,400 annually in costs for autos, fuels, water, energy;
  • Saving $5 billion in infrastructure costs to local governments;
  • Saving $1.5 billion in health costs.

A final plan will be adopted by SCAG’s 84-member Regional Council in April of 2012. SCAG is the nation’s largest metropolitan planning organization, representing six counties, 191 cities, and more than 18 million residents in six Southern California counties.