Policies Reducing Vehicle Miles Traveled in Oregon Metropolitan Areas

Authors: Upstream Public Health

Location: Portland, Oregon, United States

Completion Date: May 2009

HIA Report: Health Impact Assessment on Policies Reducing Vehicle Miles Traveled in Oregon Metropolitan Areas

Summary of the HIA

Proposed Policy or Project

In order to meet greenhouse gas emission goals, Governor Kulongski of Oregon proposed to allocate funds to Oregon's six Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) to design and implement vehicle miles traveled (VMT) reduction plans. 

Background and Policy Context

By 2040, the population of Oregon is expected to reach 5.5 million people, with majority concentrated in metropolitan areas. As the population increases, there will be more drivers on the road, which in turn will lead to more air pollution, greater traffic congestion and more car collisions. The proposed statewide VMT-reduction plan is a policy that could potentially have significant health benefits for Oregonians through improvements in air quality, increased access to public transit and safer transit for pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers. Because VMT-reduction policy can significantly affect health, Upstream Public Health received funding from the Northwest Health Foundation to conduct this HIA. 

The plans under the statewide VMT-reduction policy will incorporate a number of measures spanning from VMT taxes to investments in public transit. The funds will be allocated from Oregon's Jobs and Transportation Act of 2009. Some provisions of the new Jobs and Transportation Act include:

  • $499 million investment in Oregon's transportation system
  • $150 million in ConnectOregon, where 10% will be awarded to each Oregon Department of Transportation in order to provide funding for multimodal transit projects. 
  • Increasing state motor fuel tax to $0.30 per gallon in addition to increasing other motor vehicle related fees.

The implementation and enforcement of effective incentives will drive Oregonians to alter their mode of transportation. 

Scope and Methods

The Community Advisory Committee (CAC), made up of state public health members, land use planners and community members, formulated potential VMT reducing policies. The CAC decided to consider the following policies to decrease VMT:

  1. Positive changes to the built environment
  2. Strengthening public transit
  3. Increasing costs for driving individual vehicles

An important aspect of scoping is to determine what potential health impacts a project or policy may have. The CAC decided to focus on the following three pathways by which Oregon's population would be impacted if VMT-lowering policies were in place. They are:

  1. Physical activity
  2. Air pollution
  3. Land use patterns (more specifically car collisions with other cars, pedestrians, or bicyclists)

Each of these impacts and their pathways were researched by conducting literature reviews. Quantitative data related to air pollution, VMT and the physical activity levels of Oregonians were obtained from the Department of Transportation and the Behavioral Risk-Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS). 

Due to time constraints and data limitations, the other indirect impacts that were not selected for analysis were:

  1. Stress
  2. Household expenses
  3. Access to goods and services
  4. Water pollution
  5. Noise pollution
  6. Climate change

Summary of Findings

Changing the built environment to create neighborhoods with mixed-use, high density, good street connectivity and pedestrian/bicyclist-friendly infrastructures, will likely impact VMT by providing alternate modes of travel and shorter trips. Increased transit coverage will promote the use of public transit. Positive health benefits include increased physical activity, decreased air pollution and decreased fatalities for car drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists. However, some neighborhoods may be exposed to higher levels of pollution due to close proximity to transit centers and heavy traffic. 

Providing public transit will improve mobility and access for the vulnerable populations of Oregon, including the low-income, minority, elderly, young and disabled. This policy will make it easier for these populations to get around the community, to accomplish needed tasks and to stay connected to the community. Through increased social interactions, the elderly or disabled will be less likely to withdraw from society, promoting good mental health. 

Driving-related taxation systems are not as effective. Policies enforcing parking fees are more effective at changing transportation patterns. 

Policies requiring businesses in metropolitan areas (with exceptions) to charge a fee for employee parking and utilizing a VMT tax would prompt individual driving to decrease, which in turn will lead to lower levels of pollution and car collisions. However, in order not to financially burden the low income, the VMT tax should vary by income brackets.

Decisions/Actions following the release of the HIA


Products Produced


Background Reports


Mel Rader


Upstream Public Health
240 N. Broadway St., Suite 201

(503) 284-6390