New Traffic Measuring Method Could Benefit Infill Development in San Jose

Guest Blogpost by Ramses Madou
Interim Division Manager, Planning, Policy & Sustainability
Department of Transportation, City of San Jose

The City of San Jose has recently changed the way it measures the impact of vehicle traffic spurred by development. The new metric, called vehicle miles traveled (VMT), supports denser development that promotes travel by foot, bike, or transit.

In 2013, the State of California passed Senate Bill 743 (SB 743), which says that jurisdictions can no longer use automobile delay at intersections – commonly measured by “level of service” – when doing transportation analysis under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The suggested replacement for level of service, VMT, is widely seen as a more holistic metric that can better support smart growth.

The City began crafting new policy to implement this change in January 2017. After months of research, analysis, modeling, and community outreach, the City Council voted to approve a new Transportation Analysis Policy in February. VMT is now the law of the land when it comes to CEQA traffic impact analysis in San Jose.

VMT is a significant shift in the way the City thinks about transportation. Instead of continuing to plan for more and more auto traffic, using streets and freeways that are already at or nearing capacity, the City is instead focused on developing safe and inviting pedestrian, bicycle, and transit networks to meet new travel demand.

This shift in how we measure traffic and plan for moving people will help business by addressing the employee recruitment, retainment, and cost issues related to transportation. Consider the money currently being spent by Google, Facebook, and other employers on shuttling their employees to work. These efforts are justified under the logic that, to retain their top-tier talent, they need to have improved, transit-like, transportation options.

The change to VMT will also affect what types of projects are most economically viable. Instead of far-flung, two-story suburban office parks, which are typically only accessible by car, transit-oriented developments in vibrant urban areas will have an advantage. These are just the types of working environments that many have touted as magnets for the creative class of employees that are in high demand today. By meeting the new requirements of VMT, developers will not only reduce traffic and improve the environment, they will get local employers a leg up in attracting top talent. If you are interested in learning more about VMT and development planning, please contact Donovan Lazaro, Business Development Officer, OED, 408 535-4835 or Transportation Public Information Manager, Colin Heyne, 408 975-3705.