For a practitioner or policymaker wanting to take the next step and incorporate livability principles into transportation, the comprehensive examples in this Guidebook might seem overwhelming—if you try to move forward on similar efforts all at once. Fortunately, taking all the steps at once is not how most agency or department work plans are organized. If you lead or work in a Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), you may be getting ready to update a Metropolitan Transportation Plan (MTP) or congestion management plan, or you may have a corridor plan identified in your work program. If you work in a State DOT planning office, you may be preparing to develop a statewide plan, working on new policies, or initiating a small towns planning grant program. In a Federal Region or Division office, you may be planning training workshops or supporting activities related to the HUD-DOT-EPA Partnership. In a transit agency, you could be embarking on a system or route expansion, a new light rail line, or working with local partners on transit oriented development (TOD) strategies. In city or county government, you might be starting on a comprehensive or neighborhood plan, creating new street design guidelines, initiating a corridor plan, working on downtown revitalization, or reviewing development proposals.
Whatever agency you work in or lead, whatever role you play, whatever resources are available, getting started on incorporating livability in transportation planning and implementation does not have to be complicated or intimidating. It could begin with an in-house meeting to review upcoming projects, discuss some of the examples in this Guidebook, and brainstorm potential ways to incorporate livability principles into an upcoming initiative. You might reach out beyond your own agency and regular activities to explore a partnership with people involved in land use planning, housing and community development, resource preservation, or transportation operations. You could decide to modify an existing project or program, initiate a new venture, or join and support one that is being led by a partner agency. You can pool and use existing resources, or use a new funding opportunity such as American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), TIGER II, or HUD Sustainable Communities Grants to gather and focus partner efforts. A few considerations for selecting a kick-off project might include:
Source: Urban Advantage, Albemarle County, Virginia DOT, and Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission. 1
Given the current economic uncertainty, a changing housing market, growing climate change and energy concerns, and reduced agency resources, a more integrated, phased approach to planning and project development increasingly makes sense to the public and policymakers. With many big-ticket conventional highway projects delayed due to budget issues, building a partnership and process focused on livability can help identify affordable, short-term, multimodal capacity, safety, and operational improvements—while creating a long-term vision and phased implementation plan for a corridor, transportation system, or region. Although this is just an example of one project type, and should not be seen as more important than any other type because it is explored in depth here, multimodal corridor planning is something in which virtually any agency staff could have a role; from initiating the study to bringing technical expertise or other perspectives into the process.
Multimodal corridor strategies can work at all scales, identifying an interconnected system of projects that can be implemented incrementally, project by project, over time as funding is available. For example, it is typical that much of a newly defined parallel road network can be built by developers as development occurs, either in new greenfield development, or as part of redeveloping existing greyfield shopping centers. Limited public funding can be targeted toward connecting the dots of this private investment, with a transit-ready development approach to support improved transit service over time. By focusing available housing and community development funds on these transit opportunities, transportation practitioners and urban planners can more readily provide a range of accessible housing opportunities and build the transit customer base, meeting multiple mobility and access needs in the process.
Cross-cutting corridor planning can be used to target and prioritize other investments in housing, community development, brownfield revitalization, water and sewer extensions, parks, schools, healthcare, senior centers, or climate mitigation and adaptation strategies. An extensive public outreach and engagement process provides an ideal opportunity for public education about related livability issues, including affordable housing, green building, and energy conservation. Combining a variety of marketing activities, like rideshare, energy conservation efforts, utility bill mailings, and advocacy organization marketing, with a corridor planning process can leverage transportation agency budgets and increase support for livability initiatives. Even if the vision seems grand, relatively small, incremental actions do add up. Completing street, sidewalk and bicycle networks to connect apartments, schools, and shopping; making every street walkable and wheelable within a half-mile of every transit stop or activity center; and making the street safe to cross at each bus stop can maximize the value of existing investments.
A multimodal corridor strategy fits well with emerging Federal policies such as DOT's Livability Initiative, EPA's area-wide brownfields approach, and the HUD-DOT-EPA Sustainable Communities Partnership. Integrated, multimodal transportation and land use planning can be used to link cities and suburban corridors, growing rural counties, and nearby small towns. Re-engineering existing roadways can improve vehicle throughput; safety; and pedestrian, bicycle, and transit service. A multimodal network of parallel roads can be laid out through existing underused shopping centers and strip commercial development. This new network can be used for local driving, walking, and bicycle trips, and to connect surrounding neighborhoods to jobs, shopping, and activities. Much of this local transportation network can be built by the private sector as development or revitalization occurs. Operational and access management improvements can boost regional throughput and local travel, safety, business access, and transit operations.
An all-hands-on-deck public process should include neighborhoods and nonprofits, businesses and developers, supported by inter-agency collaboration and a hands-on technical team of agency staff. Using a voluntary incentive scheme that includes funding, transit access, and expedited approvals to encourage developer and landowner participation may work better than mandates. The corridor plan should be tied to local comprehensive plans, MPO plans, and State DOT and transit agency project programming, with projects used to demonstrate state-of-the art practices and policy changes.
Once a vision is established and priorities identified, partners can focus on implementing the vision piece-by-piece, project-by-project. This could begin with including a planning or feasibility study in the MPO's Unified Planning Work Program, or broadening the scope of an existing study to include non-transportation partners and issues. Each partner agency should review community visions and program needs, considering potential strategies, project options and possible funding resources. Framing mobility needs within the context of community livability, while engaging representatives of other program areas (e.g. HUD, EPA, and local partners), may help identify a suite of resource options far in excess of what the transportation program alone could support. In some cases, funding accruing for long-term major projects that may be on hold can be re-purposed into multimodal corridor target areas, providing more immediate results. Targeted short-term action could include travel demand management (TDM), operational and access improvements, transit service enhancements, walk-bike improvements, and key connect-the-dots roadway links to private investment. Corridor implementation funding can be allocated in TIPs and agency budgets based on feasible multimodal plans that meet performance standards; adopted local land use plans and design guidelines; private investment committed; ROW donated; and substantial public/private consensus on project priorities.
Although the preceding example describes a multimodal corridor strategy, the planning principles, process, partnerships, and implementation strategies can be applied to a much broader range of projects—from transit systems to regional scenario planning, urban neighborhood revitalization to rural main streets, or from county comprehensive plans to statewide policy development. For instance, a few regions or corridors could be selected for initial planning funding, with an expanded program ultimately available to any region meeting threshold requirements. The pilot projects might lead to development of new roadway design standards, access management or connectivity requirements, or new processes for State agencies and MPOs. In transit-system planning, the approach described above might be helpful in coordinating route selection and station-area design with revitalization planning for surrounding neighborhoods, and a HUD Consolidated Plan or local affordable housing program. A local implementation effort might include completing every street near downtowns, activity centers, schools, parks, or transit stops; for example, providing usable sidewalks, bicycle lanes or trails, comfortable transit shelters, and excellent street crossing details, to improve neighborhood accessibility, support infill housing development, and improve the transit customer-delivery system.
At whatever scale you choose to start in the transportation process, whichever agency takes the lead, an integrated planning approach can help jump-start short-term implementation projects, support sustainable economic development, and serve as a longer-term model for revitalization of corridors, neighborhoods, cities, and towns throughout the region and State. Many of these first steps, including planning efforts, code revisions, and policy changes can be pursued at the same time as operational improvements, streetscape investments, and housing development, rather than implementing each as an independent or sequential strategy.
The practice of incorporating livability into transportation plans, programs, and projects will continue to evolve. Existing transportation metrics are not typically comprehensive enough to also evaluate community development, housing, and environmental goals. New performance measures will be needed to allow communities and agencies to monitor the effectiveness of their actions and investments in livability over time.