Key Strategies for Addressing Livability Objectives in Project Development
NEPA and Livability
The NEPA process provides a very good framework for integrated planning in support of livable communities during the project development stage. Incorporating specific livability objectives into a project's purpose and need sets the stage for expanding consideration of alternatives and impacts analyses relative to specific livability indicators.
The project development phase translates concepts into detailed designs. Addressing livability goals at this stage requires incorporating design elements such as complete streets or context sensitive approaches that strike a better balance between moving cars and people, and incorporate sustainable roadway design best practices. It also means integrating housing, community development, environmental and economic development goals by taking advantage of opportunities to integrate livability design strategies, especially if new or joint funding opportunities arise. One example of this approach is to incorporate green infrastructure strategies (e.g. using best management practices for stormwater runoff that utilize natural systems such as landscaped swales or rain gardens) into roadway project designs, or incorporating transit stations and pedestrian access improvements into site designs for mixed use developments, community facilities or affordable housing projects.
Accomplishing these objectives requires a high level of interagency and interdisciplinary coordination, supported by a strong place-based vision for what a particular neighborhood, corridor or city ultimately wants to be. Relating specific project objectives back to the regional or community vision is an equally important step. Encouraging overlap in design development and review within public works departments or between DOTs and utility providers is another strategy to foster more integrated design approaches. Several State DOTs and cities have created new project design and development guidance such as the example provided on the following page from the City of Charlotte that goes beyond conventional facility design. Many of these incorporate urban design, place types, green streets, and other livability concepts. The most effective agency efforts also include staff and consultant training in implementing the new design concepts.
City of Charlotte, NC Urban Streets Design Guidelines focus on designing roadways for all users relative to different community context zones
Flexibility and Creativity in Engineering Design
"Highway design, like many technical professions, is rule-based in nature. Important assumptions and inputs to a design that occur early in project development can have a profound effect on the outcome, as they establish the framework around which design proceeds. The most significant of these inputs for highway engineers are design speed, design level of service and design vehicle. Integration of community values and environmental concerns with engineering means that these factors should influence the design choices. Project designers have choices. Design speed, design level of service and design vehicles are all choices, not mandates.
Creativity in highway engineering and design simply means not routinely applying the same solutions or approaches everywhere. There are many opportunities for creativity within the boundaries of the technical standards, policies and guidelines already in use. Creativity can also be fostered by re-directing attention of designers and decision-makers to thinking about performance-based solutions rather than physical or infrastructure descriptors. Merely reframing how a problem is described can help achieve creative solutions. When traffic volumes increase, some may describe the problem as "insufficient capacity"- a characterization that inevitably leads to solutions focused on adding lanes or their equivalent. If engineers and planners describe the problems as "person-trip demand exceeds the capacity of the facility during x hours of the day" the change in description can lead to additional solutions beyond increasing capacity. Solutions may include peak hour HOV or HOT lanes, signal synchronization and other ITS strategies, congestion pricing, parking management, and so forth." Excerpt from CSS Quick Facts from FHWA
Context Sensitive Solutions (CSS) is another process that can be utilized during project development to achieve broader livability objectives. CSS is a collaborative, interdisciplinary approach that involves all stakeholders in designing and building a transportation facility to better fit within a particular community setting. This approach can lead to design development that preserves and enhances scenic, aesthetic, historic, community and environmental resources, while improving or maintaining safety, mobility, accessibility and infrastructure conditions. CSS provides a holistic planning framework for engaging multiple stakeholders from planning through to the construction of a transportation facility.
Another opportunity to incorporate livability considerations at the project development stage is to reconsider legacy or construction-ready projects that may have been on the books for several years, or even decades, but have not been revaluated against community livability goals. New roadways, new bridges, new transit capital investments and other large scale projects are often delayed due to funding shortfalls or other factors and can sit on the shelf for years. The perception is often that too many resources, time, and political energy have already been invested to go back and re-evaluate the need or scope of the project. However, the context for transportation decisionmaking may have changed since the project was developed. The emphasis on livability factors, the need to obtain multiple benefits from investments in aging infrastructure, and long term transportation funding challenges can require that planners re-evaluate projects to ensure that they still align with the community vision, or can be modified to incorporate additional livability factors.
This re-evaluation step can also help to identify smaller scale, cost-effective modifications (e.g. streetscape improvements to enhance walkability) for projects that can have big impacts on livable community goals. The project development stage can be an opportunity to incorporate new elements into project designs. Conversely, it is also important at this stage to make sure that smaller scale elements such as incorporating bike lanes or landscaping to enhance the pedestrian environment are not removed from the final design of a roadway project in an effort to cut costs. These types of infrastructure elements provide added benefits relative to livable community goals.