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City of Pasadena, CA: the Shift to VMT for Transportation Impact Analysis


The City of Pasadena became the first city in California to implement the provisions of SB 743, a landmark piece of legislation that shifts emphasis of transportation impact analysis away from Level of Service (LOS) and toward vehicle miles of travel (VMT) projected for proposed development projects. Prior to making this shift, Pasadena staff conducted an extensive stakeholder outreach and education effort over a five-year period, including workshops for decision makers.  The result is an exemplary outreach process and a sophisticated set of procedures for evaluating the transportation impact of proposed new development.

As a result of this effort, the City of Pasadena developed Transportation Impact Analysis: Current Practice and Guidelines which provides guidance on the effects of development projects on the city’s multimodal transportation system, and on livability and mobility for all stakeholders within the city. Pasadena uses a transportation simulation and forecasting computer model to analyze potential transportation and land use changes. This multimodal travel model focuses on local context without the one-size fits all rules that are used in many communities.

There are established thresholds for each type of project proposal that triggers a different level of review. The primary measures used to identify these different review levels are the number of housing units for residential use and the gross floor area for commercial developments. Using these measures, the City determines if a project location warrants special consideration to exempt or impose a review based on VMT and transportation demand management (TDM). VMT-based thresholds from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) are incorporated into the development review with additional Pasadena-specific measures. These thresholds represent allowable limits to projected increases in motor vehicle travel due to new development projects.

Policies and Ordinances that Contributed to Success

The City of Pasadena has a suite of policies and ordinances that support and enable a shift in transportation impact analysis away from LOS and toward VMT. The City’s Trip Reduction Ordinance mandates developer provision of TDM plans, programs, and facilities that may include public transit subsidies, vanpools, alternative work hours, paid parking for employees, reduced parking costs for vanpools and carpools, bicycle parking, bikeway linkages, public transit facilities, and an employee TDM coordinator. The City of Pasadena Traffic Reduction and Transportation Improvement Fees provide funds from new development and redevelopment projects for investments in the City’s pedestrian and bicycle networks and increased service on the Pasadena Transit System bus routes. The Pasadena General Plan Land Use and Mobility Elements encourage transit-oriented and pedestrian-friendly growth, guide the management of multimodal travel corridors, encourage non-auto travel, support community livability, and protect neighborhoods from the impacts of automobile use. Pasadena’s Complete Streets Program implements AB 1358 (the Complete Streets Act) within the city to better accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists on city streets as well as to preserve community livability.

Challenges and Lessons Learned

The City of Pasadena has been deliberate in its outreach to stakeholders, including residents, developers, and policy-makers. There were five years of outreach and deliberation prior to re-structuring the City’s transportation impact analysis policy and procedures. Problems, issues, and objectives were discussed in this public process. Pasadena has also invested resources and time in developing sophisticated analytical tools and staff capability to use these tools effectively. The Pasadena Travel Demand Forecasting (TDF) model enables City staff to estimate local transportation impacts relatively easily. The combination of public engagement, a context-sensitive approach, sophisticated tools, and a highly capable staff has allowed Pasadena to successfully reform the transportation impact analysis of new development and redevelopment.

City of Oakland: Transitioning to Vehicle Miles Traveled

Modernizing the Transportation Impact Review Process

Place-type: Urban Neighborhood


The City of Oakland has adopted a new methodology for traffic management with the goal of minimizing the need for new road and parking capacity and associated impacts on community livability. This methodology will address transportation impacts measured in Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) instead of the more conventional model focusing on motor vehicle delay measured in Level of Service (LOS). VMT-focused policy has several benefits. Firstly, it prioritizes mobility (getting people where they need to go) while reducing the number of vehicles miles needed to do so. Compared with LOS’ optimization of speed of travel, VMT works towards reduced emissions from transportation. Secondly, VMT provides a more accurate understanding of land development impacts on highways, public transit systems, and bicycle and pedestrian conditions. Lastly, VMT makes it simpler to calculate and measure regional impacts instead of just local impacts. This methodology will reduce requirements for unnecessarily wide traffic lanes and support more vibrant walkable communities. The VMT approach was created when it became apparent that LOS used in the CEQA guidelines detracted from efforts to create higher quality walkable development.

Policies/Ordinances that Contributed to Success

This policy change is part of a broader array of strategies outlined in The City of Oakland’s newly developed Transportation Strategic Plan. The plan is based on a vision for the city and how the Oakland Department of Transportation serves it in four key areas: equity, safety, sound infrastructure, and responsible governance. The City of Oakland Modernizing Transportation Impact Review Project  and the shift to VMT-oriented policy were enacted in response to the requirements of SB 743.

On April 14, 2017, The City of Oakland issued Transportation Impact Review Guidelines that incorporated guidance on using VMT as a key metric in transportation impact analysis of new land development.  This guidance conforms with the CEQA Update and Technical Advisory issued by the California Governor’s Office of Planning and Research. The City of Oakland considered a variety of metrics in revising its transportation impact review process. VMT was chosen to align with state policy in conjunction with SB 743 and as a robust indicator of the transportation impact of new development.


Cities in California will have until January 2020 to comply with SB 743. Use of VMT as a transportation impact analysis metric will promote the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, the development of multimodal transportation networks, and a diversity of land uses. The Office of Planning and Research has selected VMT as a replacement measure for LOS not only because it satisfies the explicit goals of SB 743, but also because agencies should already be familiar with this metric. Several cities, including Pasadena and San Francisco, have already implemented the changes.

It is anticipated that this approach will achieve the GHG emission reduction goals; align transportation analysis under CEQA; simplify the land entitlement review process; allow local agencies discretion in implementing circulation systems; and encourage policy trade-offs in dealing with traffic congestion.

Summary of Best Practices, Transportation Impact Review Streamlining

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