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Decarbonizing Transportation - Sustainable Land Use

Sunnyvale's vehicle miles traveled (VMT) trend upwards, but emissions are trending down thanks to cleaner vehicles!

Addressing Transportation GHGs

Why is it Important to Sustainably Address the Transportation Sector?

Transportation makes up almost 50% of Sunnyvale's total emissions. Sunnyvale’s current development, while serviced by existing public transit, still largely reflects a car dependent lifestyle. Dramatic changes to driving habits and accelerated adoption of zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) will need to work in tandem to achieve steep reductions in transportation emissions. 

Photo of a train cross through an intersection with many stop lights and warning signs.
Even with population increase, average vehicle miles traveled will need to decrease to reach our greenhouse gas emission goals for transportation.


GHG Emissions Associated with Transportation

Each year our transportation GHGs are determined by how many people there are in the city, how much driving each of them needs to do, and the fuel source for their vehicle. We expect that Sunnyvale's population will continue to rise. The climate action plan is designed to address the other factors by reducing transportation demand, expanding options for new modes of travel, and expanding the use of zero-emission vehicles for the remainder of the on-road travel.

Addressing Transportation GHGs

More Miles Driven but with Cleaner Vehicles

Since our 2008 baseline inventory the number of annual vehicle miles traveled has increased as our city and region have continued to grow. Even in those early years of climate action, our GHGs were not rising in step with increases in the number of miles driven. This is because of the increasing efficiency of gasoline vehicles and the increase in the number of hybrid and electric vehicles on the road.

Most of the reductions in VMT and emissions for 2020 and 2021 were due to the countywide shelter in place imposed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the shelter in place order lifted in late 2021, we expect to see those activities rise again.

Play 3.1: Reduce Vehicle Miles per Person

Promoting Alternative Transportation

In a car dependent community, it is critical to promote alternative transportation while simultaneously disincentivizing single occupant car trips. Increasing the availability of affordable housing in Sunnyvale can support workers being able to live closer to their jobs, which would cut down on commuting and promote the use of alternate modes of transportation such as biking or walking. Limiting parking is a proposed disincentive aimed to decrease car trips. 

Vehicle miles traveled (VMT) is a measurement that estimates the total amount of miles each vehicle within a certain area travels within a given period of time. VMTVehicle Miles Traveled
Vehicle miles traveled (VMT) is a measurement that estimates the total amount of miles each vehicle within a certain area travels within a given period of time. VMTVehicle Miles Traveled
Photo of a person on a bike stopped in a painted bike box at an intersection.
Target reductions in vehicle miles per person. By 2030 the target is 20% reduction and by 2050, a 25%  reduction.

Play 3.1: Reduce Vehicle Miles per Person

Reduction Targets

Vehicle miles per person per day gives a good overview of how much driving is required to live and work in Sunnyvale. This metric has been very stable over recent years and in order to meet our GHG reduction goals, we will need to create living spaces that are more conducive to car-free living while supporting a range of new mobility options. 

Reduce Vehicle Miles per Person

VMT Per Capita - Our Performance

The average amount of driving each Sunnyvale resident does is a significant factor in how quickly we can bring down transportation GHGs. This metric has not changed much year over year and only between 2017 and 2018 did we see any decrease. As you can see on the Scoreboard, that was also the same period that we saw the biggest overall drop in emissions from the sector, illustrating how important this metric is to meeting our overall GHG reduction targets.

In 2021, we saw more cars on the road as the shelter in place ban lifted toward the end of the year. We will most likely see an increase in the number of vehicle miles traveled as offices and schools open again. However, some organizations have kept their teleworking policies in place which will help prevent VMTs from increasing to what we saw in 2019.

Ultimately the best way to reduce the demand for driving is through better design of our community where fewer trips require a car to accomplish them. Sunnyvale is making plans across the city to accomplish that goal.


Sunnyvale Downtown Specific Plan

Sunnyvale's Downtown Specific Plan supports an urban downtown consisting of the City’s center for retail, service, and entertainment in an area adjacent to local and regional transit services.  This Plan includes a wide range of live and work options which: expand diverse housing options, minimize long distance commutes, and increase opportunities for multi-use sites.

Read more here

Play 3.2: Increase Shared Mobility Options

What is Mode Shifting?

Transitioning away from car dependency to more sustainable options such as walking and biking through mode shifting is a core part of our strategy to reduce transportation GHGs. Supporting mode shifting will require improving the existing bicycle and pedestrian network to make walking and biking to work, school, and other local destinations an obvious and easy choice for Sunnyvale residents who want to be part of the solution.

Image of a 6-lane highway completely packed with stopped traffic.

Play 3.2: Increase Shared Mobility Options

Current Mode Share

In addition to the amount of travel that is needed to live and work in Sunnyvale, the mode of travel will determine how many GHGs are created from the transportation sector. As you can see in the chart, driving alone is the dominant mode choice in Sunnyvale and consequently, it has the highest carbon footprint.

To truly impact GHGs in this sector, we need more people utilizing transit, bicycles, and micro-mobility options such as electric bicycles and scooters. Ride sharing services have a role to fill gaps and complement these other options, but using these for every trip can be worse than driving your own vehicle.

Play 3.2: Increase Shared Mobility Options

Active Transportation Plan

The City released an update to our Active Transportation Plan! This document lays out a plan to improve pathways for biking and walking throughout the city with extensive recommendations to ensure Sunnyvale residents of all ages abilities can choose healthy and safe modes of travel.  

In January 2021, City Council added "Ability of Infrastructure to Support Development, Traffic, and Active Transportation", as a City Council Priority. This reaffirms Sunnyvale's commitment to reducing transportation emissions. More information about the plan is available on on the City of Sunnyvale website and download the full plan to learn about all the changes coming to our shared streets.

 Report cover of the 2020 Sunnyvale Active Transportation Plan with 3 icons at the top. The first is two people walking, the second is a bike, and the third is a depiction of a pathway with a start and end icon.
Photo of a red metal bike rack shaped to look like a 4 seat bike with handlebars. The rack is on a brick patio outside a brick building with green landscaping.

Play 3.2: Increase Shared Mobility Options

Expanding Transportation Options

Improved frequency, route offerings, and quality of local public transportation is expected to increase ridership and reduce the number of cars on the road. More access to bicycles and scooters, without having to purchase, maintain, or store them, may increase the likelihood of residents avoiding cars for short trips.

Play 3.2: Increase Shared Mobility Options

Bikeways Build Out

The Sunnyvale 2020 Active Transportation Plan lays out a number of specific new facility improvements to add new classes of bikeways to our streets. At full build out, we would have 155 miles worth of bikeways to support safe cycling throughout the city.

Note that some totals in the chart shrink as some existing classifications will change to higher grades.

Photo of two people standing in front of a white electric vehicle with the Sunnyvale logo on the driver side door.

Play 3.3: Increase Zero-Emission Vehicles

Transition to Electric Vehicles (EVs)

To support the transition to EVs, the City of Sunnyvale must prepare and plan for updates to our infrastructure accordingly. This includes working with community groups to create an EV awareness and education program to accelerate EV adoption, as well as electrifying the municipal fleet. These efforts continued in 2020/2021 despite COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.

Play 3.3: Increase Zero-Emission Vehicles

ZEV Targets

We've set targets to increase the share of zero-emission vehicles to 20% by 2030 and 75% by 2050. As of 2021, the share of ZEVs has only reached 6.8 of vehicles. Hitting our 2030 target will be a challenge but the future of mobility is changing quickly and we will be stepping up to support this effort with the following Moves

  • Move 3.J - Develop a Community Electric Vehicle Readiness and Infrastructure Plan
  • Move 3.K - Promote and seek incentives for community adoption of electric vehicles
  • Move 3.L - Electrify Municipal Fleet as vehicles are replaced and continue to seek incentives for electric vehicles and charging infrastructure

Infographic indicating the 2030 target of 20% of all vehicles on the road are zero-emission. By 2050, 75% of all on-road vehicles are zero-emission.

Play 3.3: Increase Zero-Emission Vehicles

Ed Lau and his EV

Sunnyvale resident, Ed Lau, walks us through what owning an electric vehicle is like.

Play 3.3: Increase Zero-Emission Vehicles

How We're Doing

In 2021 there were about 1,065 new Zero-Emission Vehicles registered in Sunnyvale. This raised the share of ZEVs to 6.78.  The percent of people choosing to drive electric is increasing each year, which is good. We'll need to hit closer to 1,750 ZEVs per year in order to hit our 2030 target. If that rate holds, and the total number of fossil fuel vehicles doesn't rise, we'll be on track to meeting the 2050 target as well.

Play 3.3: Increase Zero-Emission Vehicles

How We're Getting There

While there are many vehicles that will need to be updated, the changes are already happening very quickly. This chart illustrates the number of zero-emission vehicles registered in Sunnyvale between 2017 and 2021.

These are encouraging signs but not shown on this chart, due to scale, are the 88,855 gasoline fueled vehicles still on the road. This number dropped by 1,018 between 2020 and 2021 and we hope to see steeper declines in the future.

Be Part of the Solution!

Resources for Active and Electric Transport

Gas-powered vehicles are the largest source of emissions in Silicon Valley. Switching to an electric vehicle powered with clean electricity or getting around under your own power by biking or walking is often the single biggest action one can take to protect the planet and doesn’t require sacrificing comfort and is often more fun!

Driving electric saves money! Take charge and lead the way to kick fossil fuels for good!
EV Assistant can help you browse and compare cars, discover electric vehicle incentives and savings, and find charging options for home and on the road.
Plan your journey with this map of bike routes in Sunnyvale.