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Livability in the U.S. and Sweden Summary Report

Comparative Analysis

The webinar series was set up with a comparative analysis in mind. Therefore, both sides exchanged questions and answers on key topics beforehand. However, since a webinar would provide more value if the topics could be discussed in a wider context, the presentations that were held extended the discussion, and touched upon subjects that were not covered in the questions.

This complicates the analytical challenge of comparing the US and the Swedish Livability approach. Also, not all questions are comparable, since they differ from each other in most cases, even if they cover similar topics.

To sum things up: What can be compared is compared. What's not comparable is still presented, as it provides a detailed and interesting Q & A on the topics covered in the webinar series.

3.1 The questions

Funding decisions and livability, measuring of effects

US question:

Do livability related factors influence funding decisions or affect how different projects are prioritized?

Swedish question:

How do you do to ensure that federal funded actions in the transport system contribute to enhanced livability? How do you measure and evaluate effects of actions taken?

Swedish response:

Yes, they do in varying extent influence how projects are prioritized. For example there are valuated effects of emissions of particles and noise and road safety (saved lives and seriously injured) as a part of the cost benefit analysis. Still, the effect of travel time is often the one single factor that makes a project socioeconomically viable, which is one important factor for prioritizing government measures, especially investments for new infrastructure.

On local level the environmental aspects (noise, emissions as well as attractiveness) have a greater influence regarding priority of measures.

Livability is often a motive for local initiatives and actions. National funds, delegated to regional level, can be used for cycle paths, noise barriers, road investments to improve local air quality etc. Actions to improve local and regional connectivity in the transport system have also been initiated by local municipalities hoping that this would support social integration. New tramline is such an example. National funding contribution can formally apply for local tram lines, but so far this has not been the case the last years.

However the two biggest metropolitan regions and the state level have concluded on "investment packages" which include a variety of actions, incl. improved public transport and the introduction of congestion tax on private cars in the city center. The state and the regions have negotiated and made an agreement regarding funding and implementation.

US response:

Most FHWA funds are provided by formula (e.g., based on population) to the States. The States and local transportation agencies have the lead in identifying projects that they want to fund. FHWA ensures that funds are used for eligible activities and that the rules for spending federal funds are followed. All FHWA funding programs have the potential to support walking and bicycling.

There is little measurement of the effects resulting from the use of federal funds. FHWA tracks the investment in walking and bicycling projects each year. Other statistics like annual roadway fatalities are tracked but are not tied directly to funding. The Safe Routes to School program has collected walking and bicycling data at schools and this data set will allow us to examine how this investment resulted in changes in travel behavior.

FHWA recently launched a new research effort to try to quantify the economic impact of making 'livability' improvements to a community.

Comparison: The questions differ substantially, which complicates a comparison. Both sides have to consider the state, regional and local level when it comes to implementing livability-related projects. FHWA base their influence on making sure that funds are used for eligible projects. There are similarities in Sweden as national funds are delegated to regional and local level. However, there is also a substantial involvement from the national level in big "investment packages" for the two largest metropolitan regions in Sweden. Also, there seems to be more measurement of effects resulting from the use of federal/national funds in Sweden, than in the US.

Involvement in transportation decision-making

US question:

Who is involved with the transportation decision making process?

Swedish question:

How do you to create positive synergies as a result from actions, which influence livability for people, but are a result from decisions made within different policy areas, levels or by various groups of actors?

Swedish response:

The government, and to certain extent also the parliament, set the targets for the development of the transport system (see the text on overall Transport Policy in the answer to question 3). The authorities (such as STA) set up strategies and plan measures aiming at reaching those targets. That is one of the pillars that set the conditions for the national transport decision making.

Several changes of planning and decision making processes related to transport were introduced this mandate period. The regional level (regional administrations, regional associations, county councils, county administrative boards - this is a period of transition) now, accordingly to new law, are to set up plans for public transport services that covers both private and procured public transport. The local level with the municipalities have a strong influence and own the decision making regarding land use and urban planning - house building/location of business activities and similar.

The planning legislation on transport, land use and buildings, and on the environment all require transparency, public consultations, advertising and dialogue with stakeholders incl. land owners etc. according to long traditions of democracy. These various acts have been reviewed this year to harmonize better with each other and to speed up the planning process.

Also the formal process for economic planning of national investments in the transport system has been revised to allow for an annual revision of the investment plans and improved coordination with the national budget framework. This includes review of actions ready to implement (year 1-3), actions to be prepared for implementation (year 4 -5) and actions to be planned for implementation (year 6 -9). This economic planning process includes dialogue with public sector representatives on regional/local levels as well as with national representatives for NGO: s, industry, operators etc.

US response:

In 2009, US DOT created the Partnership for Sustainable Communities (PSC) with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The PSC established six livability principles, including coordinating federal funding and investment:

1. Provide more transportation choices.

2. Promote equitable, affordable housing.

3. Enhance economic competitiveness.

4. Support existing communities.

5. Coordinate and leverage federal policies and investment.

6. Value communities and neighborhoods

One key aspect of the PSC is to help create synergies for different policy areas in order to advance livability and sustainability. With economic and funding challenges at the Federal, State, and local level, it's more important than ever to try to coordinate policies and funding at different levels of government.

Comparison: The comparative part is mainly the last part of the Swedish reply, which describes the long-term economic planning process which involves a wider group of actors. This is to some extent reminiscent of the Partnership for Sustainable Communities, given its purpose to better coordinate policies. However, there are probably better Swedish examples of similar national coordination efforts than the long-term economic planning process.

Health aspects

US question:

Is human health (e.g., obesity, asthma) considered in transportation decision making?

Swedish question:

What do you do to include health aspects when determining actions in the transport system? What does the federal level do to influence?

Swedish response:

The Swedish Government has decided on the overall objective of the Swedish Transport Policy. The objective should be seen as the overall guiding principle for the work of the Government and its agencies in the Transport Field. The Government is able to revise the objectives if approved by the Parliament.

The Transport Policy objective is divided into two parts: Functional objective (accessibility) and impact objective (health, safety and environment). Human health issues falls within the "impact objective" where a more detailed objective is: The transport sector will contribute to the achievement of other environmental quality objectives and lower levels of ill health. There are other detailed objectives dealing with e.g.  pollution, which would have an impact on e.g. asthma. Human Health issues are also considered in the "functional objective" where accessibility for people with disabilities is of major importance. Exactly where the line is drawn between health issues and disabilities is somewhat unclear. Transport Analysis is tasked to evaluate of the Swedish Transport Policy Objective annually.

US response:

Several health-related issues, such as safety, air quality, noise, and active transportation are supported by FHWA programs and policies. In addition, we seek to ensure that transportation projects do not adversely impact minority or low-income people.

Health issues such as obesity are not directly addressed at the federal level as part of transportation programs. The Federal Safe Routes to School program did emphasize the importance of increasing physical activity and reducing obesity among school children. FHWA also provides information about best practices from agencies, across the country, that are trying to integrate health into transportation decision making.

Comparison: The Swedish answer clearly demonstrates that human health is considered in transportation decision-making in Sweden. There seems to be similarities in the US, but not necessarily as a single strategy concept, rather as a common component in different programs and policies. The US policy of making sure that transportation projects do not adversely impact minority or low-income people is different from the situation in Sweden where there is less emphasis on minority groups. It is evident that both countries have active policies in the field of human health and transport, but they seem to be quite different from each other.

Livability and a sustainable transport system

This topic does not have comparable questions.

The Swedish side asked: How is livability integrated in your efforts to develop a sustainable transport system? How do you do to consider and communicate a balanced economic as well as environmental and social impact of actions in the transport system?

US response:

There is substantialyea overlap between livability and sustainability. FHWA recently launched a new sustainable highways tool called INVEST (see: The tool incorporates several aspects of livability (e.g., walking and bicycling, health, and transportation affordability) into its assessment of transportation projects. Sustainability and livability efforts both emphasize considering the 'triple bottom line' of society, economy, and environment. The tool is voluntary but was designed to help transportation agencies understand how they can create more sustainable and livable communities. FHWA also provides information (e.g., case studies, best practices, and training) that demonstrate how livability issues have been addressed in communities across the country.

More information can be found at:

Involving the public and individuals

US question:

How is the public engaged in transportation projects and what other agencies are involved in the process?

Swedish question:

How do you capture the individual's perspective in the planning of investments and other actions in the transport system? How do you ensure wanted impact on livability in the planning of single projects?

Swedish response:

Municipalities have, as explained above, public consultations for all planning and land use activities. For the procured public transport the public transport companies as well as the county council try to measure customer satisfaction and identify need for improvements. Some municipalities experiment on local voting over the internet for citizen proposals regarding for example urban development.

A pre-condition for a project to be considered as a candidate for national funding is that the preferred solution is decided via a dialogue-based process. All stakeholders concerned should be involved in this process, also local inhabitants (if relevant) and land users. The problem motivating actions is the point of departure for the process.

This Action Choice Process is being developed right now. Alternative solutions are to be launched and evaluated thereby following the "4 step principle":

1. RETHINK: Can we reroute or influence transport demand? (e.g. charging instruments, urban planning)

2. OPTIMIZE: can we improve service on existing infrastructure? (e.g. maintenance, daily management)

3. IMPROVE: (new lanes/tracks to add capacity or reinvestment/modernization for better performance in existing infrastructure)


Public consultation is part of the formal and legal processes which start when solution is defined and it has been concluded a formal planning process is required and when first political agreements on funding principles are made.   

Many initiatives derive from local and regional levels, or from the private sector. The access to EU funding for public administration's cross-border research and investigations, as well as the increase of strategic spatial planning and analysis on regional levels, have contributed to enhancing the local and regional awareness and initiatives. These include experts in public administrations incl. local municipalities, public transport administrations and external experts. As local and regional planning becomes more strategic, also the local dialogue on strategies and alternative actions has become livelier. Transport is often in focus.

During the last years it has become more common to negotiate and conclude on joint funding of investments in transport infrastructure. These agreements are often made between the Transport Administration and a regional administration. Also private cofounding of investments in national transport networks has become more common. The public interest grows as local and regional stakeholders engage in national transport actions. The introduction of congestion tax, and the way this money is spent, is of course a very hot topic in the metropolitan areas concerned.

US response:

There are several requirements in place to ensure that States and Metropolitan Planning Organizations (which represent areas with populations over 50,000) involve the public in transportation decision making. FHWA has also developed materials to help the public understand the decision making process and how they can get involved.

Comparison: There are policies in place in each country that ensure that the public is involved. The US answer hints that the requirement does not exist for smaller entities (below 50,000 in population). This differs from Sweden, where there are national legal requirements to involve the public in even the smallest communes.

Targets, measurements and tools

US question:

Are there multi-modal transportation performance targets (e.g. percentage of trips, made by walking, bicycling or transit)?

Swedish question:

Are federal targets, measurements, tools and evaluation systems applied with the aim to build knowledge on how to increase the share of trips by other means than the private car?

Swedish response:

Yes there are targets on national level, mainly motivated for environmental reasons (climate). These targets are so far set within the Transport Administration as a result of back-casting study. However, the government has recently appointed a commission expected to come up with a strategy for the Swedish vehicle fleet to become independent on fossil fuels by year 2030. The commission is expected to report their results in a year from now. One detailed objective in the Government's overall objective of the Swedish Transport Policy is: The conditions for choosing public transport, walking and cycling improves. However, in the annual evaluation (for 2011), Transport Analysis concludes that it is difficult to tell whether the conditions for cycling and then indirectly also walking really improved during 2011. But the result has been different for other years. Most local municipalities have some type of target for bicycle traffic, while targets for pedestrian traffic are rarer.

US response:

In the mid-1990s, US DOT established goals to double the percentage of trips taken by walking and bicycling and to reduce the number of fatalities for these modes. We report on the progress towards meeting these goals every 5 years. FHWA oversees clearinghouses for walking and bicycling in general and for safe routes to school to help community members and transportation professionals understand how they can improve walking, bicycling, and access to transit. Through the walking and bicycling clearinghouse we developed a Walk Friendly Communities program. The program allows cities to submit applications to be recognized for being exemplary places to walk.

Comparison: It is evident that both countries' federal/national levels actively promote walking, bicycling and transit.The US has targets since the mid-1990s. Sweden does not have national bicycle and pedestrian targets which stipulates an increase in percentage, but does have an active policy for improving conditions for both modes. Sweden does have targets when it comes to reducing fatalities though. The replies do not provide sufficient information for comparing evaluation methods.

Targets at different levels of government

US question:

Do the different levels of government (Federal, State, and Local) have performance measures for these issues?

Swedish question:

What do you do to support a development in line with local/regional goals and policies aiming at improved livability?

Swedish response:

Modal split for travel is measured, including walking, cycling, public transport and car in several local municipalities. Scenarios and targets are often an important part of the local planning process for new neighborhoods. Studies and investigations are made by local administrations as part of the planning process. Local municipalities can influence travel and transport demand via planning regulation for land use and building permits (location), mobility management, local traffic regulations and technical solutions. However, the national level is responsible for legislation and taxation and private actors define the final location of their activities. Lately it has become more common to discuss/introduce environment performance certification of neighborhoods on a non-mandatory basis (BREEAM).

US response:

This is largely left to the State and local agencies to determine. FHWA emphasizes the importance of recognizing that 'one size does not fit all' and the need for public engagement to ensure that communities shape themselves. What fosters a livable community in a rural area may be different from in an urban area. The State and MPO planning regulations describe the need to consider various transportation/community aspects that ultimately pertain to livability.

Comparison: In both countries, the national/federal level is not involved in local and regional goals and policies. In Sweden, the government has a greater ability to steer development via taxation, and has more possibilities to push for changes via legislation.

Involving the public and sharing of information

1st US question:

How is the public involved in and informed of progress on transportation efforts?

Swedish question:

How is state of art and progress communicated to the public? Where can you as a private person find information about livability and sustainability related to conditions in the transport system?

Swedish response:

Through the political process mostly, their elected political representatives, the political debate and media. Authorities also inform the public on transport efforts through websites and media. In the planning process as described above for exampl e in the Action Choice Process.

The national travel survey is produced by Transport Analysis. It contains data on the everyday movements and longer journeys made by Sweden's population aged between 6 and 84 years. The survey also included questions on the individual and his/her household, as well as on the use of communications equipment which can be of significance for the travel. The current survey is performed annually, 2011-2013, on a yearly base sample of 13000. For a fee, municipalities and regions have the possibility to participate in the survey by adding to the sample. This addition has increased the total sample by about 10000 respondents.

Web-portal: Transport Analysis is tasked to annually evaluate of the Swedish Transport Policy Objective. The Transport Policy objective is divided into two parts: Functional objective (accessibility) and impact objective (health, safety and environment). In order to enhance the evaluation with a current, updated, broader and more in-depth coverage on the development Transport Analysis is currently setting-up a web-portal with data and analyses to be shared with the public accessible through the Transport Analysis web page.

US response:

At the federal level,this is often done through web sites such as the clearinghouses mentionedpreviously. There are various US DOT web sites related to livability as well, such as:

2nd US question: What reports/statistics are shared with the public?

In general, Sweden has a liberal policy when it comes to the sharing of the government's written material with the public. Few documents are classified. However, when it comes to statistics, the situation is sometimes quite delicate. More details will be provided at the webinar.

Trafikanalys (Transport Analysis) is a government agency that is responsible for a variety of tasks in the field of transport policy. One of the major tasks of the agency is to produce official statistics in the fields of transport and communications. All official statistics are shared with the public, but not the raw data. Transport Analysis also provides Eurostat with statistics, this is obligatory. The production of statistics at Transport Analysis includes: modal overviews (sea, air, trucks, rail etc.), travel surveys, commodity flow surveys etc. The statistics are shared both as tables and reports. Transport Analysis also produces a number of reports in various formats since the agency is tasked with providing decision-makers in the sphere of transport policy with advice. One such example is a report on "Commuting in the major metropolitan areas in Sweden".

Swedish Administrations and departments have a long tradition of making documents available for the general public. This means that in general all papers, protocols and reports are open for anybody to read. The "Principle of Public Access" has a long tradition in Sweden. With the internet it has become even easier to find material via the administration's web sites. Of course business secrets and principles related to fair competition etc. must be managed properly, for instance in the public procurement processes.

IT in transport is rapidly developing. Sweden has had a leading role in the development of a joint European ITS strategy.

Several transport administrations cooperate and share information which is communicated instantly to the public via various communication channels. This applies to the daily management of information and traffic control within the railway sector as well as for the local transport conditions in the metropolitan regions and on the core road network. Development is also fast within logistics for freight transport. Travel planning instruments are available via the internet for public transport. Efforts are made to provide and combine travel planning services from operators in various regions and companies in order to facilitate travel planning for the "whole trip" door to door.

More and more basic data is now available for anybody to see and use as a source of information or as a basis for new types of information services. "Open Data" on transport and traffic is a thrilling challenge for the transport administrations.

Comparison: Since the replies are of such different length, it is very difficult to compare the countries. However, there seems to be evidence of a web-based strategy from the US side where a number of excellent websites inform about livability and the transport system. There are also several web-based tools for state and local planners. In Sweden, Transport Analysis is responsible for producing a number of products in the field of statistics and evaluation. It does seem as if FHWA is not a comparable counterpart in this area. Similar products are most likely produced by another DOT agency.

Updated: 5/18/2016
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