Assessing State Efforts to Integrate Transportation, Land Use and Climate Change

Rebecca Lewis, University of Oregon



Climate change is increasingly recognized as a threat to life on earth. “Continued emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) will cause further warming and changes in all components of the climate system. Limiting climate change will require substantial and sustained reductions of GHG emissions.” (IPCC WGI, 2013.)
The transportation sector accounts for almost one-third of all GHG emissions in the United States. Growing Cooler describes GHG emissions from transportation as comprised of a three-legged stool composed of vehicles, fuel, and vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and suggests that “technological improvements in vehicles and fuels are likely to be offset by continuing, robust growth in VMT.” (Ewing et al., 2007, p. 2.) Thus, a crucial strategy in curbing GHG emissions from transportation relies on reducing growth in total VMT by promoting alternative modes of transportation hand-in-hand with promoting development patterns that support the use of such modes. In developing climate action plans, states have begun to acknowledge the connection between transportation and development patterns.
This project will explore the institutional barriers and opportunities for reducing VMT, hence GHG emissions, through improved transportation options and smarter development patterns in four states: California, Maryland, Oregon, and Washington. The research team will analyze existing policy frameworks around transportation, land use, and climate change, outlining the statutory context around plans and actions within state agencies. The research team will analyze existing plans under these agencies, in addition to conducting interviews with relevant agency staff and other stakeholders to examine potential barriers or synergies around policies and regulations within the state. The research team will catalog programs and policies influencing transportation investments and development patterns, which may affect implementation of climate action strategies in the transportation and land use sector. Focusing on state-level plans and regulations, the research team will identify strengths and weaknesses of the transportation-land use-climate policy framework in each state and seek to identify opportunities to improve the existing frameworks by offering policy recommendations, implementation strategies and recommendations for better agency coordination. Finally, lessons learned from these four states will inform other states attempting to reduce GHG emission from transportation.


The transportation sector produces approximately one-third of GHG emissions in the United States. Within the transportation sector, VMT are an important contributor to total emissions. Reducing VMT requires reduced automobile usage, which demands provision of alternative transportation and policies supporting alternative development patterns. Essentially, to reach GHG reductions targets, state climate action plans, state transportation plans and state and local land use plans must be integrated. This integration requires vertical coordination between the state and local level and horizontal coordination among state agencies. Reducing GHGs from transportation through VMT is politically, financially, procedurally and technically challenging.

In order to make significant progress, it is critical to match the academic expertise with the real-world experience of practitioners and other stakeholders in and out of government. Although it is still too early to hypothesize about the final recommendations and conclusions of this research, the intent is that this research will help advance efforts nationally to reduce GHGs from transportation. By sharing good practices in four case study states and by identifying effective ways to overcome practical obstacles, this research aims to make a significant impact on slowing global climate change.

Project Details

Project Type:
Project Status:
End Date:
June 30,2016
UTC Grant Cycle:
Tier 1 Round 3
UTC Funding:

Other Products

  • Lewis, R., Zako, R., Biddle, A., & Isbell, R. (2018). Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from transportation and land use: Lessons from West Coast states. Journal of Transport and Land Use, 11(1), 343-366 (PUBLICATION)
  • States on the Hot Seat: Climate Change Laws in Oregon and California (PRESENTATION)
  • "Engaging the Law to Support Sustainability on Earth", University of Oregon Environmental and Natural Resources Law Spring Newsletter See: (PUBLICATION)
  • Assessing State Level Governance around Transportation, Land Use, and Climate Change Planning (PRESENTATION)