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Climate Change Mitigation Peer Exchange Report

The Role of Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) in Climate Change Mitigation

Held November 3-4, 2011 in St. Louis, MO


January 10, 2012

Prepared for

Federal Highway Administration

Prepared by

ICF International
1725 Eye Street NW, Suite 1000
Washington, DC 20006

Climate Change Mitigation Peer Exchange
Draft Report
The Role of Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) in Climate Change Mitigation


On November 3rd and 4th, 2011, FHWA hosted a peer exchange in St. Louis Missouri, entitled "The Role of Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) in Climate Change Mitigation." The peer exchange was hosted by the East-West Gateway Council of Governments, and provided an opportunity for representatives from ten MPOs representing large metropolitan areas to discuss opportunities for mitigating climate change and analyzing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions within their regions. The peer exchange included representatives from:

For a complete list of participants and contact information, please see Appendix A.

The MPO Peer Exchange consisted of a series of presentations on climate change mitigation activities, GHG analysis strategies, and incorporation of climate change into planning. Participants were encouraged to ask questions and engage in discussion about their current practices, challenges, and opportunities for future activity.

This document summarizes the presentations, participant discussions, and cross-cutting themes from the peer exchange, and also notes additional resources available to MPOs. Workshop materials presented during the exchange are available from FHWA upon request.

Peer Exchange Summary

Over the course of the peer exchange, participants presented on and discussed a variety of issues related to GHG analysis and climate change mitigation. Many of the participating MPOs are conducting GHG analysis, and a smaller number are considering GHG emissions in their project selection criteria - whether through cost-benefit analysis, or other project scoring methodologies. MPOs use a range of analysis techniques to quantify emissions from transportation, usually including multiple approaches within each agency, such as using MOVES for emissions analysis and off-model spreadsheet approaches for analysis of particular reduction strategies. MPOs are very interested in identifying effective mitigation strategies and in finding ways to implement these strategies, where possible. A number of metropolitan areas have found that the highest GHG emissions reductions stem from outside technological advances and legislative activities, including fuel efficiency standards and diffusion of advanced vehicle technologies, though regional land use planning and transportation strategies also offer important GHG reduction benefits, as well as other mobility, livability, and environmental benefits.

The peer exchange began with a short introductory presentation given by Michael Grant of ICF, and participants briefly introduced themselves. Three participants presented on their MPOs' current activities: Larry Foutz (Miami-Dade MPO), Anne McGahan (Boston MPO), and John Posey (EWGCOG). Following these presentations, the group discussed challenges and opportunities for climate change mitigation. In the afternoon, participants Kyung-Hwa Kim (ARC), Robert Graff (DVRPC), and Erin Morrow (MWCOG) presented on the creation of GHG inventories and other GHG analysis issues at their respective MPOs. In the second afternoon session, participants Jonathan Ehrlich (Metro Council), Charlie Howard (PSRC), and Steve Cook (DRCOG) presented on mitigation strategies and their integration into the planning process.

Day two of the peer exchange began with brief discussions of other topics that had been mentioned earlier and tabled items such as MPO relationships with state DOTs, cities and counties, the role of corridor studies, and incorporation of aviation and marine emissions. Diane Turchetta provided a summary of FHWA's GHG mitigation initiatives and asked for feedback on what MPOs needed from FHWA. Brenda Dix (MTC) presented on MTC's Climate Initiatives Program as the lead in to a discussion of strategies for communicating about mitigation strategies and their co-benefits. To close, Michael Grant presented on an FHWA handbook under development for MPOs and State DOTs on how to conduct GHG analysis for integration into the planning process. Participants were asked to provide some initial feedback on the handbook's content and structure.

Presentation and Discussion Summaries

Ed Hillhouse, Executive Director of the East-West Gateway Council of Governments, welcomed participants to St. Louis and Diane Turchetta, FHWA, welcomed participants to the exchange and explained the series of FHWA peer exchanges focused on climate change adaptation and mitigation.

Context for Climate Change Mitigation

Mr. Grant presented briefly on integrating GHG analysis into metropolitan transportation planning, including opportunities for climate change initiatives in the planning process. The presentation also featured a summary of responses to a survey that participants had completed prior to the peer exchange. The survey showed that most MPOs in attendance, generally among the larger MPOs in the country, have completed a GHG inventory and many are including GHG forecasting or strategy analysis in their planning efforts. While some are very active in mitigation, others are in early stages, and the primary motivations for these activities are sustainability and legislative requirements.

Current Mitigation Efforts

Three participants provided highlights of their MPOs' activities relative to greenhouse gas mitigation. A brief summary of these presentations is included below:

Miami-Dade MPO: Miami-Dade County is currently in attainment under the Clean Air Act (CAA), which limits the area's access to funding for GHG mitigation efforts. The County's key governing document related to climate change is the Greenprint, which has goals for energy consumption, ecosystem preservation, transit provision, and GHG reduction, among others. The MPO has also had success with creating managed lanes that are increasing transit ridership and also improving traffic flow.

Boston MPO: The Boston MPO wrote a white paper on climate change in 2008, and later that year the state adopted the Global Warming Solutions Act, which requires a 25 percent reduction below 1990 emissions levels by 2020. Reductions required from transportation and estimates of transportation emissions at a statewide level were based on fuel sales, which the MPO is now trying to reconcile with their own vehicle miles traveled (VMT)-based estimates. Boston's climate change initiatives include a livable communities program to provide technical assistance to local governments and help them identify low-cost improvements; and the MPO included climate change impacts as part of the project selection criteria for the most recent long-range transportation plan (LRTP).

East-West Gateway Council of Governments: EWGCOG does not have a formal climate change program. However, many of its initiatives could reduce regional emissions and the MPO is analyzing and trying to reduce VMT through improved land use and transit oriented development (TOD) around its MetroLink stations. EWGCOG is also examining the possibility of a loop trolley near Washington University, and is actively engaged with the Department of Energy's Clean Cities program to reduce petroleum use.

Challenges and Opportunities for Addressing Climate Change

The group discussed overall challenges and opportunities in analyzing emissions and implementing mitigation strategies. The following issues were identified (note that some of these challenges came up during other discussion periods):



GHG Inventories, Forecasts, and Methodologies

Michael Grant began with a brief overview of GHG inventory and analysis methodologies, including fuel consumption and VMT methods. This was followed by three participant presentations focusing largely on GHG analysis issues, with questions and discussion integrated throughout.

Atlanta Regional Commission: The Atlanta region is facing rapid population growth, congestion, sprawl, and fleet inefficiency that contribute to poor air quality. ARC has performed a scenario planning study to assess emissions and analyze how to reduce them. ARC initially used EPA's MOBILE6 emissions model, a land use model, and its activity-based travel demand model to perform the analysis and to forecast emissions under alternative scenarios and strategies. The analysis has found that CAFE standards will do the most to reduce emissions, although transit-focused land use and good planning for transportation investments will have some benefits. Per capita GHG emissions are forecast to decline substantially, but total emissions are still estimated to increase due to population growth. ARC has analyzed potential walking demand and multimodal accessibility as part of its latest regional plan analysis, and is incorporating CO2 reduction into benefit cost analysis, by assigning a price per ton of emissions. ARC also has more recently begun to utilize the EPA's MOVES model.

Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission: DVRPC straddles two states, nine counties, and 352 local governments. It completed a GHG inventory in 2009 for calendar year 2005 and is working on climate change mitigation and energy savings through a variety of strategies - including many not directly related to transportation. A significant portion of the region's electricity comes from coal (consequently, coal accounts for 32% of regional emissions), meaning that converting to electric vehicles or other electricity-based technologies may not reduce emissions as significantly as in regions that use less coal. Because of the large number of municipalities in DVRPC's planning area, DVRPC has been working on allocating emissions and VMT to its various local governments as part of its inventory. Its methodology for this has been to allocate half of a trip's VMT to the origin and half to the destination but none to any pass-through area. It does not include pass through highway trips and airport-bound trips in its allocated VMT estimation, although they are included in regional total. DVRPC is also updating its inventory for calendar year 2010 and is considering including an alternate consumption-based inventory that would consider the GHG impact of the production of any goods consumed, even if it takes place outside of the Philadelphia region, though the methodology is challenging.

Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments: The National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board (TPB), which is the MPO for the Washington DC area,  performed a "What Would it Take?" scenario analysis to find what would be required to reduce transportation emissions by 33.9% in order to meet the non-sector specific reduction goals adopted by the MWCOG Board. Key findings included the significance of CAFE standards and other Federal activities in helping achieve reduction goals, variation in CO2 emissions by speed, the future importance of freight in regional emissions, and learning that many of the region's trips are short - i.e. candidates for conversion to walking or biking. The TPB developed a list of 37 strategies, analyzed them independently, and grouped them based on the level of government capable of implementation. They also compared cost-effectiveness and emissions reduction effectiveness of the strategies. As a result, some of the emphasized strategies include an eco-driving campaign, continuation of incident management programs, and acceleration of implementing bike and pedestrian plans in the region. Many of these strategies have multiple benefits: reducing GHG emissions while also providing travel time savings, cost savings, or livability improvements.

Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Strategies, Strategy Analysis and Incorporation into the Planning Process

During this session, three participants presented on their mitigation strategies, the related strategy analysis, and links between these strategies and the planning process.

Metropolitan Council: Metro Council covers a seven county area and also operates transit and wastewater systems in the Twin Cities' region. The region is in conformity and so has not begun using MOVES to perform emissions analysis, but has been analyzing VMT reduction strategies. As part of this effort, Metro Council developed an Air Quality Assessment Tool to help land use developers determine how to reduce transportation-related GHG emissions from prospective developments. The tool allows a developer to enter various characteristics of the development into a spreadsheet and generate comparisons between two options. While not meant to forecast emissions from any proposal, it could help estimate change in VMT between alternatives. Metro Council is encouraging its use to help affect local land use decisions.

Puget Sound Regional Council: The Seattle area has grown and is forecast to continue growing. A state growth management act provides a framework for planning, and the state requires a 50% statewide overall emissions reduction below 1990 levels by 2050, with a VMT reduction benchmark of 50% below a 2020 baseline by 2050. A larger amount of the state's emissions come from transportation (50%) than in other metropolitan areas, since much of its electricity comes from hydroelectric power. PSRC has adopted a long range transportation plan called Transportation 2040, which contains a greenhouse gas reduction strategy focused on land use, user fees, technology, and transportation choices. Through its growth management framework, PSRC influences the proposed land use strategy through local governments who incorporate its regional land use strategy into their local plans. Representatives of state government sit on its governing board, so regional priorities can be directly communicated to state policy makers.

Denver Regional Council of Governments: DRCOG's current plan does not focus on climate change, but the MPO's board has set a per capita GHG reduction target of 60% below 2005 levels by 2035 from the transportation sector, as well as reduction in "drive alone" commutes and per capita VMT. The GHG reduction target was based on the state reduction targets, but not on a systematic analysis of what was feasible. Within various categories of operational, bicycle and pedestrian, transit, air quality, and TDM projects, DRCOG estimates the project's GHG emissions impacts, and uses this information in scoring and selecting them for funding in the TIP. The accuracy of these predictive estimates is often difficult to assess due to limitations in data and methodologies. Many of the mitigation strategies in the region are activities the MPO has been engaged in for many years, and GHG emissions reduction is a co-benefit; other project benefits are also used for scoring projects. Some of the challenges faced include maintaining support from stakeholders and the MPO board, incorporation of non-fuel factors in analysis, dependence on coal for electric generation, forecasting future EV penetration rates and fuel economy, and other forecasting uncertainties.

General Discussion from Day 1: As part of the discussion of these strategies, a few key questions and discussion points emerged:

Day Two: Recap and Discussion from Day One

To begin the second day of the exchange, Mr. Grant led a discussion that allowed participants to bring up topics tabled from the previous day. Discussion included the influence that GHG analysis has had on project selection and investment decisions. Participants noted that some MPOs have designated funds for climate, sustainability, or energy-saving initiatives, and so these projects do not compete directly against all possible projects. However, an overall emphasis on multimodal strategies means that many projects have some GHG reduction impact.

Other topics discussed briefly included:

Communication about Climate Change and Co-Benefits of Mitigation Strategies

Mr. Grant set the context for communication challenges in the face of skepticism and misunderstanding about climate science among the public and decisionmakers. Brenda Dix from MTC presented on the climate outreach programs in the San Francisco Bay Area, and the group discussed communication strategies as well as the role of co-benefits both in decisionmaking and in communicating about climate change.

Metropolitan Transportation Commission: MTC's Climate Initiatives Program has four components: outreach, grants for innovative projects, integration with Safe Routes to School, and program evaluation. MTC has invested in creating a recognizable brand for its initiatives, which are meant to help individuals take actions to reduce GHGs that will also have tangible co-benefits. This portion of the program has been promoting eco-driving and maintenance (e.g. accelerating slowly or keeping tires full of air) to the general public, and has targeted outreach in schools, working with pilot projects to test approaches and carry forward those with the most promise. The Program has also funded a variety of other projects such as a bike mobile for repairs, education, bikesharing and ridesharing pilots, and electric taxis along with battery switch stations. Funded initiatives will be evaluated based on cost and benefit analysis of the initiative, impact on emissions reductions, whether the initiative is replicable, and co-benefits (e.g., consumer savings, safety improvements, or an increase in physical activity).

In discussion after this presentation, participants from several MPOs pointed out that they were doing many of the same things for mitigation, but given the political climate in their areas, marketing and packaging these activities as being related to climate change will not work.

GHG Handbook

During this session, Michael Grant presented on a current FHWA effort to create a handbook for State DOTs and MPOs on Estimating Transportation GHGs for Integration into the Planning Process. The presentation covered some of the key estimation methods such as fuel consumption-based inventories or forecasts using the State Inventory Tool from EPA, and VMT-based inventories and forecasts with or without a network model. He also addressed other approaches, such as the Energy and Emissions Reduction Policy Analysis Tool (EERPAT), recently developed by FHWA for use by State DOTs, and off-model analyses used for strategy and policy analyses. Mr. Grant then discussed the organization of the handbook and asked for participant feedback on what would be important to include and any notes about the strengths or limitations of particular methodologies.

Findings and Conclusions

Over the course of the exchange, the participants discussed barriers to mitigation strategies (and climate change-related activity overall), challenges assembling data and other resources, their diverse geographic contexts, and opportunities for initiating mitigation activities and quantifying their impacts.

Land use in the long-term and changes in vehicle fleet and fuel mix offer some of the best prospects for GHG emissions reduction

Analysis presented by a number of MPOs (ARC, PSRC, MWCOG, Miami-Dade MPO, and DRCOG specifically) showed the importance of Federal fuel economy standards and fleet composition changes, with CAFE standards responsible for the majority of forecasted emissions reductions in the coming decades. Several MPOs (ARC, DRCOG, PSRC, DVRPC, Metro Council) noted the importance of land use planning and long-term land use change in supporting emissions reductions from transportation. Some other strategies identified as cost effective include eco-driving campaigns and road pricing.

MPOs balance a variety of contexts with regard to decisionmaking power, representation structures, and state and federal funding programs.

Whether an MPO's region is in attainment or not, its degree of control over land use, and presence of any other statewide mandates related to transportation can greatly shape what the MPO can and cannot easily accomplish. For example, MPOs in attainment areas have less dedicated funding available to conduct mitigation activities (e.g., no funding through the CMAQ Program). Similarly, some MPOs directly operate transit or have local land use approval authority, whereas others have an almost exclusively advisory role in regional governance. Several areas have statewide or regional GHG reduction targets (PSRC, MTC, Boston MPO). However, many of these targets may be unrealistic or very challenging for the transportation sector to meet in the absence of new federal policies or regulations.

Co-benefits are often the primary benefits being highlighted, with climate change mitigation not mentioned or promoted

Selling points of many climate-related strategies are cost savings, congestion reduction or economic development/quality of life issues such as access to jobs or increased physical activity. Discussion of climate change mitigation is not politically palatable in many regions of the country, so strategies that may reduce emissions are often selected for other reasons and are presented to the public with these justifications.

Areas find modeling and forecasting the future impacts of strategies to be a challenge in the face of significant uncertainty

While some data inputs for GHG forecasting and scenario analysis may be relatively straightforward, there are enough significant data challenges to make any forecast and scenario analysis fairly uncertain, particularly if analyzing decades into the future. Available transportation models do not effectively incorporate what may happen under a severely carbon constrained scenario, such as if gas prices increase dramatically. Some of the behavior change related to culture/age/shifting demographics also may not be effectively captured. Finally, without Federal transportation legislation or a national climate policy, regions cannot make assumptions about funding levels or the possibility of a carbon price. Some of these larger uncertainties may dwarf other data issues such as the impacts of VMT-reduction strategies and transportation investments.

Additional Resources

Additional Support for MPOs

Diane Turchetta mentioned a variety of forthcoming resources for MPOs, and MPOs also mentioned some of the tools and informational resources they would like to see.

Tools and Resources

Through the peer exchange discussions, it was clear that each MPO had specific methodologies, programs, or other reports of interest to those in the group. Several MPO participants mentioned publications available that they prepared for their regions. Note that several of the websites listed below provide links to a variety of plans and other reports that may be of interest, for example:

Appendix A: Participant List

FHWA Climate Change Mitigation Peer Exchange
Participant List
The Role of MPOs in Climate Change Mitigation
St. Louis, Missouri
November 3-4, 2011

Name Affiliation E-mail
Steve Cook Denver Regional Council of Governments
Brenda Dix Metropolitan Transportation Council
Jonathan Ehrlich Metropolitan Council
Larry Foutz Miami-Dade MPO
Robert Graff Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission
Matt Green East-West Gateway Council of Governments
Charlie Howard Puget Sound Regional Council
Kyung-Hwa Kim Atlanta Regional Commission
Anne McGahan Boston Region MPO
Erin Morrow Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments
Steve Nagle East-West Gateway Council of Governments
John Posey East-West Gateway Council of Governments
Betsy Tracy FHWA - Illinois Division
Facilitators and Event Organizers
Michael Grant ICF International
Sonya Suter ICF International
Diane Turchetta FHWA - Main Office

Appendix B: Agenda

FHWA Climate Change Mitigation Peer Exchange
Agenda Outline
St. Louis, MO
November 3-4, 2011
November 3rd, 2011

  Day 1
9:00 AM Welcome/Purpose/Introductions
9:30 AM Context: Integrating GHG Emissions into Metropolitan Transportation Planning
9:45 AM Current Efforts to Integrate GHG Emissions into Transportation Planning: Highlights by Peer Participants
Presenters: Anne McGahan, John Posey, Larry Foutz, with brief highlights from other participants
10:45 AM Break
11:00 AM Challenges and Opportunities for Addressing Climate Change in the Planning Process - Roundtable Discussion
11:45 AM Lunch Break
12:45 PM GHG Inventories, forecasts, and methodologies - overview, presentations. and discussion
Presenters: Kyung-Hwa Kim, Robert Graff, Erin Morrow
2:30 PM Break
2:45 PM Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Strategies (specific programs), strategy analysis and incorporation into the planning process- overview, presentations, and discussion
Presenters: Charlie Howard, Jonathan Ehrlich, Steve Cook
3:45 PM Break
4:00 PM Wrap-up Discussion -
4:30 PM Adjourn

November 4th, 2011

  Day 2
8:00 AM Brief Recap from Day 1
8:20 AM Co-benefits of climate change mitigation strategies and communicating about climate change.
Presenter: Brenda Dix
9:45 AM Break
10:00 AM GHG Handbook on GHG analysis and incorporation into the planning process.
  • Presentation of work to date
  • Roundtable or breakout group discussion to get feedback on:
    • Key data issues
    • Advantages and disadvantages of different methods
    • Organization of handbook
11:00 AM Developing an Action Agenda / MPO Needs - What do you need from FHWA?
11:45 AM Adjourn
Updated: 12/22/2015
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