In a move that should’ve been taken eons ago, California’s legislature is moving to bring civic planning under a unified framework that will reduce carbon emissions and reduce traffic:

The bill yokes three regulatory and permit processes. One focuses on regional planning: how land use should be split among industry, agriculture, homes, open space and commercial centers. Another governs where roads and bridges are built. A third sets out housing needs and responsibilities ? for instance, how much affordable housing a community must allow.

Under the pending measure, the three regulatory and permit processes must be synchronized to meet new goals, set by the state?s Air Resources Board, to reduce heat-trapping gases.

Seventeen regional planning groups from across the state will submit their land-use, transportation and housing plans to the board. If the board rules that a plan will fall short of its emissions targets, then an alternative blueprint for meeting the goals must be developed.

Once state approval is granted, or an alternative plan submitted, billions of dollars in state and federal transportation subsidies can be awarded. The law would allow the money to be distributed even if an alternative plan fails to pass muster.

By planning growth with traffic in mind will have huge benefits. First, keeping homes close to shopping and industrial workplaces reduces traffic and shortens drives. Simply reducing idling (by cutting congestion, for instance) without changing the distances driven, would save 13 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions every year, and smarter growth would shorten distances driven, saving yet more carbon.

Encouraging higher density of development, and mixed use development, would also spur wider adoption of public transit, and make it easier to expand public transit to new areas. That would further reduce traffic, as well as carbon emissions. And once you have light rail or a subway system running somewhere, it signifies a long-term commitment to transit-friendly building. That encourages local grocery stores to open and serve a clientele that shops on foot, by bike, or by bus. It changes how people relate to one another, and how they think about travel.

I know that having a shopping district within a 10-15 minute walk, a farmers’ market within 20 minutes, and another within a short bus ride, changes how I think about shopping. I used to lay in massive stores of food, and try to delay shopping as long as I could. That meant I had to drive to the store, given the volume of stuff I was buying.

Now, I can buy enough for a few days at a time, eat fresher food, and do it by foot. The walk is good for me, the food is better, and I’m having a smaller ecological footprint.

This is only possible because I’m in a neighborhood with enough density to support local stores. At lower density, it’d be economically inefficient to have so many grocery stores so close together, so they’d have to be bigger and more distant from one another. And everything would go downhill.

Fixing the joint problems of sprawl, smog, and traffic requires simultaneously rethinking where traffic goes, where public transit goes, and how the population should expand. A growing population can move closer together (subdividing big lots, for instance), it can grow up (in apartment buildings, condos, etc.) or it can move out (sprawl). The first two make life more livable for all involved, and smart policy in an overpopulated state like California should encourage the latter two modes of growth. Only by integrating the different components of urban, suburban, and exurban planning can these problems be solved, and this bill is a big step in the right direction.


  1. #1 Jozef Goj
    August 29, 2008

    With variable speeds on main arterial roads and Liquid Flow Traffic Intersections traffic jams, gridlock and congestion cannot happen.
    These intersections at when placed into the road mosaic will allow all motorists to cross town in peak traffic, faster, safer, without stopping at a single intersection while reducing fuel costs and pollution.

    You just have to build them.

    But none of this will happen without the help of people who want to give the country a roads infrastructure that works.

    Today’s road system” is broke and it needs fixing” but not with outdated road intersections that stop and slow traffic flow and adding extra lanes that just makes the mobile car park bigger.

    To fix the problem needs investment and if that’s the kind of investment it will take, that’s the kind of investment that must be made.

    Then you can build a traffic system that finally irrevocably and completely eliminates all jams gridlock and congestion and reduces carbon emissions by up to 40%.

  2. #2 I am so wise
    August 30, 2008

    Zoning can also be used to ban things like escalators, people movers, and other people moving things that aren’t needed.

  3. #3 sarah
    September 1, 2008

    I am so wise, in your opinion who decides what is a needed “person mover” and what is not? I am disabled and while I can ambulate sometimes pain or the fact that I suffer from fatigue make it difficult to do a whole lot of walking and/or stairs. People’s ideas about traffic congestion and energy use are generally good, but don’t really include the disabled.

  4. #4 ?ark? dinle
    September 2, 2008

    people movers, and other people moving things that aren’t needed.

  5. #5 jason shoman
    September 28, 2008

    I would like to thank you for giving an extensive insight into how California’s zoning changes will in fact make a difference in the realm of urban development. I am interested in the way that you present infrastructure as if it is the foundation for sustainable projects. I agree that in many cases, infrastructure is an afterthought, but many times that is because planners are able to distinguish important destinations later on in the life of a sub-city. This is why I agree that planned development is the perfect compromise when it comes to integrating transportation into urban planning. Although your original assertion is that carbon emissions will be reduced by these zone changes, you continue to exploit the human benefits of planned urbanism. Specifically, you give the example of how planned urban development will allow people to walk to the market, decrease the amount of food they purchase, and in turn have the ability to purchase fresher food since trips to the grocery store become more frequent. This change in infrastructure from cars to foot creates a sustainable city while encouraging a sustainable lifestyle for the individual. This lifestyle change is one result of progressive urban development that I may have never considered if I had not read this post. I also found your argument to be credible in the sense that the results have changed your perspective on urban development, considering you seem to experience the benefits of progressive development on a day-to-day basis. The integration of facts among your personal account supports your argument on both a macro and micro level. At the end of the post, you mention that in less dense communities, private grocery stores are “economically inefficient.” Although it seems plausible, it would help your assertion to provide the statistics or to “paint a picture” of how dense is dense enough to support this development style. Additionally, the title of the post suggests that the blog will discuss zoning codes, but the bulk of the text is dedicated to exposing the benefits of pedestrian infrastructure. Your post gives valuable personal insight into the difference between car and pedestrian traffic, and the title could draw attention to this.

  6. #6 Matt
    December 30, 2008

    Come on everybody
    we are taking over Nashville Tennessee and turning the city into California.

    We are right now having a blast right here in nashville tennessee

    There are allot of californias that are comming right here in nashville Tennessee

    Everyone in this website
    Come to Nashville tennessee.

    lets turn Nashville tennessee into California

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