18.03.2021 : Andrew Murray and more

Transport challenges - how integration of land use and planning can lead to carbon neutrality

The recently released Climate Change Commission (CCC) Draft Advice proposes preliminary emissions budgets and direction of policy to achieve the targets agreed to under the Zero Carbon Act. The advice understandably has a strong focus on transport. This reflects the key role the transport sector has in heading towards the direction of carbon neutrality; wider than this – it raises a line-of-sight to the opportunities that land use can also offer in progressing towards these targets.

In 2018, the transport sector’s emissions profile made up 36.3% of New Zealand’s total long-lived gases (16.6 Mt CO2-e[1]). The Advice indicates that transformations in transport could reduce emissions to around half this at 8.8 Mt CO2-e1, putting the transport sector on track to meet our 2050 target. However, we see a further opportunity to reduce these further if we can look at and measure the role of land use planning in the development of the transport system. But what does this mean? How does it translate into reduced transport emissions and how can we quantify this (on the basis that by measuring it we can better achieve it)?

 

What is integrated land use and transport planning?

Over the past few decades, the issue of how we “integrate land use and transport planning” has been increasingly seen as important. Various local and central government guidance and policies require us to focus on this opportunity and for many different reasons. At its heart, such integration recognises that transport is about the access and movement of people. Yet without careful planning, it can create conflicts with the spaces where we live, work and play. It requires a shift away from thinking of transport as corridors for the movement of vehicles between locations, towards how we look at the interactions people want with each other and the natural and built environments in which they live.

Integrated land use and transport planning was originally mooted to improve urban form outcomes; to reduce the negative social impacts of ‘transport systems’. As set out in the Climate Commission’s advice, it is now also recognised as being a critically important part of reducing transport emissions. It is generally defined as a process of forming policies, objectives, design standards, investment decisions and operating protocols for both the transport and land use system. Its purpose is to shape better urban environments and accommodate the need for people and goods to interact, while minimising the requirements of transport systems.

While good integration of land use and transport can be hard to define, we all tend to notice when it is not done well. Signs of poor integration might include large volumes of heavy trucks on a road separating a community from a pristine coastal environment, remote suburbs with long commutes on congested motorways to access jobs and social opportunities, or even adjacent retail malls with busy roads between them but no safe footpaths connecting them.

 

But how does this impact climate change?

The majority of the 16.6MtCO2 attributed to the transport sector is from private vehicles. The remainder is from heavy vehicles (trucks and freight), with a smaller amount from shipping and domestic aviation. Vehicle emissions are a function of fuel use, which is influenced by:

  • The amount of travel (vehicle kilometres)
  • The system design – greater emissions are generated at very high speeds and conversely in congested environments
  • The vehicle motive power and efficiency – the average age of the light vehicle fleet in Aotearoa has been steadily increasing and was 14.1 years in 2019. This is older than the average light vehicle fleet age of OECD countries such as Australia, Canada, and USA which have average fleet ages of 10.4 years, 9.7 years, and 11.8 years, respectively[2]. Most crucially, the percentage of light vehicles which are 20+ years old in Aotearoa has increased from 9% in 2000, to 21% in 2019.

To reduce vehicle emissions, we therefore need to reduce the vehicle kilometres travelled overall (avoiding travel), improve the efficiency of the system to better manage congestion (for example shift movement to shared system modes) and decarbonise the vehicle fleet (improve emissions or substitute energy sources of the remaining transport fleet). 

The greatest opportunities or contributions to these strategies from integrated land use and transport planning are to reduce the amount of travel altogether and shift transport modes. However, to what extent behaviour change can reduce emissions (in this case attributed to land use change), is often harder to measure and quantify. This issue is the core focus of this think-piece. 

While improvements to system and vehicle fleet efficiency will also be critical to meeting our emissions reduction targets, we maintain we should focus first on measures that avoid emissions, before either reducing emissions or focusing on a substitution for emissions.

 

Role of integrated land use and transport planning:

Our experience also aligns with the Climate Commission’s draft advice – that integrated land-use and transport planning can have a significant impact in reducing the amount of vehicle use, by changing the fundamental way we travel. Integrated land use and transport planning[3] provides an environment whereby people are enabled to change their behaviour, and either avoid transport related vehicle emissions or shift to lower per capita emission transport options. For example, it: 

  • reduces peoples’ need to travel, for example by providing jobs and services close to where people live[4];
  • provides safe and attractive walking and cycling networks so these become the travel mode of choice, especially for shorter distance journeys
  • provides better access to mass rapid transit, which can transport large numbers of people between key locations at much greater efficiency than individual vehicles, e.g. through greater density in key transport nodes
  • provides clear differentiation of freight and other strategic routes, that minimise conflicts with more sensitive urban areas and improves the efficiency of those parts of the transport system (e.g. reducing congestion).

In addition to commuter trips, integrated land use and transport planning also helps address all travel, such as travelling to a shopping complex, social activities or the local park. It is critical to place emphasis on these other trips, as the Climate Commission’s Advice reports that only around 13% of total current transport emissions are from people travelling to and from work.

Integrated land use and transport planning also plays a supporting role in the transition towards a predominantly electric vehicle fleet, for example, through increased requirements to provide charging points on all new developments and buildings. Conversely, the transition to electric vehicles could be used to support energy management in buildings and homes by providing battery storage during peak solar periods and feeding this back into the system during peak demand.

It is exciting to observe the current technological shift towards micro-mobility. Beca has recently completed research for Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency that suggests electric bikes and other smaller electric modes have the potential to reach 10% of all urban trips within 10 years. Safe cycling and walking infrastructure integrated with land use will be a key enabler in this shift, as the transport system needs to be able to accommodate wider connected networks for electric bikes to cover long distances easily and safely. Our land use and transport planning should not be constrained to the modes of today and needs to be flexible in considering future technologies.

Co-benefits:

The same transport/land use improvements that will support reduced vehicle emissions have many co-benefits. For example, reducing the social and economic impact on road injuries and deaths, better health and well-being via greater physical activity and improved air quality, and enhanced social cohesion and liveability through improved urban form.

An example of a positive social impact of improved urban form is increased local employment, which gives rise to less commuter travel time due to jobs being close to home, and people subsequently having more quality time in their day for other activities.

 

Existing barriers and challenges to achieving land use and transport integration

In our experience, the early stages of planning a town or city often follow many of the principles needed to better integrate land use and transport, with the aim of achieving both the urban form and environmental outcomes discussed above. New Zealanders are reasonably accomplished at creating appropriate masterplans. However, there are legal, institutional, financial, political or practical challenges which arise in the implementation stage of these masterplans.

Jurisdictional:

Often, the responsibilities for planning and managing land use are held by different agencies, with legal, historic or cultural constraints on how much, and how effectively, they work together. Collaborative working between land-use planning e.g., councils and transport planning authorities, is now more common but remains complex. Such approaches still tend to be on a project-by-project basis, and as such success is often heavily influenced by the governance and culture of the specific teams involved. It would be more effective if efforts were systemised by way of legislation or policy and funding requirements. There have been recent reviews of projects that have sought to deliver this collaborative approach, which have highlighted a number of the process and governance challenges of working across multiple agencies. These challenges have the potential to delay or dilute the desired outcomes.

Key enablers to solve the transport challenge include provision of local employment and services of sufficient scale to avoid greenfield areas becoming ‘dormitory’ suburbs. However, in a hot housing market, the economic drivers for developers can result in less priority or desire for non-residential development. Specific policies have been used to help address residential housing needs (such as through the Housing Accord and Special Housing Areas Legislation), and non-residential development would benefit from a similar level of policy and legislative attention. Given the role local services and jobs have in reducing peoples’ need to travel, there is an opportunity for local and central government to formally align set spatial directions for overall land use change and the infrastructure to support it (as is proposed in the concept of the Spatial Planning Act mooted in the RMA Reforms).

Another jurisdictional challenge can occur between regional authorities, especially on the fringe of major centres. For example, policies in a major centre can influence development in adjacent areas. Care is therefore needed that strong policies targeting major urban centres don’t push the problem across the boundary into areas with less opportunities for sustainable travel and consequential environmental outcomes. While coordination of strategic inter-regional transport corridors is addressed by national agencies such as Waka Kotahi, the proposed reforms of the RMA provide the opportunity for greater coordination of land use planning across adjacent regions. Following the discussion on challenges, the recommendations we make in the following section of this article would provide for more proactive consideration of the carbon emission outcomes of such choices.

Timing/Sequencing of Infrastructure

The provision of transport infrastructure can significantly influence both travel behaviours and urban form, particularly in the formative years of new urban developments. For example, the over-supply of road capacity and delayed provision of alternative modes of transport can set urban form and establish behaviours that are very difficult to change. In this regard, the explicit inclusion and early provision of more sustainable travel options from the outset minimises the need for subsequent culture change within an established community, and we consider it is more likely to succeed in delivering the intended outcomes.

Need for Greater Certainty

The funders of transport infrastructure often desire a high level of flexibility in their transport programmes, so they can revise priorities based on monitoring of early outcomes, budget constraints or changes in government policies.  In contrast, developers desire a strong return on their investment, and those investing in new homes or business want certainty about the services they will receive. Successful integration of the transport system and the land use/liveability outcomes will require all parties to have sufficient certainty to commit to the desired outcomes.  While there is sometimes distrust by planning authorities that developers will deliver on the glossy masterplans, there is often a lack of trust by developers that the needed strategic infrastructure to support those developments will be provided when promised. Not uncommon for example, are new semi-rural developments without good walking, cycling or public transport services and without local jobs and services. Stronger legal mechanisms to encourage longer-term commitments from both land-use developers and transport authorities to deliver on agreed plans are therefore needed to achieve the desired outcomes from integrating land use and transport.

Potential Funding Challenges

Transitioning to more sustainable (less carbon intensive) travel will require ongoing investment. However, revenue from the excise tax on carbon-based fuels will decline as the hybrid and electric vehicle fleet increases. Fuel excise taxes, along with local rates, are the main source of funding for transport. Currently, zero emissions vehicles do not pay fuel excise or road user charges, as one way to encourage the switch from internal combustion powered vehicles. Unless proactively addressed, our need to invest in new and different transport systems could inadvertently become a victim of the urgent need to decarbonise the vehicle fleet. Alternative methods for funding transport will therefore need to be developed relatively quickly. Charging based on distances travelled (either for short-travel usage of strategic routes or for long distance travel on routes where substitution of other mode options may be available), roads used, and travel time (e.g. peak period charges) may be possible options to address the funding challenge, and at the same time target specific changes to travel behaviour. Alternatives could include developer funding, land taxes or targeted rates.

Perceptions and expectations

A key mantra of the early NZ America’s cup campaign was that to get 100% better, they needed to improve 100 things by 1%, as there was no single, silver bullet solution. The same applies to the required transport response to climate action. A singular focus on public transport or electric cars will not achieve the proposed emissions budgets. A culture shift is also needed, where each individual person can look for the ‘100 things’ to reduce emissions. For example, instead of always relying on someone to drive us, we switch to taking the bus more often.

A key part of this involves us recognising how our current behaviours contribute to emissions, and how, over time, the cumulative impact of societal changes can be significant. A better understanding of the impact of our choices on where we live, work or travel could help support the collective effort required by everyone. Information should be available to New Zealanders on the relationship between their regular lifestyle activities and their quantum and type of travel, which will enable them to make more informed decisions about how to reduce their impact on climate change through their everyday behaviour.

 

A case for measuring emissions outcomes of land use and transport integration

There is good evidence to show that populations living in more compact and diverse neighbourhoods tend to use motorised transport less frequently, that alternative pedestrian and micro-mobility services are more attractive, and that travel behaviour generates more passengers to support frequent transit services[5]. However, it is also recognised that such land use change is complex (as discussed above) and that the resulting carbon emission reductions are realised as places develop (rather than when they are planned).

It also highlights that ‘carbon emission reductions’ are more complex to measure (this is largely because the alternative urban form is not available as a ‘substitute’ comparator). Notwithstanding this, we maintain that a process for measuring the shifts needed to decarbonise our transport system should include an evaluation of anticipated avoided carbon emissions on the basis of planned land use outcomes.

Such measures could include modelled or expected emissions per capita per km2 of urban development, on the basis of criteria of the ‘planned development’ and factoring such matters in the overall processes of land use change / zoning (alongside other outcomes for urban development related to social, economic, cultural and environmental wellbeing). As a starter for discussion, we suggest ‘carbon emission’ criteria in such processes could include:

  • The planned residential and employment densities (higher densities resulting in less emissions)
  • The diversity of land uses proposed (e.g. the greater the mix of residential, commercial, and recreational land use provisions in an area having reduced emission factors)
  • The accessibility within urban areas at a local or fine-grain level (e.g. well-connected street networks scoring better as opposed to cul-de-sacs)
  • The timing of transport mode provision, and in particular the early establishment of public transport choice; and
  • The higher level of public transport accessibility measured by proximity to connections to such services.

 

Conclusion

While there are numerous definitions and policy guidance on what ‘integrating land use and transport’ is, the key parts can be determined at face-value: i.e. making the transport and land-use systems work together to serve the needs of people. Such thinking is a critical element of reducing the climate effects of transport, especially by reducing peoples’ need to travel and making more sustainable and efficient options the mode of choice. These are also highly aligned with the goals of improving health, safety, wellbeing and the liveability of our cities.

There are a number of challenges to achieving reduced emissions through successful integration of land use and transport, including jurisdictional constraints, funding and policy uncertainty and an assumption that ‘someone else will do something’. Our experience suggests these are feasible with joined-up thinking and collective will.

It will also be important that as we move to measuring our contribution to achieving carbon targets, that the processes of the integration of land use and transport is also measured. While it is acknowledged that bringing such measurement and focus into the system is far more complex, under the maxim of ‘if it’s not measured it’s not done’, we consider this warrants more specific attention so that behaviour change and measures that avoid the need for carbon emissions are firmly prioritised. We make four key recommendations towards this:

  1. That there is stronger policy on provisions for strategic consideration of local employment and services alongside housing development in urban spatial planning;
  2. That there are mechanisms for stronger commitments to delivery of both land use change and the transport system investments to deliver them;
  3. That further work is undertaken to consider funding mechanisms for the transformation we need in our transport system; and
  4. That methods are identified to measure and promote land use and transport integration and particularly the opportunity that these measures have to avoid the need for carbon emissions from our transport system.

 

 

[1] Climate Change Commission, ‘2021 Draft Advice for Consultation’ p.14, https://www.climatecommission.govt.nz/get-involved/our-advice-and-evidence/ (2021)

[2] Ministry of Transport, ‘2019 Annual fleet statistics’ p.10-11, https://www.transport.govt.nz/statistics-and-insights/fleet-statistics/sheet/2019-annual-fleet-statistics

[3] It is recognised that improving urban form and planning does little to address transport challenges outside our major centres, such as travel in small towns, rural areas, inter-regional travel and freight. These areas will be more dependent on other initiatives for decarbonisation, such as changes to our vehicle fleet, digital solutions that enable effective ride-sharing, and targeted shifts of freight from road to shipping and rail.

[4] We acknowledge that not everyone can shift towards working locally. However, providing local services still has strong benefits such as reducing the need to travel long distances for non-commuter activities and utilising the available network capacity in the non-peak direction. This reduces congestion and the associated vehicle emissions

[5] Robert Cervero & Cathleen Sullivan (2011) Green TODs: marrying transit-oriented development and green urbanism, International Journal of Sustainable Development & World Ecology, 18:3, 210-218, DOI: 10.1080/13504509.2011.570801

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