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Boston, Massachusetts Summary

Discussion Summary:

The Boston workshop discussion emphasized the role that State departments of transportation (DOTs) play in advancing livability, especially in rural communities. Key discussion points included:

Based on input from this workshop, continued work in subsequent workshops focused on developing these ideas more thoroughly. The meeting structure included a number of presentations on regional practices, as well as a significant amount of brainstorming, facilitated discussion, and idea sharing. A summary of activities and key outputs follows.

Picture of people at the Boston Regional Livability Workshop talking together around tables
Boston workshop discussions.

Workshop Specifics:

John A. Volpe National Transportation
Systems Center
55 Broadway Street
Management Information Center, 12th Floor
Cambridge, MA 02142

Date / Time:
April 27, 2011 from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm

Welcome and Introductions:

Lucy Garliauskas from FHWA's Office of Human Environment welcomed participants and provided a brief overview of FHWA's current livability efforts, including working to define the concept and its meaning in relation to making informed transportation decisions. For FHWA, focusing on defining livability within FHWA provides an opportunity to advance projects that are multimodal and leverage nontraditional sponsors and partnerships.

Representatives from the Sustainability Partnership agencies provided additional opening remarks. Pam Stephenson, FHWA Massachusetts Division Administrator, highlighted that while it is difficult to define livability, it is a concept that people can identify when they see it. She also discussed Massachusetts DOT's new highway design manual, which focuses on an integrated, multimodal approach, incorporating context sensitive design, and providing a clear project development process. Mary Beth Mello, FTA Region 1 Administrator, provided an overview of New England's partnership efforts, which include technical assistance, a conscious effort to synergize activities, and filtering livability and sustainability down to the State and local levels so that these concepts become a part of everyday operations. Ernie Zupancic, the Faith-Based Liaison for HUD's Manchester, New Hampshire Field Office, stressed that the agency has a renewed focus on urban development, which is emphasized through their sustainability community initiative grants. These grants are supporting efforts toward creating livable communities around the country. Carl Dierker, Regional Counsel for EPA Region 1, highlighted the current efforts of the New England Sustainability Partnership, which include developing a manual for implementing livability at the community level and developing livability performance measures through a current working group effort. Workshop facilitators, managers from ICF International and Renaissance Planning Group, and all participants introduced themselves.

Setting the Stage for Livability:

Harrison Rue from ICF International reviewed the purpose and outcomes of both the overall project and the day's workshop in particular. As the majority of participants indicated that they had read the background paper developed for this project, The Role of FHWA Programs in Livability: State of the Practice Summary, Mr. Rue provided a brief overview of the paper's content. This overview included a review of the Sustainable Communities Partnership and the associated principles, components included in the definition of "livability in transportation," benefits of incorporating livability, overall research findings, and a review of state of the practice examples from areas that have successfully incorporated livability into a variety of efforts.

Identifying Challenges to Livability:

During this large group discussion session, participants were asked to focus on the following three questions:

  1. What are the big challenges to implementing transportation solutions that advance livable communities?
  2. What is one solution that has worked for your agency?
  3. How do the challenges and solutions differ in:
    1. Urban, suburban, and rural contexts?
    2. Local, regional, and State agencies?

Participants identified five main categories of challenges, as well as potential solutions that could be used to overcome some of these challenges. During the discussion, participant recommendations were listed on flip charts and posted around the room for participants to reference during discussion. Using a dot voting exercise, the five below reflect the priorities from the participants.

  1. Interagency Collaboration
    • There is often a focus within agencies with transportation as their core business. There is a culture of agency blinders where employees do not bring their whole community awareness into their job.
    • Stove piping still exists within funding sources and programs. For example, within a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analysis, land use alternatives are not considered as an option to solve transportation issues. NEPA solutions are restricted to either build or no build.
    • Organizations often work in silos, and it can be difficult to get decisionmakers to support integrated solutions. In fact, organizations could benefit by recognizing that transportation can be used to further other community benefits such as public health. Often times, decisionmakers in highway agencies and MPOs do not think livability is worth funding. Rather, they use a traditional way of looking at roads for capacity and project support.
    • We often neglect to ask ourselves the "why." This is often due to lack of consensus and guiding vision. The result is a fragmented decisionmaking process where projects are approached on an individual, rather than collective, basis. This can turn into a political process as a result. Projects end up being divorced from the ultimate intended outcome.
    • Reaching out to economic organizations and/or utility companies can be an important step in gaining support and identifying a unified, guiding approach for project implementation. Municipalities often face issues in getting to the point where project implementation can begin and cities and States should consider coordination efforts up-front in the decisionmaking process.
    • It is important to gain support from laborers and contract unions, as they are often integrally involved in project implementation.
    • Agencies are not making connections at a regional level as to those goals that could be supported by a variety of agencies.
    • MPO fragmentation presents a number of barriers. Within some States, there is a very high number of MPOs; however, this does not always mean that local projects are elevated to the TIP.
    • Make a conscious effort to collaborate with non-traditional partners such as economic development corporations, Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA), EPA, and HUD. By taking a broader approach to collaborative solution development, we may be able to identify effective, integrated decisions.
    • Engage local funding partners such as local banks.
    • Federal agencies should make a concerted effort to communicate with non-traditional partners and break down silos. This can help to reduce many of the issues faced by inconsistent messaging at the Federal level. Flexibility and ease of implementation should be the basis for these collaborative efforts. This consistent messaging and support should be communicated clearly and simply to States, MPOs, and localities.
    • Broadening one's constituency base can be effective in gaining new support.
  2. Funding
    • There is a lack of funding for livability-specific projects. This is true for transportation in general, as many States are unsure as to how transportation projects will be funded in the future. The uncertainty of SAFETEA-LU and gas tax revenues contributes significantly to these issues.
    • With the challenge grant, communities were able to choose their own approach to implementing solutions for the first time. Oftentimes, communities will know what solution would work best and how to implement it, but this does not always fit within the box prescribed by the government funding regulations. There is often a disconnect between the funding that is offered and what communities need. There is a need to integrate more flexibility into funding opportunities, as communities often know what they want and the Federal and State governments need to provide support for these solutions more effectively.
    • Transportation funding is often already programmed for highway projects that are not helpful and that may even be harmful to livable transportation. For example, there are lists of projects that have already been assigned millions of dollars for road widening that may not even be needed. These legacy projects were often developed during a time when suburban expansion was desired; however, we are now seeing the long-term effectives of these projects and they are not aligned with current livability goals. It is often difficult to change the direction of these projects and re-assign this funding somewhere else.
    • In a time when budgets are tight and money is not available to address basic system needs, it becomes difficult to justify spending additional money on medians and other "add-ons." Many livability components are perceived as nonessential. For example, many areas are facing older bridges. Fixing these bridges is not a choice, but rather a necessity. Once these projects are funded, there is often little to no funding remaining for other projects, let alone livability projects.
    • Livability projects lack a funding stream.
    • It is important to develop a broad awareness for other types of revenue generation schemes such as value capture. Enticing private development to these areas could be an effective funding solution.
    • Livability projects are often turned into projects that are larger than necessary due to the extensive review and requirements surrounding the use of Federal transportation funding. Many smaller livability projects (under $500,000) could be made but are not due to extensive review requirements.
    • Livability is often discussed as a luxury.
    • Funding becomes increasingly competitive when livability projects are compared directly against highway interchange projects. Decisionmakers view it as politically risky to support livability project funding. Providing mechanisms to make it easier on decisionmakers to select those livability projects would help.
    • Incorporate life cycle considerations into the decisionmaking process. This could include a cost-benefit analysis or a before/after analysis.
      • Accounting for the benefits of low-cost projects, particularly those that incorporate livability elements, can be an effective tool in gaining support from decisionmakers.
  3. Marketing Livability and Overcoming Negative Public Perceptions
    • Connect livability to community visions and economic development goals and/or as part of a local economic strategy.
    • Livability projects are often smaller in scale, and smaller projects do not have the political appeal of the larger projects.
    • States can do a better job of sending a positive public message about supporting livability efforts. The media is an effective tool for informing people about State priorities on a consistent basis.
    • Road diets are often perceived as unsafe. It is important to educate people on the effectiveness and positive benefits of these, and other livability strategies.
    • As with the public, policymakers are often hesitant to support big changes in process that livability brings.
    • Many dense areas do not allow for mixed use through their zoning regulations. This is often the result of a local aversion to increasing density.
    • There is a need for education and advocacy in a broader sense. While many advances have been made, it is still a challenge to gain support for livability.
    • Many people view transit in a negative light, as a transportation mode for those who are desperate for a transportation option. Sometimes this means people will wait until an alternate transportation mode becomes available, and they will ultimately not reach the services they need. Changing this stigma toward using transit in non-metropolitan areas requires a targeted communication campaign about these services.
    • A balanced approach toward solutions is needed. Often, a long-term view is sacrificed because of the need to address the immediacy of a problem. Taking a two-pronged approach allows for balanced solutions that move away from the either/or approach that is often used currently.
    • Both FTA and FHWA face a challenge in communicating to the public the importance of operating in a sustainable fashion. Making every day operating decisions, both for how capital is invested and how decisions are approached to meet customer needs, should focus on sustainability.
    • Urban education in public schools is a significant driver for where people decide to live. People often decide to move out of denser, metropolitan areas because of poor schooling options. Attending to this problem can help encourage people to move back into urban areas.
    • Visioning is critical in gaining public support. It is important to create visions that are not subjective or vague, as words and visions have different meanings to each individual. Turning these words into specific ideas that people can orient around when making short-term decisions can be an effective tool when gathering project support.
    • Guidance for visioning efforts is needed.
    • Many municipalities do not support livability efforts and there is a need to overcome this barrier.
    • Messaging and marketing are effective tools in working to revise a legacy project.
    • Develop a message people can connect with.
  4. Developing Design Standards and Performance Measures for Implementing Livability
    • The capacity standards for roads are not realistic.
    • The concepts of livability and complete streets are context sensitive, difficult to define, and do not follow a standard formula for implementation. For people interested in implementing these efforts, there is a more fluid approach in place. Decisionmakers can be supportive of the concept, but uncomfortable with this process, as it is very different from the traditional, step-by-step process. Educating decisionmakers on this process to help them understand it better can be helpful in gathering support.
    • It is important to translate the large concept of livability into specific actions to help clarify what it entails so that an agency can tie measurable results to project decisions when asked to justify their actions.
    • Many performance measures are auto-centric and congestion-oriented. Performance measures need to be much broader. Federal partners could help with this effort by developing a standard, unified approach.
      • Better assess the benefits and impacts of livability on generating revenue and job options in order to demonstrate how smart growth is good for business.
      • Tie livability performance measures to location efficiency (i.e. proximity to affordable housing, access to food from local farms).
    • Federal agencies have received pushback for trying to provide prescriptive solutions for community decisions related to livability. As a result, Federal agencies are now approaching livability support as a bottom-up approach where providing local level choice and responding to the local vision is the main priority. Federal agencies are focusing on providing resources to help communities plan the places they want. This could prove to be an effective tool at the local level as well.
    • For those DOTs where asset management and a state of good repair is the main focus, it is difficult to demonstrate the value of livability, particularly when asked to demonstrate the specific benefits per dollar spent.
    • Incorporate equity considerations into the decisionmaking process.
    • Develop a new analytical framework for assessing how communities can successfully implement livability.
    • Analyze the impacts of single model systems to demonstrate the benefits that are generated by investing in multimodal systems.
    • Require triple bottom line analysis for planning and projects.
  5. Implementing Livability in Rural Areas
    • Rural transit in general is a challenge. It is difficult to identify how to make sparsely populated areas more livable for the people, as the solution cannot employ a traditional transit model. Particularly for those residents who are aging and losing their ability to drive, the need to provide access to services to meet their basis needs is a growing challenge.
    • Coordinating regional efforts in rural areas can be difficult. Some rural areas serve as a job hub where people drive into town for work, but live somewhere else. Residents of these towns often feel as if they are supporting the business community and therefore it is difficult to get their buy-in for livability solutions that operate at a regional level, across jurisdictions.
    • Many rural areas gave up the inter-town bus and rail service they had 100 years ago for highways and an automobile-driven transportation system. Thus, they no longer have the infrastructure to support non-automotive travel. Solutions should focus on looking at how these rural multimodal systems operated in the past and the steps that can be taken to regenerate this system.
    • In rural communities, the State highway has jurisdiction over the local streets and thus has primacy over those decisions.
  6. Other Challenges: Economic development impacts, project timing, over-reliance on models, climate change, zoning, training, and overcome legacy projects
    • There seems to be an unwritten understanding that all roadway projects have an effect on economic development. Underlying many transportation decisions is this idea that it is important for our economic development to have a healthy road system; however, we do not have this type of understanding for other infrastructures.
    • The timing of transportation projects is not in sync with economic cycles and the local decisionmaking schedule. Thus, it can take up to ten years for a major project to be approved for implementation. There is a need to better align these processes.
    • Decisionmakers can be over-reliant on models. They rely on data that are often nuanced; however, we rely on these model outputs when making decisions.
    • These models are often not sensitive to compact development.
    • Climate change does not often enter into the decisionmaking discussion; however, the resulting impacts could wreak havoc with the decisions that we are making and the construction that we are undertaking.
    • Many cities face zoning issues as a barrier to implementing livability.
    • Incorporate livability criteria into job descriptions so that there will be a greater focus on training for expertise with livability strategy implementation.
    • One group developed a "6-step process for overcoming legacy projects" which included:
      • Assess projects against new livability criteria
      • Utilize these criteria to assess project alternatives
      • Develop a message. Document the drawbacks and benefits.
      • Secure a respected champion.
      • Focus on education and outreach to help broaden the constituency.
      • Advocate for formal consideration in official decisionmaking criteria.

A summary of the solutions that participants mentioned are listed below. As many of these solutions are broadly applicable to a variety of challenges, they are not grouped into discrete categories.

Following this discussion, participants received four dot stickers, which they used to vote for the challenges they thought were the most significant. No limit was placed on this voting process, and participants were allowed to use one or all four dots on any one particular challenge, depending on the significance they placed on it. As mentioned above, the categorization of the five identified challenges reflect the voting priorities from this exercise.

Overcoming Challenges:

Four of the workshop participants presented on successful livability efforts in the region, allowing all workshop participants to see and hear about successful livability examples in their region. Ned Codd from Massachusetts DOT(MassDOT) provided a brief overview of the recent transportation reform and reorganization that created MassDOT and discussed the department's recent livability and sustainability initiative, GreenDOT, which operates under a triple bottom line framework. Cathy Kuzsman from New York State DOT reviewed the variety of livability initiatives they have undertaken and supported, including a Safe Seniors Pilot Program, GreenLITES in planning, the Smart Growth Public Infrastructure Policy Act, and a pedestrian and bicycle policy. Public meeting attendees have been supportive of these efforts. David Kooris from the Regional Plan Association provided an overview of his organization's efforts as they relate to using roads as an effective tool for improving the range of available services, and thereby shaping livable communities. Mr. Kooris noted that the space in between buildings is one of the greatest public assets, and how this space is used can determine whether it serves as a community benefit or detriment. Rollin Stanley from the Maryland National Capital Parks and Planning Commission discussed the financial benefits that come from adopting a smart growth approach. These benefits can be generated by creating a "growth print" to consider environmentally sensitive areas and agricultural areas when pursuing new development, or from thinking differently about how we build schools and taking a multi-story rather than a single-story approach. Afterwards, there was a panel discussion, focusing on the key elements of their success:

Following this roundtable discussion, participants divided themselves into five groups with a mix of State, regional, local, and Federal representatives. Each group was asked to focus on one of the top six challenges, as voted on by the participants during the dot-voting process:

  1. Incorporate economic development
  2. Need models, tools, and measures to demonstrate multimodal impacts/benefits
  3. See livability/maintenance/fix-it-first as 'mission critical,' not just 'nice'
  4. Reframe the Federal role as 'in support of' community planning and goals
  5. Communicate and quantify the benefits of livability projects
  6. Reassess large legacy/pipeline projects to incorporate livability elements

During this hour-long discussion, participants were asked to focus on one of the challenge areas and answer the questions below. In doing so, participants were asked to consider examples where they had overcome a project challenge in a relevant topic area and use that experience to assist in answering the questions.

Each group provided a quick summary of their discussion.

Incorporate economic development into livability planning projects

Need models, tools, and measures to demonstrate multimodal impacts/benefits

See livability/maintenance/fix-it-first as 'mission critical,' not just 'nice'

Reframe the Federal role as 'in support of' community planning and goals

Communicate and quantify the benefits of livability projects

Reassess large legacy/pipeline projects to incorporate livability elements

Regional Livability Planning Strategies:

Four of the workshop participants presented on their organization's success in developing and implementing livability planning strategies at a regional level. Chris O'Neill from the Capital District Transportation Commission (CDTC) discussed the MPO's Regional Transportation Plan, New Visions, which focuses on developing a quality region by incorporating livability principles. An important component of this effort involved meaningful dialogue with the public, which allowed decisionmakers to make informed, supported decisions, as well as qualitative performance measures that are used to evaluate the community quality of life and support the decisionmaking process. Amy Rainone from Rhode Island Housing discussed their "KeepSpace" initiative, which is focused on overcoming the silo effect and encouraging conversations between representatives from the various issue areas. Ms. Rainone also discussed the organization's recent EPA technical assistance award, which is being used to identify financial resources that can be used to support projects that embrace livability criteria. Dorathy Martel from the Eastern Maine Development Corporation discussed two ongoing efforts: the Penobscot Valley Community Greenprint effort and the Mobilize Maine effort. The Greenprint project focuses on developing a regional vision for pursuing environmental and economic opportunities that will allow for a balance between rural areas and a vibrant economy, while Mobilize Maine is focused on supporting communities coming together to look at economic development and quality of life considerations when making decisions. Gary Toth from the Project for Public Spaces discussed the value of corridor studies in addressing some of the issues that tend to arise during the traditional project decisionmaking process. In particular, the process generates opportunities to leverage new strategies and funding sources, to create a bridge between planning and design, and to incorporate new stakeholders into the process so that the outcome is a well-informed solution. Afterwards, there was a panel discussion, focusing on the key elements of their success:

Kate Ange from Renaissance Planning Group discussed the initial concepts for the FHWA primer on implementing livability, in which FHWA was moving away from the idea of developing a regional livability model plan and more toward a primer or guidebook discussing how to implement these strategies and make it successful, and how best to put existing plans and processes together to start integrating livability efforts. The draft sections of the primer include integrated planning processes; technical analysis and goal setting; plans, policies, and projects; and programs, support and outreach.

The discussion on the primer was split into two separate 30-minute discussions – the first focused on the elements of the primer and the second on the marketing and general tools needed for the primer. Participants broke into six different groups with a mix of State, regional, local, and Federal representatives. The first discussion focused on the following questions:

Harrison Rue reviewed some successful communication and outreach efforts to identify some of the options available for messaging and marketing the concept of livability. Successful communication and outreach efforts have included fact sheets, summary brochures, summary posters, Web 2.0, and social media. Considering these efforts, participants were asked to reflect on the following questions in a large-group setting:

Each group summarized their two separate discussions, and the main points of each summary are listed below.

Group 1

Group 2

Group 3

Group 4

Group 5

Group 6

Identifying Opportunities:

Briefly, Harrison Rue summarized the previous workshop feedback about the different audiences for the final materials and the list of possible elements in the toolbox that FHWA will subsequently be creating. The potential audiences are FHWA division offices, MPOs, DOTs, local governments, Federal agencies, policymakers/ decisionmakers, general interested public. The draft toolbox concepts are in the table below.

Confirmed Floating/Potential
Livability research paper FAQs & fact sheets
  • Hypothetical situations/projects
  • Benefits
  • Multiple audience – public policy
Workshop synthesis Brochures/roadshow materials
Livability primer Online clearinghouse
PowerPoint template Stock PowerPoint
Success story technical memorandum More dynamic website
Livability in Transportation Guidebook Image video gallery
FHWA livability website resources  

Participants were asked to comment on the elements that would be most important to include, and those products that are a high priority for development. A summary of the large group discussion in response to this information is included below.



Design Guidelines


Closing and Next Steps:

To finish the day, the facilitators and FHWA thanked participants and explained the next steps in the creation of the supporting guidance materials for organizations around the country that are interested in pursuing or advancing livability in transportation efforts in their community.

Evaluation Forms & Changes for Next Meeting:

In general, workshop participants provided reviewed the workshop favorably. The facilitators separated the challenges and solutions discussion more firmly and provided more closure to the first discussion session on "Identifying Challenges to Livability." In response to participant requests for receiving a more detailed agenda up-front, an agenda was provided with more information on the discussion topic areas and questions. The subsequent workshops will continue to build off the challenges mentioned in the Atlanta Kansas City, and Boston workshops. A few participants suggested less regional presentations. One participant suggested that a quick update on the Partnership's activities would be useful. Because of these recommendations, the Sacramento meeting will reduce the number of regional speakers and the format of the afternoon will be changed to introduce breaks between the afternoon speaker presentations. Additionally, small group discussions in the afternoon will focus on gathering feedback on the primer content, as identified from the first three workshops.

Workshop Participants

Participant Organization
Amy Pettine Rhode Island Public Transit Authority
Amy Rainone Rhode Island Housing
Andy Blake City of Ranson, WV
Andy Swords New Jersey DOT
Carol Weston Burlington, Vermont Public Works
Cathy Buckley Central Transportation Planning Staff
Cathy Kuzsman New York State DOT
Chris O'Neill Capital District Transportation Committee
Christine Walker Upper Valley Lake Sunapee RPC
Colleen Kissane Connecticut DOT
David Kooris Regional Plan Association
David White City of Burlington, VT
Dorathy Martel Eastern Maine Development Corporation
Gary Toth Project for Public Spaces
Glen Abrams Philadelphia Water Department
Jared Rhodes State of Rhode Island
Joe Cosgrove Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority
Kevin Flynn State of Rhode Island
Lucy Gibson Smart Mobility, Inc.
Mike Callahan Central Transportation Planning Staff
Ned Codd Massachusetts DOT
Paul Murphy Downeast Transportation, Inc.
Peter Kasabach New Jersey Future
Ranjit Walia Civic Eye Collaborative
Rollin Stanley The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission
Sandy Fry Capitol Region Council of Governments
Sean Pfalzer Central Transportation Planning Staff
Tigist Zegeye Wilmington Area Planning Council
William Rose New Hampshire DOT

Federal Participants

Participant Organization
Barbara Breslin FHWA – Rhode Island Division Office
Carl Dierker EPA
Carlos Pena FHWA – Maine Division Office
Christopher Jolly FHWA – Vermont Division Office
Corey Bobba FHWA – Rhode Island Division Office
Damaris Santiago FHWA – Massachusetts Division Office
Ernie Zupancic HUD
Gail McFadden-Roberts FTA – Region 3
Jessica Dominguez EPA
Joanne Weinstock FTA
Lucy Garliauskas FHWA – Headquarters
Mary Beth Mello FTA
Noah Dorius HUD
Pam Stephenson FHWA – Massachusetts Division Office
Richard Beers FHWA – New York Division Office
Rosemary K. Monahan EPA
Sandra Brillhart FHWA – New Jersey Division Office
Shana Baker FHWA – Headquarters
Victor Waldron FTA – Region 2
Vince Pitruzzello EPA – Region 2
William Gordon FTA – Region 1

Consultant Team

Consultant Organization
Elizabeth Wallis ICF International
Harrison Rue ICF International
Kate Ange Renaissance Planning Group
Kathleen Rooney ICF International

Livability Examples Provided by Boston Participants

In order to draw on the vast experience and knowledge of the selected participants, participants were asked to send the facilitators relevant information on best practices related to livability within their communities prior to the workshop. This information, along with the information that regional representatives presented during the workshop, are listed below. This information serves as an informal collection of examples that could be used in future guidebook/primer efforts when discussing best practices and developing case studies.

HUD-DOT-EPA Interagency Partnership | DOT Livability | FTA Livable & Sustainable Communities
Updated: 10/20/2015
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