Californians to Drive Less to Meet Emissions Targets
September 9, 2010


[Photo Credit: flickr user sandy kemsley]

This post is the first in an occasional series that hopes to make sense of the issues surrounding the implementation of California's smart growth law, SB 375.

California's future demographic reality is clear. We will grow — perhaps not as quickly as in recent decades — but we will nonetheless continue to increase our population. The state projects a population of 44 million by 2020 and well over 51 million by 2035. Even if the recent economic downturn results in slower future population growth, the question still remains: how do we manage this growth with minimal environmental impact?

For much of the past century, this growth was accompanied by increased auto use. But California's 2008 smart growth law, SB 375 — now being implemented throughout the state — proposes a different approach.

A key recent policy decision relates to "Greenhouse gas reduction targets." In August, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) released a set of regional targets for per capita greenhouse gas emissions based on decreased driving. The targets refer to how much less the average person will drive in the future. These numbers were submitted by each of the following metropolitan planning organizations, and then reviewed and accepted by CARB.

Targets for reduced per capita emissions from driving:

2020 2035
SCAG (Southern California) 8% 13%
MTC (Bay Area) 7% 15%
SANDAG (San Diego) 7% 13%
SACOG (Sacramento) 7% 16%
San Joaquin COGs 5% 10%

There are two simple ways to understand these targets. First, it is easier to make more significant change in average behavior for a region with a fast-growing population. So long as people in the future drive less than current drivers, the average goes down. That's why the fast-growing Sacramento region has the highest target.

Second, it is more difficult to achieve big changes in the short run. That's why all the targets are much lower for 2020 than 2035.

While the conclusion of these figures is simple — the average Californian is going to be driving less — the way we achieve these emission targets can be more complicated. Encouraging both new growth and infill development in transit rich cities, in turn shifting where people are both living and working, is important. We will also achieve these goals by pricing roadways differently, dissuading drivers from driving during peak hours on congested roadways.

Click here for a PDF of the full report.

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