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Smart Growth and Transportation


Transportation and land use patterns are inextricably linked. Transportation facilities and networks have the power to shape development, influence property values, and determine a neighborhood's character and quality of life. In addition, transportation investments have important consequences for the environment, including air and water quality, climate change, and open space preservation. On the other side of the coin, how communities develop affects how convenient and appealing public transportation, bicycling, and walking are for their residents.

Integrated transportation and land use planning gives people more choices for getting around their town and their region. When homes, offices, stores, and civic buildings are near transit stations and close to each other, it's convenient to walk, bicycle, or take transit. This expanded transportation choice makes it easier to incorporate physical activity into daily routines, reduces transportation costs, and gives more freedom and mobility to low-income individuals, senior citizens, disabled persons, and others who cannot or choose not to drive or own a car.

Providing a range of transportation choices and the walkable neighborhoods that support them can also help improve air quality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. According to EPA's Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2009 (April 2011), roughly 17 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions comes from passenger vehicles. Developing compactly and investing in public transit and other transportation options make it easier for people to drive less, lowering greenhouse gas emissions (click here for more on how smart growth strategies affect climate change). These approaches can also help reduce carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, and other pollutants emitted by motor vehicles.

Four transportation and land use strategies that enhance quality of life and protect human health and the environment are:

Note: This web page deals exclusively with the intersection of transportation and smart growth. More comprehensive transportation information is available from EPA's Office of Transportation and Air Quality.

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Smart and Sustainable Street Design

For decades, decisions about street size and design in many communities have focused on getting as many cars as possible through the streets as quickly as possible and have overlooked the important role streets play in shaping neighborhoods. Street design determines whether an area will be safe and inviting for pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit users, which in turn affects the viability of certain types of retail, influences land values and tax receipts, and shapes overall economic strength and resiliency. It affects how quickly emergency response vehicles will be able to reach a fire, police, or medical emergency. Street design also has important environmental impacts. It can determine the viability of less-polluting modes of transportation, affecting air quality and climate change. Additionally, street design influences the volume of stormwater runoff, the water quality of that runoff, and the magnitude of the urban heat island effect.

Through approaches such as Complete Streets Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer and Context Sensitive Solutions,Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer communities can create attractive streets that also improve mobility and safety.

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Transit-Oriented Development

The United States is in the midst of a demographic shift that will have major effects on the nation's housing market and development patterns. A 2007 report from Reconnecting America Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimershows that the fastest-growing demographic groups — older, single-person households, and non-white households — prefer homes within walking distance of transportation alternatives, shopping, restaurants, parks, and cultural amenities. Market surveys and research have consistently shown that at least one-third of homebuyers prefer homes in smart growth neighborhoods, and this share is growing.

Transit-oriented development (TOD) responds to this preference by creating walkable communities for people of all ages and incomes and providing more transportation and housing choices. TOD is compact development built around a transit station or within easy walking distance (typically a half-mile) of a station and containing a mix of land uses such as housing, offices, shops, restaurants, and entertainment.

TOD can help lower household transportation costs, boost public transit ridership, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution, spur economic development, and make housing more affordable by reducing developer expenditures on parking and allowing higher-density zoning.

For more information on financing, read EPA's publication, Infrastructure Financing Options for Transit-Oriented Development.

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Parking Management

The parking requirements found in many conventional zoning codes often call for off-street parking based on generic standards, not on individual sites' needs and context, and require too much parking to be provided on the development site. With their high costs and space requirements, these parking regulations can deter compact, mixed-use development and redevelopment in older neighborhoods. Furthermore, large expanses of surface parking and stand-alone parking structures can discourage walking and make driving the only viable transportation between destinations.

Better-managed parking can support lively, economically strong, mixed-use districts; encourage walking and transit use; and reduce the costs of redevelopment and infill projects. For more details, click here to see EPA's publication on smart growth parking strategies.

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Sustainable Transportation Planning

Transportation planning and design choices have a direct influence on development patterns, travel mode choices, infrastructure costs, redevelopment potential, the health of natural resources, and other community concerns. Transportation planning will get the best results for communities when it is part of a comprehensive approach that includes land use and environmental planning at the local and regional levels. This integrated approach requires transportation and land use planners to examine the effects of transportation projects on future growth, development, and long-range economic goals; assess each project's effects on air and water quality and other environmental resources; and determine whether transportation and other infrastructure can be built on a timetable consistent with development or redevelopment projects. Tools such as regional transportation models, land use scenario models, local-scale transportation planning tools, and performance measurement can help planners effectively link transportation investments with preferred development patterns.

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EPA Resources

General Resources

Essential Smart Growth Fixes for Urban and Suburban Zoning Codes (2009) offers 11 "essential fixes" to help local governments amend their codes and ordinances to promote more sustainable communities. It includes chapters on street design, making communities more walkable, and parking policies that support lively, mixed-use neighborhoods.

Reports from EPA Smart Growth Implementation Assistance and Smart Growth Implementation Assistance for Coastal Communities
See the reports from:

Smart and Sustainable Street Design

Restructuring the Commercial Strip: A Practical Guide for Planning the Revitalization of Deteriorating Strip Corridors (2010) provides guidance on coordination of public and private investments and essential planning and design strategies to create a multimodal transportation system and thriving neighborhoods.

Parking Management

Parking Spaces / Community Places: Finding the Balance Through Smart Growth Solutions (2006) highlights proven approaches that balance parking with broader community goals. Communities have found that combinations of parking pricing, shared parking, demand management, and other techniques have helped them create vibrant places while protecting environmental quality.

Sustainable Transportation Planning

Guide to Sustainable Transportation Performance Measures (2011) can help transportation agencies incorporate environmental, economic, and social sustainability into decision-making through the use of performance measures.

Mixed-Use Trip Generation Model (2011) is a spreadsheet tool that makes it easy to estimate trips generated by a new mixed-use development to more fairly assess these projects in development review processes.

Measuring the Air Quality and Transportation Impacts of Infill Development (2007) illustrates how regions can calculate the transportation and air quality benefits of infill, based on standard transportation forecasting models used by metropolitan planning organizations across the country. The results suggest that strong support for infill development can be one of the most effective transportation and emission reduction investments regions can pursue.

Solving Environmental Problems Through Collaboration: A Case Study of Atlantic Steel Redevelopment (PDF) (2 pp, 194K, About PDF) (2006) is a fact sheet describing the redevelopment of the Atlantic Steel property into the Atlantic Station neighborhood, including how its smart growth innovations helped reduce its air quality impacts.

Comparing Methodologies to Assess Transportation and Air Quality Impacts of Brownfields and Infill Development (PDF) (49 pp, 1.4MB, About PDF) (2001) compares methodologies to evaluate the benefits of infill development when preparing State Implementation Plans and transportation conformity determinations.

EPA Guidance: Improving Air Quality Through Land Use Activities (PDF) (110 pp, 1.8MB, About PDF) (2001) helps air quality and transportation planners account for the air quality impacts of land use policies and projects.

The Transportation and Environmental Impacts of Infill Versus Greenfield Development: A Comparative Case Study Analysis (PDF) (35 pp, 267K, About PDF) (1999) models the transportation and environmental impacts of locating the same development on two sites — one infill and one suburban edge/greenfield — and compares the results. This analysis was conducted in three regions: San Diego, California; Montgomery County, Maryland; and West Palm Beach, Florida.

Transit-Oriented Development

Infrastructure Financing Options for Transit-Oriented Development
2012. Provides local governments with a comprehensive overview of existing tools and implementation strategies for transit-oriented development, and explores emerging, innovative models for financing.


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Other Resources

General Resources

Policies that Work: A Governors' Guide to Growth and Development (2009), Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer developed by the Governors' Institute on Community Design through an EPA grant, provides state policymakers with samples of policies, administrative actions, and spending decisions that have helped other states grow smarter. The transportation section recommends approaches to creating a more balanced transportation system that allows for better mobility and more choices.

The SmartCode,Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer developed by Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company, is a model form-based development code, centered around the concept of the rural-to-urban transect and available for all scales of planning, from the region to the community to the block and building.

Smart and Sustainable Street Design

Designing Walkable Urban Thoroughfares: A Context Sensitive Approach, Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer a 2010 update of the Institute of Transportation Engineers' 2006 Context Sensitive Solutions in Designing Major Urban Thoroughfares for Walkable Communities, provides guidance on applying CSS principles in communities that support compact development, mixed land uses, walking, and bicycling. It was developed by ITE and the Congress for the New Urbanism with support from EPA.

Emergency Response and Traditional Neighborhood Street Design, Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer from the Local Government Commission, highlights case studies that show how three cities have handled smart growth street designs and emergency response concerns.

Emergency Response and Narrow Streets, Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer from the Local Government Commission, provide fact sheets describing strategies for traffic calming and emergency response street design.

Pedestrian- and Transit-Friendly Design: A Primer for Smart Growth (PDF) (26 pp, 2.8 MB, About PDF) (1999), by Reid Ewing for the International City/County Management Association and Smart Growth Network, suggests design elements that make walking and transit use easier and more comfortable.

The National Complete Streets Coalition Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer offers resources to help communities transform the way they plan, design, and construct roads so they are safe and convenient for all users.

Transportation Research Board Access Management Committee Resources Page Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer provides links to TRB-produced and other resources on access management, which is the systematic control of the location, spacing, design, and operation of driveways, median openings, interchanges, and street connections.

Ten Principles of Access Management Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer is a presentation created by TRB to introduce the concept of access management and provide graphic illustrations of its ten principles.

Neighborhood Street Design Guidelines: An Oregon Guide for Reducing Street Widths (2000, Neighborhood Streets Project Stakeholders) Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer recommends a process for the development of street standards, provides information to assist communities as they select appropriate standards, and includes model designs.

Model Regulations and Plan Amendments For Multimodal Transportation Districts (2004) Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer by Kristine Williams and Karen Seggerman for the Florida Department of Transportation, provides model comprehensive plan amendments and land development regulations to assist local governments in implementing multimodal transportation districts that support walking, bicycling, and transit use.

Transit-Oriented Development

Federal Transit Administration Transit-Oriented Development Publications Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer lists resources that provide a comprehensive definition of transit-oriented development and describe ways communities have incorporated TOD into their transportation and land use plans.

Mixed-Income Transit-Oriented Development Action Guide, Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer developed by the Center for Transit Oriented Development, Federal Transit Administration, and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, is an online tool is designed to help local governments identify the most appropriate and effective planning tools for achieving mixed–income, transit-oriented development.

Center for Transit-Oriented Development Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to providing best practices, research, and tools to support market-based, transit-oriented development.

Effects of TOD on Housing, Parking, and Travel (2008, Report 128), Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer from the Transit Cooperative Research Project provides original data on TOD residential trip generation and parking, as well as the mode choices of TOD residents and employees. It also identifies best practices to promote, maintain, and improve TOD-related transit ridership.

Parking Management

Online Transportation Demand Management Encyclopedia - Parking Management Chapter Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer from the Victoria Transportation Policy Institute describes various management strategies that result in more efficient use of parking resources, including sharing, regulating and pricing of parking facilities, more accurate requirements, use of off-site parking facilities, improved user information, and incentives to use alternative modes.

The High Cost of Free Parking (2005), by Donald Shoup,is a detailed analysis of the transportation and land use impacts of free parking.

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission's Developing Parking Policies to Support Smart Growth in Local Jurisdictions: Best Practices (PDF) (66 pp, 484K) (2007), Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer identifies techniques, strategies, programs, and tools that can help local jurisdictions better manage parking resources and facilitate transit-oriented development.

The Maryland Governor's Office of Smart Growth's Driving Urban Environments: Smart Growth Parking Best Practices (2006), Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer presents an overview of parking strategies that meet the challenges faced by projects in the context of smart growth, including parking management, parking design, and parking financing.

Sustainable Transportation Planning

The PennDOT NJDOT Smart Transportation Guidebook Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer integrates the planning and design of transportation systems in a manner that fosters development of sustainable communities.

The Sacramento Region Blueprint Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer Transportation and Land Use Plan is a vision for growth that promotes compact, mixed-use development and more transit choices as an alternative to dispersed development. This site describes the plan and details how it was created, including how the I-PLACE3S scenario planning software was used to model land use and travel impacts.

Envision Utah Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer was a broad-based public effort bringing together residents, elected officials, developers, conservationists, and business leaders to make informed decisions about how the state should grow.

PlaNYC 2030 Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer is organized into six key areas (Land, Water, Transportation, Energy, Air, and Climate Change) and sets ten goals, ideally achievable by 2030, that allow for the growth and sustainability of New York City's industry, population, environment, and infrastructure.

Transportation 2040 Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer is an action plan for transportation in the central Puget Sound region for the next 30 years. It identifies investments to support expected growth and improve transportation service, lays out a financing plan that increases reliance on users paying for transportation improvements, and proposes a strategy for reducing transportation's contribution to climate change and its impact on important regional concerns such as air pollution and the health of Puget Sound.

Blueprint Denver Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer was adopted in 2002 as a supplement to the Denver Comprehensive Plan 2000. It identifies areas of change and areas of stability and plans for multimodal streets and mixed-use development.

LUTRAQ: Making the Land Use, Transportation and Air Quality Connection Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer used principles of transit-oriented development to accommodate Washington County, Oregon's projected population growth of 160,000 in mixed-use neighborhoods served by planned light rail and bus network extensions.

Delaware Department of Transportation Workbook for Innovative Corridor Capacity Preservation Pilot Program (PDF) (75 pp, 6.9 MB, About PDF) discusses strategies to delay system expansion, focus development, and preserve quality of life.

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