Office of Planning, Environment, & Realty (HEP)
Updating agency policies can set the stage for long-term success in implementing livable transportation projects. Some agencies have developed livable transportation solutions one project at a time, while others have adopted policies that require program-wide change. While the project-by-project approach allows hands-on experience and learning, it may have less effect on the agency's long-term project list until the overall programs are updated. Integrated policies that support livable transportation solutions can have a lasting and program-wide effect, while the application of new policies to projects can help demonstrate the intention and direction of a transportation agency.
Policy approaches can help overcome a variety of challenges-from the funding stage through construction. This chapter presents successful ways that policies have been used to overcome some of the following challenges.
Agencies responsible for transportation project development are often driven by a set of legislation and policies that imply commitment of resources to meet a certain level of performance. The planning process is often dominated by preservation or enhancement of system capacity, movement of freight, and congestion relief. Many transportation agencies are committed through policy to deliver programs beyond available revenue. PennDOT's Smart Transportation initiative sought to better align its financial operating environment to statewide needs, through a department-wide policy shift that calls for partnership with local governments and linking land use planning and transportation decisionmaking.
PennDOT has undergone a paradigm shift in recent years as a result of changing financial, economic, technological, and social contexts. Declining statewide transportation funding, increasingly scarce Federal assistance, and increases in construction costs had created a backlog of unfunded or underfunded projects. PennDOT also recognizes that not only did it not have enough funding to build programmed projects, it was also facing increasing maintenance needs for one of the Nation's oldest infrastructure systems. The department's project delivery process was increasingly perceived to be lengthy, not predictable, and not consistently integrating local community goals.
FHWA and FTA have given the
Smart Transportation Guidebook
the 2008 Award of Excellence.
Source: Pennsylvania DOT, 2008.2
Smart Transportation is Pennsylvania's response to the changing needs and demands of today's transportation system, and is a policy directive to link land use and transportation planning, focus on system maintenance and preservation, balance priorities among all transportation modes, and practice true fiscal responsibility. This new way of doing business is successfully carried out by changing the rules, changing the process, and increasing partnership efforts.
PennDOT's new policy direction adopted livable transportation principles as the basis for planning and project decisions, a flexible design resource that complements the statewide design manual, and a series of policy changes related to activities where land use and transportation decisions intersect the most often, such as in providing new guidance for highway occupancy permits and development of local comprehensive plans.
This Smart Transportation approach was intended to improve PennDOT's ability to respond to financial conditions, while better matching roadway design with project context. The department adopted a series of Smart Transportation principles that build on FHWA's CSS initiative. The principles emphasize overall project cost as a critically important factor in decisionmaking, a need to respond to project context, and to expand measures of effectiveness by considering value-to-price ratio as a reason to select and develop a project (as opposed to meeting capacity-based or LOS-based criteria at higher cost).
After setting guiding principles, PennDOT, in partnership with the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) and Delaware Valley Regional Planning Council (DVRPC), developed the Smart Transportation Guidebook. The guidebook provides for flexible design standards that better respond to each community's context and future vision, and encourages creative and alternative ways of more efficiently addressing transportation issues. PennDOT has adopted the guidebook as interim policy guidance, giving its staff the assurance and documentation they need to actually apply Smart Transportation principles to all transportation projects.
The agency is currently working with its planning partners to revise its project delivery process to reinforce the Smart Transportation principles. The new process strengthens the role of planning earlier in project delivery to ensure more predictable schedules and budgets and more consistency with community goals. The new process also emphasizes asset management strategies as a component of LRTPs and programming.
PennDOT realizes that changing existing culture, policies, and procedures to align with Smart Transportation requires buy-in from all partners, and has been engaged in a significant outreach and training effort. PennDOT has launched a multimedia communications campaign, including more than 150 interactive workshops and presentations with internal staff and partner organizations. PennDOT also recently launched the first round of the Pennsylvania Community Transportation Initiative, a $60 million grant program for community-sponsored transportation and land use projects. The program has enjoyed much interest and is intended to help demonstrate how Smart Transportation can be applied to all PennDOT planning and construction projects.
Through an aggressive campaign, the
Smart Transportation message has now
been shared and being embraced by
various local partners. In 2009, the
Pennsylvania State Association of
Township Supervisors ran a cover
article on Smart Transportation
strongly supporting the initiative.
Source: Pennsylvania State Association
of Township Supervisors, 2009. 4
Reprinted with the permission of the Pennsylvania Township News,
the official monthly magazine of the Pennsylvania State Association
of Township Supervisors.
PennDOT's multi-media campaign includes an interactive website on
Smart Transportation, www.smart-transportation.com.
Source: Pennsylvania DOT, 2008. 5
Although Smart Transportation is a new program, it has increased awareness of the linkage between transportation investments and land use decisions. Like most States with multiple DOT districts and regional planning organizations representing thousands of local government entities, the State struggles to respond to local needs. Smart Transportation has helped demonstrate that States and localities share responsibility-for PennDOT to apply flexibility and attention to cost and context in making transportation decisions, and for local governments to practice sound land use planning principles. PennDOT has greatly enhanced its ability to develop transportation projects that support the community and are financially sound.
One notable lesson from the Smart Transportation initiative is that agencies respond best to a unified direction and mission, with a message and benefits that can be concisely communicated. The Smart Transportation message was supported by policy changes, training, and planning tools that helped make the initiative real and tangible.
At the same time, PennDOT has learned that organizing for change is difficult. Despite a committed chief executive, active central office staff, and several district-level chief engineers working to reshape longstanding projects to fit Smart Transportation principles, PennDOT has continued to face complications in the rollout partly because of its own size (12,000 employees). PennDOT sees the need for all levels of the agency to apply the principles in meeting its responsibilities. PennDOT has learned to advance select projects as quickly as possible to demonstrate Smart Transportation principles in action. Delivery of projects that reflect policy principles helps local governments and the public see that Smart Transportation principles can be translated into real projects that meet the objectives of both the community and the agency.
Another lesson that PennDOT's case illustrates is the importance of transportation planning-understanding the needs of complex stakeholders and evaluating alternative solutions beyond the activities of project programming. Planning involves exploring what and where the real problems and priorities are, identifying available options and costs, and relating this to community and regional priorities.
ARC, the regional agency and MPO that coordinates regional land use and transportation planning, developed LCI to provide assistance to local governments to develop integrated transportation-land use plans for designated high-activity centers and corridors throughout the region. Metropolitan Atlanta is one of the fastest growing urban areas in the United States, adding approximately 1.5 million residents between 2000 and 2009, for a total population of 5.6 million.
The region does not have distinctive geographic features limiting outward expansion, and relatively small county and municipal land areas have tended to encourage rapid outward expansion since development limited by infrastructure or politics in one jurisdiction need not look far to find a more supportive environment. One of the results of this combination of factors is that driving distances have increased. Metro Atlanta residents, on average, drive almost 35 miles a day, one of the highest per-capita distances traveled in the United States.
As in other large metropolitan regions that are heavily dependent on automobile travel, this trend toward increased travel distances has had environmental implications. In the 1990s the region failed to comply with the Federal Clean Air Act, leading to potential withholding of Federal funding assistance for highway construction. The Atlanta region is more than 6,000 square miles and is characterized by low population and development densities. Coupled with limited Federal highway funding to accommodate additional growth, these factors pointed to a need for alternative approaches to accommodating growth, both for a more sustainable form of development and to improve air quality by reducing vehicle emissions.
As of 2010, over 100 LCI studies have been completed throughout the Atlanta region.
Source: Atlanta Regional Commission, 2009.6
ARC has committed through policy that planning, whether at the regional or local levels, and resulting transportation projects should support quality of life in the region's centers and high-activity corridors, promoting livable, balanced communities and reducing the need for vehicular travel throughout the region. The LCI program was initiated in 1999 to help carry out this policy direction, to better link transportation and land use planning with long-term goals of VMT and congestion reduction and improved in air quality. The program awards grants to individual or partnered local governments and nonprofit organizations to prepare plans to enhance existing centers and corridors. The LCI studies provide a framework for local governments to take advantage of private investments to help accomplish infrastructure objectives.
More than 100 studies had been completed by early 2010, representing nearly $9 million in planning assistance funding and nearly $2 million in supplemental funding to help communities that have completed LCI studies to further define transportation projects for later LRTP/TIP inclusion. In addition, more than 1,000 development project proposals have been associated with LCI study areas. These projects, if completed, will add more than 80,000 residential units, 19 million square feet of commercial space, and 38 million square feet of office space.
The LCI program has been widely recognized for its progressive approach to linking land use and transportation, and for tying this to Federal transportation funding and environmental protection. Awards include the American Planning Association's 2008 National Planning Excellence Award for Implementation, EPA's 2008 National Award for Smart Growth Achievement in Policies and Regulations, and FHWA and FTA 2004 Transportation Planning Excellence Award for Transportation and Land Use Integration. While many of the infrastructure components of the LCI studies have not yet been implemented, ARC's own evaluation of the effectiveness of the LCI program suggests that the principles of complementary land uses in walkable, compact centers have potential to offset growth in the region's overall travel demand and VMT.
The program's principles-increasing density to support transit use, mixing land uses to promote walking and bicycling, and investing in related infrastructure-complicate the analytical models that ARC uses to gauge the LCI program's efficacy. This is due largely to the regional nature of its evaluation, relying on the Atlanta regional travel demand model, which recognizes the intensity of land uses but associates them only with the regional-level infrastructure that the analytical tools include (mostly vehicular travel added to collector and arterial roadways). Like most MPO models, this evaluation tool is not equipped to analyze the improvements a development or plan can have for transportation alternatives and broader community livability.
Over 90 percent of the completed LCI studies have been adopted by their local governments into
comprehensive plans, and the studies have generated hundreds of projects for LRTP and TIP inclusion.
Source: Tunnell-Spangler-Walsh & Assoc/Atlanta Regional Commission.7
Since the program is administered by a regional agency with Federal funding used to help identify projects eligible for Federal aid, local projects tend to be underestimated. As LCIs focus on finer planning detail, the studies identify local projects that serve desired development patterns. If these local projects are not eligible for Federal funding assistance, implementation could be delayed while local governments attempt to secure funding and coordinate infrastructure with private development. This can be more of an ongoing challenge that points to limitations of the Federal transportation planning model, which was developed when national transportation priorities were to implement the interstate highway system. Many LCI studies have incorporated broad community agendas to the point that implementation, largely unfunded with the exception of transportation-specific recommendations, becomes highly challenging for local government sponsors.
Policy approaches to achieving livability in transportation are also effective at the local level, especially for land use planning, development review, and permitting. Policy platforms that establish livability principles as desired goals are essential in determining future direction for growth and development. This case study examines Charlotte's Centers, Corridors and Wedges policy framework as the basis for its Integrated Transit and Land Use Plan.
Charlotte experienced rapid growth from the 1970s through the 1990s due to its evolving role as a banking and financial center. Poised to become a leading southern city yet wary of traffic congestion and limited transportation choice as in other Sunbelt metropolitan areas, Charlotte sought to invest in transit as a long-term transportation strategy. However, by the late 1990s and early 2000s, transit planning and Federal funding requirements made transit initiatives a lengthy process. Charlotte needed to ensure that ongoing growth and development would not compromise the chances for transit to successfully compete for State and Federal funding.
Source: Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning, 2009.8
In 1994, Charlotte decided to coordinate transportation, land use, and economic development with a broad, city- and region-wide vision known as the Centers, Corridors and Wedges Plan. It called for future development to be focused on high-capacity transit corridors linking Uptown Charlotte (the city's central business district) to other employment and activity centers, with the balance of the city (the "wedges") focused on existing neighborhoods and open space. The goals were to establish long-term growth management strategies around this corridor-based concept, and to provide policy guidance to better link transportation and land use as future development occurred, pursuing transit along the corridors to support the higher density.
Charlotte's Centers, Corridors and Wedges Plan helped city departments to have a common vision for growth to be guided to areas that can support it, and steered away from areas that cannot. This work led to the 2025 Integrated Transit and Land Use Plan, which was the basis for the MPO's transit improvement plan in its 2025 LRTP. The city has also since adopted more specific policies directing the roles of each of the departments to work toward the vision set by the Centers, Corridors, and Wedges Plan.
In this general planning context, Charlotte has developed land use planning principles that aim to strengthen its city- and neighborhood-supporting infrastructure. In the growth corridors, the city develops small area plans with specific, parcel-by-parcel land use recommendations and network connectivity recommendations. The city's Transportation Action Plan (TAP) reserves nearly 15 percent of transportation funding for street and network improvements in the centers and corridors, and identifies key walking, cycling, and livability components in larger transportation projects to balance connectivity with overall mobility. As transit planning advanced and implementation of the South Corridor light rail transit line began, Charlotte continued crafting and refining its land use policies and regulations to support the land use vision established in the plan. It also developed transit station area planning principles, detailed station area planning efforts, and adopted regulatory changes to enable TOD.
Source: Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning, 2009.9
Source: Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning, 2009.10
Since adoption of the Centers, Corridors and Wedges Plan, Charlotte's population has increased from approximately 440,000 to 680,000, with much of that occurring in the centers and corridors. In addition to supporting policies and programs, Charlotte has also actively begun advancing transit projects. The South Corridor (now called the Blue Line) was the first to be implemented and is successful in both ridership and surrounding TOD. This is a direct result of a forward-thinking regional growth strategy, coupled with targeted land use and infrastructure investments and a coordinated transit-supportive land use policy and regulatory framework.
Charlotte's experience has demonstrated that a central growth vision, supported by a growth policy framework, must be established before more development-specific plans and policies can have significant effect. Charlotte realized that many of its well-intended policies had limiting effects on implementation of other policies, with a common vision required to reshape city policies to work more effectively in concert. One example of this is the provision of open space in development occurring around its transit stations. Balancing parks and open space with higher density development is a key strategy for successful TOD. However, parks are the responsibility of a separate agency not under the direction of the City Council. That department has its own mission and financial constraints, leading to ongoing challenges in coordination between parks and open space needs and TOD goals.
Charlotte's development response program, where the city works with developers in "real time" to communicate its expectations for livable, transit-supportive development, has also reinforced interdepartmental coordination. Responding quickly and uniformly to big projects allows the development community to have greater confidence in what it will be able to achieve.
MDOT is a single agency responsible for transit, highway construction and maintenance, freight transportation, and several other transportation-related functions. As it continues to invest in transit infrastructure and provide service, it has sought to capitalize on development opportunities adjacent to transit stations, improve transit ridership, and manage growth and development in a way that assists other agencies under the MDOT umbrella.
MDOT had limited funds for TOD projects, and faced funding and procedural challenges to providing adequate parking to support transit and surrounding development. The public finance mechanisms available to MDOT, especially tax increment financing (TIF), could not easily be applied to TOD because it is private development with supporting public infrastructure. MDOT was further limited by legislation to using its funds for transportation-related public purposes, which included transit stations and some supporting facilities but not development initiatives.
MDOT first created an Office of Real Estate to help prepare MDOT-owned properties for private development and strengthen its ability to support and fund construction of TOD. The office is staffed with an economic development/real estate team that has a strong partnership with the Governor's Office. The Office of Real Estate follows a TOD strategy built around several goals:
In addition to the real estate office, MDOT initiated and State lawmakers adopted groundbreaking legislation (the Transit-Oriented Development Bill of 2008) that allows for flexibility in funding and implementing TOD.
Source: Design Collective, Inc. and Maryland DOT, 2008. 11
MDOT's Office of Real Estate and the Maryland Transit Agency (MTA) have tracked several TOD case studies to demonstrate the effectiveness of their efforts. At the Symphony Center TOD, MTA entered into a long-term lease agreement to develop an underutilized 6-acre site at the Cultural Center Light Rail Station in June 2000. It anchors West Side revitalization efforts.
At the State Center office complex, the State selected a master development team for the main State government complex in central Baltimore. The project emphasizes proximity to two transit stations (the Baltimore Metro subway and Baltimore Light Rail surface line on Howard Street). State Center is presently an underutilized, 25-acre, State-owned site that includes 5 buildings and 1,300 parking spaces. MDOT will assemble resources that can design, entitle, finance, construct, and market mixed-use, mixed-income, urban TOD that supports surrounding neighborhood needs.
MDOT is pursuing legislation in 2010 that would expand on the 2008 TOD bill to make TOD implementation more feasible. The proposed legislation would give local governments more flexibility and new tools to implement public infrastructure projects including TOD, through TIF and special taxing districts, and cooperative project and funding arrangements among State and local government entities. It would also permit TIF funds to be used for operations and maintenance of TOD facilities such as parking structures.
Although MDOT has demonstrated successful TODs, it faces challenges with local governments that are not supportive of TOD efforts. While TOD developments typically increase tax base and add vitality to communities, some local governments are reluctant to allow greater densities. MDOT has also tried to use the TOD initiative to increase the supply of affordable housing, but must also coordinate with local government policies on providing affordable housing. The State of Maryland is nationally recognized for leadership in smart growth planning. MDOT has been proactive in its commitment to develop transportation investments and facilities, and support for TOD that supports economic growth and neighborhood revitalization close to transit facilities.
In North America, a commonly accepted guideline for housing to be considered "affordable" is when a household's housing expenditure is 30 percent or less of its income. From Federal agencies, to planning agencies, to the private sector, this ratio is typically used as a benchmark for housing policies, land use planning, and home financing. It also influences consumer decisions about which homes it can afford to purchase or rent. This affordability measure has traditionally only included the cost to rent or own a house, including utilities, taxes, and insurance costs. In reality, a family's determination of its ability to afford or desire a home or an apartment in a given location is typically balanced with the time and cost of transportation, in terms of convenience to amenities, commuting time, and expense.
The true cost of housing is therefore a combination of the direct costs associated with housing and the indirect transportation expenses resulting from a housing decision. Recognizing that for U.S. households transportation is the second highest household expense, the Chicago-based Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT), in partnership with Center for Transit-Oriented Development (CTOD), developed a tool that provides a more accurate analysis of housing affordability by factoring in both housing costs and associated transportation costs for the neighborhood. The Housing + Transportation (H+T) Affordability Index, as an interactive online tool, provides access to data for 337 metropolitan areas across the United States. By integrating data from the census block group level, the model predicts a household's total transportation expenditures for a given household size and income at a neighborhood level. The tool can be used by households, policymakers, planners, and the private sector to help guide decisions about home location, transportation, housing policies and development, environmental policies, new and infill development, and infrastructure investments.
The analysis provided by the H+T Affordability Index illuminates how the conventional housing affordability index can lead to policy decisions that have perpetuated inequitable access to transportation. At the local level, the conventional index provides individuals an implicit incentive to seek homes that can meet the affordability goal, which are increasingly farther from services and employment, and where transportation options are fewer. In many cases, the more "affordable" locations cause households to pay more for transportation than expected, even more than housing, which causes an unplanned burden on already financially stretched families. With more driving, congestion and air quality are impacted. Households unable to purchase more cars to meet the needs of each family member may forego education or work opportunities. Fueling the limited mobility in these areas is the traditional policy focus on road construction, which has limited mobility choice by leaving less funding for rail and bus transit provisions, and by designing roads for speed rather than connectivity and walkability.
Many policies in housing and transportation work against one another to perpetuate inefficient housing and transportation systems. For example, the conventional affordability index has been used to administer rules defining who can receive housing subsidies, and used to define public policy governing housing and investment needs, without regard to location. For transportation, policy results based on this index are integrated into travel demand forecasts and traffic impact studies used for long-range planning that in turn tend to prioritize road expansion and congestion management objectives. Yet, decisions on transportation and housing investments do not take into account how these two investments are interrelated, and how the built environment and housing prices will influence a household's transportation demand.
Source: Center for Neighborhood Technology, 2010.12
Based on CNT's analysis, the recommended affordability level for the combined cost of housing and transportation should be 45 percent or less of a household's income, allowing for variations in average housing and transportation costs based on location. By measuring the transportation costs associated with place, the index acts as a more robust policy tool to frame objectives and performance measures aimed at increasing the environmental and economic sustainability and social equity of communities over time.
Now that the tool provides neighborhood-level data for 80 percent of the U.S. population, local jurisdictions are able to screen transportation investments for their direct cost-of-living impacts. The San Francisco Bay Area's Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) are already using the tool to determine variations in housing and transportation affordability based on location at the neighborhood scale. Local-level data will help define regional objectives aimed at reducing the combined cost of housing and transportation as a share of household income. For example, MTC has committed to a long-range planning performance objective of reducing today's combined costs of housing and transportation for low- and moderately low-income households by 10 percent by 2035. CMAP planners have used the tool's analysis to help the region maximize the benefits of available funding for new transportation projects, while making the most cost-efficient decisions for maintaining existing systems.
The H+T Affordability Index can help grantees and agencies channel funds toward more innovative and comprehensive planning centered on providing more mobility choices and reducing the overall cost of living. By using the model's analysis, States and regions can better target and prioritize transportation and housing connections where most needed, and in the process improve mobility choices, reduce the cost of living, and improve quality of life for their residents.
Policy-based approaches are instrumental in supporting the organizational change needed to implement livability in transportation projects over the long term and more permanently. The case studies have demonstrated that when processes and standards are institutionalized through policies, these have better chances of moving forward while surviving staffing and organizational changes.