I’m honored that this year the Transportation Research Board (TRB) of North America chose to accept my second paper. The topic: strategies to reduce rural vehicle-miles traveled (VMT).
This report was heavily inspired by my time interning with the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research in 2012, and I authored this report in collaboration with one of their Senior Planner’s Chris Ganson. Chris is a brilliant planner, and dedicated to making California’s transportation system more environmentally sound. I appreciate that he’s always encouraged my desire to explore these improvements outside urban areas.
Vehicle-miles traveled (VMT) as an environmental review metric is more effective at combating climate change than level of service (LOS), and policymakers are beginning to advance its adoption for this purpose. Years of research and development prove that VMT mitigation strategies such as density, diversity, and design succeed in urban areas, but doubts remain about how VMT can be mitigated in rural development. This report reviews the current understanding of both urban VMT mitigation and rural development. Finally, additional literature and evidential case studies are explored to identify urban VMT mitigation strategies that can be modified for the rural scale as well as mitigation strategies unique to the rural context.
Building on my Master’s thesis, we begin by splitting “rural” into three more concrete types of areas: productive (low-population places that wholly depend on extractive and agricultural industries), destination (places split between wealthy part-time residents and locals that cater to tourism), and edge (bedroom communities). A sample of mitigations for each include:
- Develop new residential units outside town centers at a density of 10 acres per unit or less.
- Inside town centers, enhance street block grids.
- Reduce the need to travel for information by providing high quality, high-speed broadband Internet service.
- Develop quality affordable housing.Commit to using local products and services in construction and operations.
- Purchase and dedicate land on the outskirts of the destination’s developed area to a land bank or trust, reducing the risk of future high-VMT development
- Implement pedestrian and bicycle way-finding signage to encourage visitors to explore without an automobile
- Unbundle parking from residential units, and offer car share vehicles on site
- Build a network of trails that offer active transportation options between the development and major destinations, such as other neighborhoods, schools, shopping, and recreation.
- Promote and/or provide schoolpooling options for parents, such as organized meeting places or ridesharing tools
Also, my favorite case study:
The City of Covington is a small suburban community outside Atlanta in one of Georgia’s most foreclosed counties of the last decade. Though nearly all construction stalled in 2008, an affordable housing developer approached the city to build 60 affordable, age-restricted apartments and townhomes near the walkable town square. The project, Harristown Park, opened in 2011, and currently has a waitlist of over 2,500 applicants. Many of the initial applicants weren’t actually qualified to live in the development, indicating vast and unmet demand for compact housing even in suburban areas. Though the development is 15 miles from the nearest transit service, the city refers to the site as TOD, or transportation-oriented development.