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Sacramento, California Summary

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Discussion Summary:

The discussion emphasized the content outline, and format of a livability primer whereas previous meetings had focused on major elements. Key discussion points included:

Based on input from this workshop, continued work in the subsequent workshop focused on developing these ideas further. 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 Sacramento Regional Livability Workshop talking together around a table
Sacramento workshop discussions.

Workshop Specifics:

Sacramento Area Council of Governments Office
1415 L Street, Suite 300
Sacramento, CA 95814

Date / Time:
May 3, 2011 from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm

Welcome and Introductions:

Shana Baker from FHWA's Office of Human Environment welcomed participants to the workshop and thanked them for coming. She thanked the Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG) in particular for hosting the workshop. Ms. Baker reviewed the workshop purpose, which focused on helping FHWA identify what the agency's stakeholders need by hearing about challenges and solutions from those on the ground. She noted that the workshops are part of the larger initiative, the Strategies for Livable Communities project, which will allow FHWA to develop tools to assist their field offices, as well as the HUD-DOT-EPA Partnership for Sustainable Communities.

Representatives from the regional Partnership agencies provided additional opening remarks. Sue Kiser, the Director of Planning and Air Quality for FHWA California Division Office, discussed reauthorization efforts, which are focused on incorporating livability and sustainability principles. Ms. Kiser noted that SACOG is on the forefront of planning initiatives through their Blueprint Planning Process, which has helped local agencies begin to implement integrated planning efforts. Cynthia Abbot, the Field Office Director for HUD Fresno Office, highlighted the agency's current budget, which is focused on incorporating livability principles as it relates to grant selection and program support. Grants will be focused on making effective long-term changes by supporting sustainability and helping maintain neighborhoods where people can live and work. Carolyn Mulvihill, an Environmental Protection Specialist from EPA Region 9 Office, noted that her division has been focused on bringing in expertise from various division offices to help advance regional activities. Region 9 has also been working closely with the headquarters Smart Growth office in Washington, DC to advance interagency partnership efforts, particularly as it relates to EPA's brownfields grant program. Eric Eidlin, the Regional Tribal Liaison from FTA Region 9 Office, discussed that there are a number of partnership initiatives underway to help leverage investments for livability. One of these initiatives is focused on how to engage local partners and gather input from the expertise that currently exists within all levels of government. Participants introduced themselves, as did the meeting facilitators and managers from ICF International and Renaissance Planning Group.

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

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. Overcoming past development patterns and the automobile culture
    • The history of the car culture makes it difficult to get people to shift their ideas away from automobiles. This culture extends into State DOTs, engineering departments, and other governmental organizations as well.
    • There is a need to change the negative public perception toward transit and raise awareness of transit options and its role as it relates to regional livability.
    • Many communities are built on a history of sprawl. There is a need to acknowledge this and work to respond to this reality in a reasonable way. Now that development in many areas has slowed, there is an opportunity to focus on planning rather than the prior focus on permitting and marketing. With a renewed focus on planning, areas can work on incorporating livability into the existing infrastructure and development.
    • It is difficult to overcome existing development patterns, which do not support livability and the culture it supports. There is a need to retrofit existing areas to overcome the actions supported by this culture.
    • The culture of building the train system on time and on budget is sacrificing livability issues. Instead, transit construction should be approached the same way that highways have traditionally been approached.
    • High densities and a culture of rural communities have generated gated communities, a development pattern which has been allowed in many areas. This development pattern pushes all of the traffic onto the roadways and does not leave any room for pedestrians, transit, or bikers. Developers are not supportive of reducing the development area to widen sidewalks, which has meant that the public domain is squeezed out.
    • As we increase density on busy roadways, health concerns become an issue. These health concerns include both mobile and stationary toxin sources. The planning and development costs become higher as health elements are considered and mitigation efforts are implemented. A variety of stakeholders—including those involved in health—should be included at the table up-front during the project development process.
    • Look at the history of planning and the history of how land was platted historically to identify lessons that can be learned and incorporated into present and future efforts. Lessons related to land use implementation could prove particularly helpful.
  2. Flexibility of funding to implement livability concepts
    • There is an overall lack of funding.
    • For the funding that is available, there is a lack of flexibility for implementing some of the livability concepts.
    • Many cities face a difficult fiscal situation, which has contributed to a lack of buy-in. These issues are only becoming more of a challenge.
    • Implementing livability priorities is difficult when budgets already cannot be met.
    • There is uncertainty surrounding local and Federal funding, which makes it difficult to support sustainable communities.
    • A significant amount of funding is allocated to moving cars through cities rather than helping move people around cities. Targeting State agency funding toward safety, preservation, and capacity could allow some flexibility with the traditional focus on cars. The State level funding structure hampers efforts to allocate funding outside of traditional focus areas.
    • At present, funding is not awarded toward livability programs, which presents challenges for implementation.
    • Livability is considered a side line item.
    • The three Federal agencies use very different methods of getting grant/project funds to recipients and there is very limited understanding of the HUD and EPA channels by transportation agencies. The agencies' different project planning time frames are also an issue. The long lead time that has been enforced on transportation projects through the RTIP process puts transportation projects beyond the time frame of many HUD/EPA grant programs.
  3. Selling the economic benefits of livability
    • Livability should be framed as a solution that will be cost-effective in the long-term because efforts will be more strategic and efficient. For planning in particular, there is a need to address the fact that business as usual is more expensive. Some arguments that can be used include:
      • Implementation costs have become a much higher percentage of project costs.
      • Planning is becoming more complex while the resources are staying the same.
      • A significant amount of money is being spent on outdated projects.
    • The public perception of livability needs to be changed. People need to view livability as a core responsibility and concern for their business rather than as an add-on that only occurs when there is funding to address livability concerns. Particularly in times of fiscal challenges, the need to be smart about growth and cut housing, transportation, and energy costs is more critical. There is a significant challenge surrounding education and helping people to realize that addressing livability is a core responsibility.
    • The message of livability's economic benefits has not been selling. Visualization illustrations tend to convey messages related to residential happiness. New marketing efforts should change the message to focus on economic benefits with examples of how livability efforts benefitted a community in terms of revenues and success stories from local business owners.
    • Planning work is not being effectively connected to the work that elected officials are doing. By making the connection between planning and economic benefits clearer, it will raise the priority of this work for decisionmakers.
    • Continue spreading the message of a "new way of doing things" for elected officials. There is a need to identify unique messages that work for various sets of elected officials.
  4. Transforming the "silo" culture within State and local agencies
    • There are a number of projects that have been stagnating for years, but are unable to move ahead due to a lack of local buy-in. The lack of a State presence at the table when discussing these efforts contributes to this issue.
    • Individual agencies often have siloed areas of expertise that are focused on a very limited area. In particular, there is often a lack of understanding by transportation professionals as to how livability strategies can be applied and how they can make transportation planning easier. New educational efforts should focus on broadening people's basic understanding to encompass a wider variety of topic areas that is not limited to cars only. Education should focus on an integrated planning approach and the value of bringing partners together.
    • It has been difficult to involve the development community and to draw them into the project development discussion.
    • Training materials are needed to help educate employees within State agencies about the benefits of livability. These materials should use terms that all people could understand so that the message is effectively conveyed. Many staff members do not have the ability or desire to get out of their comfort zone and learn about the possible benefits of livability. These benefits include how to leverage investments and identify solutions.
    • There is often a resistance to regional cooperation, as many communities are concerned about protecting their particular economy and their individual community's identity. It is a challenge to balance the priorities and concerns of an individual community with coming together as a region to identify solutions that cross community boundaries.
    • There is a disconnect between the regional concept of livability and the idea that communities can buy into it at a regional level. At the local level, there is a disconnect when regional density is ultimately focused in one community's area. There is a need to work on how communities understand these connections and the decisionmaking process behind it.
    • It is difficult to gain local agency buy-in within a community.
    • The US DOT has indicated that there will be a shift in the way that programs are focused. Given this potential change, local governments, State DOTs, and sub-regions need to work on identifying a way to embrace and anticipate these changes so that they will be easier to implement. By starting to understand this shift and its importance in the way that business will be conducted, there is a need to begin understanding upcoming changes.
    • There is a stark difference between rural and urban contexts that needs to be recognized when discussing livability. Within a local context, livability means a variety of things, and livability principles operate very differently. Recognizing these differences and using this understanding to work with communities to identify what is important for livability within their community in particular will help implementation within a local context.
    • Even with silos being broken down, challenges remain for changing traditional and/or legacy organizational policies and procedures that have been in existence for decades. Beginning the discussion about necessary changes is important.
    • Within each individual's agency, it is challenging to make necessary changes to evolve the agency from a silo or narrow area of expertise to a broader buy-in of knowledge. The pace of agency evolution is integrally tied to the amount of time an individual is willing to devote to making these changes, as short- and long-term demands are also at work. There are many changes to make and limited time in which to implement them.
  5. Creating new tools, methods, and data sets to analyze and evaluate livability
    • The livable street or livable community concept is a much more complex organism than has been examined or modeled in the past. Increasingly, tools are becoming available to measure the impacts of various decisions; however, these have not been universally applied and could be used on a wider basis to bring more elected officials on board.
    • It is difficult to create new tools/methodology/data sets to measure quality of life and to develop standards that take livability into account. There is a lack of existing tools/methodologies/data sets that can be used to define success for livability or sustainability.
    • There is a need to continue developing a robust field of models and examples of livability successes so that a real life example of livability project implementation can follow each computer-generated visualization. These examples should be gathered to help tell the story of livability.
    • Support the public involvement process by demonstrating how livability and transportation can support broader community goals, and by helping to identify those goals. With more real life examples, areas can overcome this challenge and barrier and they will be able to use existing livability goal examples when developing their own community goals.
    • The courts should allow a more creative interpretation of "trip counts," as the legal definition is very narrow. Environmental regulations adhere strictly to this definition, which presents a challenge for implementing and gaining support for livability.
    • Many Federal regional agencies do not understand existing programs, which presents a barrier to leveraging funds for implementation.
    • Without having private investment happen on its own, economic development will face many barriers. This is particularly true given the conservative lending industry that completes project renderings.
    • Education is needed to inform residents about the value added from implementing livability principles. When livability is mentioned, residents sometimes feel that they are being asked to add more density to their area, which can generate equity concerns. Thus, many communities feel the need to defend their community against livability, which they equate with gentrification and displacement. Educating people on livability is a true challenge. Oftentimes, instead of housing, roads become a focal point because this is the only area residents are willing to change.
    • Transportation and land use are often not integrated. Much of the decisions regarding land use happen at the local level.
    • Rural areas do not have the capacity to go beyond basic planning. Within this limited capacity, rural areas are often not very knowledgeable about how to implement livability and sustainability ideas. Additionally, many rural areas view livability and sustainability as negative concepts.
    • It is important to begin integrated planning and to coordinate land use planning. Letting the planning process work to develop, prioritize, and implement projects is critical.

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:

Three 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. Martin Tuttle of the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) discussed the Department's current focus on coordinating efforts with local development agencies, as they play a vital role in helping identify community assets and using these effectively to implement livability. Mr. Tuttle also stressed the importance of local governments reaching out to State DOTs to work together on livability efforts, as the States can help to make sure that there is a common language spoken among local partners, and they have funds to help implement local efforts. Mike McKeever from SACOG discussed the organization's integrated planning efforts, known as the "Regional Blueprint Planning Program," which is modeled off Portland's efforts. Along with this program, SACOG has included a growth strategy in their regional plan, which is being implemented through a partnership with development agencies, and has been successful in bringing about a period of rapid improvement and change. Paul Zykofsky from the Local Government Commission presented on road diet and roundabout implementation on La Jolla Boulevard, Bird Rock in San Diego, which has helped to improve safety and promote local economic development. One of the biggest challenges the project faced was funding, but by working with a variety of local, regional, and State partners, the project was implemented successfully. 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 five challenges, as voted on by the participants during the dot-voting process:

  1. Overcoming past development patterns and the auto culture
  2. Flexibility of funding to implement livability
  3. Selling the economic benefits
  4. Transforming the silo culture within State, MPO, and local agencies.
  5. Creating new tools/methods/data sets to analyze and evaluate livability

During this hour-long discussion, participants were asked to focus on identifying solutions to 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.

Overcoming past development patterns and the auto culture

Flexibility of funding to implement livability

Selling the economic benefits

Transforming the silo culture within State, MPO, and local agencies

Creating new tools/methods/data sets to analyze and evaluate livability

Regional Livability Planning Strategies:

Three of the workshop participants presented on their organization's success in developing and implementing livability planning strategies at a regional level. Margi Bradway from Oregon Department of Transportation discussed the Department's efforts to create a culture of livability and sustainability, which has involved a combination of generating local interest and securing political support. Currently, the Department is working with MPOs on developing a new approach involving technical, education, and tool support. One of the approaches is "least cost planning," which involves costing all externalities involved in a project, and the Department is working on developing a tool on how to implement least cost planning at a corridor level. Andrea Riner from Lane Council of Governments discussed the local Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, which received support from the business community, who recognized the project's value in stimulating economic development, but which faced barriers from local political leaders. This project demonstrated the value of securing regional leadership and the need for a partnership effort that matches Federal requirements, local partners, and experts from a variety of different topic areas. Martyn James from the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada discussed current transportation initiatives, which have been focused on addressing the exponential population growth in the region and the car-focused framework that was generated to accommodate that growth. Currently, the focus is on creating a regional multimodal network, which includes a complete streets initiative, regional trails, and a BRT system. Afterwards, there was a panel discussion, focusing on the key elements of their success:

Harrison Rue directed each participant to turn to the person next to them and, for thirty seconds, discuss the question: What is the single most important thing that needs to be in the primer? Selected participants shared their responses. A summary of these responses is listed below.

Whit Blanton from Renaissance Planning Group discussed the initial concepts for the FHWA primer on implementing livability, in which FHWA is 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 key elements of the primer, as identified through prior workshop discussions, could include the following: integrated planning processes; community visions and goals; technical analysis and performance measures; plans, policies, and programs; project implementation strategies; and communications and outreach.

Mr. Blanton highlighted that, in working toward an integrated regional planning process, it is important to look at existing plans and processes, as livability can be incorporated into these established processes. Existing plans and processes where livability elements could be incorporated include:

The discussion on the primer was split into an hour-long discussion on each of the key elements. Participants broke into five different groups with a mix of State, regional, local, and Federal representatives. Harrison Rue guided the discussion by breaking it into four, fifteen-minute segments where participants were asked to focus on particular elements and answer tailored questions about each. The discussions focused on the following questions:

Following the discussion on project implementation strategies, Jack Ecklund from the City of University Place, Washington presented on the City's livability efforts, which are based around a city vision that is focused on using the livability principles and placemaking to transform the local streets to create a public space. The City used road diets, sidewalks, and bike lanes to help create streets that are now safer and benefit all members of the community.

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 small-group setting:

Each group summarized their discussions on each of the potential key primer elements. The main points of each summary are listed below.

Group 1

Group 2

Group 3

Group 4

Group 5

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  

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 reviewed the workshop favorably. The facilitators added a one-on-one discussion activity following the afternoon presentations in order to help participants stay engaged in the conversation. Participants enjoyed the one-on-one exercise following the regional presentations, and so this format was incorporated into the Denver workshop as well. During the afternoon "Regional Livability Planning Strategies" discussion, the discussion built on the elements discussed in other workshops to help gather more input on the potential primer elements. While participants enjoyed the format of having regional presentations followed by small breakout discussions, some of the participants thought the regional presentations were too long and could have been shortened. One participant requested that the workshop go deeper into the issues and go beyond the high, conceptual level. Because of these recommendations, the Denver workshop will follow a similar format and incorporate the one-on-one discussion activity into the afternoon agenda. It will also follow a similar format for the "Regional Livability Planning Strategies" discussion to build on elements discussed in the first four workshops.

Workshop Participants

Participants Organization
Alia Anderson Reconnecting America
Amy Cummings Regional Transportation Commission of Washoe County, NV
Andrea Riner Lane COG
Bob Laurie Alaska DOT and Public Facilities
Brian Gibson Oahu MPO
Cecily Way Parsons Brinkerhoff
David O'Connell Mason Transit
Flinn Fagg City of Las Vegas, NV
Fred Dock City of Pasadena, CA
Gordon Garry Sacramento Area Council of Governments
Jack Ecklund City of University Place, WA
Jason Van Havel Nevada DOT
Jesse Gothan City of Sacramento DOT
John Evans Lane Transit District
Kathy Sokugawa City and County of Honolulu, HI
Kimo Kai Department of Hawaiian Home Lands
Margi Bradway Oregon DOT
Marilee Mortenson Caltrans
Martin Tuttle Caltrans
Martyn James Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada
Michael LoGrande City of Los Angeles Planning
Mike McKeever Sacramento Area Council of Governments
Paul Zykofsky Local Government Commission
Paula Reeves Washington State DOT
Stacie Dabbs California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley
Steven Soenksen Alaska DOT and Public Facilities
Therese Trivedi Metropolitan Transportation Commission
Tom Kloster Metro
Tracy Foutz City of Henderson, Nevada

Federal Observers

Observer Organization
Aimee Kratovil FHWA – California Division Office
Carolyn Mulvihill EPA
Cecelia Crenshaw FHWA – California Division Office
Chris Ganson EPA
Cynthia Abbot HUD – Region 9
Elizabeth Fischer FHWA – Hawaii Division Office
Eric Eidlin FTA
Hannah Visser FHWA – Nevada Division Office
Lori Porreca FHWA – Idaho Division Office
Michael Vanderhoof FHWA – Alaska Division Office
Satvinder Sandu FHWA – Oregon Division Office
Shana Baker FHWA – Headquarters
Sue Kiser FHWA – California Division Office

Consultant Team

Consultant Organization
Elizabeth Wallis ICF International
Harrison Rue ICF International
Whit Blanton Renaissance Planning Group
Kathleen Rooney ICF International

Livability Examples Provided by Sacramento 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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