Tomorrow, the Air Resources Board will discuss the Fresno Council of Governments’ Sustainable Communities Strategy (agenda here). ARB staff’s evaluation of the Fresno plan is overwhelmingly positive. A few highlights:
Fresno’s new plan meets its greenhouse-gas reduction targets
ARB’s staff found that Fresno’s plan, if it is carried out, will reduce per-capita greenhouse gases from driving by at least five percent by 2020, and ten percent by 2035. According to the plan, driving, or vehicle miles traveled (VMT), should decline by almost ten percent (9.6%) by 2035.
Fresno’s new plan is a big improvement on its previous Regional Transportation Plan
The staff review notes several ways that this plan improves the region’s land use and transportation. It finds that “implementation of the 2014 [Regional Transportation Plan / Sustainable Communities Strategy] RTP/SCS would change the region’s historical land use pattern and transportation investments through 2040.”
A series of graphs show these improvements over the previous plan:
1) Residential density is planned to nearly double:
2) A more balanced housing mix will provide residents with more affordable home choices:
3) Land and farmland developed should decline by about one-third:
4) Public transit and active transportation make up a bigger share of the spending:
As the previous plan was itself an improvement over a purely business-as-usual approach to growth, these results show Fresno’s increasing momentum toward healthier and more sustainable communities.
Making sure results come from policy change, not black box models
A crucial question threading through all of the Valley reviews will be whether the GHG reductions result from actual policy change, or just from travel model assumptions (the black box).
For instance, FresnoCOG assumed the same future gas prices as the state’s big regions, making an assumption that is realistic rather than one that simply gets the desired outcome. Rising gas prices reduce driving, and they do account for some of the plan’s VMT reductions, but not the majority. Of course, regions have more control over policy changes that reduce VMT, and some of the plan’s VMT reduction does come from policy change. There may be room for more improvement, because as it stands, the plan projects only a small change in VMT (around 2-3%) compared to the no-project alternative. Based on this, it is likely that either policies could be strengthened or the stronger policies are not being adequately accounted for by the model. In the next RTP, Fresno can improve these results both with stronger policies and a more accurate model.
The report also provided some suggestions about how the models could improve. The land-use and transportation models should align better, for example by adopting a destination choice model. Ideally, also, the report would clarify how Fresno’s interregional trips align with assumptions from neighboring regions. Given the large residential developments planned for the southern end of Madera, do Madera and Fresno agree about how much travel is crossing the county line? ARB did not examine this because data from adjacent regions is not yet available.
What can be learned for SB 375 implementation
We hope that ARB will go beyond the technical to address key issues such as how SB 375 applies to rural areas like the San Joaquin Valley, and best practices in Sustainable Communities Strategies.
Key San Joaquin Valley issues include:
• The importance of conserving the state’s valuable agricultural landscapes and watersheds. This plan did reduce land loss, but other scenarios would have conserved even more land. To address this, FresnoCOG is now conducting a “greenprint,” and has committed to identifying mitigation strategies. We look forward to seeing this integrated with the SCS in future rounds.
• The implementation of SB 375 in the Valley, where a great deal of vehicle travel occurs from rural areas to cities for jobs and services, also highlights the need to invest in rural communities and small towns to make them more economically sustainable. Unfortunately, this plan still invests too much money in the Friant Ranch & Millerton new towns. Meanwhile, a number of unincorporated communities and small towns do not get their fair share of the region’s investments. Fortunately, in time for the next SCS, Fresno COG will conduct a Needs Assessment of disadvantaged communities, create a grant program that prioritizes those needs, and provide a circuit planner to help small towns plan the bike-ped projects they need. Those innovations could lead the way for other rural counties.
Already, Fresno’s process exemplified some best practices that other regions should borrow, such as selecting transportation projects using a transparent scoring process, providing mini-grants to local nonprofits to conduct multilingual outreach, and allowing community groups to submit their own scenario.
Tune in to the ARB hearing on Thursday to hear more discussion about all of these important topics!
Or share your thoughts about the ARB’s review of Fresno’s plan in the comments below.