Sunday, June 2, 2013

Op-ed: Land Use and Transportation planning should be integrated

What has shaped our built environment? Is it the land use planning or is it the transportation planning? I argue that both of them are critical to our built environment yet in most cases the planning and decision making processes are usually separate and there are times the two groups don’t even talk to each other to put plans together.

A Utah Transit Authority Front Runner Train leaves the South Jordan  Station on its way to Downtown Salt Lake City and Ogden. The area around the station is not designed to be pedestrian or transit friendly in anyway shape or form. 
In March, my neighborhood had its meeting and one of the speakers during the meeting was from the Portland Department of Transportation who was talking about the Barbur Transportation and the Barbur Concept plans that are in the process of being studied and approved. However, the most interesting statement he made, or actually should I say the most disturbing statement that this person made during the meeting was that the transportation planners and the land use planners don’ t often talk. Seriously?

A perfect example is the Barbur Blvd corridor that I just mentioned. Right now Metro is studying the transportation future of the corridor whether that will include a light rail line, Bus Rapid Transit or just small improvements for existing bus service. Meanwhile the city of Portland Department of Transportation is studying the transportation situation that currently exist in the corridor and improvements that can be made to existing infrastructure, taking into account the proposal that Metro will be forward. Finally the City of Portland Department of Planning and Sustainability is looking at Land Use for the future that is also supposed to take into consideration the plans of the other two agencies. However, if the Planning and the Transportation departments do not communicate that much, how are they supposed to develop a cohesive plan?

To further demonstrate this issue Jarrett Walker of the Human Transit Blog had a blog posting using the popular book “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” to talk about the relationship between transportation planners and land use planners. He points out that many times planning departments and transportation departments often do not have the same goals or even communicate their plans to each other very well. This should not be true considering that land use planning and transportation have been intertwined since the beginning of time.

Portland is often touted because it is the only region with a voter elected regional planning bureau, but does it really do the job? Sure METRO does have control over the urban growth boundary and long range planning, but it has no control over the planning efforts of the cities in regards to zoning and city transportation plans which means the planning can be all for naught.

In other parts of the country it is no better and in many cases much worse. In Los Angeles County you have METRO which is responsible for all transportation planning, funding, operations, construction and so on. Meanwhile it has nothing to do with land use planning with all long range land use planning and zoning done by the individual cities. Despite having a light rail system that carries enough ridership to make many heavy rail metro systems jealous (last numbers I saw for the Blue Line was almost 90,000 a day), it has no control over the land use near and around its stations. Some cities have done well (such as my hometown of Pasadena) but many areas have not designed the land use to work with the growing transit system.

Meanwhile in Utah along the Wasatch Front there is the Wasatch Front Regional Council which has representatives from the cities it covers and does long range transportation and land use planning, but the cities still make decisions on how their cities will be developed and zoned and the Utah Transit Authority, although it does work through the WFRC, ultimately makes the decisions on transit planning for the region.
Instead transportation including transit planning and land use planning should be integrated and done as a package, not two trains who shall never meet.  Many, such as Peter Calthorpe in his book “Urbanism in the World of Climate Change”, say the best way to create this type of unity would be regional planning boards that would have responsibility over all functions of planning and zoning. While I would love to see that happen, even here in Portland METRO is still controversial and we have seen many cases in just the last few months where different cities and counties can’t seem to get along.

However, what we can do is start right here in Portland and start integrating transportation and land use planning so that they work together and not as separate agencies who do not communicate with each other very often.

All you have to do is take a look at any place in America, or the world for that matter, and you will see that Land Use Policy and Transportation Policy worked together to create that environment. Yet the planners that are responsible for each of those two important facets of our built environment don’t often work together even if they are in the same organization. The time has come to realize that those two functions are inseparable and need to be done together to design the best communities possible.

Calthorpe, P. (2010). Urbanism in the age of climate change. Washington, DC: Island Press.
Kelly, E. D. (1994). The Transportation Land-Use Link. Journal of Planning Literature, 9(2), 128-145.
Waddell, P., Ulfarsson, G., Franklin, J., & Lobb, J. (2007). Incorporating Land Use In Metropolitan Transportation Planning. Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, 41(5), 382-410.
Walker, J. (2011, September 12). Human Transit: urban designers are from mars, transit planners are from venus. Human Transit. Retrieved June 3, 2013, from

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