For decades, the laws that protect the environment by requiring traffic impact analysis had a serious flaw. The analysis considered car congestion as a negative impact that should be mitigated. This led to road widenings to relieve congestion (which only led to more traffic and, soon after, more congestion). Even worse, these level of service (LOS) analyses prevented safety improvements if those improvements would delay automobiles. The result of these rules was perverse. A huge office development in the sprawling suburbs with easy highway access and no safe way to get there by bike would be deemed to have no significant environmental impact. At the same time, a simple bike lane or retiming of traffic lights to make it safer to walk or bike might be declared to have a significant negative impact on the environment using the LOS traffic impact analysis.
In 2013, the legislature and governor approved SB 743. The new law changed the rules for traffic analysis in California. It forbid analysis of congestion for environmental review purposes. Instead, SB 743 required an analysis of vehicle trips generated by a project. This new vehicle miles traveled (VMT) traffic impact analysis will change the way new projects are assessed. In keeping with California’s goals to reduce car traffic to mitigate climate change, a project that would generate lots of car traffic would require mitigation. After SB 734, a project that would reduce car traffic and provide access for alternative transit options would be considered a good thing for the environment.
The California Department of Transportation resisted this law for years. Only now, in 2020, have they produced guidelines for agencies to implement the new rules. These guidelines were about to go into effect when the COVID-19 crisis hit. Now, a coalition including real estate developers and automobile interests has asked the governor to delay implementation of the new rules, claiming that any change to the rules regarding development will delay crucial economic recovery activity.
CalBike is opposing the delay in a letter sent to the governor on May 26, 2020. The letter, written by the Planning and Conservation League and joined by our partners in the Climate Plan Coalition, contradicts the developers’ claim that implementing SB 743 will harm the economy.
“Not only have developers and agencies had 7 years to prepare for the implementation of this statute, the VMT-based methodology is in most cases less complex to conduct than LOS. Upon implementation of SB 743, many land use and infrastructure projects that California needs to meet its climate, public health and equity goals will not be required to analyse transportation impacts at all. Projects presumed to reduce VMT—including transit and active transportation projects, commercial and housing development within proximity to transit or within low-VMT zones, and all affordable housing—are all exempt from conducting the new analysis.”
In 2013, California’s legislators enacted a commonsense law to ensure that new building projects support active transportation and transit rather than recklessly expanding car travel. Now, in the midst of a pandemic that has provided a stark example of the importance of clean air and green transportation, Governor Newsom must not delay the implementation of SB 743 any longer.
View or download the full letter: 6/26/20 Resubmitted SB743 Letter to Governor Newsom et al.