More Choices, Less Traffic

Times change. Ideas shift.

New paradigms emerge to meet the needs and wants of today’s society. May this framing document contribute to such a fruitful, prosperity-enhancing transition.

The June 2018 framing document “More Choices, Less Traffic” presented by Climate Resolve in partnership with ClimatePlan describes the interrelation of transportation investments and land use patterns that are behind California’s congestion woes, and then suggests an alternative path forward — one in which per capita VMT reduction is a central strategy.

It then describes the numerous co-benefits besides curbing congestion and improving mobility that go hand-in-hand with such a reduced VMT scenario, and recommends an intersectional, cross-jurisdictional, equity-enhancing approach as having the most potential to improve lives.

This framing document was prepared in the lead-up to the first joint meeting of the California Air Resources Board and California Transportation Commission, the purpose of which is to coordinate implementation of programs and policies that have a nexus to achieving State transportation and air quality goals.

The organizations that contributed to its drafting are all part of the ClimatePlan network, which works with non-profit organizations throughout the state of California to change how land use planning and transportation investments occur in California. Their vision is to create a healthier, more sustainable California, where people of all backgrounds and incomes have the opportunity to thrive.


The author of this framing document is Bryn Lindblad, Deputy Director of Climate Resolve.


Ella Wise and Chanell Fletcher of ClimatePlan were instrumental to the collaborative process that informed its drafting. Matt Baker of Planning and Conservation League offered invaluable insight throughout the process. Other members of the work group that provided useful input and advice along the way include: Veronica Tovar (Catholic Charities), Carter Rubin (Natural Resources Defense Council), Bill Sadler (Public Health Alliance of Southern California), Linda Rudolph (Public Health Institute), Jonathan Matz (Safe Routes to School National Partnership), Esther Postiglione and Tony Dang (California Walks), Kyle Rentschler (Sierra Club), and Kathy Dervin (350 Bay Area). Additional contributors include: Jared Sanchez (California Bicycle Coalition), Adam Livingston (Sequoia Riverlands Trust), Stuart Cohen (TransForm), Salem Afangideh (Public Advocates), and Erika Rincón (PolicyLink). The author is grateful to each and every one of them for their feedback and partnership.


Roads are congested

  • California urban centers are some of the most congested in the nation, worsening quality of life for Californians.

VMT per capita is increasing

  • VMT per capita increased by .8% in California from 2012 to 2016.

Autonomous vehicles impact to VMT and congestion is uncertain

  • Autonomous vehicles (AVs) are expected to increase car travel and road congestion, although policies and market mechanisms, such as promoting ride-pooling and connections to transit service, could curb the growth in VMT.

Adding road capacity in congested, high-growth areas does not reduce congestion

  • More road capacity induces demand for driving, increasing overall VMT.

Highway expansion continues

  • From 2012 to 2016, urban highway expansion has increased in California by 10.2% or 1,516 urban highway lane miles, and this expansion is costly to maintain– the added roadway can cost up to $97.4 million annually in maintenance costs.

Budget squeeze on other modes

  • Excessive highway expenditures reduce the availability of money to spend on other modes of transportation, limiting transit-dependent populations’ mobility and endangering pedestrian and cyclists’ lives.

Highway expansion induces sprawl

  • Land development spurred by highway expansion projects pushes people far from urban centers and infringes on natural and working lands, diminishing wildlife habitat, ecosystem services, and limiting food production, among other impacts.


  • Housing shortages are pushing low-income households, who have the highest rate of transit ridership, far from job centers and transit options, hurting their mobility and lowering their quality of life.

Poor health outcomes from lack of physical activity, air pollution, and motor vehicle injuries

  • Driving is strongly linked to increased obesity rates and other health issues from transportation emissions and motor vehicle collisions, costing the SCAG region alone over $8.5 billion annually.

Climate pollution is on the rise

  • To meet California’s 2050 GHG emission reduction targets, there must be a 15% reduction in total light-duty VMT below the newly adopted SB 375 targets, in addition to cleaner cars and fuels.


Reducing VMT can help us build better corridors

  • Active transportation, ride-sharing, and public transit systems, such as Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) in Los Angeles, have proven to reduce road congestion and travel time for both transit users and drivers.
    Reducing transportation burden of long commute times means more time for other, more rewarding activities
    Shorter commute times lessens the opportunity cost of commutes, provides mental and physical health benefits, increases work productivity, lowers insurance premiums, and enables commuters to spend more time on desired activities.

Increasing accessibility to essential services improves equity

  • Lower barriers to accessing transit, shorter commutes times, and more affordable compact development increases access to opportunity, especially for low-income and minority populations.

Curbing sprawl conserves open space

  • Urban Growth Boundaries have effectively limited development on natural lands at the fringes of metropolitan areas, and should be accompanied by anti-displacement policies to accommodate population growth.

Reduced VMT and active transportation benefits to public health

  • Achieving California’s goal to double walking and transit trips and tripling bicycling by 2020 will result in 2,095 fewer deaths annually from increased physical activity, but there must be infrastructural investments in active transportation to accommodate this mode shift and keep people safe.

Reduced VMT reduces exposure to collisions

  • More public and active transportation use and less sprawl will decrease driving and by effect collision rates, as automobiles have a 10 times higher traffic casualty rate per mile than public transit.


Action to achieve VMT reduction should be approached in an intersectional way and prioritize vulnerable communities; if implemented in an equity-enhancing way, this approach will improve mobility and lead to a more just California.