Better Regional Planning: Recommendations for the Bay Area

MTC 2009 Regional Transportation Plan (RTP)


RTP recommendations should be inspirational, hard-hitting and provocative, and should be well-differentiated from MTC positions.   (12.9MM ton CO2/yr cuts)

Steve Raney 6/7/07

Recommended Changes to Overall RTP Vision

  1. Backcasting
  2. Efficient Human Settlement Patterns
  3. Innovation
  4. Reduce Suburban VMT
  5. Better Measurement
  6. Peak Oil
  7. One million new "reduced footprint" residents  (cuts 9MM tons CO2/yr)

Project Recommendations

  1. Innovation: VMT Reduction Innovation Grant Program
  2. TOD: 23% Commute VMT Reduction via Paid Office Parking  (cuts 2MM tons CO2/yr)
  3. Transportation Equity: Peak Oil Planning
  4. Modeling: More and better trip diaries
  5. Modeling: Better Journey-to-Work Measurement
  6. TLC: Traffic Reducing Housing  (cuts 1.2MM tons CO2/yr)
  7. TOD: Triple Transit Village Area  (cuts 0.7MM tons CO2/yr)

Vision 1: Backcasting

Given 2020 and 2050 GHG reduction goals, work backwards to a series of projects/proposals to achieve those goals.  This is a significant departure from typical regional planning practice. 


Former Berkeley professor Martin Wachs authored, "How Can Transport Become More Sustainable?" 3.6MB, pages 54-62,

He explains the concept of "backcasting" or backwards forecasting: given 2020 or 2050 carbon goals, work backwards to a series of projects/proposals to achieve those goals.  Most regional plans only allow an "incrementalist" approach and do not work backwards to a series of projects to achieve quantified objectives. 

"In other <international> cases, planning models were used, as they have rarely been in the United States, to 'backcast' rather than to forecast. That is, certain environmental and travel goals were developed for the target year of the plan, and the models were used to test alternative policies and consequently to select policies that would lead to the desired outcomes."

"Despite such urgings and many revisions to planning regulations included in the national highway program, progress in reforming the regional transportation planning process has been limited. We appear to be unable to achieve the dramatic institutional changes that would be needed to make regional planning more capable of addressing sustainability."

At the state level, the CA Climate Action Team has been encouraged to backcast, to define a series of many projects that reduce CO2 by one million or more tons per year. The Climate Action Team is able to think in a very aggressive way about significant climate protections.

Vision 2: Efficient Human Settlement Patterns

The RTP should foster "efficient human settlement patterns," minimizing the distances in each person's "transportation triangle," the distances between home and work, home and activities (shopping and recreation), and work and activities.  Increased efficiency leads to: lower cost of living, reduced GHG, more convenience, less time wasted in traffic, more social connections (happiness), and lower stress.



The transportation triangle

Typical Bay Area one-way home to work distance is 14 miles. Three tons of CO2 per year are reduced for each average Bay Area drive alone commute that can be made green.

Increased efficiency leads to:
* Lower cost of living caused by lower automobile expenses
* Decreased particulate/greenhouse emissions, vehicle miles traveled, and gasoline consumption
* More convenience
* More lively and vibrant places
* Less time wasted in traffic
* More social connections which increases happiness (Robert Putnam, author Bowling Alone, quoted in an April New Yorker issue. For each 10 minute reduction in commute time, 10% more social connections result).
* Lower stress from less time in bumper to bumper traffic
* More family time
* More walking and better health
* Reduced taxes! Efficient human settlement patterns result in a 25% infrastructure (pipes, wires, streets, distribution) capital cost savings over sprawl. See TCRP 74.
* Reduced employee turnover, because higher quality of life increases job duration

Vision 3: Innovation

We will not meet CA 2020 and 2050 climate protection objectives without significant innovation in transportation and land use. Smart Growth is a terrific effort in the right direction, but, in the face of expanding population, Smart Growth must get Smarter.  Davis Professor Dan Sperling summed up the Asilomar Climate Change Conference: "We need significant innovation." 


The funding of TALC's TravelChoice is an example of innovation funding. The recent CA ARB $25MM PHEV funding is another example. Washington State's Commute Trip Reduction competitive grant program is another example. 

The main point of Davis Professor Dan Sperling's Access article on the Asilomar Transportation Climate Change Conference effort is: "we need significant innovation:" 

Smart Growth is a terrific effort in the right direction. However, we need to acknowledge that, in the face of continued Bay Area population growth, smart growth fights a losing battle in the face of larger trends. Many regional plans are characterized by smart growth scenarios that foresee 50% population increase and 40% VMT increase. Thus, while smart growth scenarios are far better than business-as-usual, best current smart growth practices only serve to reduce the acceleration of environmental degradation in comparison. The RTP should result in accelerating improvement, not in degradation. We must augment our smart growth toolkit to make smart growth smarter.

As Fred Keely, former Executive Director of the Planning and Conservation League laments, "A few twenty-acre transit villages represent an insignificant blip in the face of California's projected growth."

The Bay Area is the world's center of innovation. Transistors, stem cell cures, google, myspace, iPods - they all came from here. The world needs Bay Area's innovative leadership and creative thinking applied to global warming, the most serious challenge facing the world.

Vision 4: Reduce Suburban VMT

Suburbia is superb. U.S. quality of life has increased over past decades because of suburban benefits: single family homes, good schools, etc. Amidst the background of all the goodness of suburbia, we do have a serious suburban global warming problem. On a worldwide basis, U.S. suburban households account for far more VMT and GHG than any other type of household.


Please see: .

Vision 5: Better Measurement

"The State and MTC have made GHG reduction a very high priority.  In order to be able to accurately measure the effectiveness of projects to reduce GHG, we must have very high quality, timely data to measure the progress of project implementation.  This will allow us to rapidly change course if a project does not deliver successfully on forecasted GHG reductions."  Chuck Purvis's budget should be doubled. 

Vision 6: Peak Oil

Within the RTP planning period, there is a significant chance of "Peak Oil" occurring.  Gas prices could reach such high levels that low-income workers are "priced out" of commuting to their jobs. The economic impact of Peak Oil on the low-income community could be similar to Katrina.  A "Peak Oil economic disaster plan" should be prepared, with special emphasis on helping low-income workers. 

Vision 7: One million new "reduced footprint" residents  (cuts 9MM tons CO2/yr)

We plan to add 2 million new residents during the RTP period.  New housing and human settlement patterns built during the RTP period will still be standing in 2050 when we hope to have achieved major GHG reductions, hence, this new growth should be energy efficient to 2050 standards.  We assume this means a sea-change move away from auto-centric growth.  A minimum of one million of these new residents should generate 1/4 the VMT of current suburban residents.    At least one-half of this new housing should be in compact mixed-use communities located close to jobs and connected by excellent transit. 

Calculation: 1MM new green residents * 9 tons CO2/yr saved for high-density low-VMT mixed use lifestyle = 9MM tons CO2/yr

Project 1: Innovation: VMT Reduction Innovation Grant Program

Summary and Half-Page Description:

We will not meet CA Climate Action Team 2020 and 2050 climate protection objectives without significant innovation in transportation and land use. The goal of the VMT Reduction Innovation Grant Program is to augment the smart growth and TDM toolkits, making smart growth smarter (more effective). Also, allow risk-taking and the development of innovative policies that have difficulty in getting funded right now.  

Proposed is a $1 million annual grant program, running for five years, with consideration of program renewal after five years, based on a thorough program evaluation. Minimum grant amount: $50,000. Maximum: $350,000. Maximum grant funding period: 36 months. The program will fund innovations that promise large reductions in GHG and VMT. Target areas include: low VMT TOD, parking, ridesharing, carsharing, transit, circulators, behavior change, data collection/measurement, and multi-city planning.


For the detailed proposal, please see:

Project 2: TOD: 23% Commute VMT Reduction via Paid Office Parking (cuts 2MM tons CO2/yr)

Past efforts to convert free office parking to paid parking in the U.S. have failed. This proposal comprehends past failures and employs two new strategies related to a) the Tragedy of the Commons, and b) real-estate economics / in-fill. Requested is a "named" and staffed MTC program (current examples include TLC and HIP).

Half-Page Description:

Past efforts to convert free office parking to paid parking in the U.S. have failed. This proposal comprehends past failures and employs two new strategies related to a) the Tragedy of the Commons, and b) real-estate economics. Because of the real-estate economics, this is an "economically painless" pricing strategy, where no constituent group loses financially. We have spoken to MTC staffers who are a) in favor of paid office parking, and b) talk about this policy as being very hard to achieve, but being the "holy grail of VMT reduction."  By reducing traffic, this scheme enables smart new in-fill on land that was considered to be "built out."

Requested is a "named" and staffed MTC program (current examples include TLC and HIP). As envisioned, MTC staff will lead a city by city advocacy campaign to bring about the policy, then will help administer city implementations. This program represents a major MTC policy adoption and brings about a very large VMT reduction. 


For the detailed five-page proposal, please see:

Calculation: 3MM Bay Area commuters * 23% commute VMT reduction * 3 tons saved per year per reduced commute = 2MM tons CO2.

Project 3: Transportation Equity: Peak Oil Planning

Prepare a "quick implementation disaster plan" to increase SOV alternatives in the case of a rapid increase in gas prices.  MTC should consider pooling resources with other MPOs who share the same need to plan for Peak Oil. 

Half-Page Description:

With Katrina, we knew the levees were weak, but we did nothing.  With peak oil, we know it's coming, so, unlike the levees, we should plan for it.  We should develop and prioritize the Top 20 actions we should take during a Peak Oil induced gas price shock, and train regional agencies to bring the actions about.  Potential emergency solutions include: increased ridesharing, increased telecommuting, compressed work weeks, "ecodriving," and reduced highway speed limits.


First, let's think back before Katrina. We knew the levees were weak, we did nothing. Well, we know peak oil is coming (we just don't know when), but there are ZERO U.S. regional plans that have prepared for peak oil. Within the RTP planning time frame, we know there's a significant (but not guaranteed) chance of peak oil hitting. And, early in 2006, there was an unsuccessful terrorist attack on Saudi oil production. There are plenty of unnerving scenarios that could take out more than 4 million daily barrels of crude off the market with no warning. That would change pump prices from $3 per gallon to $12 per gallon in one week, leading to economic disaster.

In the same way that our planning for Katrina was negligent, our planning for peak oil is negligent. Hence, we should ask that the RTP prepare a "peak oil contingency plan." It might be reasonable to take some guess such as "there is a 25% chance that gas prices will below $6 per gallon thru 2012, then go to $12 in 2013, then $24 in 2014." 

In the UK, Robert Noland has conducted research on immediate steps to take during an oil supply emergency. The RTP Peak Oil plan should review this and other research. An executive summary of the research can be found at:  The study includes recommendations such as:

  • Policies to increase ridesharing 
  • Driving ban to prohibit individuals from driving every other day, based on odd/even licence plate scheme.
  • Encourage telecommuting and prepare by ensuring sufficient residential internet bandwidth
  • Compress the work week (fewer but longer workdays)
  • “Ecodriving” - (teach more efficient driving styles)
  • Reduce highway speed limit to 50 mph 

To add to this UK research, basic solutions such as increasing biking and walking should be added. 

Policy implementation strategies should be defined in the RTP Peak Oil plan.

Project 4: Modeling: More and better trip diaries


Summary and Half-Page Description:

MTC measures household travel of 12,000 people every five years.  We propose a) larger samples, b) more frequent data collection, c) more accurate measurement technology.  From this better data, we will better understand the evolution of TOD trip-making over time and better understand how to create the TODs that minimize VMT. 



MTC should utilize leading edge technology to create more accurate trip diaries, to measure the trips a person takes over the course of one week.  In Atlanta, Larry Frank found that manually-generated trip diaries are problematic.  People underestimate their driving and walking trips. 

The type of new technology that should be deployed is "GPS trip diaries." The University of South Florida's Center for Urban Transportaiton Research (CUTR) has one version, but there are also other choices.  Here's the description of CUTR's: "TRAC-IT is CUTR's "smart, electronic trip diary." TRAC-IT automates the collection and processing of household travel patterns to allow for quantifiable analysis of new techniques to change travel behavior."

TRAC-IT Benefits:

  •       Replacement for error-prone paper trip-diaries

  •       More accurate

  •       Automates much of the data collection process

  •       Collects route information

  •       Increases quality and quantity of collected information

  •       Results can easily be plotted on map

TRAC-IT automatically captures: time, distance, speed, and route.  User enters trip purpose and vehicle occupancy.  TRAC-IT algorithmically guesses the user's travel mode (car, bus, bike, or walk) and user may update the guess.


Examples of new analyses made possible:

  • MTC should measure behavior of residents at new TODs and watch their trips change as retail and recreational opportunities evolve over time. Let's bring more scientific measurement to TOD! 

  • Compare mature TODs (with thriving retail) to newer TODs.  Evolve MTCs travel demand model to comprehend the maturity of TODs. 

  • Rank Bay Area areas by "location efficiency," IE rank Travel Analysis Zones by the VMT generated by residents within these zones.  Map MTC TAZ by comparative VMT.  Green areas for low VMT TOD zones, red areas for high VMT sprawl. 

  • Higher quality data will allow approvals of residential projects to be conditioned on VMT measurements.  IE "Lennar (or Pulte or DR Horton or Shea) can build the first 300 dwelling units, but then trip diaries have to reveal a low VMT mixed use lifestyle before Lennar is entitled to the next 200 units."

Project 5: Modeling: Better Journey-to-Work Measurement


Half-Page Description:


The Urban Land Institute’s report, "Growing Cooler: The Evidence on Urban Development and Climate
Change,” shows that carbon from driving will increase even with more Priuses. Hence dense, vibrant,
smart growth transit-oriented in-fill development is essential to achieve 2020 carbon targets. Pioneering
state legislation including AB32 and SB375 further reinforces the need for smart land use.

The CA Climate Action Team and the Bay Area Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) are very
sincere about reducing VMT/carbon via smart growth to protect the climate. Both must have very high
quality data to measure the progress of climate protection implementation. Otherwise, both will just be
proposing a series of projects without being able to ascertain if they work or not. If the projects don't
work, both need to know rapidly, so that they can change course to meet 2020 carbon targets.
Nationally, land use related measurement is primitive. State and federal governments really don’t know
what is happening. MTC has always been the nation's MPO (metropolitan planning organization)
measurement leader, but even MTC data is lacking.

To protect the climate, we need innovation in measurement of journey to work information: home
origination address and work destination address. We need 95% or better coverage of all Bay Area (and
California) workers and all extreme commuters (those who live outside of the 9-county Bay Area but
commute in), and we want that 95% coverage updated EVERY year and made available within three
months of data collection. More than 50% of household VMT occurs from commuting.

This proposal meets data anonymization/protection standards found in European Parliament Privacy
Directive 95/46/EC, the strictest privacy law to date.

Full proposal:

Project 6: TLC: Traffic Reducing Housing (cuts 1.2MM tons CO2/yr)

For new apartments and condos, Traffic Reducing Housing (TRH) selects residents with fewer cars who will drive less.  Applying TRH to 400,000 of the new homes envisioned in the RTP will save 1.2 million tons of CO2 per year.  MTC should: a) endorse this policy for VMT/GHG reduction, b) as part of an expanded TLC program, allocate $500,000 per year in grant money to cities for policy development and legal/demographic analysis.  MTC's goal should be to have this policy adopted in 10 locations, in order to hit a tipping point where it will spread of its own momentum. 

Half-Page Description:

The 2006 JAPA Robert Cervero / Michael Duncan paper argues for emphasizing efforts to reduce jobs/housing distance to reduce VMT.  The article is "Which Reduces Vehicle Travel More: Jobs-Housing Balance or Retail-Housing Mixing?" in the Autumn 2006 JAPA.  Cervero argues that reducing journey-to-work distance is even more effective at reducing VMT than smart growth. 

Locating housing next to jobs will:

  • decrease particulate/greenhouse emissions, vehicle miles traveled, and gasoline consumption.
  • minimize inconvenience caused to existing neighbors by minimizing resultant traffic congestion at the already congested local intersections, especially around peak commuting hours.  
  • improve quality of life for TRH worker/residents: a) increase family time, b) reduce commute stress, c) reduce the cost of living by reducing auto  ownership/operation costs. 
  • allow workers to walk and bike to work.
  • reduce regional pressure to grow outside the inner suburban ring / greenbelt.
  • enable land-constrained cities to more easily meet RHNA.
  • reduce employee turnover by providing better quality of life.

How important is Walk to Work housing? Crucially important!

  • "The most cost-effective peak hour trip reduction in the Bay Area is to provide housing for workers. Stanford makes money on the housing when they match housing and jobs. This is a traffic reduction measure with a 'negative cost.' " - Jeffrey Tumlin, Principal, Nelson Nygaard Associates transportation consultants.
  • Governor Schwarzenegger's housing vision: "each community should house its own."
  • "An increasing number of Silicon Valley workers have been forced to live farther and farther away from their jobs, with thousands having to commute two to three hours a day, one way, to get to work. This underlines the importance of creating housing in the Silicon Valley not only to improve workers' quality of life but also to cut down on traffic and air pollution" - Carl Guardino, CEO, Silicon Valley Leadership Group (Portsmouth Herald, March 2001).
  • Palo Alto Weekly's Sue Dremann covered Palo Alto's global climate change efforts in the June 21, 2006, lead article.  "Getting people out of their cars is one solution, and closely related would be creating a blueprint for making home and work spaces easily accessible without driving.  One working model is at Stanford University, where priority in housing is given to people who work there.  At Stanford West, people who work at the hospital can bike to work." Palo Alto Councilmember Peter Drekmeier characterizes the TRH opportunity: "Proximity is more important than the efficiency of a vehicle. Our biggest impact on climate change is driving."

For more details including case studies (Redwood City, Stanford, and Santa Barbara), applicable fair housing law and demographic analysis, FAQ, employee/resident tenure analysis, etc:, please see:

Calculations: 400,000 new homes under TRH * 3 tons CO2/yr saved per eliminated commute = 1.2MM tons CO2/yr. 

Project 7: TOD: Triple Transit Village Area (cuts 0.7MM tons CO2/yr)

The Bay Area has about 6,000 acres of transit villages.  17 large suburban office parks encompassing 20,000 acres should be converted to low VMT transit villages.  As cars are removed, these job-rich areas should be in-filled with 68,000 new homes, to balance the jobs/housing imbalance, further reducing VMT over business-as-usual growth.  Office parks are currently the Bay Area's most auto-centered places.  A new transit circulator technology is coming to market in Fall of 2008, personal rapid transit (PRT).  Peter Calthorpe and Sir Peter Hall believe PRT transit circulator technology can transform the Bay Area into a much more sustainable place.  PRT will transform office parks into transit villages. 

MTC should fund a "blue ribbon delegation" trip to Europe to investigate PRT.  MTC should fund staff training on this technology.  MTC should model a "PRT circulator" RTP scenario.

Half-Page Description:

Peter Calthorpe of Calthorpe Associates & Fregonese Calthorpe: We need better transit circulator technology: personal rapid transit:

  • In a six-page paper, , Calthorpe writes: "All the advantages of New Urbanism - its compact land saving density, its walkable mix of uses, and its integrated range of housing opportunities - would be supported and amplified by a circulation system that offers fundamentally different choices in mobility and access. Smart Growth and new Urbanism have begun the work of redefining America's twenty-first century development paradigms. Now it is time to redefine the circulation armature that supports them. It is short sighted to think that significant changes in land-use and regional structure can be realized without fundamentally reordering our circulation system."
  • At the CNU '05 conference, Calthorpe said, "One of my pet peeves is that we've been dealing with 19th Century transit technology. We can do better than LRT. We can have ultra light elevated transit systems (personal rapid transit) with lightweight vehicles. Because the vehicles are lighter, the system will use less energy. I used to be a PRT skeptic, but now the technology is there. It won't be easy to develop PRT technology and get all the kinks out, but it is doable. If you think about what you'd want from the ideal transit technology, it's PRT: a) stations right where you are, within walking distance, b) no waiting."


PRT (personal rapid transit) is coming to the world's largest airport (Heathrow) in 2008.  PRT is given serious consideration in Europe, Asia, and the Mideast, but is mostly ignored in the states.  Transportation alternatives in the U.S. require subsidy, but PRT as a circulator offers the opportunity to run at a profit.  The EU Research Directorate believes PRT is an essential part of their sustainability strategy. 

A popular introductory video about PRT can be found at: See also this introductory web page:

Sir Peter Hall: "The social perception of public transportation depends on the quality of the transportation. I think we may be looking to technological advances in public transportation to create new kinds of personal rapid transit. We had a big breakthrough announced only a week ago that a British system called, literally, PRT, Personal Rapid Transit, is going to be adapted for Heathrow Airport progressively over the next ten years. And when you drive your car into Heathrow to one of the parking lots, you will get your own personal vehicle and program it to go to your terminal, or vice versa. And if this is as successful as I think it will be, this could be a big breakthrough in developing new kinds of totally personalized rapid transit, which could transform our cities in ways that we can't yet see." Dec 15, 2005, Natl Building Museum.

There are 17 major suburban-style job centers in the Bay Area, covering 590,000 employees.  Each of these jobs centers could dramatically reduce VTM via a PRT circulator making ridesharing and transit more effective.  Details on the job centers can be found at:

* HBP - Hacienda Business Park, Pleasanton.
* SSF - South San Francisco's biotech park to the East of Hwy 101
* SRP - Stanford Research Park, Palo Alto
* Bish - Bishop's Ranch, San Ramon -
* Emery - Emeryville: A dense one square mile edge city with more than 1MM square feet of retail and significant residential
* Stan - Stanford: encompasses the University, the regional Stanford Shopping Center, Stanford Hospital, and downtown Palo Alto.
* Shore - Shoreline Business Park, Mountain View. Includes Google campus
* Moffet - Moffet Field, Mountain View
* Whisman - Employment near Central Expressway in Mountain View.
* GreatAm - Great America employment Area, Santa Clara
* nFirst - North First street employment Area, San Jose
* 237680 - Employment southwest of the 237/680 interchange, including the Great Mall, Milpitas
* Oakmead - Employment near Central Expressway in Sunnyvale
* SJC - Employment southwest of San Jose Airport
* Cup - Cupertino - includes Apple Computer Campus
* IBM - IBM Santa Teresa employment center, southeast San Jose
* Walnut – downtown Walnut Creek

One vision for a PRT-centered comprehensive mobility solution for bay area job centers can be found at:

  • Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board, Suburban Silver Bullet: PRT Shuttle and Wireless Commute Assistant with Cellular Location Tracking, TRB, National Research Council, Washington, DC, Number 1872, December 2004, pp. 62-70. Suburban Silver Bullet: PRT Shuttle and Wireless Commute Assistant with Cellular Location Tracking, Steve Raney.
  • TRB 1/07 (accepted for TRR), "Major Activity Center PRT Circulator Design: Hacienda Business Park", - 4.4MB ,


  • 590,000 workers in 17 office parks * 30% VMT reduction * 3 tons CO2/yr = 531K tons CO2/yr
  • 68,000 new residents * 9 tons CO2/yr saved for high-density low-VMT mixed use lifestyle = 204K tons CO2/yr
  • Total = 735K tons CO2/yr