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.”
Can lead agencies continue using LOS until July 1, 2020?
Unfortunately, this is not a simple question and is probably best answered by lawyers well-versed in CEQA. A potential interpretation though that bears consideration is one based on the simple language of the CEQA Statute and CEQA Guidelines. As noted above, the CEQA Guidelines allow an opt-in period before use of VMT is mandatory. However, Section 15064.3 does not include any language stating that lead agencies may continue using LOS. This is where the SB 743 Statute language below becomes relevant because it states that upon certification of the CEQA Guidelines, LOS shall not be considered a significant impact on the environment. Let us know if you have comments or recommendations about this information and we’ll keep this content updated.
(b)(2) Upon certification of the guidelines by the Secretary of the Natural Resources Agency pursuant to this section, automobile delay, as described solely by level of service or similar measures of vehicular capacity or traffic congestion shall not be considered a significant impact on the environment pursuant to this division, except in locations specifically identified in the guidelines, if any.
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
How does SB 743 apply to my project?
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.
Frequently Asked Questions
- What was the legislative intent of SB 743 (2013)?
- What does the new CEQA Section 15064.3 adopted by the state in December 2018 require?
- What decisions do a local agency need to make to implement these new guidelines?
- How does the OPR Technical Advisory recommend implementing CEQA Section 15064.3?
- Is a lead agency required to follow recommendations in the Technical Advisory?
- What are the pros and cons of following the Technical Advisory guidance with respect to CEQA defensibility?
- What other challenges should a lead agency consider?
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?
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.
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.
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.