If you were looking for a single indicator with which to measure reductions in a community’s environmental impact, vehicle-miles-traveled (VMT) would be a solid contender. It has the added benefit of capturing a lot of quality of life investments as well, since the steps you might take to reduce VMT are often the same steps you would take to increase walkability, bike-friendliness, downtown vitality, and transit accessibility.
A recent StreetsBlog post (“What Do We Want from the Place We Call Home?”) explored some of the factors that shape people’s decisions about where to live, to which one commenter suggested using VMT as a measure of community-building. We work with a lot of cities and towns around the country on increasing community sustainability, and we don’t see VMT discussed very often as an indicator or a strategy. One reason might be that it’s pretty tough to measure at the local level. In Golden, Colorado, where I serve as mayor (in addition to my work here at PlaceMatters), we’ve adopted a VMT reduction goal (15% in ten years) but are still sorting through the best way to measure baseline and trends. One of the more promising approaches seems to be a series of longitudinal vehicle counts at specific locations we think collectively will show community trends, but that’s obviously a highly imperfect approach. I’m curious to know what tools others have developed or found. Any approaches that you’ve considered and dismissed? Any you think might work well?