Kirk Vartan leads the discussion, which included updates on the Pueblo Play Park (working name), the Cap over I-280 and a new affordable housing option.
The slides presented by Jessica Zenk of the City of San Jose’s Department of Transportation regarding the change from Level of Service to Vehicle Miles Traveled to measure how new developments affect transportation alternatives and the resulting environmental impact. In a nutshell, VMT is more of a measure of human-centric versus car-centric designs of the built-environment. The State of California’s goals with this policy change is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and traffic-related pollution, while promoting biking, walking, transit and development near transit and provide clean, efficient access to destinations.
Note, the green areas shown in the maps (starting on page 7 of the linked PDF) mean developments will have a lower impact on Vehicle Miles Traveled, as those are areas where there are either more nearby amenities (e.g. schools, shops, jobs, transit) and the resulting CEQA impact would be less than areas identified in red.
An Email Update from Jessica Zenk
Author’s Note: I forwarded my comment, which is found in the comments section below, directly to Jessica and the following represents our email exchange where she puts some finer points on VMT.
Question Regarding Density Breakeven:
It looks like about 55 dwelling units per acre for pure residential and 35 dwelling units per acre for mixed residential and commercial is needed to support transit. On pure commercial, the project must be a 0.75 Floor Area Ratio, which is the equivalent to a 3 to 5 story building. Are these numbers, particularly the density per acre, also the same as far as when the cost to the city for a given development is zero? The implication is that greater density actually pays for the city.[Added 3/15/21 – See this November 24th, 2015 Memo for additional insight into how density can be a net revenue generator for the city.]
“We have looked at these numbers and compared them to the fiscal study that was updated about a year ago. The 55 DU/acre number is essentially based on that. The other two numbers (35 DU/acre and .75 FAR) are based on OPR’s research and statewide recommendations (we essentially are starting with a more stringent recommendation from staff for this exemption that the State guidelines include, and to establish that more stringent point we have taken our own cost/fiscal figures into account).”
Question Regarding How to Measure VMT:
Interesting question towards the end of your presentation regarding how the data is generated for Vehicle Miles Traveled. It sounds like it is mostly a model with input from various sources, including U.S. Census, the state and MTC. It seems like there should be a more dynamic and accurate way of getting the data; such as aggregating the location data from the San Jose Clean app (more detail of how this might work can be found at https://github.com/codeforsanjose/Project-Ideas/issues/96).
“Thanks, Ken. This is one of the most interesting components. It’s as much about getting the data as it is about getting consistent and defensible methodologies across jurisdictions. This is why using a model derived from MTC/VTA is really important – the data is good, but at least as important is that we will be comparing in a relatively apples to apples way across cities and have something that stands up in court. That said, we are exploring how we do our data collection and model development in the future, including through conversations with Sidewalk Labs (an arm of Google) about the model they are developing. Very much open to suggestions on this too – the SJ Clean app is an idea we can look into!”
Regarding the measurement of VMT, in a subsequent email exchange Jessica clarified a statement made in her presentation;
“One thing I would ask, though, is that you also help me correct something I misunderstood and therefore misstated in the meeting: based on questions (namely Kirk’s, echoed by others) about the credibility of the VMT per worker number, I asked my colleagues and our consultants about it. They clarified that the VMT per worker number I was using is from a “trip-based” model, rather than an “activity-based” model, meaning that the average VMT number cited only represents part of the daily VMT per worker, not all of it as I stated. They are going to follow up with a more thorough explanation, which I will share with you; I’d appreciate it if you’d post that as well to correct the record, as I’m sorry I misrepresented it. This should significantly help the numbers we are using pass the “smell test” regarding average daily travel.”
Question Regarding the Cost of Parking:
As the city looks at VMT, is there consideration of finding ways at the local level to accurately account for the various costs of transportation? For instance, a car-free project could mean the creation of housing that is more affordable (e.g. approximately $50k per parking space reduction in cost, which at 1 parking spot per unit means $50k less cost). Lyft did an interesting experiment recently that put a price on the “free” parking https://www.bloomberg.
“I read this! As an economist by training (undergrad), I agree that this is critically important.”
Question Regarding Matching Parking/Road-Use Costs to Actual Use
However, the benefit of car-free goes away, if people simply park there cars on the street for “free”, which is an external cost borne by the surrounding neighborhood, as well as the extra public land that must be set-aside for parking.
A couple thoughts jump out as far as how this might be addressed, including Residential Parking zones (say 1/2 mile from such development) that would be very expensive (say $1,000 per year). The money from such an effort could go to improvements in that community.
Similarly, there might be a mandate to require some sort of subsidized shuttle that would feed regular transit. A subsidized shuttle-type or on-demand service could be of benefit to a low-density neighborhood. This last-mile service could feed a more focused VTA service that would serve more East-West/North-South routes with fewer, but more frequent service, as detailed in this post:
Also, another thing to consider, and this would probably have to be a county-wide effort, is to an across-the-board fee for every vehicle (there are over 1.3M cars in Santa Clara County, according to DMV records). It also might be a non-linear fee, so that, for example the first car is charged X, with a 2nd car 3X and the 3rd car 4X. A per car fee would be more appropriate than a sales tax for transportation, as it associates revenue with the thing that costs money (e.g. wear and tear from the vehicles, etc.). Reducing the sales tax by the amount raised by a vehicle tax would probably be less of a regressive tax than, say, a sales tax.
“Agreed yet again. I think you have appropriately outlined phases 2 through 10 in this work. (only half joking 🙂 ) In all seriousness, we are working with VTA and other jurisdictions on how to think about having regional consistency and potentially fees to help get to our collective goals.”
Please join us on 8/16 for a community meeting hosted by the Winchester Neighborhood Action Coalition (WNAC) on the upcoming transition from Level of Service analysis (LOS) to Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) for transportation analysis. Per State law, the City is working to implement the new policy for transportation analysis under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
At this meeting we will introduce VMT and discuss how it affects transportation analysis in your community.
Here are the details of the meeting:
DATE: Wednesday, August 16th
TIME: 6:30 pm – 8:30pm
LOCATION: Cypress Community Center, Room 5 (403 S. Cypress Ave, San Jose)
Your feedback and input will help us develop our VMT implementation plan and we hope you will make time to participate.
More information about this policy update can be found on our website at www.sanjoseca.gov/vmt.
A light pizza dinner and cannoli will be provided at this meeting. Please RSVP to Bena Chang at email@example.com by Tuesday, August 15th for planning purposes.