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Amanda Eaken’s Blog

Sacramento plan sets the standard for sustainable communities

Amanda Eaken

Posted April 18, 2012 in Living Sustainably, Moving Beyond Oil, Solving Global Warming

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This Thursday April 19th, the Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG) is poised to adopt one of the most progressive and transformative smart growth plans in the nation. The board will vote to adopt their 2035 Sustainable Communities Strategy/Regional Transportation Plan (SCS/RTP) required by SB 375, California’s smart growth law adopted in 2008. Sacramento will be the third large metropolitan region in the state in the past year to adopt a smart growth plan increasing transportation choices, reducing congestion and harmful air pollution and designing communities the people of California want.

This plan is not perfect, but has some notable accomplishments in the form of more transit investment, better housing options located near transit, and less traffic as a result:

  • For the first time in the region’s history, this plan is projected to reduce congestion, despite adding 870,000 people through 2035.
  • The plan will spend 8% of total revenues on bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, resulting in an expansion of bike lanes by 77%. Notably, this percentage is significantly higher than any of the other large regions, most of which average 1-2% for active transportation.
  • Transit service nearly doubles. Modeling shows that a 1% shift in travel from driving to transit results in a 5% reduction in heavy congestion—making investing in transit a lasting strategy for congestion relief.
  • By locating new housing near transit, and bringing new transit to existing housing, the plan achieves the equivalent of serving all new housing and jobs with high quality transit, although some of those actually served are existing locations.
  • The region grows by 39%, but increases its urbanized footprint by only 7%.
  • Sacramento has nowhere near the existing transit infrastructure that Southern California or the Bay Area have to work with, and while the plan nearly doubles transit service, much of the innovation in this plan is a focus on locating housing growth near job centers. As a result, jobs-housing balance improves in 14 out of 15 regional employment centers.

Simply put, this plan accomplishes more with less. It is a 12.5% reduction in funding from the last plan, but manages to spread the funding cuts with a fix-it-first approach: making deeper cuts to capital expansion projects while preserving funding for operations and maintenance.

Sacramento has been working since 2005 to implement smart growth principles and continues to be nationally recognized for its leadership. This plan builds on that important foundation and makes exceptional progress in integrating land use and transportation in the spirit of SB 375.

In the words of Pete Hathaway, former Deputy Director of the California Transportation Commission: “this is the plan you have wanted for a long time.”

We agree. Sacramento is setting a high bar for other communities to aspire to. They’ve been working on their plan the longest, and it shows.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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