Measuring Land Use Performance: Policy, Plan, and Outcome

Much research in the transportation-land use domain has measured the impact of land use on vehicle miles traveled (VMT) or on travel behavior indicators like mode choice that suggest VMT. Land use attributes such as residential density, land use mix, accessibility, network connectivity, and jobs-housing balance generally correlate with modest reductions in VMT. Such evidence has fostered support for public policy that promotes higher density development, greater mixture of land uses, and improved access to employment and housing. By passing the Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act of 2008 (SB 375), California lawmakers acknowledged that land use planning could attenuate automobile use and consequently help to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Further, the law raises expectations for California communities to grow more equitably, with attention to affordable housing. It syncs local housing planning with regional transportation planning, requires local governments to specify actions to meet low-income housing needs, and can compel rezoning to speed affordable housing production. Yet, important upstream linkages bearing on that relationship have been less closely studied. This paper explores the current knowledge and knowledge gaps about linkages between upstream land use policy and downstream land use impacts. Understanding these connections is critical for gauging how well SB 375 and similar policies might perform. Focusing specifically on the land use and transportation relationship, the paper synthesizes the research relevant to SB 375’s potential for shaping local land use to reduce VMT (and hence, GHG emissions). Its organization reflects three main concerns fundamental to land use planning and policy performance: the effectiveness of state, regional, and local policies intended to influence land use; the evaluative frameworks for assessing the state local land use planning and policy; and the data and measures used for observing on-the-ground impacts of land use. Overall, this review concludes that policymakers, planning practitioners and researchers have a significant interest in better understanding the causal linkages between land use policy and subsequent land use plans and plan provisions, and ultimate on-the-ground land use outcomes. The paper finds that evidence is mixed that public policies crafted at state,regional, and local levels have a discernible and positive impact on land use. This review highlights a variety of practical approaches that could be applied to measure land use change and land use planning performance.