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By Julie Sneider, Assistant EditorThe Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LACMTA) has taken its sustainability planning to a new level with a recently adopted policy that calls for tailoring transportation investments to meet the sustainability needs of L.A. County cities and neighborhoods. The ultimate goal of the "Metro Countywide Sustainability Planning Policy and Implementation Plan" is to reduce traffic congestion and vehicle miles traveled across Los Angeles County, says Sarah Jepson, the agency's sustainability policy manager. It was drafted partly in response to a California state law that aims to address climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.The agency has been receiving regional and national attention for the policy's innovative and comprehensive approach. In May, LACMTA was awarded the Southern California Association of Governments’ "President’s Award of Excellence" for countywide sustainability planning. And, Reconnecting America, a nonprofit organization that helps communities address development challenges, recently praised LACMTA's new policy as "a huge step forward in sustainability planning."Formally adopted by the LACMTA board in late 2012, the policy expands on previous efforts to reduce the agency's carbon footprint. It establishes the agency’s role in developing a regional transportation system that "improves residents' health and well being, strengthens the economy and enhances the natural environment," according to the written policy. A "core business value" of LACMTA, sustainability "should touch every aspect of transportation planning," it states."We've done a lot of work internally and on our operations with green building and our bus fleet being the 'cleanest in the nation,' " says Jepson, one of the LACMTA staff members who helped research and draft the policy. "But through the new policy, we wanted to define long-term sustainability outcomes in order to be able to facilitate greater coordination and collaboration across transportation modes."
Drafting the plan was no simple task. Representatives of all 88 Los Angeles County cities took part, as did other stakeholders with an interest in transportation. The board wanted the new policy to reflect environmental factors as well as social and economic priorities that influence a community’s sustainability, Jepson says."We have bikes, pedestrians, transit, autos — there’s everything here in Los Angeles," she says. "We also wanted to facilitate greater collaboration between planning disciplines, which would involve land use, housing and economic development. All those areas have something to do with the sustainability of a transportation system."Before writing the policy, Jepson, other agency staff and a consulting team analyzed data from across the county to better understand the physical, demographic and economic factors that influence the way Los Angelinos travel. The data demonstrated that a one-size-fits-all approach to sustainability would not work for an area as large and diverse as L.A. County. As a result, the policy calls for applying different sustainability strategies that fit a community’s particular land-use and travel behavior characteristics. Sustainable-practice strategies that might work well in a highly populated city might not work well in the suburbs, for instance.Now that the policy has been adopted, the next step is implementation."We’re working on the rollout now," Jepson says. One example of how it will soon be applied is the agency's plan to improve access to rail stations."One of the themes of our policy is that you have to bundle different solutions in order to be the most effective," she says. "So, in this station-access situation, we aren't just saying we need to develop a bike plan or a pedestrian plan or a bus-rail connection plan to improve access to stations. We will focus on how all modes can work together."