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The Role of FHWA Programs in Livability: State of the Practice Summary

Strategies for Implementing Livability

Given the current state of the practice, several challenges and opportunities remain for implementing livability within the transportation sector. While there are many instances of livability in practice already, there are significant opportunities to further enhance interagency coordination; expand technical assistance and program support for local initiatives; define parameters and measures for repositioning aging infrastructure; and more broadly address corridor issues from a multimodal or sustainability perspective.

Multimodal Corridors and Systems Planning

While CSS approaches provide a richer level of placed based planning and design for roadways, there remains a gap in early systems and corridor planning that fully addresses multimodal considerations and community development issues. Multimodal corridor planning begins with the premise that every roadway network or corridor will have a multimodal component linked to development that reflects the surrounding community context.

Multimodal corridor planning 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 or as surrounding development occurs. Multimodal corridor planning works best when linked to local or regional community visioning that addresses land use, urban design, and redevelopment. The land use side of the equation has a significant role in determining the livability outcomes of multimodal transportation investments. When corridors are designated as multimodal early on, it creates opportunities for communities to focus other planning efforts, such as affordable housing, open space planning, or neighborhood revitalization with multimodal transportation investments. This creates opportunities to connect mixed income housing with transit, or economic development initiatives to locate new jobs within a region along highly accessible multimodal corridors.

The NCHRP Report "Corridor Approaches to Integrating Transportation and Land Use" identified notable multimodal corridor practices, including two significant efforts led by State DOTs.54

At the MPO level, early planning or feasibility studies identified in the MPO's Unified Planning Work Program could broaden the traditional transportation study scope to include non-transportation partners and issues. Each partner agency can 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 resources far in excess of what the transportation program alone could support. In some cases, funding accruing for major projects that may be on hold can be repurposed into multimodal corridor target areas, providing more immediate results. Targeted short-term action could include TDM, operational and access improvements, transit service enhancements, nonmotorized transportation improvements, and key connect-the-dots roadway links to private investment. Corridor implementation funding can be allocated in Transportation Improvement Programs (TIPs) and agency budgets based on feasible multimodal plans that meet performance standards; adopted local land use plans and design guidelines; private investment committed; rights-of-way donated; and substantial public/private consensus on project priorities.

This integrated approach to corridor planning can help focus a range of policy and investment decisions at the local level in support of community livability goals. Working effectively with multiple partners at the corridor level requires an extensive public outreach and engagement process to help the public and policymakers connect the dots between transportation investments and community livability goals. The FHWA/FTA Livability in Transportation Guidebook summarizes several effective public involvement approaches used on corridor projects at the rural, suburban, and urban scale.55 An "all-hands-on-deck" public process should include neighborhoods and nonprofits, businesses and developers, supported by inter-agency collaboration and a 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 plans can be integrated into local comprehensive plans, MPO plans, and State DOT and transit agency project programming, with projects used to demonstrate state-of-the-art practices and desired policy changes.

Photo simulation of potential improvements to a Honolulu roadway, which would include bike lanes, landscaped medians, parking along the roadway, sidewalks, and businesses located along the roadway.

As this photo-simulation of potential improvements to a Honolulu roadway show, multimodal corridor design can incorporate separated lanes for through travel or transit, with lanes for local travel, walking and wheeling, parking, and business access. The landscaped medians separating the local and through travel lanes can enhance both the appearance and the function of the roadway. (Photo Credit)

Integrated, multimodal transportation and land use planning can help 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 connect surrounding neighborhoods to jobs, shopping, and activities. The private sector can build much of this local transportation network, as revitalization and redevelopment occurs. Operational and access management improvements can boost regional throughput and local travel, safety, business access, and transit operations. Multimodal corridor planning has been conducted throughout the country, including: the Waterfront Boulevard Study of State Route 29 through the City of Trenton, New Jersey;56 the Places29 and 29N Corridor Studies in Charlottesville and Albemarle County, Virginia;57 and the U.S. 29/NC 49 interchange (near the City Boulevard light rail station) in Charlotte, North Carolina.58

While there are tremendous opportunities for multimodal corridor planning to enhance livability goals, several issues require further attention:

Programmatic Support and Technical Assistance

TThere continues to be a need for more guidance and program support for implementation of livability principles at the Federal, State, regional, and local levels. Examples include providing technical assistance to implement CSS or complete streets design at the local level, assisting MPOs to use Surface Transportation Program funds creatively to conduct regional scenario planning processes, or providing an expanded pool of modally "flexible" funds to respond to communities' mobility needs. The following strategies can largely be conducted under existing program rules. Some of the strategies involving Federal funding and policies might require (or be enhanced by) legislation or adjustments to funding authority from Congress. Others may vary between States based on differences in State legislation, funding policies, or local land use authority.

Practice Opportunities and Challenges

The examples cited show different ways that transportation agencies and traditional programs are currently addressing livability. While there are many success stories, some obstacles and evident gaps remain. One example is the need to identify the cross-program, cross-agency institutional barriers to addressing the various facets of livability at the system wide and corridor scales. This approach will also need to reflect the range of community place types (rural, suburban, transitioning, urban, etc.) and how, when and what each program office engages with a particular project.

Repurposing aging infrastructure

As aging highway infrastructure needs reconstruction, communities are considering repurposing segments of these facilities. The functional purpose of a segment of a regional highway passing through an urbanized or transitioning area may change, creating an opportunity for agency partners to come together to study, explore options and plan for more livable solutions. Several examples were identified in prior sections: aging elevated freeway segment teardowns transformed as surface boulevards; tighter interchanges integrated with surface street networks; new boulevard design concepts; or conversion of existing lanes into bus rapid transit service.

While the livability outcomes associated with making aging infrastructure more functionally useful for local trips or transit use provides notable benefits, this trend presents some larger policy issues and potential need for changes in Federal and State law and implications in highway planning:

Benefits of Livability

Livability and sustainability outcomes result in more efficiently using available resources, whether people, land, energy, materials, or funding. In a time of economic challenges and fiscal constraint, limited transportation funds can be focused more effectively on projects that support economic revitalization and community development, while improving transportation and housing affordability, human and environmental health, while minimizing impacts to the natural environment and quality of life. Many of the examples referenced - such as roundabouts and road diets in La Jolla or Hamburg, reclaimed street space in New York City, or a smartphone parking 'app' in Pittsburgh - focus on maximizing use of existing resources while increasing mobility and accessibility. Creating safe, livable communities provides benefits at multiple levels and across sectors.

Transportation and land use benefits

A potential development option included in a vision plan for Lake Monticello, Virginia.

Creating small 'town center' type development adjacent to existing suburban areas or at rural crossroads, as shown above by a vision plan for Lake Monticello, Virginia, can increase tranportation and housing choice and reduce environmental impacts. (Image Credit)

While nearly four-fifths of Federal transportation funding goes to road projects, almost 85 percent of people and jobs are in metropolitan areas - offering the potential for significant improvements in multimodal travel choices.61 By targeting metro-area highway investments to restore complete, connected street networks, tighter urban interchanges, and surface boulevards where appropriate, those investments can improve service across all modes. Since metropolitan regions are also where most trade, industry, and congestion occur-and where aging infrastructure requires significant reinvestment-rebuilding with a balanced multimodal approach can help maximize the effectiveness of existing transportation investments. In rural and micropolitan areas, strategic transportation investments, in accordance with best practice livability standards, can help reinvigorate rural regional economies. In addition, small-scale investments in accessibility and connectivity can improve quality of life in small communities. A report by the International City/County Management Association, "Putting Smart Growth to Work in Rural Communities," outlines strategies to help guide growth in rural areas while protecting natural and working lands and preserving the rural character of existing communities.62

How we design, retrofit, or revitalize our communities influences both what transportation modes are available and whether people choose to use the different modes. Compact, connected communities built on a grid system encourage regular walking, bicycling, and transit use, reducing the need for auto travel - while making trips shorter for those who choose to drive. For example, a recent analysis of the effect of the built environment on travel behavior found that a 10 percent decrease in block size or in distance to a store, or a 10 percent greater balance of jobs and housing in a community could increase walking by 2-4 percent.63 Similarly, studies have found that in more compact, walkable neighborhoods and regions, residents drive nearly a quarter less than those who live in more sprawling areas.64 Looking forward, three recent national studies found that if the majority (60 percent or more) of development between now and 2050 were to be compact development, overall vehicle miles traveled (VMT) could be reduced by 8 to 18 percent.65 While assuming even the possibility of 60 percent compact growth is a very big 'if' -and most transportation practitioners assume the goal is simply to reduce the rate of growth in VMT, not actual VMT-the studies did agree that a huge shift in development patterns over time would actually reduce overall VMT.

Environmental benefits

Compact, connected development patterns that provide more transportation choices can reduce communities' environmental footprint. Less driving reduces energy use, dependence on foreign oil, and greenhouse gases (GHG) and other emissions. Urban development over the past 25 years has consumed land at nearly twice the rate as population growth (57 percent vs. 30 percent from 1982 to 2007), impacting wildlife habitat, agricultural land, and forests.66 Compact development requires less land and paving, enabling communities to preserve natural and cultural resources while reducing stormwater runoff and groundwater pollution. Enhancing mobility in rural settings, while preserving rural character, iconic landscapes such as National Parks, Refuges, gateway communities, forests, and farmland, can be accomplished with innovative transportation planning and design.

Health and social benefits

The daily exercise associated with more effective transportation choices can improve human health, reduce obesity and health care costs, and encourage community social interactions. In terms of health outcomes, a recent study concluded that a 10 percent decrease in automobile use could reduce the likelihood of obesity by 4 percent.67 This benefit also extends to public transportation users, who are less likely to be obese or sedentary,68 in part because they can get their daily exercise simply by walking to and from transit. Over a quarter of public transit users get the minimum recommended 30 minutes of daily activity this way.69 Health outcomes are further improved when reduced driving improves air quality, as the pollution from motorized transportation has been linked to higher rates of respiratory diseases, allergies, and general mortality.70 More people actively using the streets contributes to a community's sense of community and brings neighbors into contact that might otherwise not meet if they were to drive everywhere. Increasing activity along streets can improve user safety, with appropriate facility design; increasing activity has also been shown to reduce crime. Even those who drive to a mixed-use "park once" district (or traditional downtown) find they can get exercise and social connections without having to drive between every destination-if a safe walking and bicycling network is in place. While reducing overall vehicle use is not a primary goal for most rural areas, many small towns want to restore their traditional town center, making walking and bicycling a convenient choice for in-town residents, visitors, kids, seniors, and customers.

The health and social benefits of active transportation networks are especially important for the aging population. Of Americans age 65 and above, one in five does not drive, whether because of a disability or for other reasons.71 At the same time, 'aging in place' has become a major desire for older Americans; in many communities, the inability to drive can result in a major loss of independence. A 2004 survey by AARP found that compared to those who can still drive, non-drivers over the age of 50 are six times more likely "to frequently or occasionally miss doing something they would like to do because they do not have transportation."72 For communities with good walking, bicycling, and public transportation systems, however, older residents can maintain greater independence, with or without a car.73 In rural areas, access to healthcare, community facilities, shopping, and services is particularly challenging for the elderly. Transportation improvements that make communities more age-friendly (for seniors, persons with disabilities and youth) can also make the system more equitable for other community members without access to a car. On-demand transit, TDM, and ridesharing networks can also provide regional mobility options to rural residents.

Economic benefits

Livable communities that link housing and transportation and improve multimodal access to jobs and services can generate significant savings for households and businesses. Compact, connected communities are 'location efficient,' meaning their residents are able to use less energy and money to get around. Where residents have more transportation options and are able to drive less, they can save money - from reduced gas and maintenance costs, reduced car ownership (one car instead of two, for example), and more walking, bicycling, and transit use. Transportation is the second largest expense for most households, after housing. In places with fewer transportation choices, where housing is cheap but transportation costs are high, any savings on housing can be more than offset by increased transportation expenses.74

The logo for the Center for Neighborhood Technology's Housing + Transportation Affordability Index.

The Center for Neighborhood Technology developed the Housing + Transportation Affordability Index - with data from more than 330 metropolitan areas - that can be used to analyze and map combined housing plus transportation costs for localities in a region. The index considers neighborhood and transportation variables and location that play a role in determining the overall cost and affordability of a location. Variables include households per residential area, average block size in acres, transit connectivity index, job density, average time of journey to work, household income, household size, and workers per household.75 Compact development patterns can reduce by 10 percent or more the costs of expanding infrastructure (sewer, water, and local roads), as compared to sprawling development typically found on the edges of metropolitan areas.76 These cost savings can translate into more affordable housing, with added savings over time due to lower maintenance and replacement costs, further increasing the affordability of these communities beyond their location efficiency.77

Livability approaches can also be a catalyst for reinvesting in aging suburban corridors, restoring complete streets and networks, and revitalizing rural small towns and historic districts. Reinvented suburban corridors and revitalized main streets are prime targets for business reinvestment, especially when coupled with public infrastructure investments, an adopted plan, and new codes that support innovative project design. Preserving and supporting existing communities typically makes more efficient use of existing infrastructure.

Updated: 01/03/2014
HUD-DOT-EPA Interagency Partnership | DOT Livability | FTA Livable & Sustainable Communities
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