Reconnecting America People * Places * Possibility

LA Metro Wins Award for Sustainable Communities Planning Policy

On May 2, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) earned the 2013 Southern California Association of Governments' President's Award of Excellence for its Countywide Sustainability Planning Policy.

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Countywide Sustainability Planning Policy was adopted by the Metro Board in Fall 2012, and is based on  work by Metro staff and a consultant team led by ARUP, and including Center for Transit-Oriented Development partners Reconnecting America and the Center for Neighborhood Technology, as well as Fehr and Peers and Barrio Planners. We at Reconnecting America want to congratulate Metro on getting recognition for this huge step forward in sustainability planning. Separate Metro policies address sustainability in operations and construction.

The Countywide Sustainability Planning Policy document can be found here.

As an authority dedicated to the sustainability of Los Angeles County's people, environment, and economy, Metro faces the enormous task of ensuring that transportation investments adequately serve a 4,700 square mile area with almost 10 million residents. With a geography as diverse as its population, Metro's Countywide Sustainability Planning Policy & Implementation Plan uses an innovative approach to ensure that transportation investments are tailored to the context of individual communities in a way that reduces congestion and vehicle miles traveled.

Addressing actions to improve mobility, the policy emphasized the benefits of “bundling” strategies together, because people’s complicated lives don’t lend themselves to single transportation solutions.  A range of activities from new rail investments to safety programs demonstrate Metro's commitment to action across the spectrum of transportation initiatives.

The original data analysis conducted as a foundation for Metro’s Countywide Planning activities illustrates the importance of residential density and employment centrality in creating accessibility for Los Angeles residents and businesses.  This confirms that Los Angeles shares basic characteristics with US urban areas generally, that residential density and employment centrality (a measure representing both number and nearness of jobs) are keys to lowering Vehicle Miles Traveled (See Figure Below), and retail in a mixed-use environment is a valuable contributing factor.

As Residential Density and Employment Centrality Go Up, VMT Goes Down

VMT Chart
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Though casual observers may view Los Angeles County as a place where the land-use and transportation systems are poorly matched, the project analysis offered some very positive perspectives on land-use patterns.  Over 70% of the population lives in areas characterized as having medium or high residential density, as well as medium or high job accessibility, with 66% of county jobs located in those areas, reflected by both high residential density and high employment centrality. In contrast, less than 15% of the Los Angeles County population lives in areas with relatively weak job accessibility.

And of course, transit has to be reliably available for people to use it. One fascinating finding about travel behavior from our partners at the Center for Neighborhood Technology during this work was that based on this data from Los Angeles County, income turned out to be a less important factor in how much people drive on average than we might have expected. But access to transportation is key. Where you live is more important than who you are.  

Neighborhoods (Census Tracts) were Clustered Based on Density and Centrality

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Metro Sustainability Clusters
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Once calculated by neighborhood, the place-based policy directs Metro to context-sensitive policies that create the best fit between service and investment decisions and the places they will serve (see above). By sorting neighborhoods in the county into four key Accessibility Clusters based on their proximity to jobs and residential density, the plan offers "place-based" policies that could improve the sustainability performance of the transportation system in each of the four Accessibility Cluster types. These policies cover Sustainable Transportation, Local Government Planning, Transit Services, and Street Operations (see below).

Clusters Tied Together with Policies Determine Strategies

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In the future, Metro will determine what strategies will be needed to implement policies that are targeted specifically to the clusters.  Through this approach, every different type of community throughout the county can receive investments that will help improve its sustainability, but that are cost effective and contextually appropriate. This simple framework advances the field of sustainability in transportation by investing with thought to both local land uses and regional proximity to jobs.

The Countywide Sustainability Planning Policy document can be found here..

For more information about this project, contact Sarah Jepson at Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority or Ellen Greenberg at ARUP.