MTI's latest study shows disadvantaged communities had significantly lower VMT than did...

MTI's latest study shows disadvantaged communities had significantly lower VMT than did advantaged communities.

Photo: MTI

New Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) research titled Safeguarding Equity in Off-Site Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) Mitigation in California examines the equity implications of off-site mitigation strategies, ties the microscale built environment features to VMT, and explores the current perception of the VMT transition process among transportation and planning professionals, according to the institute's press release.

California’s Senate Bill 743 made a change to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by establishing vehicle-miles traveled (VMT) as the transportation impact measure to promote the state’s climate goals.

SB 743 presents opportunities for off-site VMT mitigation through “banking” through contributing to accounts held by local or regional authorities or “exchanges” through choosing from a list of pre-approved jurisdiction-wide mitigation projects.

Off-site mitigation projects could unintentionally burden disadvantaged communities, according to MTI. For example, constructing transit-oriented communities is a highly-favored VMT mitigation strategy found in SB 743, but it also presents a potential equity issue. MTI research suggests that transit-oriented development could lead to higher housing costs and consequently to the displacement of low-income households.

Some key findings from the study show that:

  • Overall, disadvantaged communities had significantly lower VMT than did advantaged communities.
  • On average, macroscale built environment features (e.g. land use, density, housing, and employment access) had the largest impact on reducing VMT (35%), as compared to transit access (15%), microscale features (13%), and income (6%).
  • The combination of all four factors (macroscale, transit access, microscale, and income) must be considered when reducing VMT.

“Ensuring the equitable and proportionate distribution of VMT mitigation benefits means we must first identify communities of concern," said the study’s authors. "Then, we can engage with these communities to analyze how the investments affect them."

MTI's results show a combination of access to dense neighborhoods, high-quality microscale urban design features, and transit access is especially important for mitigating VMT in low-income communities and ensuring that transportation equity and sustainability efforts improve the lives of all individuals.