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Creating Livable Communities

Chapter 5: Development of Transportation Plans

Key Strategies for Addressing Livability Objectives in Plan Development

  • Incorporate community vision into the plan.
  • Identify specific, measurable livability objectives.
  • Use future jobs and employment forecasts and travel demand models to inform the planning process, but not prescribe the plan.
  • Document the linkages between land use, housing, economic and environmental goals and transportation strategies.
  • Bring in multiple partners from housing, economic development, public health and aging advocacy groups as part of the outreach plan.
  • Create compelling documentation including words, pictures and numbers to describe how the plan supports livable community outcomes.

Planning Partners

The plan development process should involve techniques and strategies to connect or reconnect with multiple partners representing interest such as: housing, economic development, private development, the environment, and the general public, including underserved populations such as low-income and minority groups, persons with limited English proficiency, persons with disabilities, the elderly, and children.

We know how and where we want our community to grow, now what is our plan for getting there? There are lines on a map that show future transit routes, but how much will that cost and when will they be operational? How can we ensure that the transportation plan is synchronized with our local housing and economic development plans? If we build it, how do we ensure that desirable growth will come?

Transportation plan development provides the opportunity to get specific about the scope, timing, costs, funding and type of transportation improvements needed to implement the community vision. It requires analysis and documentation that demonstrates the interrelated nature of transportation, land use, economics, environmental, housing and public health issues. It should demonstrate how specific policies, projects and funding commitments can support overlapping goals covering a range of community issues. The plan development process should also begin to identify long term funding sources at the project, corridor or community-wide scale, and identify opportunities for specific partnering agreements, private investments or political initiatives needed to make those investments happen.

Public Outreach and Coordination

The role of the development community

The private sector development community should be encouraged to participate in the transportation plan development process. Developers, mortgage brokers, local banks and lenders, and real estate professionals can provide unique insights and help identify practical strategies for diversifying the local housing stock and addressing affordability issues, become funding partners for implementing transportation projects, and help build projects that reflect the community's desired development character.

Engaging multiple partners in the transportation planning process encourages coordination with local comprehensive plan updates, regional housing plans, transition plans under the Americans with Disabilities Act, park and recreation plans, economic development plans, resource management plans, and other important community plans. This coordination should help identify stakeholders directly involved in the development of these plans, and engage them in the transportation planning process through appointment on technical advisory committees or participation in focus groups, workshops and public meetings. The agency's adopted public participation plan should include these stakeholders (both public and private) as key partners and describe how they will be involved in the planning process.

Not every stakeholder needs to engage in every step of the plan development process, but when addressing livability considerations they do need to be at the table at critical intervals:

Engaging multiple partners in the transportation plan development process should follow the "quality, not quantity" mindset. Combining transportation planning workshops with other community planning efforts can make it more efficient for the public, decisionmakers, and staff, while helping to develop better integrated solutions. The key strategy at this phase is to facilitate collaborative discussions where new and different perspectives can be brought to bear concurrently on transportation and community planning issues.

Coordinating Different Federally Required Plans

In urbanized areas Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) are required to update long range transportation plans every four or five years. The Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) identifies transportation project priorities from the plan, and allocates Federal funding for annual project design and construction. Most of the communities in an MPO also receive US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Planning and Community Development funds, which require the development of a Consolidated Plan (updated every five years). This plan identifies housing needs, the needs of homeless populations, community and economic development needs, and strategies for addressing those needs. Supporting the Consolidated Plan, HUD also requires an annual Action Plan that describes priorities for allocation of specific grant funding. US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) funding for water, sewer, and stormwater system improvements, brownfield remediation, and other environmental issues requires similar planning and decisionmaking processes at the local level.

While these planning processes typically encourage or require coordinated planning, they may not explicitly connect housing and transportation, or mandate plan integration in support of livability goals. A fully integrated approach can combine a coordinated technical analysis, data sharing, pooled funding, and a single public and interagency planning process. It can also develop better, more cost-effective solutions and coordinated investment strategies. The same issues and opportunities can exist in rural areas, where rural planning organizations (RPOs) and State agency support can help integrate planning, funding, and project implementation across transportation, housing, environment, and economic development. This approach also applies to the State TIP (STIP) and other State agency housing, environmental, and economic development plans.

Goals and Measures

The livability indicators and measures established in earlier phases should provide the basis for establishing the transportation plan's major objectives. For example, if one of the livability indicators is to increase transportation choices within the region, the transportation plan objective could read "increase the percentage of population living within one mile of premium transit corridors from 5% to 15% by the year 2045." In a rural community, this same goal could include an objective stating "establish a daily express bus route to connect our historic main street area to the nearby city's intermodal transit center by 2018." Another livability goal could be to invest in existing neighborhoods and the plan's objective might read "allocate 75% of all available transportation funds to projects located within existing developed areas." Another objective for this same goal could read "Target 75% of all enhancement funds to bicycle and pedestrian projects located in or within a half-mile of the community redevelopment district boundaries." The transportation plan provides the opportunity to align specific community goals with measurable objectives supported by specific transportation investments.

Land use or transportation plan – which comes first?

Long range transportation plans should be consistent with locally adopted comprehensive plans and policies. This requirement often leads to the analysis of future transportation needs based on jobs and housing forecasts (which assume growth rates and development patterns) that reflect locally adopted zoning or land use plans. However, integrated land use and transportation planning is best accomplished when land use is considered a variable in addressing travel demand (see previous chapter). One effective approach is to develop two different data sets, a baseline set that reflects adopted policies, and an alternative set that represents the desired land use vision. The latter approach can help to identify opportunities where land use strategies can be implemented to reduce VMT and encourage more walking, biking and transit ridership. It is important to have local land use planners and other development stakeholders engaged to provide hands on guidance when this approach is taken.

In a perfect world, locally adopted plans would already reflect the land use and transportation vision. Local land use plans can often lag behind regional visions and LRTPs with regards to adopted policies that reflect livability principles. Initiating changes to land use and zoning requires political will and public buy-in, which is why changes to local development policies do not come quickly or easily. Therefore monitoring assumptions about land use and policy changes over time is another step transportation planners take as part of the monitoring and system performance. Given the requirement for more regular updates of transportation plans, adjustments can be made to align with land use policy shifts as needed.

Indentification of Transportation Needs

The identification of specific projects and strategies for the transportation plan should tie directly to achieving the stated livability objectives. For instance, how will the multimodal corridor project that includes bus pull outs near stops, landscaped medians and signal preemption for bus priority benefit the nearby residents relative to housing affordability? Is a truck bypass route needed to ensure efficient movement of freight and goods within our community to support economic vitality? The goal is to identify transportation projects at the corridor scale that perform best relative to the stated livability objectives. Project descriptions and visualizations can be effective at this stage when introducing new concepts such as multimodal corridors and illustrating the importance of surrounding community character. Project types should include the full range of modes and strategies including both capital and operating assumptions.

Technical Analysis

Developing concrete objectives for livability indicators and considering broader community issues requires new approaches to the technical analyses used to identify transportation needs. In particular, the technical analysis should:

  • Get beyond the conventional 'get the red out' modeling approach of addressing facility-based roadway congestion with widening strategies alone; include analysis of integrated, multimodal transportation and land use strategies.
  • Start with a 'blank page' for identifying projects to address transportation needs to ensure that all options are on the table.
  • Incorporate analysis to identify projects that will reduce per capita VMT, improve accessibility, and reinvest in existing centers by including both transportation and land use strategies.
  • Work with housing partners to identify data needs (such as information developed as part of HUD Consolidated Plans), to help analyze and address short and long term housing affordability challenges.
  • Gather data on regional economic forces, and how those forces might impact areas targeted for infill or redevelopment, Transit Oriented Development (TOD), affordable housing or freight and goods movement needs.
  • Look at public health data on community obesity levels or asthma rates that could be correlated with strategies for active transportation or reductions in related air pollutants.
  • Conduct analysis to understand system-wide environmental impacts relative to air quality, water quality associated with stormwater run off, open space or habitat preservation.

One innovative approach to presenting project needs is to organize them by geography rather than project type. This can demonstrate place-based synergies between specific project investments and other community initiatives. A map series and place-based project listing can demonstrate how transportation investments can support livability principles. This mapping can also be helpful in identifying locations where transportation investments serve (or miss) concentrations of low-income or minority populations. This analysis can help highlight opportunities for overlapping public sector initiatives, while helping to avoid negatively impacting disadvantaged populations. Layering different interdisciplinary analysis maps can also identify opportunities for leveraging or bundling different funding sources in support of livable community outcomes. For example, the map could show a roadway reconstruction project to calm streets and improve pedestrian and bicycle access, and how it overlaps with an affordable housing project under construction. In this scenario, there might be opportunities to jointly fund some of the streetscape improvements through a combination of transportation and housing dollars. One of the simplest ways to encourage more cross-agency and interdisciplinary approaches is to show people where there is geographic overlap across different projects.

Funding Considerations

Before-and-after Visualization of Corridor Strategies

Before image of Massachusetts Avenue in Indianapolis showing a two-lane roadway with angled on street parking and building frontages located close to the street and no transit present.     After image of Massachusetts Avenue in Indianapolis showing a two-lane roadway with angled on street parking and building frontages located close to the street plus a new street car located within the existing right-of-way and co-mingled with vehicular traffic.

Before and after images of Massachusetts Avenue in Indianapolis showing 3-D imagery of transit incorporated into an existing street included in the 2035 Indy Connect long range transportation plan.

Incorporating livability principles in project prioritization and cost feasibility analyses requires a transparent process to consider the benefits and costs of different projects or packages of projects. This can be accomplished using the livability indicators as criterion to evaluate or rank priorities. Another approach might be to bundle projects geographically, and then rank different locations around the region based on local policy support of the livability principles. For instance, does the local jurisdiction have land use and complete streets policies that encourage expanding transportation choices? Does a city have an economic development strategy to attract new businesses to job centers with high levels of accessibility to enhance competiveness? This sort of geographic prioritization approach gives preference to transportation projects in locations that demonstrate the highest commitment to the stated goals and vision of the region based on establishment of complementary land use or housing policies. Other approaches could involve giving priority to projects when funding commitments from non-traditional partners are present or advancing packages of projects that are associated with cross-disciplinary community initiatives such as those present in many of the HUD Sustainable Community Grant initiatives.

Communicating Benefits

Documenting Integrated Planning and Livability Benefits in the Transportation Plan

Long range transportation plans can document both the process and outcomes of integrated planning in support of livability principles. This can include showing how the plan's goals align with livability principles, or including a summary of public outreach efforts that resulted in bringing new partners to the table. It can also include providing tables or callout boxes that demonstrate how different plan objectives or strategies support other regional objectives such as those in Consolidated Plans for housing, HUD Sustainability Grants, regional environmental greenprint plans, or local comprehensive plans. If the LRTP included a visioning or scenario planning process, it is also helpful to include scenario and vision maps and other graphics to demonstrate the linkages between transportation plan elements and illustrations of how the community wants to grow and develop.

What are the community benefits associated with the adoption of a particular set of transportation investments? How will investments today result in long term tax savings for the public in the future? Telling the story of the benefits of livability is a key element to sustaining long term community and political support. These messages start early at the visioning phase, but can be strengthened through the plan development process by creating supporting data that quantifies those benefits. Factsheets, benefit statistics, media kits, or websites are all effective communication techniques aimed at synthesizing information into easily understandable and compelling messages that the general public and politicians alike can rally around. Several benefits factsheets, research results, and communications material are available from FHWA (see Resources section).

Updated: 01/03/2014
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