Evaluating the Economic Impact of Transit-Oriented Development in California
Los Angeles is notorious for traffic jams stretching miles out of the city. Photo via Atwater Village Newbie.

Los Angeles is notorious for traffic jams stretching miles out of the city. Photo via Atwater Village Newbie.

Over the next two decades, California will need at least two million new homes to accommodate its growing population, according to a recent report about creating dense urban development.

To make sure this growth is sustainable, California enacted Senate Bill 375 (SB 375) in late 2008. The bill aims primarily to reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT) in California, since passenger vehicles are the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the state.

The law requires metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) “to create and implement land use plans that use compact, coordinated, and efficient development patterns to reduce auto dependency.”

This means encouraging redevelopment in inner cities and building more compact but higher-capacity residencies, as reported in the LA Times. Builders across the country avoid such “infill” development, which is critical for transit-oriented development, because of high costs and perceived regulatory hassles.

But California is forcing them to reconsider. And now, a promising new report from the Urban Land Institute says that SB 375 has great potential to guide smart growth for California, reversing the state’s trend toward suburbanization and sprawl.

How to Make it Work

Californians need to ensure that public transit development keeps up with urban and suburban development. According to the report, “Improving the service levels and ongoing investment in transit capital improvements and operations creates transit certainty, a critical factor for supporting the growth of compact development.”

In a promising move, two days ago the state governor hosted the Summit on the Advanced Transportation Industry, announcing, “Now, more than ever, it is clear that clean transportation is the future.”

The state is also going to need to ensure that state and local funding and policies are aligned in promoting transit-oriented development and that the planning process is transparent for public and private stakeholders.

ULI pointed out that greater public engagement and communication, including news media, simulation tools, and community dialogue, will be crucial to the success of SB 375 and “dispelling any misinterpretation of the policy and gaining public support for successful implementation.” So California planners and policymakers, get out there and show the rest of the country how transit-oriented development can still help Americans kick their car addiction and avoid environmental disaster.

With plenty of citizen engagement, SB 375 has the potential to prevent more developments like this one from popping up. Photo via /\/\ichael Patric|{.

With plenty of citizen engagement, SB 375 has the potential to prevent more developments like this one from popping up. Photo via /\/\ichael Patric|{.

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