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

Table of Contents

Executive Summary

Introduction and Purpose

What is Livability?

Research Results

  1. The Role of Highways and Highway Programs in Livability
  2. Strategies for Implementing Livability
  3. Processes, Performance Measures, and Tools
  4. Conclusion and Next Steps


Executive Summary

This research paper highlights the current state of the practice relative to the implementation of livability principles within the context of the Federal-aid highway program. It also highlights the challenges facing Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and other transportation agencies in changing traditional planning approaches and evolving institutional frameworks to more effectively incorporate livability principles. It offers a sampling of strategies and tools for implementing livability through different programs and agencies, and across various scales as they pertain to highway program planning and development.

The research conducted for this paper focused on identifying integrated highway projects that address livability from multiple perspectives, including a national literature review/scan coupled with technical knowledge of the research team and outreach to transportation practitioners. As a result of the literature scan, many different types of organizations and planning products, at different geographic levels, incorporating Federal, State, regional, and local programs and projects, were reviewed for livability practices and broad analytical observations.

Transportation plays an integral role in advancing the key principles of livable communities, as broadly defined through the Partnership for Sustainable Communities initiated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (HUD-DOT-EPA Partnership)1. However, at the transportation practitioner level, there remains significant interest in learning how to incorporate the livability principles into individual transportation plans, programs, and projects. There is also a need for effective guidance on implementation strategies and cross-agency coordination processes to integrate these principles with other Federal, State, regional, local and private sector plans and investments.

Before scenario: a suburban parking lot that is largely empty.
After scenario: a simulation where a roadway with bike lanes, sidewalks, and retail mixed use development, could be constructed in place of the parking lot.

As shown by the before-and-after simulations above, new multimodal roadway networks can be created through aging commercial properties as mixed-use redevelopment occurs, improving mobility, housing choice, and access to businesses and services. (Photo credit)

Livability in transportation is about integrating the quality, location, and type of transportation facilities and services available with other more comprehensive community plans and programs to help achieve broader community goals. It provides economic benefits to communities, businesses, and consumers. In practice, livable transportation systems accommodate a range of modes (walking, bicycling, transit, and automobiles) by creating mobility choice within more balanced multimodal transportation networks. This in turn helps support more sustainable patterns of development, whether in an urban, suburban, or rural context. Livable transportation systems can provide better access to jobs, community services, affordable housing, and schools, while helping to create safe streets, reduce energy use and emissions, reduce impacts on and enhance the natural and built environment, and support more efficient land use patterns.

Addressing these broader community goals can also help integrate planning processes between different agencies and levels of government. Livability is applicable at multiple scales-from urban or rural local projects, to regional plans, or at the State and Federal program level. This paper will guide discussion during FHWA's planned regional livability workshops, intended to help advance livability within the context of the nation's transportation infrastructure.

Introduction and Purpose

America's transportation industry has built one of the world's largest highway networks, connecting people, businesses, and communities across the country, linked with extensive public transportation systems in major metro areas - a significant feat of the 20th century. Enhancing and expanding this system to better support community livability is one of the country's next major challenges. Livability in transportation is about leveraging the quality, location, and type of transportation facilities and services available to help achieve broader community goals. It requires defining a new vision for highway systems that support and enable the alignment of different modes of transportation options - driving, transit, walking, wheeling, and bicycling - with existing and desired community development patterns and broader quality of life goals. This includes improving the effectiveness of multimodal networks (e.g., connected grids of complete streets) in urban and suburban settings; repurposing the form and function of multimodal corridors (major surface roadways for through-travel and transit, with parallel networks of smaller roads for local travel); implementing multimodal design solutions for new regional highways; and improving intermodal connections, while minimizing the impacts to the natural environment. Livability in transportation requires collaboration and innovation across other traditional highway agency programs, such as management and operations (M&O), intelligent transportation systems (ITS), transportation demand management (TDM), safety, and freight. It also requires collaboration between transportation agencies and partners concerned with land use, housing, environmental permitting, historic preservation, natural resource protection, economic development, and many other areas.

This paper is intended to help practitioners understand the role of highways and related programs in supporting livability. It also explores some of the commonalities and differences between livability and sustainability. It focuses largely on roadway transportation activities and the roles of Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) programs, State department of transportation (State DOT) programs, and regional transportation agencies in supporting livability. A variety of strategies already in practice or emerging are beginning to define how highways and highway agency programs can help bring communities together and support community livability goals.

The research scan for this paper focused largely on the role of highways and highway agency programs in livability, based on identification of best practices and case studies. It identified several strategies for implementing livability in transportation, along with processes, performance measures, and tools currently in use. This research is intended to help facilitate continued transportation agency discussions, and to help practitioners to identify key successes, lessons learned, effective planning processes, implementation tools, and other strategies for advancing livability.

What is Livability?

The concept of livability, which has evolved over the years, is often used to describe a range of initiatives aimed at improving community quality of life while supporting broader sustainability goals. Livability encompasses multi-dimensional issues relative to community design, land use, environmental protection and enhancement, mobility and accessibility, public health, and economic well-being. Incorporating livability into transportation planning, programs, and projects is not a new concept. Communities, developers, advocacy groups, businesses, and neighborhood residents have been working for generations to make places more livable through transportation initiatives, with varying degrees of support from local, regional, State, and Federal agencies. These initiatives have used a range of terms to describe an overlapping set of objectives and strategies-livability, sustainability, community impact assessment, scenario planning, land use and transportation, smart growth, walkable communities, new urbanism, healthy neighborhoods, active living, transit-oriented development (TOD), complete streets, context-sensitive solutions (CSS), and many others. While advocates for each approach or "brand name" might find differences, most transportation practitioners understand the key concept behind livability in transportation: transportation planning is a process that must consider broader community goals. The table below highlights a few of the definitions used by DOT and national organizations to describe livability and livable communities.

Table 1: Livability Definitions

U.S. DOT Secretary LaHood. Livability means being able to take your kids to school, go to work, see a doctor, drop by the grocery or post office, go out to dinner and a movie, and play with your kids in a park, all without having to get in your car.2

U.S. DOT Strategic PlanFY 2010-FY 2015. Livable communities are places where transportation, housing and commercial development investments have been coordinated so that people have access to adequate, affordable and environmentally sustainable travel options.3

U.S. DOT Deputy Assistant Secretary Beth Osborne. Livable communities have transportation options, housing options, destinations nearby, and save money for families and taxpayers (from TRB Transportation Systems for Livable Communities Conference presentation, October 18, 2010).4

AASHTO 'Road to Livability.' AASHTO's 'livability' objective is to use transportation investments to improve the standard of living, the environment, and quality of life for all communities, rural, suburban, and urban... providing more transportation choices for families, by walking, biking, and transit;...driving is also a legitimate transportation choice.5

American Institute of Architects. Livability is best defined at the local level. Broadly speaking, a livable community recognizes its own unique identity and places a high value on the planning processes that help manage growth and change to maintain and enhance its community character.6

AARP Beyond 50.05. A livable community is one that has affordable and appropriate housing, supportive community features and services, and adequate mobility options, which together facilitate personal independence and the engagement of residents in civic and social life.7

FHWA is not alone in the effort to address the complex issues of how community and transportation system design can positively influence quality of life. In addition to their traditional transportation partners at the State, regional, and local level, FHWA and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), as part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, have joined with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in creating the Partnership for Sustainable Communities, and together have defined six livability principles. The three partner agencies are working to incorporate the livability principles into programs, policies, funding, and projects through a series of interagency working groups, targeted pilot projects, joint review of grant applications, multidisciplinary research, and other efforts. These efforts are described in the Partnership for Sustainable Communities: A Year of Progress for American Communities report.8

Each agency has a slightly different focus on livability and sustainable communities, based on its core mission. HUD focuses on coordinating Federal housing and transportation investments with local land use decisions to reduce transportation costs, improve housing affordability, save energy, and increase access to housing and employment.9 EPA provides tools, research, publications, and technical assistance to encourage development strategies that protect air and water, preserve open space and natural resources, and create healthy and attractive places for people to live, work, and play. This includes promoting smarter growth patterns and encouraging widespread adoption of green building practices.10

HUD, EPA, and DOT came together in 2009 to advance the livability principles, which represents a significant milestone in Federal interagency cooperation. Federal efforts continue to better define livability and sustainability, including the following descriptions included in the Notice of Funding Availability for National Infrastructure Investments under the Fiscal Year 2010 Appropriations Act (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery II Discretionary Grants, or TIGER II):12

From the HUD and EPA perspectives, the term 'sustainable communities' refers to "places that balance their economic and natural assets so that the diverse needs of local residents can be met now and in the future."14 Within FHWA, a recent reorganization established a separate livability team (in the Office of Human Environment) and a sustainability team. While FHWA's sustainability efforts focus more on the natural environment, including climate change issues, there appear to be shared elements between livability and sustainability definitions. FHWA has described sustainability with "the 'Triple Bottom Line' concept, which includes equity (also known as social or people), ecology (also known as environment or planet), and economy. The goal of sustainability is the satisfaction of basic social and economic needs, both present and future and, the responsible use of natural resources, all while maintaining or improving the well-being of the environment and ecology on which life depends."15 While livability and sustainability have a somewhat different focus and scale, they both reflect the need for agencies to more explicitly address social and community values, objectives, and performance measures.

For the purposes of FHWA's livability initiative, it would appear that - while livability and sustainability may differ somewhat in concept - the terms livability and sustainable communities intertwine in practice. More importantly, the transportation solutions that support both are likely to be similar. Livability initiatives may be described as a subset strategy of sustainability and sustainable development focused more on near-term planning, funding, and implementation strategies at the community level.

Determining what livability means for highways and highway programs starts with a working definition of livability in transportation, framed by an understanding of FHWA and partner agencies' thoughts about livability and sustainability and the applications of livability in programs and projects. The following definition is updated from the definition in the FHWA/FTA Livability in Transportation Guidebook: Planning Approaches that Promote Livability.16

Livability in transportation is about leveraging the quality, location, and type of transportation facilities and services available to help achieve broader community goals such as access to a variety of jobs, community services, affordable housing, quality schools, and safe streets. This includes:

Report cover of the 'Livability in Transportation Guidebook' developed by FHWA and FTA.

Research Results

The research goals and process focused on integrated projects that address livability from multiple perspectives. The research was conducted through a twofold approach starting with a national literature review/scan, coupled with technical knowledge and personal outreach based on extensive "in the field" expertise. As a result of the literature scan, the team reviewed resources from many different types of organizations, planning products, and projects at different geographic levels including national and state organizations, Federal Land Management Agencies (FLMAs) and Indian Tribes, MPOs , local governments, and transit operators. This review found that while many organizations are grappling with livability questions and definitions, they have been using similar language such as CSS, smart growth, etc. to develop effective programs and projects. Some of the key research findings include:

HUD-DOT-EPA Interagency Partnership | DOT Livability | FTA Livable & Sustainable Communities
Updated: 1/3/2014
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