April 30, 1989 - From the May, 1989 issue

The Trip Equity Plan: A New Model Linking Planning & Transportation

Nick Brestoff, a Woodland Hills real estate attorney and board member of the Valley Industry & Commerce Ass., Pat Costinett, senior associate with BartonAschman Associates, Inc., and Dolly Wageman, management consultant in strategy planning of the Studio City Resident's Assn., explain what the Trip Equity Plan entails. Ventura-Cahuenga Boulveard Specific Plan Citizen Advisory Committee proposed the plan which features a simple formula to determine trip equity. Brestoff and others then detail the potential impacts to transportation planning.


"For the first time, an easy to understand, flexible link between planning and transportation has been forged. We have moved beyond lip service."—Nick Brestoff

Suppose that we are dealing with a parcel of land 100 feet wide and 150 feet deep, or 15,000 sq. ft. in area. If, under the plan, a hypothetical 3 .0 Trips were allowed per 1,000sq. ft of land area in that community, then the trip rights associated with that parcel would equal 45 (15,000 sq. ft. x 3.0 Trips per 1,000 sq. ft of area).

Flash. Volunteer citizens, working with Los Angeles planning and transportation professionals, have discovered a new approach to managing future urban growth. While lip service has often been paid towards the notion of linking new development with the traffic congestion it causes, this breakthrough--called the Trip Equity Plan--creates a simple mechanism that should do the job.

The Trip Equity Plan is the brainchild of the Ventura-Cahuenga Boulevard Specific Plan Citizen Advisory Committee (the "Ventura Blvd. CAC"), a volunteer group appointed by six members of the Los Angeles City Council (Marvin Braude, John Ferraro, Joy Picus, Joel Wachs, Michael Woo, and Zev Yaroslavsky). They have painstakingly reviewed land use and transportation conditions on Ventura Boulevard, the 17 mile long commercial backbone of the San Fernando Valley. A draft ordinance of the plan is due to be announced sometime in May, 1989. The Trip Equity Plan is the conceptual centerpiece of this plan.

What is the Trip Equity Plan? It begins with a simple formula: the number of (T)rips per 1,000 sq. ft. of land area equals an allowed (U)se multiplied by the gross building (S)ize (i.e., T = U x S). This is the Trip Equation.

That is clear enough. Anyone considering development of any given parcel in a community will know what trip rights are involved. Because each parcel has such rights, there is no penalty for a delay in development. The first-come, first-served rush to develop before some ceiling is reached simply vanishes.

Thus, when it comes to the Trip side of the equation, both developers and regulators get something they like: certainty.

To establish the number of trips per 1000 square feet, the land in any given community is surveyed. Then, the allowed number of community Trips is set, in part, by comparing the existing traffic counts with the level of service at nearby major intersections. These are the places where an owner's right to develop meets head-on with the public's desire to reduce congestion. The test is this: the "carrying capacity" of the streets must be able to handle the rush hour Trips.

The number of community Trips, when divided by the land area, gives the number of trips per 1,000 sq. ft for any given parcel of land, no matter when the development takes place.

The Trip Equation then allows the marketplace to function, although within certain broadly stated constraints. After calculating the number of Trips, the developer is free to select the Uses for a site which will be economically viable, provided the Use is not barred by the plan. That Use selection immediately brings into play the proposed ordinance's schedule of Trip Generation Rates or TGRs for rush hour traffic. Each Use will have an associate TGR. For example, a small office building has a TGR of 2.91 trips per 1,000 gross sq. ft of building area. A convenience market, for the same 1,000 gross sq. ft. of building area. would generate 6.4 trips.

Once the Trip Generation Rate is determined by the Use selection, the developer can propose a project Size. The number of Trips is the result of multiplying the Use (i.e., TGR) by the project Size.

In our example of a 15,000 sq. ft parcel in a community allowing 3.0 Trips per 1,000 sq. ft. of land area, a developer could envision a 15,464 gross sq. ft small office building (45 divided by 2.901 times 1,000) or a 7,031 gross sq. ft. convenience market (45 divided by 6.4 times 1,000).

Thus, the Use and Size aspect of the Trip Equation is largely the domain of the marketplace. In most cases, almost any Use is acceptable and the choice is up to the developer. This approach is a slightly more relaxed, but familiar function of zoning laws. It is an entirely different Lack than regulation by way of floor-area ratios, which concern themselves with bulk and density, not trips.

Similarly, although Size is regulated, the developer would be able to operate within a certain "envelope." While there are height limits, set back requirements and other limitations, they are not as restrictive as the number of Trips that a parcel can generate.

For the developer then, the Use and Size aspects of the Trip Equation have a second message: flexibility.

When a project meets the Trips and urban design criteria, it can be built after the developer pays a Trip Fee so that certain traffic, parking and landscaping mitigation measures can be implemented. Over time, these mitigation measures are the key to a livable community. With them, the carrying capacity of the streets can be increased, which not only allows for a reasonable amount of new growth, but a decrease in congestion.

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If the Trip Fee turns out to be $2,000 per Trip (the low end of the range being considered), then our hypothetical developer with the 15,000 sq. ft. parcel would have to pay $90,000 (45 trips x $2,000 per trip). In perspective, such a fee is equal to $6 per sq. ft of land area (compared to a value ranging from $100 to $150 per sq. ft), $5.82pergross sq. ft. of a small office building ($90,000 divided by 15,464 sq. ft.) or $12.80 per gross sq. ft. for the convenience market ($90,000 divided by $7,031 gross sq. ft).

Here's what the Trip Equity Plan means for Ventura Boulevard. On Ventura Boulevard today, there are approximately 19 million sq. ft. of commercial and retail space generating approximately 71,000 evening peak hour trips daily. There are now 8 major north-south intersections (out of 25) with levels of service graded E (poor) or F (jammed).

Yet the average development intensity (measured by floor-area ratios, the current approach to managing growth) is only about .5, one third of that allowed under Proposition U, which was intended to be a growth control measure, and which set the maximum floor-area ratio at 1.5. With this level development intensity, the total square footage could triple to nearly 60 million sq. ft. The resulting number of trips and congestion would dwarf the already intolerable conditions, and everyone would lose.

According to the best calculations using sophisticated computer models of the San Fernando Valley's demographics and traffic patterns, the Boulevard could accommodate another 8.6 million sq. ft. of development between 1985 and 2010, but only if the proposed mitigation measures (costing approximately $50 million) are implemented. That amount of new construction is expected to generate approximately 29,000 new rush hour trips. At $2,000/Trip, the plan contemplates raising over $58 million, which is enough to pay for the needed improvements.

What happens to the 25 major intersections with another 29,000 rush hour trips? Since Ventura Boulevard is already crowded, many of them get a little worse. However, given the traffic mitigation measures, the number of E (poor) and F (jammed) intersections is expected to actually go down.

How can this be? How can traffic flow stay the same or even get a little better with even more development? In a word, the answer is "redistribution." Redistribution strikes a better balance between street capacity (supply) and congestion (demand).

Now we come to the "Equity" part of the Trip Equity Plan. There are, today, certain communities of Ventura Boulevard that have more congestion than others. Still other communities have less congestion and more capacity. The Trip Equity Plan would limit the number of new trips allowed in each community, in recognition of the present circumstances. If a community's capacity is nearly used up already, it can accommodate less new development; if it has more room today and less congestion, it can accommodate more.

But just how is that done? One approach was to have each area absorb an equal increment of new trips. The second approach was to allow each parcel of land an equal opportunity to generate new trips. The compromise was to settle on the midpoint, which meant using the simple average of both equity notions, half of one and half of the other.

The effect of using both kinds of equities is to redirect growth away from the already heavily impacted areas without bringing growth there to a standstill. Subject to the other requirements of the plan, if adopted by the City Council, new development would be directed to areas with greater capacity and more development potential, in varying degrees.

Even with more growth in these communities over the next 20 years, however: their levels of commercial development then will be markedly less than that in the most impacted communities today. Compared to the development allowed under Prop. U, the reduction is dramatic.

The Trip Equity Plan, with its Trip Equation and two notions of equity, is far from perfect. The most obvious pitfall is that the marketplace may not respond as expected. The market may refuse to be redirected and head to major intersections that go north-south (as has been reported recently in the case of Sepulveda Boulevard) or go out of the Valley entirely. The mitigation measures, to be paid for with the Trip Fees, then might not be implemented. That’s the worst case.

Without the mitigation measures, even a zero growth policy on Ventura Boulevard leads to 19 intersections at levels E or F, more than double the number of such adverse conditions (8) today.

The Trip Equity Plan is a new way to address the joint problems of planning transportation. Aside from being novel, the approach has been termed “elegant” and “the best planning effort in 20 years” by the planning and transportation officials working with the Ventura Blvd. CAC. In addition, it seems to be a good model for many other communities. Of course, whether Trip Equity will stand the test of time still remains to be seen.

One thing is clear, however. For the first time, an easy to understand, flexible link between planning and transportation has been forged. We have moved beyond lip service.

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