Former Pasadena Transportation Chief Talks City Planning on Podcast

Published : Monday, August 26, 2019 | 5:22 PM

You probably didn’t know the City of Pasadena has switched from level of service (LOS) transportation analysis to vehicle miles traveled (VMT), but former city transportation chief Fred Dock ate the transition for breakfast, lunch, dinner for a few years and spoke about it on the podcast “Talking Headways.”

Pasadena, along with San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose are the first cities in California to develop a VMT-based approach to transportation analysis, Dock said.

The program was hosted by StreetsBlog USA and Jeff Wood of The Overhead Wire, and the interview, during which Dock explained the process of reconciling a state mandate with Pasadena’s unique approach to urbanism, aired August 1.

First, a little about Dock himself.

He served as Transportation Director in Pasadena for 12 years, but his exposure to related policies and programs has been ongoing for 35 years, including consulting for other organizations on planning and traffic engineering beyond the Southern California region.

He started his transportation engineering career in San Francisco. Having retired from the Pasadena Department of Transportation in May, Dock’s now with P&D Consulting LLC in Washington, DC.

Involved updating the way public officials measured transportation impact. LOS analytics focused on reducing delay time, but over the year, problems with that approach became clear as reduced delay, did not necessarily limit congestion or improve access.

VMT, by contrast, is correlated with a number of impacts to the environment and to human health, which is putting it all very simply.

According to the state Office of Planning and Research (OPR), then-Governor Brown (D) signed Senate Bill (SB) 743 creating a process to change the way that transportation impacts are analyzed under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

“Specifically,” OPR’s website says, “SB 743 requires OPR to amend CEQA guidelines to provide an alternative to LOS for evaluating transportation impacts. Particularly within areas served by transit, those alternative criteria must “promote the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, the development of multimodal transportation networks, and a diversity of land uses.”

“In Pasadena, we were trying to update the General Plan starting about 2009 and a little bit after that was when the SB 743 process started at the state level,” explained Dock. “It was openly signed into law by 2013, which worked well for us because we wound up converging at that point and were able to take advantage of the fact that that [the bill] had been passed.”

VMT has been in used in Pasadena since 2015, Dock said.

He recalled how implementing SB 743 was somewhat at odds with Pasadena’s stated goals of being a city with a mixed-use walkable core, where anyone can get around without a car if they wanted to.

“What we were seeing was a lot of mismatch between what we were mitigating things to do, and if that mitigation was basically making it harder to get around on foot or by bicycle or using transit,” Dock said.

In response, the City – Dock in this case – updated the General Plan so planners could think-through an approach to the transportation system that permitted the developmental and General Plan approval process to generate outcomes consistent with the latter’s guidelines.

He remembered how Pasadena made use of community consultation sessions while developing different types of transportation metrics that complied with the General Plan, during which over 1,000 hours went into community outreach as part of the land use mobility element update.

Dock also credited the fact that Pasadena lacks the space to “sprawl” which permits it to be progressive on transportation policy.

“It harks back to the late 1990s when the city was going through a growth spurt, and a lot of the scrape-everything-down-and-build-again attitude was going on at the time,” Dock said. “It was raising issues about how transportation was being handled. The other was loss of historic properties. Out of that early-1990 period, when they were putting up office towers and parking lots and scraping around all of the old mixed-use buildings that were in there.

“That’s really what Pasadena Heritage was born out of, and other historic preservation movements,” Dock concluded.





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