|The roles and responsibilities of Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) are expanding rapidly. MPOs are increasingly considering factors such as community livability, environmental quality, public participation, land use, traffic operations, economic development, and performance measurement. Hannah Twaddell, speaking on behalf of the Association of Metropolitan Planning Organizations (AMPO) and the Jefferson County Planning District Commission in Charlottesville, Virginia (a TCSP grantee), discussed current issues that are challenging MPOs. The TCSP Program is helping MPOs to address these challenges through the formation of partnerships and the enhancement of planning activities. |
The livable communities movement is about "the difference one person can make." It is about bringing together individual people with a common vision. It is about determining what makes our specific home, place or region special. Past transportation and land use policies have not accounted for local differences; instead, since the 1950s, they have been geared toward making everything the same. Ms. Twaddell's favorite project is Saginaw, Michigan's attempt to retrofit a suburban shopping mall -- this mall is nearly identical to a mall in Charlottesville!
MPOs are reassessing how environmental issues are addressed in transportation planning. The Jefferson County Planning District Commission in Charlottesville is asking state environmental agencies how they can get involved in transportation planning before it is too late and lawsuits are filed over environmental issues. The Commission is serving as a forum for planning, coordination, and public participation. A current challenge to the Commission is to improve public participation, by making the planning process more interesting, getting people involved in planning, and helping people to identify what is important to the community and how to preserve it. The Commission is developing fun as well as serious ways to get people involved.
MPOs in many areas will increasingly need to deal with how issues of population growth and transportation capacity are addressed. MPOs have an advantage over state agencies because of their local membership. Since local governments are partners at the table, land use planning can be brought into the discussion. In Charlottesville, the 1998 transportation plan has a section on land use recommendations. This is the first time their transportation plan has addressed land use, and they hope to strengthen the discussion in the next update. The challenge will be to get local governments to buy into the importance of looking at regional development issues.
Another future area of MPO involvement is management and operation of the transportation system. This represents not so much a long-range planning issue but rather the need to address unique local considerations; for example, how a particular intersection at a shopping mall works, and how it affects the entire highway corridor. A significant challenge will be dealing with micro-scale issues while addressing policy and the big picture at the same time.
Safety continues to be a concern, but safety-based standards sometimes stand in the way of neotraditional or different types of design. West Palm Beach, Florida, has addressed this by scrapping level of service as a roadway criteria and replacing it with "safety for children."
A final issue is social and environmental justice. This is a tough area from a planning, technical, and political standpoint. We have a sense of what it means, but how do we measure it? How do we know if a new facility is "hurting" a neighborhood or impacting one group over another? How do we address these concerns?
AMPO is supporting these new movements as well as the continuing roles of MPOs. AMPO's membership currently includes about 350 MPOs, and more may be created after the 2000 Census. The organization is focusing on building partnerships with AASHTO, APTA, and other groups, as well as providing conferences, technical tools, and other assistance to support the planning process.
As a final note, TCSP grantees need to make sure that TCSP projects are incorporated into transportation plans and programs. The MPO's long-range plan is a legal document, and transportation projects must be included in this document as well as shown in the Transportation Improvement Program and the work program.