In the second half of the 20th century, the single purpose of traffic planning and engineering was to facilitate the movement of cars.
Everywhere, roads were widened, straightened and extended, with little concern for how these projects would affect people or Places.
As early as 1954, Jane Jacobs pointed out a phenomenon that has affected every urban, suburban and rural community in the U.S.:
The erosion of cities by automobiles proceeds as a kind of nibbling. Small nibbles at first but eventually hefty bites. A street is widened here, another is straightened there, a wide avenue is converted to one way flow and more land goes into parking. No one step in this process is in itself crucial but cumulatively the effect is enormous.
A growing number of community leaders and transportation agencies are realizing that this focus on mobility has negatively affected our health and quality of life.
Just as importantly, we have dedicated our communities’ largest public space – our streets – to one purpose – moving vehicles – instead of nurturing them as the community-enhancing places that they can be.
And besides, evidence shows that road widenings and extensions don’t make a dent in the number of hours we waste sitting in traffic every year.
Instead of “solving” congestion, more highways actually encourage the construction of new low-density, single-use development at the urban edge. In these new communities, destinations are farther apart, requiring us to drive longer distances and more often than in traditional more compact, mixed communities. This “generated traffic” quickly fills up the highways again.
Today, many transportation agencies at every level (federal, state, county and municipal) are looking to other ways of dealing with congestion. Instead of focusing on how fast cars can move through a particular place (mobility), DOTs are thinking about how easy it is to reach destinations (access) – by car, as well as by transit, bike or foot.
In addition, DOTs are beginning to think about streets and roads as Places – places that people live in, work in or go visit – not just places that cars drive through.
PPS has helped to further these institutional changes at transportation agencies:
- NHDOT hired PPS to guide the writing of New Hampshire’s new Transportation Business Plan, a truly comprehensive, statewide transportation plan that emphasizes “wellness” and system maintenance.
- In 2005, the FHWA asked PPS to conduct an all-day workshop about the relationship between transportation infrastructure and community quality of life.
- In 2003, The Federal Highway Administration commissioned PPS to create www.ContextSensitiveSolutions.org, an extensive online resource center for transportation officials across the country.
- With funding from NJDOT, New Jersey Office of Smart Growth, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and NJ TRANSIT, PPS and the Municipal Land Use Center at the College of New Jersey are training and educating local mayors, planning boards members, and other interested parties in Integrated Land Use and Transportation Planning.
Instead of building wide and straight limited access roads and grade-separated intersections, which work only for cars, DOTs are now looking to create grids of connected streets that reflect their context and serve all users/uses.
In addition, we’ve been hired by municipalities and transportation agencies to work on particular streets and roads, and help turn them into lively public spaces:
- In Tuscon, Arizona, we are helping to revitalize downtown by creating a network of walkable streets and alleys that connect major public destinations.
- We’re helping New Jersey towns solve transportation problems by kicking the habit of sprawl-inducing land use.
- In New Hampshire’s North Country, PPS is helping to preserve small towns’ sense of place by calming traffic and reviving public spaces that have been overwhelmed by car-centric development.
- PPS is helping California’s San Mateo County relieve gridlock and increase transit ridership by transforming auto-dominated downtown streets into pedestrian-friendly public spaces.