Performance-Based Approaches to Incentivize Local Adoption of Sustainable Land-Use Policies

This white paper considers how to incentivize local government adoption of land use policies supporting sustainable mobility. Local land use policy has a significant, long-term role to play in reducing transportation-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and making communities more sustainable. Research suggests that compact, center-focused land use together with development practices bringing jobs and housing closer together can reduce automobile reliance and Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT). Such policies can foster development patterns that increase residents’ ability to make fewer and shorter auto trips and to use non-auto modes more frequently than under more dispersed, auto-oriented growth patterns. Whereas national and state governments can direct policy on fuel carbon content or vehicle efficiency, authority over land use rests with local municipal and county governments. In the U.S. local governments have jurisdiction over the comprehensive plans, zoning regulations, and development decisions that determine whether future growth will accommodate reduced auto reliance or perpetuate auto-oriented patterns. Despite concerns about GHG emissions and the climate change impacts of dispersed, auto-dependent development, local governments face significant pressure to maintain status quo land use policy. This paper discusses existing state and regional efforts to incentivize land use policy that instead supports sustainable mobility by reviewing the existing literature and public reports, considering the most promising strategies for enhancing local land use performance in reducing vehicle trips and VMT and increasing non-auto mode use. It also considers how best to structure policy indicators and outcome measures to reflect land use performance, as well as overall implications for future research and policy.


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