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2004 Transportation Planning Excellence Awards

Transportation and Land Use Integration

Award Winner

Comprehensive Program on Transit-Supportive Land Use

Valley Metro Rail
Phoenix, Arizona

In planning for its new light rail system, Phoenix has moved beyond transit development into community development. Using transit as a link, the plan promotes economic development by connecting jobs to affordable, location-efficient housing through incentives and pedestrian access management. By using strategic partnerships and innovative overlay zoning, Phoenix is ensuring that areas around the transit stops will be vibrant, pedestrian/bicycle friendly and complete with a range of housing and transportation options.

Phoenix's light rail system is scheduled to open in 2008 - but Phoenix and its partners have already set the groundwork for transit-oriented land use. The Comprehensive Program on Transit-Supportive Land Use is a joint project of the City of Phoenix and Valley Metro Rail. By preparing the land use concept in advance, the planners are working toward the success of the light rail system and ensuring the Federal Transit Authority's New Starts Funds are being used to provide the best possible service.

In order to promote transit-oriented land use around the stations, the City of Phoenix and Valley Metro Rail outlined a truly comprehensive program, including overlay zoning, design guidelines and market studies among many other projects. Through this plan, the residents of Phoenix will enjoy "walkable" communities and a full range of housing and transportation choices.

City of Phoenix planners have excelled at zoning for transit in their creative overlay zone, which is in effect within a half-mile of transit stops. The ordinance specifies requirements for parking, maximum setbacks, and on-street retail, all of which will contribute to a walkable and transit-oriented environment.

When Phoenix opens its light rail system in 2008, a system of transit supportive land use will already be in place.

When Phoenix opens its light rail system in 2008, a system of transit supportive land use will already be in place.

Figure 1 below demonstrates the ordinance's parking requirements:

Figure 2 below demonstrates requirements for large-scale retail establishments. In order to keep the areas at a pedestrian scale, small retail establishments must buffer the large "big box" retail stores. Vehicle-oriented businesses, such as mechanics and car washes, must be located outside of the overlay zone in order to further the pedestrian focus of these areas.

Illustration showing conventional parking and access layout as compared to the preferred configuration.

Figure 1

Alternative plans of a "big box" store using linear retail to improve its interface and connection with the street.

Figure 2

Figures 1 and 2. Pedestrian comfort and safety are main goals in Phoenix's innovative overlay zoning ordinance, in effect within one half mile of transit stops.

This system maximizes intermodal transportation choice for the residents of Phoenix: bike racks and pathways will also be available, as well as vehicle parking for those who choose to park and ride.

In addition to the zoning changes, Phoenix has approached transit-oriented land use from many other angles. Building codes have been amended to require more handicap-accessible housing around transit stops. The Program partnered with other parties and agencies as part of the project. For example, the Phoenix Community Alliance, a civic and business association for the adjacent area, created an economic development strategy; the Program worked with the Arizona chapter of the Urban Land Institute on a study that stimulated interest in new development to serve light rail and the community in a pedestrian-friendly environment; and the Downtown Phoenix Partnership, the downtown advocacy organization, obtained the needed support for an "improvement district" near the downtown stops. Through these multiple partners, Phoenix has created a truly comprehensive program.

This program could not have been effective without extensive public involvement. Thousands participated in Web-based voting and many meetings to ensure that the plan for the rail line and its surrounding land use would meet residents' needs and desires.

Phoenix has created a model of transit-supportive land use that other cities with mass transit can emulate. They have demonstrated that innovative overlay zoning, in conjunction with community partnerships, is a recipe for a successful transit system AND healthy neighborhoods.


Richard J. Simonetta
411 N. Central Ave., Suite 200
Valley Metro Rail
Phoenix, AZ 85004
(602) 495-8214
Phoenix Planning Website
Valley Metro Website

Award Winner

Livable Centers Initiative

Atlanta Regional Commission
Atlanta, Georgia

Atlanta is one of the fastest growing cities in America. Under the leadership of the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC), local governments and non-profit organizations in the area have begun to think creatively on how to manage this enormous growth. ARC's Livable Centers Initiative grants support plans to link transportation and land use to make the Atlanta region a better place to live, one community at a time.

The Atlanta area faces phenomenal growth along with some of the nation's worst traffic congestion. The Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) understands that "Smart Growth" means different things to each community, and that each community must choose the best path to manage its unique concerns and needs.

ARC's Livable Centers Initiative (LCI) provides grants to local governments and non-profit organizations to conduct studies, and to design and implement plans, that link transportation improvements with land use development strategies in order to create sustainable, livable communities consistent with regional development policies. These plans should enhance existing town centers and activity centers, taking advantage of the infrastructure and private investments already committed in these communities. LCI is using $5 million in federal funds to support local studies over a five-year period. For those communities that have shown a commitment to their plans, a total of $350 million in implementation funds is available.

The goals of the Livable Centers Initiative are to encourage diverse, mixed-use neighborhoods, provide access to a range of travel modes, and reach out to all stakeholders. Completed LCI studies show that these goals can be met through a variety of means. Successful projects include a town green with amphitheatre surrounded by townhouses and retail; State and national archives adjacent to a proposed transit-oriented development and commuter rail station; and a new mixed-use overlay district with design guidelines and an architectural review board.

Illustration of vision for mixed use residential and commercial community.

The development and implementation of the Livable Centers Initiative was made possible through the forging of partnerships between ARC and the Georgia DOT, FHWA, local governments, non-profit organizations, business, and residents in the Atlanta region. The committee that selects studies for funding each year includes organizations such as the Homebuilders Association, Urban Land Institute, Trust for Historic Preservation, Georgia Conservancy, and the Regional Business Coalition. Partnerships are also sought during the implementation of completed LCI plans.

ARC's strategy for implementing regional development policies through the Livable Centers Initiative has included the LCI Development Fair. ARC partnered with the Atlanta Council of the Urban Land Use Institute and the Greater Atlanta Home Builders Association to showcase development opportunities in LCI communities. Nearly 100 developers, investors, and builders learned about the additional economic potential of new development in already developed LCI areas.

The unique value of the Livable Centers Initiative, and the one that will ensure change in the region and successful Smart Growth projects, is the ability to connect study funds and local land use initiatives with significant funds for related transportation projects. Communities that independently implement portions of their completed plans receive priority funding for their transportation projects.

While ARC cannot fund all of the applications for LCI funding, the language - and, more importantly, the practice - of Smart Growth and the transportation-land use connection are a reality in the Atlanta region. Prior to LCI, only a handful of communities in the region were discussing the principles of Smart Growth. Now, a majority of the region's 63 local governments and many unincorporated communities are considering and actively pursuing Smart Growth concepts. Through the Livable Centers Initiative, the Atlanta Regional Commission has put one of the nation's fastest-growing metropolitan regions well on its way to being one of the most livable.


Tom Weyandt
Atlanta Regional Commission
40 Courtland Street, NE
Atlanta, GA 30303
(404) 463-3250
Atlanta Regional Commission

Updated: 10/20/2015
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