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Transportation and Climate Change Clearinghouse

Integration into Transportation Decision Making

6 - Transportation Planning and Climate Change Session; Annual Conference of the Association of Metropolitan Planning Organizations

Summary of Peer Exchange

Little Rock, Arkansas

October 3, 2007


The Transportation Planning and Climate Change session at the annual Association of Metropolitan Planning Organizations (AMPO) conference was organized by two members of the CCCEF core team, Diane Turchetta (FHWA) and William M. Lyons (USDOT/Volpe Center). The session was designed to assist the CCCEF with its research on innovative efforts to consider climate change within statewide and metropolitan area planning processes. The sessions focused on recent activities by Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) in the Seattle, Washington, D.C., and Boston metropolitan areas.

Mr. Lyons presented an overview of the CCCEF project and then he and Ms. Turchetta facilitated a panel with presentations by representatives of the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC, the Seattle-area MPO); the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board (TPB) at the Washington, D.C.-area MPO, and the Boston Region MPO. Panelists also participated in a discussion with the audience, which provided additional insights for the CCCEF research.

The panelists represented organizations at different stages of incorporating climate change considerations into metropolitan area transportation planning activities. All are involved in innovative activities related to incorporation of climate change considerations within their planning processes. Panelists participated in a facilitated discussion with the audience of MPO directors and planners, which provided additional insights for the CCCEF research.

This report summarizes the presentations as part of a consolidated report on climate change and transportation planning that will be provided as a resource on best practices for a national audience of interested peers.

This summary provides key points from the presentation, which are presented in Appendix B, and concludes with key points.


Presenter: Ronald Kirby, Director of Transportation Planning

"COG is a regional organization of Washington area local governments. COG is composed of 21 local governments, plus area members of the Maryland and Virginia legislatures, the U.S. Senate, and the U.S. House of Representatives."

  • COG provides a focus for action and develops sound regional responses to such issues as the environment, population growth, public safety, and transportation.
  • Membership Population: 4,272,392 (from 2000 Census)
  • Land Area: 3,020 square miles
  • The Metropolitan Washington area emitted 65.6 million metric tons of CO2 in 2005: approximately one-third of those emissions were produced by the transportation sector.

In November 2008, The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG) Board of Directors "voluntarily adopted stringent goals for reducing the region's greenhouse gas emissions. COG's decision, one of the few in the country to affect a multi-state region, proposes to return to 2005 levels of regional greenhouse gas emissions by 2012. The mid-range goal is for a reduction of 20 percent below the 2005 levels by 2020, and the long-term goal is for a reduction of 80 percent below the 2005 levels by 2050."34 The MWCOG approved the National Capital Region Climate Report, which includes significant greenhouse gas reduction goals for the region and 78 recommendations to help area leaders and citizens meet the targets, including working with the TPB to explore options to reduce vehicle miles travelled, including financial incentives such as pay-as-you-travel insurance and congestion pricing, shifting short trips to transit on nonmotorized travel, transit-oriented development and concentration of future growth in regional activity centers.35

MWCOG has established climate change as a leading priority for the organization and appointed a Climate Change Steering Committee to guide climate change planning efforts. MWCOG emphasized that inclusion of climate change is not a change in direction, and that emissions reduction strategies support other ongoing work: climate change can be readily integrated into other planning activities including visioning and travel demand management.

MWCOG believes it is important for climate change actions to be based on an understanding of the problem, particularly at regional and local levels. To this end, the MPO staff prepared initial forecasts of recent and projected changes in CO2 emissions from mobile emissions sources (Table 1). Experience with similar forecasting techniques for population, land use, and air quality emissions using EPA's Mobile 6.2 emissions model enabled the MPO staff to apply much of the technical work previously completed for ongoing transportation planning and air quality conformity.

Table 1: 2002-2030 Changes in Households, Employment, VMT, NOx, VOC, and CO2 for the 8-hour Ozone Non-Attainment Area

Table  1: 2002-2030 Changes in Households, Employment, VMT, NOx, VOC, and CO<sub>2</sub>  for the 8-hour Ozone Non-Attainment Area. If you are a user with disability and cannot view this image, call 800-853-1351

While VOC and NOx emissions are declining significantly regionally -- largely due to cleaner vehicles and fuels -- CO2 mobile source emissions are projected to grow steadily, based on forecasted growth in vehicle miles traveled, with a predicted 48 percent increase in mobile CO2 emissions in 2030.

To gain a better empirical understanding of the effects of specific emissions reduction strategies or policies, the MPO staff quantified the impact of California Low Emission Vehicles II (CAL LEV II), California's more stringent vehicle emissions standards, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) Corporate Average Fuel Economy Standards (CAFE) -- hypothetically increased to a more stringent 35 miles per gallon by 2020 -- against the 48 percent baseline increase. Under CAL LEV II emission growth would be limited to 22 percent; under more stringent CAFE standards, emission growth would be limited to 16 percent.

In contrast, additional CO2 reductions achievable through reductions in vehicle miles of travel (VMT) by travel demand reduction and land use and transportation strategies, as included in scenarios examined in recent MPO planning studies, were (conservatively) estimated at only one to two percent.

Mr. Kirby emphasized the importance of a two part approach -- reducing emissions per vehicle mile and reducing vehicle miles of travel. Both strategies need to be promoted at the national, state, and local levels.

Key Points

  • When possible, incorporate climate change considerations into existing models and tools to build an ongoing ability to evaluate strategies. Identify opportunities to build on and apply ongoing technical work related to land use, transportation, and air quality analysis.
  • Travel forecasts for the Washington metropolitan area indicated that land use and transportation strategies currently under consideration could reduce CO2 emissions growth by only one to two percent. To achieve further CO2 reductions, efforts to reduce VMT need to be combined with actions to reduce CO2 emissions per vehicle mile.

Policy advocacy by individual MPOs and AMPO policy should highlight the difference between reductions that can reasonably be achieved by MPOs and their partner authorities, compared to the potentially more significant GHG reductions of national policies such as CAFE.


Presenter: Charlie Howard, Transportation Planning Director

The Puget Sound Regional Council is an association of cities, towns, counties, ports, and State agencies and is governed by a General Assembly and Executive Board. Executive Board members are appointed by their General Assembly constituents to represent the member governments. The full Regional Council General Assembly includes all council and commission members from member jurisdictions.

  • 6,290 square mile region encompasses four counties-King, Kitsap, Pierce, and Snohomish-and includes approximately 55% of the state's population, or approximately 3,582,900 people
  • Region contains 82 cities and towns. Major cities include Seattle, Tacoma, Bellevue, Everett, and Bremerton

Nationally, transportation accounts for approximately one-third of GHG emissions; however, this figure rises to approximately 45 percent in Washington State, largely due to less reliance on coal-fired power plants. Addressing transportation-related sources of GHG is therefore particularly important in the region. Mr. Howard emphasized the importance of stakeholder and public participation throughout the process of incorporating climate change into PSRC work. Stakeholders involved on boards, committees, and technical working groups include state, regional and local government agencies as well as business, tribal, and environmental organizations, and citizens. When addressing climate change, PSRC is in a relatively unique position of working in an environment particularly supportive of climate change efforts with strong state, regional, county, and city policies and programs that support actions related to climate change planning and decisions, including:

  • State and county legislation establishing statewide GHG emissions reduction goals.
  • Washington Clean Car Standards: adoption of California emissions standards beginning with 2009 model year.
  • Seattle's Climate Action Plan pledges $37 million over the next two years for climate protection actions, with GHG reduction targets.
  • King County Action Plan: goal to reduce emissions by 80% below current levels by 2050.

Building on this solid foundation, PSRC has Board direction to address climate change in its planning activities, and is incorporating climate change considerations throughout its planning process. VISION 2040, the update of the MPO's VISION 2020, the region's coordinated long-range regional growth, transportation, and economic strategy, includes an expanded environmental section that addresses climate change, a CO2 analysis in the environmental impact statement (EIS) and growth alternatives as well as policies for reducing emissions (reduced energy consumption, increased conservation and alternative energy sources) and a regional action plan to investigate ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prepare for climate change impacts.

The Policy Board directed that climate change be incorporated into the upcoming update of Destination 2030 -- the MPO's 30-year long-range metropolitan transportation plan. The Board also directed that a climate change technical working group be established, and that GHG analysis be performed for the EIS/strategy alternatives.

PSRC has not yet focused on impacts of global warming on the region, but intend to do so once the policy basis is established. During the presentation, Mr. Howard identified the importance of potential tradeoff analyses in the planning process between climate change and the MPO's other goals and policies.

Mr. Howard also discussed the technical issues related to incorporating climate change considerations in the planning process. The current transportation model, based on MOBILE 6.2, yields simplistic analyses based only on VMT. For future analyses, PSRC hopes to have the ability to analyze for speed variations, changes in vehicle/fuel mix, corridor/sub-area analyses, and an analysis of transportation and land use strategies. As a step in this direction, PSRC and its regional partners are working with the EPA to utilize features of their new MOVES model that are currently unavailable.

Key Points

  • A supportive political and policy environment with strong regional and local initiatives and Board direction facilitates incorporation of climate change issues into the planning process.
  • Collaboration with air quality consultation partners and member agencies is fundamental to beginning to address the technical requirements of incorporating climate change into models.
  • It is very helpful to first complete a land use/transportation vision, with a climate change component, before reflecting climate change considerations in the regional long range transportation plan.
  • When incorporating climate change considerations into the planning process, there will be inevitable tradeoffs between GHG reductions and other outcomes related to additional goals pursued by MPOs. The planning process must be able to conduct this type of analysis.


Presenter: Anne McGahan, Chief Planner

The Boston Region MPO Board is composed of representatives from seven agencies, seven municipalities, and a public advisory committee that collectively carry out the Federally mandated transportation planning process for the region. The MPO's unified work program is carried out by the Central Transportation Planning Staff (CTPS) which is composed of professional transportation planners and support staff

  • 1,400 square mile region is composed of 101 municipalities including and surrounding the City of Boston
  • Regional population estimated at nearly 3 million

In Massachusetts, transportation sources are responsible for more carbon dioxide emissions than any other source. Climate change will likely have significant impacts on the climate and weather patterns in Boston, as well as on the regional infrastructure and economy. To address this, the Boston Region MPO recently began exploring issues pertaining to climate change and GHG emissions reduction. Like the Puget Sound Regional Council, the Boston MPO is working in an environment of a high level of State and local support for GHG initiatives including a City of Boston executive order, which sets an emissions reduction goal of reducing annual GHG emissions seven percent below 1990 levels by 2021 as well as the Massachusetts Climate Protection Plan, which lays out a number of policies, programs, and goals for reducing GHG emissions in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Massachusetts is also a member of the multi-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and participates in the New England Governors/ Eastern Canadian Premiers Climate Change Action Plan (see TRB peer exchange summary and case study).

The Boston Region MPO's voting membership includes local operating authorities, which is not typically the case with other MPOs. One of these members is the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, (MBTA), which provides regional public transportation service. The MBTA's 2003 long-range capital planning document, the Program for Mass Transportation (PMT) contains information for each project's projected percentage reduction in CO2 emissions on weekdays region wide as well as the ratio between the capital cost of the project and the anticipated reduction in GHG emissions on weekdays region wide. The 2008 PMT will consider how the MBTA's emissions reduction goals fit into State and other CO2 emissions reduction goals.

In summer 2007, MPO staff prepared a White Paper to develop a policy context for climate change and its local impacts, provide a summary of existing programs and projects that result in GHG emissions reductions, and lay out "next steps" for future emissions reductions. Citing work from the Union of Concerned Scientists, the paper provides a strong focus on regional impacts of climate change under high and low emissions scenarios, which serves to attract attention of decision-makers and stakeholders to the issue. Both high and low emissions scenarios forecast significant impacts on air quality, sea level rise and flooding, and extreme temperatures. For example, under the lower-emissions scenario, sea level is expected to rise from four to 21 inches, and under the higher-emissions scenario, this figure increases to 33 inches. In turn, these impacts will likely affect the transportation system through extreme climate events such as significant flooding, which can inflict significant economic costs due to infrastructure damage and interruptions in the operation of transportation systems.

Currently, the MPO and its partners reduce GHG emissions by:

  • Funding projects that provide transportation options other than single occupancy vehicles (SOV) such as transit, bicycling, walking, and carpooling.
  • Funding projects that improve air quality and reduce VMT and roadway congestion, such as upgrading weight-restricted bridges to minimize detours of truck traffic.
  • Funding the use of alternative fuels.

Because transportation is a significant source of CO2 emissions in Massachusetts, the Boston MPO and its partners believe it is important to continue and expand current initiatives that reduce CO2 emissions while also taking additional actions that are within the purview of the MPO and partner organizations and agencies. The white paper discusses considerations and trade-offs that must be faced for CO2 reduction activities to have a significant effect. Due to resource constraints, a shift in investments towards alternative modes such as transit may reduce highway project funding, and therefore result in reduced motorist mobility.

The white paper identifies three goals necessary for reducing the transportation sector's CO2 emissions. To address these goals, MPO staff developed a list of short-, mid-, and long-term actions that the MPO could take, either on its own or with partners. The following framework (Table 2) provides examples of the numerous actions presented in the white paper, categorized by regional goals.

Table 2

Table 2. If you are a user with disability and cannot view this image, call 800-853-1351


  • Both high and low emissions scenarios project significant impacts on air quality, sea level rise and flooding, and extreme temperatures. MPOs should consider the effects of these impacts throughout the planning process. Highlighting these impacts serves to attract attention of decision-makers and other stakeholders.
  • Incorporation of climate change into the planning process should not be limited to traditional MPO long range and land use plans. Transportation operating authorities, including public transit, should consider their own potential GHG reductions and determine how they fit into the larger regional and State GHG reduction efforts.
  • It is important to continue and expand current initiatives that reduce CO2 emissions while also taking additional actions that are within the purview of the MPO and its partner organizations and agencies.


The following summary presents key points from the presentations and following discussion with the panelists and audience of MPO staff managers and planners, and others.

Need for Realism

  • MPOs (Boards, staff, partners, and the public) must be realistic about their ability to reduce GHG emissions significantly through the transportation and land use policies and actions that they typically can influence directly or indirectly. For example, the MPO in the Washington metropolitan area projected that at most it could reduce travel demand and GHG emissions by one to two percent across the range of transportation and land use scenarios under consideration in its current long range planning.
  • Although other MPOs are able to project more optimistic estimates of GHG reductions from MPO planning and programming, the scale has been limited.
  • The scale of GHG reductions from MPO initiated actions is relatively small relative to the much larger reductions available from Federal or State policies related to energy and vehicle technology and alternatives.
  • There is a great deal of difference in climate change issues in areas nationwide. In contrast to the areas represented by panelists, some members of the audience observed that there has been little interest in climate change in their areas.
  • As MPOs begin to examine the potential emissions reduction through regional planning and actions, initial limitations should not result in pessimism and inaction.
  • Rigorous assessment of the potential reductions identified by leading MPOs, represented on the panel, is critical to inform the policy debate about transportation and GHG reductions.
  • Discussants made a strong case for MPOs individually and together to confront the dual challenges of energy and GHG reductions aggressively.
    • "This is not business as usual - it's the challenge of our generation."
    • "Change is coming and we need to be ready."

Importance of Policy Advocacy

  • It is critical for MPOs to engage actively in realistic policy debate about what they can do through metropolitan area wide planning, but also more broadly - nationally and at the statewide level - and locally, with city and modal authority partners.
  • Panelists and the audience emphasized the need for MPOs, both individually and through AMPO, to encourage decision-makers to change current policies. For example, policies such as CAFE and CAL LEV II standards reduce emissions by significantly more than MPOs can by their planning and direct and indirect actions alone. Nationwide, the transportation sector should look to these sources first, before turning to regional transportation planning and actions for reductions. Responding to this view,
    • The MPO in the Washington metropolitan area wrote to Congress regarding the benefits of CAFE legislation in reducing CO2 emissions.
    • PSR, adopts a legislative agenda, and recommended that other MPOs should also work with State legislatures on similar measures.

Think Long Term

  • MPOs should set long term planning horizons in examining how transportation and land use policies and actions might reduce GHG emissions. This can be over the 20-25 year horizon of long range plans, but also over longer periods, 30, 40, or even 50 years considered in regional vision plans.
  • MPOs should employ "back-casting" techniques, to examine aggressive GHG reduction targets and work backwards to identify the potential policies, investments, and strategies that would be required to meet those targets.
  • As part of the planning process, MPOs should play a role educating decision-makers and the public about realistic options to meet aggressive goals.

GHG Emissions Reductions Should Complement Other Regional Goals

  • GHG reduction activities are best pursued in combination with other regional goals, particularly air quality improvement, but also energy conservation, smart growth, congestion relief, and public health.
  • Actions to reduce GHG emissions can also support transportation demand management and land use strategies.

Important Technical Role for MPOs

  • MPOs that are already modeling automobile emissions (NOX and VOC) will be in a strong technical position for developing models that analyze CO2 emissions.
  • To overcome limits of current models, PSRC and its regional partners are working with FHWA and EPA to determine what can be done to utilize features of the new MOVES model, and also to improve the linkage between emissions and travel demand models. Progress will be useful for peer MPOs and other organizations hoping to perform similar analyses.

Impacts/Adaptation versus Mitigation/Reductions

  • To date, MPOs actively considering climate change appear to be focusing either on adaptation of transportation facilities to global climate change and extreme weather, or to identifying investments and strategies to reduce GHG emissions. As MPOs gain experience with climate change issues, it is likely that increasing numbers will be interested in pursuing both adaptation and reductions. A future challenge will be to balance pursuit of emissions reductions and preparation for impacts alongside other planning priorities.

Anticipation of Possible Future Regulation

  • MPOs should be prepared for the possibility that future Federal administrations may take regulatory actions to require GHG reductions, particularly after the Supreme Court ruling that the EPA can now regulate CO2 emissions.
  • Currently, CO, NOX, VOC are included as criteria pollutants in air quality analysis; some MPOs are exploring how they might conduct the technical analysis to add CO2 to this list. The Boston MPO staff recently recommended this to its Board.

Other Related Issues

  • Interest in information on the relationship between zoning and climate change impacts.
  • National experiences of MPOs and partners integrating climate change into EIS process.
  • MPOs use of information on GHG impacts of idling ships.

34 MWCOG Press Release, November 12, 2008.

35 National Capital Region Climate Change Report, November 12, 2008.

36 This consolidated report includes a separate case study on PSRC

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