Environmental Law

Envt'l Law News Fall 2014, Vol. 23, No. 2

California Modernizes Transportation Impacts Analysis under CEQA: Senate Bill 743 (Steinberg, 2013)

By Christopher H. Calfee*


Californians drive approximately 332 billion miles each year, and at no small cost. Air quality suffers. Motor vehicles are a major source of pollution from volatile organic compounds, nitrogen oxide and carbon monoxide. Driving accounts for 36 percent of all greenhouse gases in the state.1 Though technological advances have led to more efficient vehicles, our ever increasing levels of driving are eroding efficiency-related air quality improvements.2 Our roadway networks are also taking a pounding. While new development may pay the capital cost of installing roadway improvements, neither the state nor local governments are able to fully fund operations and maintenance.3 Though walking, bicycling and transit use are known to provide health, fiscal, environmental and other benefits, the car remains king. Why?

One explanation is the way we plan our communities for new development. Traffic studies used in environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA, generally examine one thing: the impact of new projects on traffic flows. By only looking at what happens to cars, agencies have required building bigger roads and intersections as "mitigation" for traffic impacts. The focus on congestion tells only part of the story, however.

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