By Ethan Kent
Progressive transportation planning is in the midst of a boom, but is it on the right track to create the shift that the movement is looking for and does it have a vision of what that is? How can we capture this momentum to create a true structural shift in how we do transportation planning?
Advocates are finally getting attention for issues like the impact and efficiency of the various modes of transport, the fair allocation of road space and spending, and the opportunities to create more seamless transportation systems and choices. These advances all need to happen, but advocated for and implemented alone may actually end up perpetuating the existing paradigm. Moving the discussion beyond the technical mobility solutions, and modal shifts, may actually be the best way to make these solutions feasible.
“Transportation planning has not only forgotten to create and support the places they are meant to bring people to, but has often degraded these very destinations they are meant to connect.”
The goal of transportation planning would seem to be (and used to be) to facilitate getting people to places – connecting people with destinations. Unfortunately most transportation planning has not only forgotten to create and support the places they are meant to bring people to, but have degraded these very destinations they are meant to connect. The people in charge of creating destinations have likewise planned in isolation, for isolation. Everyone is blaming the need for greater mobility.
In the misdirected effort to make people as mobile as possible, many of our transportation networks are accomplishing a great deal less with a great deal more costs. The results of this narrow focus on mobility to the exclusion of accessibility and Placemaking include more congestion, reduced human contact, isolated land uses, car-oriented design of buildings, short-sighted development, more dangerous roads, decreased walkability, longer travel distances, and more stress, – and these are all the things that progressive transportation planners have supposedly been trained to address positively.
“What kind of cities, communities and streets do we actually want to have?”
The focus on mobility, throughput, and even traffic as growth indicator, has taken the political and community conversation a long ways from talking about what kind of cities, communities and streets we actually want to have. This mentality has effectively turned all civic engagement along these lines where many community activists are now the fiercest defenders of mobility. Even “alternative modes” advocacy (transit, bicycles, pedestrians) focuses are still often focused on mobility and on pushing solutions within this paradigm. Only in small nibbles are advocacy efforts starting to frame their approach around accessibility or Placemaking.
“Transportation planning can shift from being the primary engine of community degradation, to the driving force of community development.”
Shifting the debate to creating great cities, great streets and great destinations, will more effectively create a political climate, and public realm, that is compatible with alternate modes while also reducing the need for travel and creating places where people actually want to be. If it is allowed to, transportation planning can shift from being the primary engine of community degradation, to the driving force of community development.
“If the point of transportation planning is to get people places they want to be, then most transportation planning should really start with placemaking.”
If the point of transportation planning is to get people places they want to be, then all transportation planning should really start with placemaking. And if our planning efforts actually focused on creating places, we could actually meet the goals of getting people places, and getting things done, much faster. Great places are in fact defined by the ability to accomplish many things at once, often accomplishing many spontaneous, “unplanned” goals in the process. Even residential land-use and density can best be shifted from a suburban model through a broader focus on place rather than forced density, and mode shifts.
“If you don’t have a parking or congestion problem then you are not a good place.”
Congestion relief efforts have likewise focused on a single problem in isolation. Congestion effectively prevents people from getting places, but the real problem is that current mobility focused transportation planning causes traffic because it is creating fewer places to go and is degrading reasons to be in any one place. The clogging effectively occurs because it is increasingly hard to get to places we want to be. In this regard, the way to address congestion or parking “problems” is actually to create destinations that are even more attractive for people to come to. People will walk from further out, park further away and, combine trips and take less convenient transit, all further making a good place and strong local economy possible. Certainly, if you don’t have a parking or congestion problem than you are not a good place.
“We have been moving people and goods around more and more and accomplishing less and less.”
Imagine for instance the efficiency of what gets accomplished in some of the best public markets or civic squares in the world where individual mobility is at its lowest and parking demand and congestion are at highest. By focusing narrowly on mobility for mobility’s sake we have been moving people and goods around more and more and accomplishing less and less. The downtown main street also is an example of an efficient transportation system. Main streets have struggled because the transportation systems have shifted to mobility-centric view and the development models that appeal to that have been able to out compete main streets.
The best way to create the true paradigm shift away from our oil dependence therefore is to create places that people want to be, places that support vital local economies, healthy, safe, active lifestyles and strong communities.
“Through re-envisioning our cities, transportation systems and economies around destinations we will make feasible the more sustainable transportation modes of mass transit, walking and bicycling.”
Current growth strategies have been based on increasing movement of people and goods. The future of transportation planning needs to start with creating comfortable settings for all kinds of exchange between people. It is through re-envisioning our cities, transportation systems and economies around these transportation destinations that we will be able to truly make our world compatible with strong communities, economies and natural ecosystems as well as make feasible the more sustainable transportation modes of mass transit, walking and bicycling.
At PPS, we are reframing transportation projects and local and national campaigns for change on all scales around Placemaking. Looking at Streets as Places as a focus is creating an “Upside Down” planning process that leverages the potential outcomes of transportation projects while insuring broad buy-in and support. From the NYC Streets Renaissance Campaign, to our Building Communities through Transportation program campaign for reinventing transportation around Placemaking and community outcomes, we are forging new prospects for success in progressive transportation planning.