When TransportiCA formed, we had a simple directive to be incredibly educational for anyone seeking to strengthen their understanding of sustainable transportation.  In accomplishing this, we are posting on this page a new term every week that deals with, or relates to sustainable transportation and respective fields - infrastructure and resiliency, energy and policy, transit-oriented development, smart growth and smart cities, shared mobility services, intelligent transportation systems, and many others.

For our first posting, we list three versions of 'sustainable transportation.'

The University of Plymouth (UK) Centre for Sustainable Transport integrates the Triple-Bottom Line in a systems definition:
"A sustainable transportation system is one that: allows the basic access needs of individuals and societies to be met safely and in a manner consistent with human and ecosystem health, and with equity within and between generations; is affordable, operates efficiently, offers choice of transport mode, and supports a vibrant economy; limits emissions and waste within the planet’s ability to absorb them, minimizes consumption of non-renewable resources to the sustainable yield level, reuses and recycles its components, and minimizes the use of land and the production of noise."

From its first Sustainability report (Dec. 2016), the California High-Speed Rail Authority provides that sustainable transportation is, "transportation that does not rely on the use of fossil fuels" (p.49).

Inclusive, as well, of a systems approach and the Triple-Bottom Line, in addition to resiliency in infrastructure, TransportiCA defines sustainable transportation as: "Resilient mobility whose input (energy) is renewably-based, financial operations are secure and continuous, and output (emissions) is negative and/or minimal on the environmental and social systems affected by such mobility."

While there is no universal denotation, we hope these three versions better assist you with your understanding of sustainable transportation.

CEQA, or the California Environmental Quality Act, is a statute that requires state and local agencies to identify the significant environmental impacts of their actions and to avoid or mitigate those impacts, if feasible.  The impetus for CEQA can be traced to the passage of the first federal environmental protection statute in 1969, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).  In response to this federal law, the California State Assembly created the Assembly Select Committee on Environmental Quality to study the possibility of supplementing NEPA through state law.  This legislative committee, in 1970, issued a report entitled The Environmental Bill of Rights, which called for a California counterpart to NEPA.  Later that same year, acting on the recommendations of the select committee, the legislature passed, and Governor Reagan signed, the CEQA statute.  CEQA applies to certain activities of state and local public agencies.  A public agency must comply with CEQA when it undertakes an activity defined by CEQA as a "project."  A project is an activity undertaken by a public agency or a private activity which must receive some discretionary approval (meaning that the agency has the authority to deny the requested permit or approval) from a government agency which may cause either a direct physical change in the environment or a reasonably foreseeable indirect change in the environment.  Most proposals for physical development in California are subject to the provisions of CEQA, as are many governmental decisions which do not immediately result in physical development (such as adoption of a general or community plan).  Every development project which requires a discretionary governmental approval will require at least some environmental review pursuant to CEQA, unless an exemption applies.

Ecological Economics (a discipline concerned with valuing ecological resources) defines sustainability in terms of natural capital, the value of natural systems to provide goods and services, including clean air and water, and climatic stability (Jansson et al., 1994). Preserving these services is equivalent to a business maintaining the value of its productive assets. Ecological economists argue that consumption should not deplete natural capital at a faster rate than it can be replaced by viable and durable human capital. This suggests, for example, that non-renewable resources such as petroleum should not be depleted without sufficient development of substitutes, such as renewable energy sources.

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was signed into law on January 1, 1970.  NEPA requires federal agencies to assess the environmental effects of their proposed actions prior to making decisions.  The range of actions covered by NEPA is broad and includes: making decisions on permit applications, adopting federal land management actions, and constructing highways and other publicly-owned facilities.  Using the NEPA process, agencies evaluate the environmental and related social and economic effects of their proposed actions.  Agencies also provide opportunities for public review and comment on those evaluations.  Title I of NEPA contains a Declaration of National Environmental Policy.  This policy requires the federal government to use all practicable means to create and maintain conditions under which man and nature can exist in productive harmony.  Section 102 in Title I of the Act requires federal agencies to incorporate environmental considerations in their planning and decision-making through a systematic interdisciplinary approach. Specifically, all federal agencies are to prepare detailed statements assessing the environmental impact of and alternatives to major federal actions significantly affecting the environment.  These statements are commonly referred to as Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) and Environmental Assessments (EA).  Title II of NEPA established the President's Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) to oversee NEPA implementation. The duties of CEQ include: ensuring that federal agencies meet their obligations under NEPA, overseeing federal agency implementation of the environmental impact assessment process, and issuing regulations and other guidance to federal agencies regarding NEPA compliance.

Smart Growth is an approach to development that encourages a mix of building types and uses, diverse housing and transportation options, development within existing neighborhoods, and community engagement. The 10 principles below are considered the foundation of a smart growth approach:
1. Mix land uses
2. Take advantage of compact design
3. Create a range of housing opportunities and choices
4. Create walkable neighborhoods
5. Foster distinctive, attractive communities with a strong sense of place
6. Preserve open space, farmland, natural beauty, and critical environmental areas
7. Direct development towards existing communities
8. Provide a variety of transportation choices
9. Make development decisions predictable, fair, and cost effective
10. Encourage community and stakeholder collaboration in development decisions

This is Smart Growth, published by the International City/County Management Association and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2006, is the definitive guide to this multifaceted approach to urban development. 

Sustainable Economics maintains a distinction between growth (increased quantity) and development (increased quality) (Daly, 1996). It focuses on social welfare outcomes rather than simply measuring material wealth, and questions common economic indicators such as gross domestic product, which measure the quantity but not the quality of market activities. Unlike neoclassic economics, sustainable economics does not strive for ever-increasing consumption, but rather for sufficiency.

Transit-Oriented Development (“TOD”) is a set of transportation and land-use planning principles and strategies that are sweeping the nation by connecting communities with vibrant, people-centric places in city after city.  The public has embraced the concept, and real estate developers have quickly followed to meet the high demand for quality urban places served by rail systems.  This is not only because TOD can offer a higher quality of life, but because it offers a triple-bottom line solution to economic, social, and environmental sustainability.  Well-designed TOD empowers people with the choice to walk, cycle, or take public transportation to meet their daily needs by providing greater transit accessibility and a mix of uses within the community fabric.  This is an urban development response to the congestion, carbon emissions, and inefficiency of single-use, suburban sprawl.  TOD is at the very heart and soul of sustainability, and brings together compact, walkable communities with high quality rail systems. This creates low carbon lifestyles by enabling people to live, work, and play without depending on a car for mobility.  This type of lifestyle can reduce energy consumption and driving by up to 85%.

Transportation Demand Management or TDM (also called Mobility Management) refers to various strategies that change travel behavior (how, when and where people travel) in order to increase transport system efficiency and achieve specific planning objectives. TDM is increasingly used to address a variety of problems.  A typical person makes more than a dozen trips away from home each week – to work, shopping, errands, social and recreation activities. Many of these trips are flexible in terms of their timing, mode and destination. For example, many commuters can vary when and how they travel to work or school, at least some days. Similarly, errands can be organized in various ways, such as walking or bicycling to neighborhood shops, driving to a downtown or mall, or making several automobile trips to various destinations dispersed along major highways. Recreational activities can also have various travel options, ranging from a neighborhood stroll, driving across town to exercise at a gym, or cycling for errands and commuting. Many factors affect people’s transport decisions including the relative convenience and safety of travel modes (such as whether streets have sidewalks and bikepaths, and the quality of transit services available), prices (transit fares and the price of parking at destinations); and land use factors (such as whether or not schools, parks and shops are located close to residential neighborhoods). Even freight transport often has flexibility in how goods are shipped and deliveries organized.  TDM strategies influence these factors to encourage more efficient travel patterns, such as shifts from peak to off-peak periods, from automobile to alternative modes, and from dispersed to closer destinations. There are numerous TDM strategies using various approaches to influence travel decisions. Some improve the transport options available; some provide incentives to change travel mode, time or destination; others improve land use accessibility; some involve transport policy reforms and new program that provide a foundation for TDM.

Triple-Bottom Line is, "An addition of social and environmental values to the traditional economic measures of a corporation or organization’s success. Triple Bottom Line accounting attempts to describe the social and environmental impact of an organization’s activities, in a measurable way, to its economic performance in order to show improvement or to make evaluation more in-depth. There are currently few standards for measuring these other impacts, however."


If you can think of any terms to add, feel free to email them to us at: features[at]transportica.info.

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