Agencies Relate Successes, Challenges to VMT Reduction
In 2021, the Washington State Legislature (Legislature) directed the Washington State Department of Commerce (Commerce) and the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) to:
- Develop guidelines to help cities and counties integrate climate mitigation and resiliency goals into local comprehensive plans.
- Develop a process for establishing reduction targets for local vehicle miles traveled (VMT).
- Recommend a suite of options for local jurisdictions to achieve the targets.
- Identify funding requirements for state and local jurisdictions to achieve the targets.
The first report to the Legislature was published in December 2021. The interim report for this project will be available in 2022. Updated VMT reductions resources that can be incorporated into comprehensive plans are provided later in this post.
Earlier this year, we asked for your help while we conducted a partner survey on successes and challenges to implementing VMT reduction strategies. We thank all of you who were gracious enough to share your time in responding to the survey, meeting with us for an interview, or joining us for a workshop. We have gained considerable information on the successes, challenges, and needs of our local partners in implementing VMT reduction strategies. The following narrative summarizes your responses. We would also like to invite you to join us for Increasing Transportation Options and Access: Local Success in Washington’s Cities on June 28 to hear from four jurisdictions directly about their VMT reduction efforts and successes.
The most frequently reported success with respect to VMT reduction came from transit, followed by active transportation, telework, and land use measures. Specific tools to achieve higher transit use include removing fares, integrating corridor and land use plans with transit, focusing growth near centers with transit service, and improving service and operations.
For active transportation, building out new and completing existing parts of the bicycle and pedestrian network yielded positive results. Successful land use strategies included locating opportunities for living and working close to each other, focusing growth in areas that can be served by transit, concentrating on compact communities, and limiting growth to occur within urban growth boundaries. Additionally, telework has benefited from supportive pre-established policies.
Figure 1: Successful strategies reported through the partner survey.
The main challenges associated with VMT reductions include a lack of transit, political will, funding, and land use. In some locations, there is a complete lack of service because of the rural or exurban nature of the location, lack of funding, or both. Other locations suffer from insufficient service in terms of frequency or time of day when the service is provided, which makes transit service less attractive as compared to driving, especially when parking is plentiful and the overall cost of driving is considered inexpensive.
The public and elected officials frequently respond well to the potential for additional transportation options (e.g., transit service, bicycle lanes, and sidewalks) but not to the removal of lanes or vehicle facilities. Language about enhanced options is met favorably, while discussion of VMT reduction can be difficult to understand and garner support for among the public. Jargon-free language is also more productive than planning terms — e.g., people do not understand the nuance and difference between commute trip reduction and transportation demand management.
Finally, affordable housing is lacking in all parts of the state, leading workers to move further away from job centers and lengthening commute times. Affordable housing is needed everywhere, such that all trips can be minimized, and people reside in 20-minute neighborhoods where they can walk to most, if not all, of their needs.
VMT Reduction Resources
Please visit the following links, including the MRSC website, to find helpful resources.
- Transportation Efficient Communities
- Land Use and Transportation
- Department of Commerce guidebook for transportation plan elements
Please join us on June 28 to hear about successful approaches Washington cities have used to reduce VMT. A broad range of strategies will be covered, including beautification, communications, active transportation facilities, transit, and more. You’ll hear from Redmond, Olympia, Spokane, and Stanwood. For more information and to register, please visit Increasing Transportation Options and Access: Local Success in Washington’s Cities.
MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.