Thursday, September 15, 2011

The fantasy land of transportation planning

The N.C. Department of Transportation is seeking people's opinions to help guide them in putting together a 2040 plan. They've launched an online survey, which you can weigh in on at this link.

I encourage you to take the survey, but if you do, you'll notice most of the questions require only one answer where several answers are needed. Example: For the question: "Which of the following is the most important to address the transportation needs of our changing population?" your choices are:
  •    Invest additional resources in public transportation (rail and buses).
  •    Expand roadways in North Carolina’s major cities.
  •    Encourage development with higher numbers of people per acre.
  •    Better coordinate transportation and land development.
  •    Other (please specify)
 You can choose only one. Which seems, to me, a bogus choice. Transportation and land use have to be coordinated or they are all but worthless. Additional resources must be invested in public transportation. And we all need to encourage development where more people live closer together the only way to make public transportation work. No one of those is more important than another.

Land use planning and transportation planning are as linked as conjoined twins. The state likes to say it doesn't do land use planning but that's a fig leaf of an excuse that doesn't hide the truth: Every time NCDOT makes a transportation decision, that decision affects land uses.

Accept that reality. Then accept the related reality that planning and transportation, to have validity, should be undertaken at a metro region level. Merge all the state-sanctioned transportation planning agencies in each of North Carolina's metro regions. Charlotte has four to seven, depending on what you count. (You gotta love their names, too: The MPOs are MUMPO, GUAMPO, CRMPO, GHMPO and RFATS. Lest you think that's not surreal enough, we also have two rural planning organizations, named LNRPO and the snarly sounding RRRPO.) We need just one, region-wide MPO.


If you're looking for true sanity, then (as I have often written before) merge all those metropolitan planning organizations (a.k.a. MPOs, which despite the name do only transportation planning) with the regional Councils of Government, which attempt a regional approach to land use planning although of course they aren't allowed to adopt zoning ordinances and thus have little clout. Has all this made Salvador Dali seem reasoned and predictable by comparison?

So have your say on the NCDOT survey.  But recognize that efforts at serious urban region planning are fantasy, until the state adopts a more realistic approach linking land use and transportation.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

With 485 finally committed, is there a new outer-outer belt? Or how many bypasses of bypasses are planned? Union and Cleveland Counties each have one.

Ridiculous, I know. But such wasteful projects could be pushed by outer ring counties to tap regional funding pools, if there were a single, large MPO.

It's bad enough to balance competing needs between Mecklenburg and Union counties. I can't imagine how Mecklenburg could compete against multiple counties.

Scott said...

Great post. You're spot-on about consolidating/reorganizing MPOs and COGs. As this article notes, transportation/land use planning is often still focused on the land of "Leave It to Beaver" and $0.40/gallon gasoline. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tony-dutzik/iin-the-public-interesti_b_962453.html

Given the survey choices, I would definitely pick the 4th option - better coordinate transportation and land development. Here's the shortcomings of the other choices:

*Invest additional resources in public transportation (rail and buses). THIS IS A SQUANDERED INVESTMENT IF THE UNDERLYING LAND USE PATTERN IS STILL LOW-DENSITY SPRAWL, ETC.
* Expand roadways in North Carolina’s major cities. SERIOUSLY? MAJOR CITIES HAVE PLENTY OF HIGHWAYS - BETTER CONNECTING SURFACE STREETS, FOR COMPLETE STREETS, IS VALID, BUT NOT NEW/WIDENED HIGHWAYS.
* Encourage development with higher numbers of people per acre. DENSITY IN THE ABSENCE OF URBAN DESIGN, STREET/BLOCK CONNECTIVITY AND SUPPORTING BIKE/PED.-TRANSIT SIMPLY WORSENS CONGESTION IF DRIVING-ALONE IS THE ONLY REAL TRAVEL OPTION.
* Better coordinate transportation and land development.
* Other (please specify)

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