Why San Francisco’s new TDM policy matters

Over the summer, we got pretty excited about the possibility of San Francisco voting for a Transportation Demand Management (TDM) ordinance to encourage sustainable choices. Now, everything we hoped for has come true — it passed!

Part of a new fleet of trains in San Francisco. (PHOTO)

Transportation Demand Management: What is it?

To understand why this matters, it’s important to understand what TDM means. TDM is meant to help people use the alternative infrastructure that already exists — mass transit, bikeshare, carshare, etc. In many cities, options outside of single-occupancy vehicles are available, and it’s up to us to make sure they get used effectively.

This can go a long way in lowering congestion, which is good for the environment and also for the health of the cities themselves. In San Francisco, this is a citywide measure that will require new developments to provide on-site amenities to support sustainable modes of transportation while limiting the single-occupancy driving trips that often accompany new business.

How will it work?

Each potential new development will be given a certain number of points to hit based on the type of land use (retail vs. office vs. residential) and the number of parking spaces proposed. Then, developers can choose from a menu of 66 different sustainable measures of varying point values based on their ability to reduce the number of driving trips. (If you want to explore the options, you’ll love this interactive tool.)

These TDM options range from easy to implement to slightly more complicated — providing access to a bikeshare membership for employees or installing a real-time transportation display are simple, but reducing the number of parking spaces needed or arranging shuttle bus service might take a little more work.

Why does it matter?

Not only are developments required to comply with these measures before construction, the city will be following up to make sure they are met, and it will also collect data on its effectiveness once in place. This will allow the system to adapt and improve over time.

One of the reasons this is so important is the impact it can have in offsetting incoming growth. The city expects to add 100,000 new households and 190,000 new jobs by 2040, according to a press release, which could potentially be a disaster for congestion and traffic (not to mention the environment) if not handled properly.

A great example of what we’re hoping for? Seattle added 45,000 new jobs between 2010 and 2016, but only 5 percent of them added cars. Seattle Transit Blog gives the credit to improved service as well as companies who “pay for transit passes, installing bike amenities, and implementing other transit-friendly policies” — TDM done right.

San Francisco’s new policy is essential to making sure the city can sustain itself with an influx of people, and should serve as inspiration to other cities hoping to make a change. And if you decide to check off that point you get from a real-time transportation display? Well, you know where to find us.