Over the past 34 years, PPS has often discovered that what would most benefit the communities in which we work is the opposite of what transportation professionals propose. Fortunately, that recurring paradigm is becoming a challenge of the past. Progressive transportation planning is in the midst of a boom, and we are pleased to highlight initiatives helping communities rethink how to connect people with the goods, services and destinations they need and desire. In this newsletter we focus on several new endeavors in the US, followed by an upcoming issue that looks at innovative transportation planning practices abroad.

Cities across the US are beginning to experiment with design innovations that safely and comfortably accommodate various modes of travel. This curbside bicycle lane on 9th Avenue in New York City is modeled after similar facilities in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Transportation agencies are finally paying attention to issues that have long been the focus of advocacy organizations: the importance of diverse modes of transport, the fair allocation of road space and public spending, and the opportunity to create more context sensitive transportation facilities. PPS’s own Building Community through Transportation campaign has sought to do just that, in addition to reinventing Streets as Places and promoting Thinking Beyond the Station. These advances are critical to creating an accessible and sustainable transportation system, and we are encouraged by the growing excitement surrounding these issues.

“The real point of transportation planning is to get people to places they want to go, therefore all transportation planning should start with Placemaking.”

The real point of transportation planning is to get people to places they want to go, and therefore all transportation planning should start with Placemaking. Great places are defined by their ability to let us do many things at once, often accomplishing many spontaneous, “unplanned” goals in the process. Imagine for instance all that can be accomplished in some of the best public markets or civic squares in the world, even when mobility is low by North American standards. The American Main Street is also a classic example of an efficient place, even though, in many cities, it has been undermined by street designs that diminish downtown activity and land use practices that encourage rather than discourage sprawl.

America's historic Main Streets are high quality destinations that allow visitors to accomplish many activities in one location.

Rather than focusing simply on mobility, throughput and traffic, the transportation conversation in the US is beginning to discuss what kind of cities, communities and streets we want to have. And rather than pitting advocates for various “alternative modes” (transit, bicycles, pedestrians) against one another, a broadly focused transportation movement is now bringing these groups together—in conjunction with unlikely partners like AARP and public health agencies—to create the types of neighborhoods that benefit everyone.

This is a central goal of the new US Department of Transportation (USDOT), US Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD), US Environmental Protection Agency, and (EPA) Partnership for Sustainable Communities. This emerging program will work towards ensuring that housing and transportation goals are met while simultaneously protecting the environment, promoting equitable development, and helping to address the challenges of climate change.

Transportation planning provides a unique opportunity to create—both directly and indirectly— spaces that encourage all kinds of exchanges between people. As shown by the success of the New York City and San Francisco Plaza Programs (which grew out of local Placemaking projects) people now understand how transportation projects can transform streets into community destinations. Furthermore, transportation projects are now seen as catalysts for creating great places—well designed streets and transit facilities encourage economic activity, non-vehicular travel and human-scale development. These are important goals of the new street design guidelines being developed throughout the U.S. and the world.

A newly created public plaza in NYC's Herald Square teems with activity

In this newsletter we highlight the progress that is being made in San Francisco and Savannah, where citizens are re-envisioning their city around both great streets and lively public gathering places.