Thursday, December 30, 2010

WSDOT report on impacts of VMT reduction strategies

The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) commissioned a study by the Washington State Transportation Center (TRAC) concerning the Impacts of VMT Reduction Strategies on Selected Areas and Groups (December 2010 - 1.8 MB PDF).  The study is released in the context of RCW 74.01.440, which in 2008 established statewide benchmarks to achieve per capita vehicle miles traveled (VMT) reductions over the next 40 years.

The VMT benchmarks are per capita reductions of 18% by 2020, 30% by 2035, and 50% by 2050, based on an estimated VMT baseline of 75 billion miles in 2020.

The purpose of this study is to identify and assess current reports, studies, and academic literature about potential VMT reduction strategies and their economic impacts on five geographic areas, populations and business groups as specified in RCW 47.01.440(4).

For background information and ideas about VMT reduction strategies, visit the Transportation Demand Management (TDM) Encylopedia maintained by the Victoria Transport Policy Institute (VTPI).


Marion said...

The legislature required WSDOT to study the impact of vmt reduction on specific populations and areas and report back to legislative committees. This report points out that blanket policies such as pricing would place disproportionate burdens on low income people and rural areas and that a variety of strategies are needed that are suitable for different populations and areas.
The report concludes that the greatest opportunity for vmt reduction through providing single occupancy alternatives is in metropolitan areas. On our small Jefferson County scale, this means providing alternatives in the Port Townsend to Port Hadlock corridor and within city limits. However, since Jefferson County is essentially rural, the report does not seem to provide much encouragement for development of VMT reduction programs, as it recommends that efforts should be focused on metropolitan areas.
I think the report misses important points. Our per capita vmt and total vmt in Jefferson County are significantly above average for the State, due to our age distribution. This means we are contributing more than our share to State vmt and should be doing more to help meet State mandates for vmt reduction.
The report also does not integrate the diverse benefits of vmt reduction, but focuses solely on meeting a legislative mandate. Every report from now on should at least mention that vmt reduction helps to meet many and diverse objectives, such as reducing dependence on shrinking resources, reducing ghg, improving health, reducing pollution etc. These benefits should not be focused on metropolitan areas, just because that is where vmt reduction can be most easily accomplished.
We failed to win the grant for a Smart Trips program. We touted it as a model for reducing vmt in rural areas. We will have to be more convincing and keep demonstrating that rural areas need vmt reduction for a host of reasons, including helping the state to meet vmt reduction goals, but even more to improve quality of life and to protect the environment.

Marion said...

I should clarify that the Washington State legislature passed RCW 47.01.440, setting benchmarks for reducing the per capita vehicle miles travelled (vmt) by 50% by 2050 with the goal of reducing greenhouse gases. As is often the case, this goal indicates a single purpose, and does not reference the numerous other benefits of reducing the number of miles travelled on the roads, such as reduction in toxic air pollution, health benefits, reduction in runoff and economic benefits. So studies like this one only give a narrow viewpoint which does not help to promote a vision of an improved transportation system that would benefit our quality of life. Marion

Scott said...

I found the document’s recommended conclusions are not supported by the summarized and included reports. This then begs the question of who had their thumb on the outcome.

I believe it is a blunder for the author's to have only offered one way of reducing VMT through a VMT pricing plan. The conclusions offer no strategy for the practical and political hurdles to implement their proposal, a strategy they admit has no easy method of implementation, even while suggesting that certain vulnerable populations be exempt.

The conclusions miss a potential for affecting VMT with how we invest for other modes.

The conclusions dismiss any investment strategies for rural counties. Without solutions there are several rural counties at risk of becoming part of the problem. I suggest that all UGAs be included in the strategies as they will benefit no matter what their population.

Though the body of the report offers many successful strategies, the report’s conclusions may not significantly affect VMT. Implementing the report’s conclusions will, however, allow DOT to continue their unrestrained paving and polluting the land which we need to survive, while rending the fabric of our communities with traffic.

The remaining comments are supported by the document’s referenced reports.

Probably the most cost effective strategy is to implement a pricing program for parking. The current cost of parking outside the dense urban core currently offers no disincentive for driving; in fact, it is an incentive to drive since transit is inconvenient and fares for most trips are more than the cost of fuel for a personal vehicle. Municipal governments subsidize driving through land use codes requiring excessive amounts of parking. They create the need for large residential lots and for commercial sprawl, both of which require a car to access, which creates increased VMT, which creates the need for additional roadway capacity, which reduces walking, biking safety and transit convenience, decreasing the probability of individuals choosing those modes, thus leading to increased GHG, a sick Puget Sound from polluted storm water, etc. As an added benefit, reduced parking requirements will create huge amounts of land now dedicated to parking will become available for other uses, including in-fill development which will generate greater tax revenue as well as lower overall maintenance costs for roadways and utilities. Reduced parking will naturally be friendly for walking and bicycling, thus increasing demand for transit service, and concurrently improving livability as well as personal health. To sweeten the pie, the revenue generated from parking pricing can be used to improve pedestrian and bicycle facilities, and transit service.

We have no choice but to make significant investment in transit as well as the active transportation modes of walking and biking, or the goals of substantially reducing VMT will not be met. Sadly, the DOT’s current strategy of addressing “safety and congestion” issues demonstrates they are still fixated on improved capacity for the SOV, which under the strategies suggested in this document will allow them to continue. What DOT needs is help finding a way out of mess they’ve created. That will only come from making the old highway department into a full service transportation entity. As well, how fuel tax monies may be spent must be altered. If climate chaos, the health of Puget Sound, wars for oil, peak oil issues, oil drilling in environmentally sensitive areas, the deterioration of urban livability and declining personal health weren’t such frightening issues, this situation might actually be funny. It is not funny, it is scary and we need ideas that will work and leadership to sell them.

The conclusion should say that any solution to reducing VMT must address concurrently pricing, driver options, and land use rules.

gordon said...

The VMT reduction strategies report does not address VMT in rural areas as hoped. It does however provide a good primer on VMT strategies what works or might work. It also explains how trade offs in human behavior works. I do not look to WSDOT or Olympia to figure this out. They do a good job reporting on observations. WSDOT/Olympia successes in with CTR in metro areas are its forte.
I think a good starting place for Jefferson County VMT reductions strategies lies in land use. Jefferson County has made decisions about development/land use that forces high VMT. Higher than King, Kitsap, Snohomish and Clallam counties. Residents of Jefferson County shop for goods and services in Sequim, Silverdale and Port Angles. A simple example might help. A couple, life time residents of Port Townsend refurbishing their home purchased a new refrigerator, sofa, thermo-pane windows and heat pump. They had to travel outside of Jefferson County to make these purchases. They make their decisions weighing the environmental challenges as well as their budget. It is useful to note they do most of their shopping at Costco combining multiple trips into one (a VMT reduction strategy). Our VMT numbers may stem from consequences of land use/development strategies more than anything else.
I live in PT, do not own a car and rely on split modal strategies (bike, bus & walk)to accomplish all that is needed. Google "Portland area bike box: The Movie" (and the list of videos below the photo on the site)might offer some marketing ideas to spur individual adoption of VMT reduction strategies. The approach to get people enthusiastically engaged in split modal transportation options might work. Enthusiasm is catching, positive and invokes engagement. As the site Portland's Bike Box: The Movie (and the others listed below it)show engagement can result in personal triumph. Who can argue against that.
VMT reduction relies on individual motivation to be successful. Any gains in VMT reduction will be a slow and gradual. All successful reduction strategies reported on rely on development decisions where housing, employment, and services are co-located. For now enthusiasm may offer the best VMT reduction strategy for Jefferson County.