On July 22, the Urban Land Institute (ULI) released recommendations for transportation reform entitled “Transportation for a New Era: Growing More Sustainable Communities,” calling for the federal government to overhaul the planning and funding of our national transportation system. The recommendations propose the establishment of a new vision for federal transportation policy, recognizing the opportunity of the upcoming reauthorization to update current policies to the needs of the 21st century and increase investment to repair our crumbling infrastructure.
Two of the broad goals ULI recommends are recognizing the role of land use in linking infrastructure, housing, and sustainability and encouraging more compact development. The report indentifies land use as the intersection of infrastructure, housing, and sustainability and promotes it as a medium in which the federal government can address concerns for all three issues. In light of this, ULI promotes compact development to simultaneously minimize travel time to jobs, shopping and services and environmental impacts.
While NTPP does not endorse land use as a national transportation goal, efficient land use can help achieve both economic and environmental goals. By moving from a sprawling, highway-based system to a more compact, transit-based system, a city may reduce the distance to jobs and other activities, reducing the economic cost of time spent traveling. This could also reduce the vehicle miles traveled in the city and therefore reduce carbon emissions and fuel consumption. It may even promote safety by reducing highway congestion and the resulting collisions. Likewise, building affordable housing closer to public transit could have the same effects.
However, these decisions must be left to communities, not instituted in federal transportation policy. An efficient national transportation system should, in the end, promote economic competitiveness, environmental protection and safety. Land use is not a measure of success in and of itself, but rather a means to achieving these ends. Furthermore, it is not the only method for reaching national transportation goals. Developing carbon fuel standards and efficient vehicles will also reduce emissions; innovations in technology could promote safety. The use of congestion pricing or in-car information technology systems may improve economic competitiveness. All of these are viable options in developing efficient transportation programs, and the federal government should not mandate which option be given preference. Rather, a competitive system which evaluates programs on more high-level, outcome-oriented criteria will best achieve national goals.
Land use is an essential consideration in infrastructure development, and the research done in this area is vital to successful community development. However, every city and region has its own unique challenges. Federal transportation policy must allow enough flexibility for local authorities to develop their own approach to meeting regional and national goals.