Metro recently released a draft Countywide Sustainability Policy (pdf) for public comment--it will eventually serve as a tool for Metro to make sure its projects are carried out in an environmentally sustainable way. Here's how the plan itself describes its usefulness: "[the policy] is a tool for better defining the agency's long-term, desired sustainability outcomes in order to facilitate greater coordination and collaboration across transportation modes, planning disciplines (land-use, housing, environment, economic development, health, utilities), and government agencies." You don't have to be a hippie (or a wonk!) to imagine how those improvements could be helpful in spending our Measure R transpo tax dollars. The draft cites "the Livability Principles that influence funding decisions made by federal agencies, the addition of climate change metrics in Regional Transportation Plans (per Senate Bill 375), and the increased interest from local stakeholders in assessing the health impacts of transportation projects" as drivers of a transportation planning sea change. As such, the CSPP attempts to "define outcomes and establish measurements" for the sustainability of future Metro planning efforts.
In an email to Curbed today, Metro Board of Director and Santa Monica City Councilmember Pam O'Conner focused especially on the importance of context in delivering sustainability improvements: "The policy recognizes that all communities will benefit from more sustainable transportation choices, but that the opportunities, challenges, and strategies for getting there may be quite different for each community." As such, the policy considers SoCal regions together in several clusters (it's a good chance to consider what the policy thinks of your neighborhood):
-- Cluster A, defined as areas with "moderate to high residential density with low job centrality." Examples include "the South Bay Cities, portions of the eastern San Fernando Valley such as the Reseda corridor, historic downtowns in places like Monrovia, and the area around the Newhall Metrolink station in Santa Clarita." For the record, "Cluster A has the second-lowest rate of transit ridership (4.9 percent) for commute mode."
-- Cluster B, defined as areas with "an overall housing density lower than seven units per net acre." That includes suburban/rural communities (e.g., Palmdale) and special use areas (e.g., the Port of Long Beach). The policy admits that it will be difficult to get the many solo drivers that come from low density areas to use transit, so "Actions to support telecommuting and the use of cleaner vehicles may be the most promising sustainable alternative for many low-density neighborhoods."
-- Cluster C, defined as "sub-regional centers, neighborhoods, and districts where employment centers are nearby and residential densities are high enough to support local commercial activity." That includes more of LA than people in New York might think, including "historic downtown adjacent neighborhoods with a compact feel like the Mid-City District of Los Angeles and the eastern San Fernando Valley including most of the City of Burbank" (that's 40 percent of the county's residents, or 3.8 million people). 7.1 percent of residents in Cluster C ride transit, 76 percent commute to work alone, and nearly 11 percent do not drive an automobile to work.
-- Cluster D, as you might have guessed, includes regional centers with concentrated economic, entertainment, and cultural activity. That includes "downtowns of Los Angeles, Pasadena, Century City, Glendale, Santa Monica, and Warner Center." Not that we want to contribute to any smug factor of Downtown dwellers, but: "Cluster D has the highest rate of transit ridership (17 percent--more than double the next cluster) and lowest rate of driving alone (66.2 percent) for commute travel. Additionally, more than a quarter (23.7 percent) either walk, bike, or take transit to work."
The CSPP is particularly focused on some of the sexy buzzwords of urbanism in 2012--reducing Vehicle Miles Traveled (the infamous VMT), reducing pollution, and increasing alternative forms of transportation (like walking and biking). The need to reduce vehicle traffic while increasing alternative traffic, according to the draft policy, has everything to do with age: "as the Baby Boomer generation gets older...there will be a greater demand and need for alternative transportation to serve non-drivers." Added to which (and you might want to write this down because this might be the last time that baby boomers and millenials are ever on the same page): "an emerging trend that young people are driving less. Reasons for this...From 2001 to 2009, the average annual number of vehicle miles traveled by young people (16 to 34-year-olds) decreased from 10,300 miles to 7,900 miles per capita--a drop of 23 percent."