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Smart Growth and Air Quality

Regional Smart Growth Vision

Transportation 2030 Regional Transportation Plan

2005 Bay Area Ozone Plan

Focusing Our Vision

Transit-Oriented Development

Incompatible Land Uses

Smart Growth and Climate Protection

Funding Opportunities



News Alert: Second Call for FOCUS Priority Development Area Applications

FOCUS applications for designation of regional Priority Development Areas within the nine county San Francisco Bay Area are now being accepted. The deadline for submitting an application is September 12, 2008.

Local governments or congestion management and transit agencies interested in coordinating a multiple jurisdiction application may submit applications. Priority Development Areas help inform regional and state agencies where incentives and assistance are needed to support local efforts that encourage infill development near transit. Many local governments are already participating and have been eligible to apply for a variety of capital funds and planning grants for the Priority Development Areas within their jurisdiction. If a local government already has an adopted Priority Development Area and would like to revise it, a revised application form may be submitted at this time.

Three regional PDA workshops will be held on August 25, 27, and 28. Local governments, transit agencies, and congestion management agencies are invited to attend a PDA workshop. The workshop will be an opportunity to learn more about the FOCUS program, ask questions about how to apply for a PDA designation, and ask questions about how to revise an adopted PDA.

Visit to download the application materials, find details on the workshops, and learn more about FOCUS Priority Development Areas.


Smart growth planning seeks to create and preserve thriving communities based upon compact and efficient use of land, a mix of compatible land uses, a range of housing opportunities and choices, and a variety of viable tranportation options (including walking, bicycling, and transit).



How Do Land Use and Development Patterns Affect Air Quality?

Motor vehicles are the major source of air pollution in the Bay Area. The amount we drive (expressed by transportation planners as vehicle miles of travel or VMT) is a function both of the number of vehicle trips we make and the distance of those trips. Well-integrated land use and transportation planning can decrease VMT and motor vehicle emissions by helping to reduce both the number of motor vehicle trips and the average length of vehicle trips.

The way we build our communities strongly influences how we travel from home to work, to school, to shops and services, and to other destinations. For this reason, the Air District encourages development that promotes alternatives to the automobile. If the location, mix, density, and design of development support transit, walking and cycling, then Bay Area residents will have more choices in how to travel. Air quality will benefit if we build our communities in ways that encourage alternatives to the automobile.  And the public will experience better health, thanks to increased physical activity and cleaner air.

Development patterns can support transit, walking and bicycling in many ways such as:

  • Focusing higher density development near transit stations and corridors (see section on Transit-Oriented Development below)
  • Encouraging compact development with a mix of uses that locates housing near jobs, shops and services, schools and other community facilities
  • Locating shops and services near employment centers
  • Encouraging infill development of underutilized land
  • Designing streets, sidewalks and bicycle routes to ensure safe and convenient access for pedestrians and bicyclists
  • Designing individual development projects to provide safe, convenient pedestrian and bicycle access to transit stops and nearby services

What Are the Benefits of Smart Growth?

More efficient development patterns can have many benefits for the community:

  • Reducing air pollution
  • Preserving open space and agricultural lands
  • Providing more housing for all income levels
  • Reducing congestion and long distance commuting (less vehicle miles of travel)
  • Reducing water pollution from urban runoff
  • Reducing energy consumption
  • Reducing emissions of greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming
  • Creating vibrant and livable communities
  • Improved health through increased physical activity

Regional Smart Growth Vision

The Bay Area's Smart Growth Vision, as expressed in the Smart Growth Preamble and Policies and the October 2002 Smart Growth Strategy / Regional Livability Footprint Project, serves as the foundation for the development of regional smart growth policies, as discussed below.

In 2000, the Air District joined with other agencies and stakeholders to initiate a public process to examine regional growth trends and consider preferred options for the future. The Smart Growth Strategy/Regional Livability Footprint Project represented a collaboration between the Air District, the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG), the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), the Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC), the Regional Water Quality Control Board, and a coalition of non-profit groups comprising the Bay Area Alliance for Sustainable Communities. The goals of the Project were to:

  • Develop a vision for regional growth that promotes environmental protection, economic vitality, and social equity
  • Prepare population and employment projections based on the smart growth vision
  • Identify and pursue regulatory changes and fiscal incentives needed to implement the vision

Public involvement was critical to the success of the project. Two rounds of public workshops were held in each Bay Area county in 2001 and 2002 to consider the most appropriate locations and characteristics of future growth, and to identify incentives needed to help implement more sustainable growth patterns. Based on public input from the workshops, the participating agencies developed a preferred vision for future development in the Bay Area known as the Network of Neighborhoods. In March 2003, ABAG adopted alternative demographic projections (Projections 2003) based on the vision. These projections were updated in Projections 2005 and Projections 2007.  The regional agencies and their partners are now working to implement the Smart Growth Strategy via FOCUS (Focusing Our Vision) and the other planning processes described below.


MTC's Transportation 2030 Regional Transportation Plan

In 2005, MTC adopted an updated Regional Transportation Plan known as Transportation 2030 (T2030).  The transportation modeling that served as the fundation for T2030 was based upon the ABAG Projections described above.  The T2030 Plan includes numerous policies and programs to promote smart growth and improve air quality.  The Transportation/Land Use Platform in T2030 established principles to guide transportation investments so as to promote compact, livable communities.  See further discussion under Transit-Oriented Development below.


Bay Area 2005 Ozone Strategy

Smart growth also informs regional air quality planning. The Bay Area 2005 Ozone Strategy to achieve the State ozone standard is based upon the ABAG demographic projections as well as the transportation modeling that served as the basis for the T2030 regional transportation plan.  Smart growth principles are incorporated in many of the Transportation Control Measures described in Appendix D of the Ozone Strategy. 


Focusing Our Vision

FOCUS (Focusing Our Vision) is a regional planning initiative spearheaded by the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), in coordination with the Air District and the Bay Conservation and Development Commission. In spring 2006, the regional agencies launched FOCUS, under the direction of the Joint Policy Committee (JPC), to further refine and implement the regional smart growth vision.  FOCUS is a region-wide effort to promote compact and equitable development that protects and enhances quality of life, and preserves open space and agricultural resources. FOCUS seeks to strengthen existing city centers, locate more housing near existing and future rail stations and high-quality bus lines, encourage more compact and walkable suburbs, and protect regional open space.

Via FOCUS, the regional agencies are working together with local governments to create a specific and shared concept of where growth can best be accommodated and what areas need protection in the region. Local and regional partners will identify areas that are priorities for development and conservation and work to direct existing and future incentives to these areas. All local governments are invited to participate in the FOCUS process and apply to designate priority development areas (PDAs) and priority conservation areas (PCAs).


Transit-Oriented Development

All around the Bay Area, transit villages are being developed that provide housing, jobs, retail and community services in vibrant walkable communities close to transit. The November 2006 report entitled New Places, New Choices: Transit-Oriented Development in the San Francisco Bay Area illustrates ten outstanding examples of recent transit-oriented development in the Bay Area.

A September 2006 report by MTC entitled Station Area Residents Survey (STARS) examines the travel choices of people living close to rail stations and ferries in the Bay Area. A key finding of the report is that people who live and work close to transit drive less, walk more, and use transit more frequently than those who live farther from transit.

Because of the many benefits associated with smart growth, MTC adopted a Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) Policy in July 2005 that applies to key transit extension projects in the Bay Area. To capitalize on new investments in transit, the TOD Policy establishes minimum thresholds for development of new housing units in designated transit corridors.  The TOD Policy is intended to promote cost-effective transit service, ease regional housing shortages, decrease motor vehicle travel, improve air quality, create vibrant communities, and preserve open space. In July 2006, an initial review of implementation of the TOD policy was provided in an Interim Evaluation.  The interim evaluation finds that the new transit corridor housing targets established in the TOD Policy are realistic and achievable.


Avoiding Incompatible Land Uses

The concept of smart growth often includes compact development, infill development, and/or re-use of previously-developed parcels. Considered on a region-wide basis, smart growth should be beneficial for air quality for the reasons discussed above. However, in planning for smart growth, it is important to avoid incompatible land uses that would result in significant population exposure to air pollution, especially among "sensitive receptors" (children, elderly, and people with impaired lung functions).

Planners should avoid or mitigate population exposure to emission sources such as freeways or other high-volume roadways, major industrial facilities, major distribution or goods movement facilities such as ports and warehouses, or other sources of toxic air contaminants, particularly diesel exhaust.

In April 2005, the California Air Resouces Board (ARB) issued a document entitled Air Quality and Land Use Handbook: A Community Health Perspective. This document provides ARB's recommendations for how to analyze and avoid incompatible land uses.  The Air District will provide assistance to local agencies and stakeholders to help implement the recommendations in the ARB handbook.

The Air District has initiated a Community Air Risk Evaluation (CARE) program to estimate health risks associated with exposure to outdoor toxic air contaminants (TACs) in the Bay Area. Information gathered through a variety of technical studies will be used to guide the development of additional measures to reduce toxic air pollution in areas with the highest health risk. The program will examine TAC emissions from point sources, area sources and on-road motor vehicles with an emphasis on diesel exhaust, which is thought to be the major source of airborne health risk in California.


Smart Growth and Climate Protection

Protecting our climate by reducing emissions of greenhouse gases is a top priority for the Air District.  In June 2005, the Air District adopted a Climate Protection Program

Transportation accounts for more than 50% of the greenhouse gases that are emitted in the Bay Area.  To reduce greenhouse gases from transportation, we need both to drive less and to use more fuel-efficient vehicles.  Therefore, smart growth policies that help to reduce vehicle travel are a key element of climate protection.  The Governor's Climate Action Team Report highlights opportunities for major reductions in greenhouse gas emissions via smart growth and efficient land use and transportation planning.  Implementing smart growth in the Bay Area must be a major component of our regional climate protection strategy.


Smart Growth Funding Opportunities

Funding sources are available to local governments and others interested in promoting smart growth, including:

The Air District's Transportation Fund for Clean Air (TFCA)
MTC's Smart Growth/Transportation for Livable Communities/Housing Incentive Program

Caltrans Community-Based Transportation Planning Grants

U.S. EPA Smart Growth Grants

U.S. EPA Smart Growth Implementation Assistance - free technical assistance


Partner Agencies and Organizations
Association of Bay Area Governments
Metropolitan Transportation Commission
Bay Conservation and Development Commission
Regional Water Quality Control Board

Bay Area Alliance for Sustainable Communities

U.S. EPA Smart Growth information

Policy and Advocacy Organizations
Bay Area Council
Greenbelt Alliance
Local Government Commission
Sierra Club
Smart Growth America
Smart Growth Online
Surface Transportation Policy Project
Transportation and Land Use Coalition
Urban Ecology
Urban Habitat
Urban Land Institute

David Burch
   (415) 749-4641
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