11/18/2009: Californians Could Save $31 Billion and Cut Emissions by More Than One-Third by Living in Smart Growth Communities


Smart, Efficient Growth will Cut Infrastructure Costs, Household Transportation Expenses, Lower Housing Costs & Increase Revenues

CONTACT    Marta Lindsey

While some people are questioning whether California can overcome its dominant car culture in order to meet ambitious greenhouse gas reduction targets, a new study from TransForm shows that doing so is both the most cost-effective and environmentally sound option.
The study, Windfall For All: How Connected, Convenient Neighborhoods Can Protect Our Climate And Safeguard California's Economy, finds that residents of the Bay Area, Los Angeles, Sacramento, and San Diego who have access to the best public transportation options are not only emitting far fewer greenhouse gas emissions on average, they are also spending billions less on transportation than residents who live in communities where public transportation is scarce. In fact, if all of the residents in the four regions studied lived in transportation-friendly communities, Californians would save $31 billion dollars per year on transportation costs and emit an average of 34 percent less greenhouse gases.
"This report provides hard evidence that SB375, California's groundbreaking law to promote more convenient walkable neighborhoods with more transportation choices has the power to act as an economic driver," said Stuart Cohen, Executive Director of TransForm, a nonprofit advocacy group that works for world-class public transportation and walkable communities in California. "By reducing public and private transportation costs and increasing revenues to local governments, SB375 can help put dollars back in the pockets of consumers and local governments."
The economic and environmental benefits are as follows:
One out of five Bay Area households is in a neighborhood with both very good public transportation and moderately compact land uses. These households on average benefit from 39 percent lower annual transportation costs than other households.
If all Bay Area residents lived in areas that boast strong public transit and convenient retail and services, residents would spend $10.7 billion less per year (an average of $5,450 per household) on transportation.  Bay Area households with good access to public transportation emit 42 percent less greenhouse gases.
If all Los Angeles residents lived in transit-friendly communities with good access to jobs, retail and services residents would spend nearly $15.4 billion less per year on transportation costs.
Los Angeles households with good access to public transportation emit 38 percent less greenhouse gases than their auto-dependent neighbors.
If all Sacramento residents lived in transit-friendly communities with good access to jobs and retail, residents would spend nearly $2.25 billion less per year on buying cars and running them.
Sacramento households with good access to public transportation emit 27 percent less greenhouse gases than their auto-dependent neighbors.
If all San Diego residents lived in transit-friendly communities with good access to jobs and retail, residents would spend nearly $2.8 billion less per year on transportation.
San Diego households with good access to public transportation emit 30 percent less greenhouse gases.
Overall, the findings indicate that of the four regions studied, the Bay Area is saving the most on transportation costs due to its smart growth communities, with Los Angeles coming in a close second.
TransForm's report also includes case studies of diverse communities including those in San Jose, Windsor, and Marin County that are putting smart growth policies into practice, with notable results.
"We highlight nine great case studies, from universities, to cities, to whole regions, where Californians are turning the tide on inefficient development and are already realizing incredible economic benefits," says Cohen. "UC San Diego is saving millions per year by giving out transit passes and promoting carpooling instead of building $30 million garages, and this same strategy has the University on its way to meeting incredibly ambitious targets for reducing global warming pollution".
In order to fully realize the environmental and economic benefits of SB 375 identified in Windfall for All, TransForm concludes that we need to shift policies and investments to support smart growth development and public transportation.

TransForm's recommendations include:

  • Integrate full economic analysis into planning. The huge dividends from efficient land use become evident once personal costs, not just public budgets, are considered. Without such analysis, we will continue to promote plans and policies that cost too much for families, businesses, and local governments.
  • Provide cities and counties with an infusion of funds to engage the community in planning. The state should make funds available for updating zoning codes and parking policies to make more efficient use of land and resources. Identifying strategies to maintain and expand the number of affordable homes is also critical.
  • Fund cost-effective public transportation. The state needs to provide leadership and restore funds for public transit, as well as make it easier for regions to raise new revenues with climate-impact fees. Economic analysis could determine whether such fees, if spent in ways that promote more efficient communities, can reduce our overall costs.
  • Innovate, evaluate and replicate. There are dozens of innovative strategies - whether an individual program such as car-sharing, or a comprehensive rewards approach such as UC San Diego's. MTC, the Bay Area's transportation agency, will soon launch the first "Transportation Climate Action Program." This program will seed, evaluate and replicate innovative programs. Other regions should follow suit.
  • New development should minimize pollution from new residents - or pay to mitigate it. The San Joaquin Valley is encouraging efficient development from the start. New developments that don't provide walkable communities with convenient transportation choices must mitigate the costs of the air pollution that will be generated by future residents. The state and regional air districts should encourage this same system for mitigating the costs of greenhouse gases. 

SB375 requires the California Air Resources Board (ARB) to propose draft emission reduction targets related to planning and transportation for California's 18 metropolitan regions by June 10, 2010. The ARB must adopt final targets by September 30, 2010. Transform is releasing the results of its report November 19, 2009 at the ARB meeting in Sacramento.