12 March 2009

Obama Changing Transport Priorities

Congressional Quarterly, March 6, 2009 (subscription required)
Livable Communities' Central to Admin's Transport Goals
When Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood submits the administration's proposal to Congress for the next surface transportation authorization bill, it will focus heavily on the idea of "livable communities."

His plan would link land use and housing development with transportation projects and require him to coordinate with other federal agencies, such as Housing and Urban Development and Health and Human Services, in a way that's never been done at the federal level.

"The era of one-size-fits-all transportation projects must give way to one where preserving and enhancing unique community characteristics, be they rural or urban, is a primary goal rather than an afterthought," LaHood said at his Senate confirmation hearing.

In recent years, local and state governments have already been coordinating transportation with other development. But federal coordination would be a new development.

For the past half-century, say many observers, the federal government has ignored mobility within communities to build the Interstate Highway System to promote movement around the country. In many cases, they say, the approach has contributed to poorly planned suburban sprawl.

"It should not be that radical an idea to link up land use with the infrastructure policies that go along with it," Robert Puentes, a Brookings Institution expert, said. "The problem is institutional inertia and the previous lack of federal leadership to encourage this kind of integrated thinking."

LaHood has already met with HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan to discuss how affordable housing can be built near public transportation, neighborhood street blocks can be shortened to promote walking and bus routes can be expanded to reach more areas.

Joel Szabap, the Transportation Department's deputy assistant secretary for policy, said both Cabinet secretaries are on board.

"In a perfect world, you build where people live and want to live," Szabap said. "You will see an administration proposal focused around livable communities."

For most Americans, daily car trips are only a couple of miles long. The theory is that many people drive largely because viable alternatives such as public transportation or safe sidewalks for walking or biking do not exist.

"When you are ready to give up your keys, you need to have other options," said James Corless, campaign director of Transportation for America. "Those departments should break down silos. . . . This is not about Congress telling communities they need to become more livable, it's about them providing the resources." Strong Congressional Support

Key lawmakers who will help draft the surface transportation authorization and spending bills this year already have signaled their support for this integrated approach to transportation.

John W. Olver, D-Mass., chairman of the House Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee, said his panel intends to open the dialog between the housing and transportation departments.
"By coordinating housing and transportation policy to encourage smart land use, we can generate economic growth and create vibrant communities where people can live and work with a smaller carbon footprint," Dodd said in a February speech. "The lack of national leadership I've described at the federal level for much of the last several decades is,in many ways, only matched by our lack of creativity."
"The challenge has been just as all of the states started moving toward major smart-growth programs, the national government was simply not involved, and in many cases they were hostile to it, favoring major road construction over transit or walkability projects," Glendening said. "It is very clear to all of us that the Obama administration clearly gets it on smart growth."

Even with the administration and lawmakers' support, pushback will come from road builder groups that have enjoyed decades of being at the forefront of the transportation debate...

1 comment:

Radarman said...

The LaHood speech was shockingly enlightened. Who would have thought?