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Toward a Sustainable Future: Is Southern California On Track?

On Track Report CoverOur new report (download here) assesses the Southern California region’s progress on implementing its first Sustainable Communities Strategy. (See press release.) The “On Track” report was produced by ClimatePlan in partnership with:

The Safe Routes to School National Partnership
American Lung Association in California
California Walks
Climate Resolve
Friends of Harbors, Beaches and Parks
Investing in Place
Move LA
Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)
Prevention Institute
TransForm

From the Executive Summary:

The Southern California region is home to over eighteen million people, half the state’s population. It encompasses diverse communities and stark contrasts: from coast to high desert, from the boulevards of Hollywood to the dirt roads of farming communities.

It is the nation’s largest metropolitan planning region, and leaders from all its communities come together to plan for its growth and investments in the years to come.

A Plan For A More Sustainable Region

In 2012, the Southern California region adopted its first Regional Transportation Plan/ Sustainable Communities Strategy (RTP/SCS). The plan, required by state law SB 375, shows how the region’s towns, cities, and counties will act together to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through more sustainable transportation and land use.

Now, the second regional plan has just been adopted by the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG). It’s a good time to ask:

Since the first plan’s adoption, what progress has the region made?

Measuring Progress

In the last SCS, the region set ambitious goals to shift from “business as usual” and commit to fight climate change, create cleaner air and safer streets, and bring opportunity to all.

Is the region on track to meet its goals?

To answer this question, ClimatePlan, the Safe Routes to School National Partnership, and our partners have prepared this report. We asked: Is the 2012 RTP/SCS being implemented, and what are the results so far?

  • We measured the region’s progress on nine metrics:
  •  – Greenhouse gas emissions
  •  – Public transit
  •  – Transit-oriented development
  •  – Active transportation
  •  – Affordable housing
  •  – Land conservation
  •  – Public health
  •  – Equity
  •  – Regional support for local planning

The results can inform local, regional, and state decisions.

There is one caveat: to measure progress, you need good data. One of our most consistent findings, unfortunately, was that the available data is often outdated, incomplete, or both. If the region can’t accurately measure progress, it’s unlikely it will reach its goals.

Top Recommendations

The results on each metric can be found in the report. We have four key actions to recommend:

  • 1. Connect transportation decisions to impacts on the climate and communities:
  • The Southern California Assembly of Governments (SCAG) and County Transportation Commissions can work together to make sure that county transportation plans clearly show the climate impacts of proposed transportation projects, including both greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and vehicle miles traveled (VMT). SCAG has done considerable work to plan for health, equity, and conservation, but County Transportation Commissions make the investment decisions. County transportation plans should show how they are meeting the region’s shared goals.

2. Invest more and sooner in public transit, biking, and walking:

The new RTP/SCS and county transportation plans should continue to grow their investment in public transit and active transportation, and invest sooner where possible. These can be made even more effective by implementing first mile/last mile plans to help people walk and bike easily and safely to transit. These investments are especially important in disadvantaged communities that depend most on public transit, walking, and biking; they will help people reach new opportunities and build better lives.

3. Convene leaders and get better data to support action:

SCAG should continue its work to bring people together to address crucial regional issues, such as environmental justice, equity, gentrification, displacement, land conservation, and rural issues. SCAG’s research capacity can also support communities to take action on these issues. SCAG has made good progress in analyzing the impacts of new development and transportation investments on disadvantaged communities; this should guide new planning and investment. Better data is still needed on some critical regional questions, such as tracking where job and housing growth is occurring and how many affordable homes are being built.

4. Step up:

Every county, every city, and every town must do its part if the region is to succeed. The state and federal government must step up too, providing more funding for planning and implementation, and aligning existing funding with goals.

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