Regional Planning

Our goal: Concentrate growth inside existing cities.


SPUR Report Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Ever since regional government was first proposed for the Bay Area after World War II, leaders have debated the best model for governing a growing region. The basic structure for regional transportation planning and funding has not changed since the Metropolitan Transportation Commission was formed in 1970. Currently, counties seats on the MTC are not evenly distributed. SPUR recommends reforms to make representation more equitable.

SPUR Report Monday, January 9, 2012

As the Bay Area’s economy changes, many firms are finding  they need the vibrancy and density of an urban-style environment in order to collaborate, innovate and stay competitive. There is a strong link between density and job growth. In fact, we believe that locating jobs closer to transit — and closer to one another — will be key to the Bay Area’s long-term economic growth.

Blog Thursday, December 15, 2011

This is a time of significant flux in the Bay Area’s regional planning landscape. There is a serious proposal in the California State Legislature to change the way the Metropolitan Transportation Commission is governed and increasing talk about whether it and other regional agencies can play a stronger role in economic development.

Blog Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Bay Area is in the midst of a major planning initiative to identify where to grow and how to allocate scarce transportation dollars over the next 30 years. City agencies have been consulted in the development of the Sustainable Communities Strategy, but recently they got a chance to respond publicly to the plan and raise concerns about its three proposed growth scenarios. SPUR agrees with much of the city’s response, but we differ on a few key points. Namely, we believe San Francisco should absorb a big share of future growth.

Blog Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Bay Area has a lot to gain from pricing its freeways. Two of the major benefits are money for transit and less highway congestion. High-Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes are a miniature form of road pricing, offering solo drivers the option to buy their way into High-Occupancy Vehicle lanes and bypass the congested, more heavily-subsidized highway lanes.


Our priorities for Regional Planning


We should capture as much regional growth and development as possible within our existing urban and suburban footprint. This does not mean that we will never pave over another acre of undeveloped land. But to the extent possible, we should capture as much of the future residential, commercial, retail and other uses within developed portions of our cities and towns.


We should plan and organize our region's growth around a series of nodes linked by transit—places where destination activities like work, entertainment, schooling, and shopping are clustered and easy to access for many people. To do so, local planning decisions need to made within the context of regional goals. That will enable development at regionally-accessible nodes to be done to best serve a broad population as well as the general economic and environmental needs of the region.


The proliferation of office parks surrounded by seas of parking, edgeless city shopping malls and disconnected hospitals is part of the sprawling pattern of work that has shaped a fragmented region. Instead, we need to focus job growth within existing communities, particularly in downtowns and along transit corridors.  We need to reward local communities for accepting more jobs and housing in the appropriate locations.


Necessary regional land use changes will best happen when there are appropriate changes in pricing, particularly for parking, fuel and roadways. While we recognize that pricing has an indirect affect on land use, it is an essential part of a land use strategy. If we build great transit but provide free or cheap parking, we will not achieve the same reductions in driving if our transit investments are combined with appropriate responses to pricing for parking as well as pricing roadways that are currently free.

Regional Planning projects


The 2008 state law, SB 375, officially links land use and transportation efforts within statewide climate change rules to reduce overall emissions. This new law provides a new set of tools to more effectively accomplish regional planning. SPUR has organized a task force of transportation and regional planning experts to monitor and influence the implementation of SB 375 at the regional and local level. We will be focused on a number of issues related to SB 375's implementation, including: identifying incentives for infill development, developing new funding sources for infrastructure, ensuring growth within the region's central cities, planning for transit-served employment centers throughout the region, and securing an ambitious Sustainable Communities Strategy and Regional Transportation Plan.


SPUR has begun a major project looking at the future of transit-served employment centers in the Bay Area. The new research will look at how to capture a growing share of the region's jobs in transit-served locations in existing downtowns and near BART and Caltrain stations. The report will look at which industries or occupations are most likely to cluster near transit as well as the planning tools to shift more work near rail.


In 2007, SPUR produced a major analysis of the Northern California megaregion. We are continuing this effort through ongoing analysis of trends in the megaregion as well as efforts to convene major civic groups across the megaregion, particularly in the Bay Area and Central Valley.


SPUR has a long concern with the relationship between state and local policy. Many observers have noted that the current set of laws create incentives for sprawl, underproduction of housing, and uncoordinated development—while making it next to impossible for cities to raise the funds to provide basic public services. This problem has a long history, which this committee is trying to unravel in order to propose realistic changes that can fix the problem.


The Bay Area consists of hundreds of separate jurisdictions. There is literally no agency with the scope of authority to conduct true regional planning. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), allocates funding for transportation investments in the Bay Area. SPUR works closely with MTC to advocate for investments that will make sense for the region. We advocate that MTC use performance criteria to allocate funds, so that the region gets the highest return on investment, and that the highest priority be given to expanding the regional public transit system.


SPUR is a member of ClimatePlan, a statewide coalition of groups seeking to make smart growth and transit-oriented development an important piece of the state's road map for implementing the Global Warming Solutions Act, Assembly bill 32 and Senate bill 375. SPUR has commented on the California Air Resources Board's proposed Scoping Plan for AB 32, proposing a higher carbon dioxide reduction target from smart land use, and calling for more resources for public transit to help meet these targets.


SPUR is a member of Transform (formerly the Transportation and Land Use Coalition), a partnership of over ninety organizations working to preserve the environment and quality of life and ensure that all residents have access to economic opportunities by refocusing public investment to serve and revitalize existing developed areas; designing livable communities with housing near jobs, recreation, transit and services; providing real transportation choices; reforming pricing incentives which promote unsustainable development; and addressing important equity concerns.


For years, Californians have talked about the dream of a high speed train linking Los Angeles to San Francisco, inspired by experiences of inter-city rail in Europe. In 2008, voters approved a nearly $10 billion bond to fund the initial creation of a statewide high-speed rail system. SPUR is a strong advocate for high speed rail and believes it should be used as an organizing tool for the state's future growth. In particular, we believe high speed rail must follow several planning principles: 1) make this system realistic and affordable by incrementally improving existing rail lines rather than creating a new network from scratch; 2) pay attention to the land use consequences of the rail stations, making sure they reinforce historic town centers rather than stimulating sprawl in the Central Valley.

Regional Planning updates

To get regular updates on regional planning activities, contact SPUR Regional Planning Director Egon Terplan at