By Gary Toth, Senior Director, Transportation Initiatives
A key issue for sustainable development is the relationship between transportation and land use: some of the most egregious land use issues, both in America and in the world at large, stem from the misguided investment in transportation systems that prioritize high speed mobility. What inevitably follows is spread out development dependent on the automobile for access to critical needs. This places all other modes of travel at a disadvantage. The highly mobile transportation system (or “supply”) has affected land use patterns, particularly how people choose to locate their homes and businesses. Conversely, spread out land use patterns further increase the demand for transportation because of greater travel distances, and this has become the eternal cycle that we now find ourselves in, one that is unsustainable in the long-run.
The transportation investment policies and programs of the 21st Century must be based on a more balanced approach. They must steer away from mobility for mobility’s sake and be founded on the principle that the ultimate role of transportation is to connect people with the goods, activities and people that they need to make exchanges with.
This means that transportation investment policies and programs must be coupled with land use policies and programs if we are to be successful. In core urban areas, streets need to be viewed as places of exchange – both social and economic – and traffic speeds need to be tuned to facilitate that exchange, not high speed mobility. Non-motorized transportation is the lifeblood of our urban cores, and the erosion of those cores by the focus on high speed mobility must be reversed.
When considering integrated land use and transport planning, Placemaking promotes a simple principle: if you plan cities for cars and traffic, you get cars and traffic. If you plan for people and places, you get people and places. The power of this simple idea is that it reflects basic truths that are rarely acknowledged. One such truth is that more traffic and road capacity are not the inevitable results of growth. They are in fact the products of very deliberate choices that have been made to shape our communities around the private automobile. We have the ability to make different choices–starting with the decision to design our streets as comfortable places for people.
Streets can become destinations worth visiting, not just thruways to and from the workplace. Transit stops and stations can make commuting by rail or bus a pleasure.
Neighborhood streets can be places where parents feel safe letting their children play, and commercial strips can be designed as grand boulevards, safe for walking and cycling and allowing for both through and local traffic. Streets that are planned for people, meaning they are not completely auto-centric, add to the social cohesion of communities by ensuring human interaction, and providing safe public space that promotes cultural expression. A well designed network of streets, which are place-based in their scope and design, has the ability to promote active transportation. As a result, they encourage improved public health while shifting transportation towards sustainability, mitigating the impacts of climate change in the process.
Transportation—the process of going to a place—can be wonderful if we rethink the idea of transportation itself. We must remember that transportation is the journey, but enhancing the community is always the goal.