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Federal Highway Administration > Publications > Public Roads > Vol. 65 · No. 2 > Strengthening the Connection Between Transportation and Land Use

Sept/Oct 2001
Vol. 65 · No. 2

Strengthening the Connection Between Transportation and Land Use

by Stephanie Roth and Ashby Johnson

"Smart growth" is an issue that is resounding throughout the country. Citizens and officials in many growing areas are trying to be as smart as possible to control growth so that it does not overwhelm the capabilities of the infrastructure, schools, and public service organizations or have other negative effects on the area's quality of life. In opinion polls from Tampa to Minneapolis to Denver to the San Francisco Bay Area, residents are citing sprawl as the biggest concern facing their areas, and they view efficient transportation as integral to a high quality of life.

This public opinion has driven public policy development in many areas. For example, in November 2000, 533 state and local measures related to growth appeared on ballots in 38 states. Overall, 72 percent of these proposals passed; however, not every "yes" vote indicates support of smart growth ideas and policies due to the wording of individual measures.

These measures dealt with different but related aspects of growth. Nearly one-half dealt with open-space preservation, and one-fourth related to state and local infrastructure. The open-space measures were particularly popular; 78 percent of the 257 open-space measures passed, representing a significant increase from 1998. Transportation proposals that focused on boosting transit and alternative modes, as well as those that focused on road or highway construction, were generally supported.

Examples of transportation-related referendums considered by voters in 2000 include a measure in New Jersey to amend the state constitution to double the portion of the state's gas and sales tax used for construction, rehabilitation, and maintenance projects on the state's highway system. The amendment diverts existing taxes from the state's general treasury directly to the Transportation Trust Fund.

Denver voters approved a measure to allow the city to spend roughly $5.8 billion of a budget surplus and other surpluses generated over the next four years on affordable housing and transportation projects that would make it more affordable to live and work in the city and would reduce traffic congestion.

However, some proposals were defeated. A Charleston, S.C., measure that would have increased sales tax by ½ cent for 25 years to raise $1.2 billion for transit, roads, land preservation, and parks and for the operations of the regional transit authority failed despite strong support from many local leaders. Washington state also failed to pass a measure that would have required that 90 percent of state and local transportation funds be spent on road construction, rehabilitation, operations, and maintenance.

The fact that measures appeared on so many ballots nationwide indicates a general consensus that we need to be growing differently as a nation, but that the measures were so varied and met with different results indicates that there isn't a clearly defined or universally correct way to grow.

Smart growth encompasses a holistic view of development and is rooted in many issues in addition to transportation. Some of these other issues are community development, housing, land development, open-space preservation, environmental quality, and historic preservation. What works in one area may not work in another, but consideration of smart growth addresses several broad principles, including: mixing land uses, taking advantage of compact building design, creating housing opportunities and choices, preserving open space, and directing development toward existing communities rather than moving onto undeveloped land.

From a transportation perspective, smart growth includes the building of walkable communities and providing a variety of transportation choices so that residents have alternatives to the single-occupant motor vehicle to get from one place to another. All of this begs for transportation professionals, environmentalists, conservationists, developers, other stakeholders, and the public to work collaboratively to build sound communities.

Many of the existing programs and other initiatives of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) contribute to meeting smart growth and community livability goals. These include:

  • Operational strategies and intelligent transportation systems (ITS) tools for highways and transit, which include advanced traveler information systems (ATIS), arterial management, high-occupancy-vehicle (HOV) systems, and commercial vehicle information systems and networks (CVISN). These and other ITS programs allow for maximum efficiency from existing transportation infrastructure, which reduces congestion and thereby reduces the need to construct new highway facilities.
  • The Transportation and Community and System Preservation Pilot Program (TCSP), which ties transportation, economic growth, and quality of life goals by encouraging the development of innovative strategies and creating new partnerships to strengthen the planning process.
  • The Transportation Enhancements Program, which offers broad opportunities in areas such as landscaping, bicycle and pedestrian facilities, and historic preservation to integrate transportation into our communities and the natural environment.
  • The Surface Transportation Program (STP), the largest single source of funds within the federal-aid highway program, has great flexibility to allow funds to be used for highway, transit, and bicycle and pedestrian projects, depending on a region's transportation priorities. The Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) empowers state and local decision-makers to use these highway dollars for the most appropriate transportation solutions for their areas.
  • The Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program (CMAQ), which focuses on the connection between transportation and air quality, has allowed metropolitan areas with nonattainment status to find creative ways — such as bicycle and pedestrian facilities, transit subsidies for employers, and ridesharing programs — to simultaneously meet air quality and livability goals.
  • Context-sensitive design, which is a collaborative approach to developing and redesigning transportation facilities that fit into their physical and human environment while preserving the aesthetic, historic, and natural environmental values of the community. In addition to meeting safety and mobility goals, context-sensitive design enables transportation projects to create an overall sense of community for an area.
  • Community impact assessment, which stresses proactive and inclusive problem-solving and collaborative, community-based decision-making that reflects community values. FHWA works with states and metropolitan areas to incorporate community impact assessment into the transportation planning process. Through this process, the effects of a transportation project on communities and their quality of life are evaluated.
  • Consideration of the secondary and cumulative impacts of transportation projects on the environment. During the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process, FHWA works with state and local governments to carefully look beyond the immediate project "footprint" to consider developmental and other impacts also occurring in the project area.
  • Training opportunities that are offered by FHWA and the Federal Transit Administration through the auspices of the National Highway Institute (NHI) and the National Transit Institute (NTI) pertaining to the relationship between land use and transportation. There are several NHI courses covering the travel demand forecasting process and transportation impacts of various land use scenarios. NTI offers a policy-oriented course on coordinating transportation and land use. The NTI course is currently being updated.
  • Transportation is incontrovertibly linked to smart growth and livability. While there is still no clear consensus on the best way to effectively manage growth, the many growth-related and transportation-related referendums in the 2000 election illustrate the willingness of citizens and governments to experiment with strategies and policies for shaping growth in their states, counties, and communities. And the vitality of many communities continues to be determined by their responses to land-use and transportation issues.

Stephanie Roth is a community planner in the Federal Highway Administration's Office of Metropolitan Planning and Programs. She focuses on the relationship between transportation and land use and on public involvement in the transportation planning process, as well as on transportation policy development. Prior to joining FHWA, Stephanie was a transportation planner with the North Central Texas Council of Governments (the metropolitan planning organization for Dallas-Fort Worth) and the Texas Department of Transportation. She is treasurer of the Washington, D.C., chapter of the Women's Transportation Seminar and a member of the American Planning Association, the Institute of Transportation Engineers, and the American Institute of Certified Planners. Roth holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Pittsburgh and a master's degree in community and regional planning from the University of Texas at Austin.

Ashby Johnson is the manager for transportation and land use in FHWA's Office of Metropolitan Planning and Programs. He works on a number of issues, including the Metropolitan Capacity-Building Program, the transportation planning process, and planning research. Johnson has been with FHWA for six years. Prior to working with FHWA, he was a transportation planner with the Texas Department of Transportation for four years, working on legislative, planning, freight, roadway design, and historic preservation issues. He holds a bachelor's degree in government and a master's degree in community and regional planning from the University of Texas at Austin, and he is a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners.

For additional information, contact Ashby Johnson at (202) 366-8796 or Stephanie Roth at (202) 366-9238.

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