Transportation Plans: Their Informational Content and Use Patterns in Southern California

Research Team: Jae Hong Kim (lead), Xiangyu Li, Tanjeeb Ahmed, and Victor Paitimusa

UC Campus(es): UC Irvine

Problem Statement: Since 1937, “all cities and counties [have been] required to adopt master plans [called ‘general plans’ nowadays] … [and, in 1955] land use and circulation elements [became] required in the general plan” (California Governor’s Office of Planning and Research, 2003). Recently, as the California Complete Streets Act (AB 1358) is implemented, “all cities and counties, upon the next update of their circulation element, must plan for the development of multimodal transportation networks.”. Other state legislation (e.g., SB 375) has placed emphasis on internal consistency (e.g., consistency of a locality’s circulation element with other general plan elements or policies it has adopted) and cooperation among jurisdictions to achieve regional Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emission reduction targets and other goals set included in the Sustainable Communities Strategy (SCS) and Regional Transportation Plan (RTP). However, despite the state-level guidelines and requirements, general plan making rests with individual localities, and the content/structure of plans does vary markedly across cities. Little is known about the informational contents of these plans and their use patterns.

Project Description: This project attempted to identify key informational contents of Californian cities’ transportation plans and to investigate how the plan contents can be used by various stakeholders through (i) a plan content analysis of a sample of general plans (recently adopted by eight municipalities in Orange County, California) and (ii) a plan use survey and follow-up analysis of survey responses. All plans analyzed were found to convey a variety of information about their visions, goals, policies, and implementation strategies, but the plan content analysis revealed substantial variation in the way cities composed their general plans and integrated them with other plans/players. Compared to land use elements, circulation elements tended to focus more on their connections with other agencies (external consistency) than on internal consistency. The plan use survey yielded a low response rate which may indicate limited use of plans in the field. However, a majority of the survey responses were positive about the usefulness and usability of general plans. In particular, the survey participants reported that they found the plans comprehensive, visionary, and well-organized, while relatively lower scores were obtained for two evaluation criteria: ‘[the plan] clearly explains what actions will be taken and when’ and ‘[the plan] is relevant to my everyday life and/or work’. Furthermore, some respondents reported that they used general plans not for their professional duties but for other (non-conventional) purposes, suggesting that plan contents could be used for a variety of decision-making processes.

Status: Completed

Budget: $51,031

Policy Brief(s):