California Senate Bill 743

An evolutionary change to transportation impact analysis.

Conventional approaches to transportation impact analysis tend to focus on vehicle level of service (LOS) and similar metrics related to vehicle delay. This focus explains how land use and transportation projects affect driving instead of how those projects change the amount of driving that will occur. While changes to driving conditions that increase travel times are an important consideration for traffic operations and management, these changes do not fully describe environmental effects associated with fuel consumption, emissions, and public health.

SB 743 changes the focus of transportation impact analysis in CEQA from measuring impacts to drivers, to measuring the impact of driving. The change is being made by replacing LOS with vehicle miles of travel (VMT) and providing streamlined review of land use and transportation projects that will help reduce future VMT growth. This shift in transportation impact focus is expected to better align transportation impact analysis and mitigation outcomes with the State’s goals to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, encourage infill development, and improve public health through more active transportation.

In January 2019, the Natural Resources Agency finalized updates to the CEQA Guidelines including the incorporation of SB 743 modifications. The Guidelines changes were approved by the Office of Administrative Law and are now in effect. Specific to SB 743, Section 15064.3(c) states, “A lead agency may elect to be governed by the provisions of this section immediately. Beginning on July 1, 2020, the provisions of this section shall apply statewide.”

Introducing VMT as the New Metric of Analysis

What is VMT?

For those new to VMT analysis, this short video explains a few basic components of VMT. We routinely analyze VMT for air quality and greenhouse gas impact analysis. SB 743 adds VMT to the transportation impact analysis of CEQA documents. If you find this helpful, let us know what other VMT related information you’d like to see in this format.

SB 743 Implementation

While SB 743 implementation is still evolving, a variety of public, private, and institutional entities have contributed to creating implementation resources and addressing the key implementation questions. Fehr & Peers has developed implementation guidance including recommendations on forecasting methodology, thresholds, mitigation strategies, and annotated flowcharts to outline the critical steps and choices for public agencies.

Essential Implementation Questions

 

All lead agencies will need to answer the following SB 743 implementation questions:
 
1. What is the preferred methodology for estimating and forecasting VMT considering that this metric is a required input for air quality, energy, GHG, and now transportation impact analysis in CEQA?

– If the lead agency wants to follow the OPR Technical Advisory recommendations, what travel forecasting model will be used to estimate baseline VMT for citywide or regional averages?

– How will the lead agency ensure that project-scale VMT analysis is consistent with the methodology used to estimate thresholds?

2. What are the significance thresholds for VMT impacts under ‘baseline’ and ‘cumulative’ conditions?

– Does the lead agency accept the OPR Technical Advisory recommendation that land use projects and plans within metropolitan planning organization (MPO) areas can achieve a 15 percent reduction in VMT per capita or per worker compared to existing conditions?

3. Does the lead agency want to take advantage of VMT impact screening?

– Will VMT impact screening be allowed for residential and employment land uses based simply on location within a transit priority area (TPA) or low-VMT generating area?

– Will screening also be allowed for local-serving retail projects consisting of less than 50,000 square feet?

4. What mitigation does the lead agency consider to be feasible for VMT impacts?

– If TDM is used, how will the lead agency verify its effectiveness over time since many TDM programs are building tenant dependent?

Where do the guidelines apply (TPAs in California)?

Text of New Section 15064.3 (b)(1) Land Use Projects. Vehicle miles traveled exceeding an applicable threshold of significance may indicate a significant impact. Generally, projects within one-half mile of either an existing major transit stop or a stop along an existing high quality transit corridor should be presumed to cause a less than significant transportation impact. Projects that decrease vehicle miles traveled in the project area compared to existing conditions should be presumed to have a less than significant transportation impact.

Click image to enlarge

The SACOG map layers were developed using data from the SACMET Metropolitan Transportation Plan / Sustainable Community Strategy (MTP/SCS) model provided by the Sacramento Area Council of Governments. MTC layers were developed using modified GIS data provided by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. SCAG and SANDAG map layers are displayed as received courtesy of Southern California Association of Governments and the San Diego Association of Governments. Note that this information is subject to change as transit networks are modified over time. The current data reflects 2018 conditions.

Click here to view the ArcGIS Data Portal for Bay Area Transportation Planning Agencies

Implementation Resources

How does SB 743 apply to my project?

Curious about how to navigate your Land Use or Transportation Project, or General Plan through SB 743? We’ve developed flow charts to help – click below for more.

Land Use Project

Transportation Project

General Plan

What are effective methods of mitigation?

An important part of VMT impact analysis under SB 743 is finding effective methods of mitigation. The CAPCOA Quantifying Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Measures is a common reference guide to VMT reduction strategies relying on built environment changes and transportation demand management (TDM) strategies. While this is a popular guide, it was produced in 2010 and reflected even older research. Fehr & Peers has completed a comprehensive review of published research through 2017 and is available to assist with VMT mitigation services including: CEQA Mitigation Strategy Development and Monitoring, Local and Regional TDM Ordinance Development and Monitoring, Employer TDM Program Development and Monitoring.

Will disruptive trends influence SB 743 implementation?

 

 

Forecasting VMT involves uncertainty,

Land use and transportation network decisions are a small part of future VMT. Disruptive mobility trends including internet shopping and autonomous vehicles (AVs) will have a much larger influence on VMT.

and understanding potential risks.

Including the influence of disruptive trends on VMT is essential when selecting analysis methods and especially in setting impact thresholds. Agencies have a risk of setting unattainable expectations for VMT reduction without first considering how VMT is likely to change due to disruptive forces beyond their control.

Analyzing disruptive trends can help.

Fehr & Peers has developed the TrendLab+ tool and AV modeling tests to quickly assess the potential effects of disruptive trends on VMT. This is an essential starting point for any agency making decisions about VMT analysis methods and impact thresholds.

 

OPR's December 2018 Technical Advisory

The new OPR Technical Advisory details include:

  • Specifications for cumulative analysis
  • Clarity that consistency with an RTP/SCS does not necessarily lead to a less than significant impact (the ARB SB 150 Report provides evidence substantiating this position)
  • Highlighting the importance that VMT impact thresholds align with all three statutory goals: “the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, the development of multimodal transportation networks, and a diversity of land uses”
  • Adding consideration of ‘displacement’ when analyzing redevelopment projects
  • Applying project level VMT impact thresholds to general plans

Caltrans SB 743 Implementation

What does SB 743 not do?

This question may be more important to some agencies than what SB 743 does. This statement is particularly true for cities or counties that feel that continued use of vehicle LOS is an important part of their transportation analysis process. In these communities, vehicle LOS analysis in CEQA documents has achieved the desired outcomes of the jurisdiction and they want to know if they will have to change their process due to SB 743. While a definitive answer won’t be possible until the final CEQA Guidelines are adopted, we do know that SB 743 did not change laws related to general plans, police powers granted to cities and counties by the State constitution, the subdivision map act, or traffic impact fee programs. As such, no changes have occurred for jurisdictions wanting to use vehicle LOS to size roadways in their general plan or determine nexus relationships for their impact fee programs. They can also continue to condition projects to build transportation improvements through the entitlement process in a variety of ways, such as using general plan consistency findings.
 
If anything, the potential loss of vehicle LOS (and similar measures) in CEQA could reinforce the importance of general plans and supporting implementation methods (such as impact fee programs) as the primary means for defining a jurisdiction’s policy approach to transportation. As the importance of general plans increases, it is worth noting that many general plan circulation elements were developed without consideration of capital and O&M financial constraints. These constraints often become apparent in subsequent project-level environmental reviews, frequently leading to significant and unavoidable impact findings because the jurisdiction does not have financial mechanisms that generate sufficient funding to build all of the circulation element improvements. Jurisdictions may also find themselves in this situation if the traffic impact fee necessary to fully fund the circulation element exceeds a reasonable level that could be supported within the development marketplace.
 
Ideally, the general plan would establish vehicle LOS expectations (and commensurate development levels) based on the amount of infrastructure the jurisdiction could afford to build, operate, and maintain. Development projects consistent with this type of general plan would require little (or no) vehicle LOS impact analysis, but instead could focus on issues such as multi-modal site access and parking provision to comply with applicable design standards. This could substantially reduce the effort required in typical CEQA transportation impact studies. In order to achieve this outcome, jurisdictions may need additional resources to update their general plans and transportation financing programs, which is an issue for further discussion.

Knowledge Sharing Opportunities

Shifting from Maintaining LOS to Reducing VMT

March 1, 2019
Los Angeles, CA

Cast Studies of Analysis and Mitigation 
under 
CEQA Guidelines Implementing SB 743

Presented by a group of attorneys, transportation planners and 
transportation consultants with extensive experience in the field, 
including Ron Milam, AICP, PTP, Director of Evolving the Status Quo of Fehr & Peers

UC Berkeley Tech Transfer Course

April 3-4, 2019
Orange County, CA

TE-60 VMT Metrics Policy Application 
& Technical Analysis for SB 743 Compliance 

Presented by: 
Ron Milam, AICP, PTP, Director of Evolving the Status Quo | Fehr & Peers
Antero Rivasplata, AICP, Technical Director | ICF International

Additional Resources

Important findings from the implementation work have revealed that simply analyzing the VMT generated by a project is insufficient to identify potential significant impacts and that TDM mitigation effectiveness cannot be guaranteed since it is often building-tenant dependent.

FHWA Publication on forecasting VMT

Fehr & Peers contributed to the Handbook for Estimating Transportation Greenhouse Gases for Integration into the Planning Process published by FHWA in 2013. FHWA describes the publication as “..a handbook designed to provide information on how to analyze on-road greenhouse gas emissions at the state and regional level, and how to incorporate those analyses into transportation planning efforts.” The handbook is actually quite a bit more than that because it also includes substantial detail on how to forecast VMT given its importance in mobile GHG emissions. Key information includes step by step calculations and summary strengths and weaknesses for each VMT forecasting method.

Additional Research on LOS

Transportation  impact analyses in California have largely focused on auto LOS, which measures transportation network performance only from a driver’s perspective. This document, authored by Fehr & Peers Principal Ron Milam, explains the limitations of this traditional analysis approach and provides additional methods for a more complete analysis.

Download iBook at iTunes
Click to view paper online
Contact the author: Ron Milam

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