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Integrating Climate Change into the Transportation Planning Process

Chapter 6: GHG Mitigation Strategies in Transportation Planning

Most transportation agencies have not yet developed or analyzed strategies explicitly to reduce GHG emissions, although many agencies have ideas about promising strategies. In most states, the only GHG analyses of transportation strategies are those being done for state climate action plans.

Ultimately GHG mitigation strategies will be indispensable to reducing the impact of transportation on climate change. MPOs and DOTs can begin to think about what strategies are available to them for immediate and future implementation.

6.1. Land Use Integration

Many agencies see integrated transportation and land use planning as the most effective strategy to reduce transportation GHG emissions in the long term. But MPOs and DOTs do not have the legal authority on their own to conduct effective integrated planning. Some agencies see the need for better planning processes, while others are making use of existing powers to encourage better land use and transportation planning.

Metropolitan Transportation Commission

In the San Francisco Bay Area, MTC projects that aggressive smart growth policies will be a key component in efforts to attain GHG emission reduction targets. A system-level analysis of policy and investment alternatives projected that smart growth policies would reduce CO2 emissions from transportation by 6-8%. In order to achieve the proposed plan target, additional strategies would be needed including investments in transit, HOT lanes, and freeway system performance technologies, pricing policies, and increases in telecommuting and vehicle fuel efficiency.4 Table 5 below shows the results of this analysis.

Table 5: Comparison of MTC Plan Alternatives: 2035 CO2 Emissions (Thousand Tons/Day)
  Infrastructure Packages
  No New Investments Freeway Performance HOT & Local/ Express Bus Regional Rail & Ferry
Baseline Emissions (No Policy Changes) 101.4 92.4 97.0 99.1
Reductions from Policy Packages
Pricing Sensitivity -8% -6% -8% -8%
Land Use Sensitivity -8% -6% -7% -7%
Combined Pricing & Land Use -14% -11% -13% -14%
Combined Pricing, Land Use, and Telecommuting n/a -14% -17% n/a
Combined Pricing, Land Use, Telecommuting and Fuel Efficiency n/a n/a -46% n/a

Capital District Transportation Committee

The Albany Capital District Transportation Committee (CDTC) incorporates greenhouse gas emissions and energy efficiency in its LRTP, New Visions 2030. One of the plan's four broad themes is the linkage of transportation and land use, recognizing the impact that better transportation and land use planning can have to reduce GHG emissions. To implement the strategy, CDTC makes a concerted effort to partner with local communities to bring them on board in the planning process. To this end, CDTC sponsors the Community and Transportation Linkage Planning Program, which gives matching grants worth $30,000-50,000 to local communities to hire a consultant to do corridor transportation and land use studies. Within these projects, visualization techniques allow the public to understand and approve the principles of linking transportation and land use. CDTC has distributed nearly $3 million through this program over the last few years, to complete a total of 53 linkage studies. The program is popular with local communities.

6.2. Pricing and Alternative Modes

Other strategies to reduce GHG emissions, such as road pricing and improved transit, face a variety of political and funding challenges. To date, there has been relatively little action by MPOs and DOTs to analyze or pursue these types of strategies in the name of GHG reduction, although many expect this to change in the near future.

Portland Metro

In addition to land use strategies, Portland Metro sees improvements to system efficiency as a valuable strategy to reduce GHG emissions. Specifically, Metro is encouraging the use of congestion pricing on roads in the Portland area. Currently public sentiment is largely opposed to congestion pricing, and elected officials are therefore reluctant to support it. There is also some public apathy towards Metro's employer trip reduction program. Residents and employers do not always see the connection between the program and broader transportation goals. In addition, Metro is facing a major funding shortfall for transit expansion projects. The currently identified funding gap is $7 million.

Metropolitan Transportation Commission

MTC's analysis (described in Section 6.1) highlights congestion pricing as an important strategy to reduce GHG emissions. The analysis of policy and investment alternatives projected that pricing policies would reduce CO2 emissions from transportation by 11-14%.5 (See Table 5 above.) But implementing congestion pricing is politically challenging. MTC would need the support of state legislation to implement widespread pricing. The recent controversy over a proposed tolling scheme on Doyle Drive in San Francisco illustrates the challenges. The proposal has met with strong opposition from some local stakeholders.

6.3. GHG Benefits of Existing Strategies

Nearly all transportation agencies already have strategies in place that reduce GHG emissions, such as TDM, transit promotion, and congestion reduction. Many agencies have not explicitly recognized or evaluated the potential of these existing strategies to contribute to mitigation of GHG emissions, but agencies can use climate change to promote existing strategies.

Central Lane Metropolitan Planning Organization

Eugene's CLMPO programs over a half million dollars a year for demand management programs. These programs have been in place since before climate change became a major issue in transportation planning. The current adopted version of the plan makes only a peripheral reference to the ability of such programs to reduce GHG emissions; but that plan, adopted in September 2007, is the result of an update cycle that begin in 2003. Recently CLMPO has begun to devote more attention to climate change issues. The MPO is now thinking more about how such strategies will help to reduce GHG emissions.

Capital District Transportation Committee

Albany's Capital District Transportation Committee (CDTC) considers the new attention on climate change an opportunity to reinforce the type of sustainable planning that they have been advocating for some time. Climate change now gives them further rationale and justification for the agency's traditional approaches to transportation planning, which are centered around meeting the region's transportation needs in a cost effective manner while also promoting safety, enhancing the environment, building strong communities, and improving the overall quality of life. While there is an agency-wide effort on climate change, CDTC doesn't find a need to change established planning process to integrate climate change considerations. For example, CDTC's TIP has already been customized to encourage projects that favor transit and TDM, and could thus be considered a climate change mitigation strategy.

6.4.Barriers and Needs

GHG mitigation strategies face both funding and political barriers. MPOs and DOTs typically do not have the authority on their own to implement some of the most promising strategies, including integrated land use and transportation planning and road pricing. Without support from key partners, such strategies may not be viable. For strategies that require significant capital investments, particularly transit strategies, the support of key partners is also indispensable for securing funding.

Many states have had initial success with developing broadly accepted GHG reduction strategies through multi-agency work groups. By involving diverse stakeholders in the drafting of climate action plans, these work groups develop politically viable strategies to reduce emissions. Some regions are just beginning work on their own multi-stakeholder climate action plans. These plans may produce better strategies for implementation by MPOs.

Guidance is also needed from higher levels on appropriate and cost effective GHG reduction strategies for urban areas of various sizes. In some cases, support from state government may empower MPOs to pursue strategies that would otherwise be difficult to achieve.

  1. 4 Metropolitan Transportation Commission, "Travel Forecasts for the San Francisco Bay Area 2009 Regional Transportation Plan Vision 2035 Analysis: Data Summary.” November 2007. Summary Exhibit 1. Available at:
  2. 5 MTC November 2007, Summary Exhibit 1.
Updated: 12/23/2016
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