Transportation Efficient Land Use:
Planning and Land Use Strategies that Reduce the Need to Drive
This webpage highlights a number of land use and community design strategies that can reduce the need for travel or the distance that must be traveled. It presents ideas about community design and land use patterns that allow greater choice in travel mode, or otherwise reduce the need to drive alone.
Development patterns and community design characteristics significantly influence the distance and manner that people travel. In recent decades, the increase in spread out development patterns means that people spend more time on the road to get to jobs, services and their homes. When residential, commercial, employment and other uses are separated by significant distances, more of the trips and errands will be made by automobile, as walking, cycling and public transit become less practical. (According to the Victoria Transport Institute, most people rely on commercial and public services they can reach within 10 minutes, and try to choose jobs that they can reach within a 40-minute commute.) Carpooling may also become more difficult, when job locations are more spread out, rather than focused in a central city. In addition, low-density, sprawling development does not provide enough potential riders to support frequent and convenient transit service.
As we spend more time in our cars, roads become more congested, energy resources are consumed, and vehicle emissions are increased. Studies documenting these land use/transportation relationships have generated renewed interest in a better integration of land use planning and transportation planning as one important way to reduce traffic congestion, energy use, and vehicle emissions, while improving walkability and public health.
General Information - Land Use/Transportation Coordination
Washington Studies and Information
- Implementing Transportation-Efficient Development: A Local Overview (), Phase 1 of Integrating Land Use and Transportation Investment, Kavage, S., A. V. Moudon, M. Cail, C. Lee, and N. Perkages, Washington State Transportation Center (TRAC), University of Washington, 2002 - Overview of Washington-based study that demonstrates the importance of land use regulations in implementing transportation efficient development. The second and third phases of this project provide strategies and tools to implement such development.
- Strategies and Tools To Implement Transportation-Efficient Development: A Reference Manual (), Phase 2, Vernez Moudon, A., M. Cail, N. Pergakes, C. Forsyth, and L. Lillard 2003 - Land use and development practices that support efficient transportation systems; Catalogs regulatory and financial strategies and tools
- Transportation-Efficient Land Use Mapping Index (TELUMI) (), Phase 3, Anne Vernez Moudon and D.W.Sohn, 2005 - Mapping of land use variables that affect transportation efficiency
- Review of the Growth and Transportation Efficiency Center Program, with Recommendations for Increasing Benefits to Suburban Cities, Mark E. Hallenbeck and Dan Carlson, Washington State Transportation Center (TRAC), 05/2011 - Reviews Washington's Growth and Transportation Efficiency Center Program which provides funding for a limited number of communities that direct growth to dense, mixed-use, multi-modal centers with major employers, other businesses and residential development. Studies show such centers significantly reduce drive-alone vehicle travel over time
- Transportation and Housing, Washington State Department of Transportation webpage - Links to a number of resources on land use and transportation coordination
Other General Information and Guidance
- Land Use Impacts on Transport: How Land Use Patterns Affect Travel Behavior, Todd Litman with Rowan Steele, Victoria Transport Policy Institute, updated 05/22/2014 - Insightful, well-resourced paper examines how various land use factors such as density, regional accessibility, mix and roadway connectivity affect travel behavior, including per capita vehicle travel, mode split and non-motorized travel
- Executive Seminar: Coordinating Transportation and Land Development (), Local Government Commission, 2005 - Includes excellent overview presentation by Walter Kulash with superb graphics illustrating concepts. Also other useful articles and case studies
- Smart Growth Reforms: Changing Planning Regulatory and Fiscal Practices to Support More Efficient Land Use, Todd Littman, Victoria Transport Policy Institute, 04/24/2014 - Very useful description of implementation strategies that support smart growth and correct existing practices and policies that encourage sprawl and auto-dependency
- Evaluating Transportation Land Use Impacts, Todd Litman, Victoria Transport Policy Institute webpage, updated 06/11/2014 - discusses complex interaction of land use patterns and transportation decisions and provides evaluation method and criteria for understanding land use impacts
- Mobility Management Strategies: Land Use Planning, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency State and Local Transportation Resources - Useful set of resources on EPA webpage
- Tool Kit for Integrating Land Use and Transportation Decision-Making, Federal Highway Administration - Links to tools, case studies, publications and websites
- Housing and Transportation Choice, HUD Sustainable Communities Resource Center - Nicely organized collection of useful reports, toolkits and resources
- Our Built and Natural Environments: A Technical Review of the Interactions Among Land Use, Transportation, and Environmental Quality, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2013 -Revealing and up-to-date information on status and trends in population growth, development patterns, travel behavior, and environmental effects. See especially Sec. 2.5. Also, Sec. 4.2 documents multiple benefits of compact, mixed-use, infill and connected development patterns that also support efficient transportation
Compact Development/Transportation-Efficient Density
Compact, higher density development patterns shorten the distance people must travel to reach work, shopping, or other points of interest. Compact development allows people to conveniently walk or cycle to some destinations within a reasonable time. Higher densities also supply the potential ridership that can support more frequent transit service and a greater variety of routes. The result is more transportation options, less time on the road, and reduced traffic congestion. At the same time, well-designed compact development contributes to vibrant, economically healthy neighborhoods and to centers that offer a variety of goods and services, social gathering places, recreation/entertainment opportunities and attractive character.
Many local jurisdictions in Washington (and in other states) are using a variety of tools to discourage sprawling development and to promote higher densities within target growth areas. Approaches include higher density concentrated in accessible nodes or centers, mixed-use development that permits residences within walking distance of commercial services and other attractions, infill development that provides additional close-in housing, density bonuses in exchange for amenities, minimum density requirements, allowances for accessory dwelling units, and transfer of development rights programs. In addition, many communities are permitting and establishing guidelines for a variety of mid-range density housing such as cottage housing, corner lot duplexes, townhouses or garden apartments that fit more easily into or adjacent to established residential neighborhoods.
Recent studies and reports, such as those listed below, have provided considerable clarification about the role of density, quick access to jobs and other factors in reducing vehicle travel, energy use, and greenhouse gases.
Major Recent Studies and Commentary
- Draft Policy Brief on the Impacts of Residential Density Based on a Review of the Empirical Literature (), Marlin G. Boarnet, University of California, Irvine, and Susan Handy, University of California, Davis, 06/25/2010 - This policy brief is a good place to start. It sheds light on variable study results and summarizes results of several better designed studies about the role of density in reducing VMT and greenhouse gases. It is also helpful in understanding some basic concepts and caveats related to density. Among the results: increased density is more likely to have a significant effect in places where there is unmet demand for higher density housing, and when it is combined with other more important land use factors, such as locations with quick access to employment centers
- Driving and the Built Environment: The Effects of Compact Development on Motorized Travel, Energy Use, and CO2 Emissions, Transportation Research Board Special Report 298, National Research Council, 09/2009 - This report examines the relationship between land development patterns and vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and the extent to which an increase in compact, higher density, mixed use development could reduce VMT and greenhouse gases (GHG). The literature review suggests that doubling residential density across a metropolitan area may reduce VMT by 5 to 12%, and perhaps as much as 25% if coupled with higher employment densities, mixed uses, and transit improvements. The report recommends encouraging more compact, mixed use development, but estimated that the likely increase in such development would only reduce VMT, energy use, and GHG by about 1% to 11% by the year 2050
- Response to Special Report 298 Driving and the Built Environment: The Effects of Compact Development on Motorized Travel, Energy Use, and CO2 Emissions (), Reid Ewing, Arthur C. Nelson, and Keith Bartholomew, Metropolitan Research Center, University of Utah, 09/16/2009 - This paper argues the NRC report estimates about the reduction of VMT and GHG by 2050 are based on overly conservative assumptions about the likelihood of change in future development patterns. Most importantly, the NRC chose not to address the effect of redirecting commercial and institutional development, which is replaced at nearly 5 times the rate of residential replacement
- Travel and the Built Environment: A Meta-Analysis, Reid Ewing and Robert Cervero, Journal of the American Planning Association, Volume 76, Issue 3, 2010 - Draws on more than 60 studies to evaluate to what degree various land use patterns contribute to reduced car travel. The most effective way to minimize driving is to locate development in existing centers, (especially near the core of a metropolitan area) that are within easy driving distance of many jobs, shopping, and other attractions. A mix of uses and street network design are of secondary importance, and both are more important than just bumping up density. However, the combined effect of several such variables on travel could be quite large. Walking is most strongly related to land use diversity, intersection density, and the number of destinations within walking distance. Proximity to transit and street network design and to a lesser degree, mix of uses, are most related to increased bus and train use
- Measuring Sprawl 2014, Reid Ewing and Shima Hamidi, Metropolitan Research Center at the University of Utah for the National Cancer Institute, the Brookings Institution and Smart Growth America, 04/2014 - Study finds that compact, connected metro areas have greater economic mobility. Also, individuals in these areas spend less on the combined cost of housing and transportation, and have more transportation options. Includes specific examples of how communities are building to be more connected and walkable
- Land Use and Driving: The Role Compact Development Can Play in Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Urban Land Institute, 2010 - Clearly written report summarizes results from three recent studies that estimate reductions in VMT and energy consumption of between 8 and 18 percent when compact development makes up 60 percent or more of all future development between now and 2050. Also reports on study models that predict which strategies promote the greatest VMT and GHG reduction
- Transit and the “D” Word, Robert Cervero and Erick Guerra, Access, University of California Transportation Center (UCTC) Spring 2012 - Summary of research from 2010 and 2011 studies which look at capital costs per mile and per rider for transit system investments and necessary density for cost-effectiveness. Contains useful summary tables. Links to two studies are below:
- Urban Densities and Transit: A Multi-dimensional Perspective (), Robert Cervero and Erick Guerra, Institute of Transportation Studies, University of California, Berkeley, Working Paper, 09/2011 - Analysis suggests that light-rail systems need around 30 people per gross acre within a half mile of stations and heavy rail systems need 45 people per gross acre within the 1/2 mile radius to place them in the top one-quarter of cost-effective rail investments in the U.S top performing transit systems). However such densities are often politically unacceptable in smaller communities
- Costs of a Ride: The Effects of Densities on Fixed-Guideway Transit Ridership and Capital Costs (), Robert Cervero and Erick Guerra, University of California, Berkeley, 08/2010 - In addition to information on rail densities and costs, see Table 1, page 3 for summary of transit-supportive density levels adapted from Pushkarev and Zupan (1977) for bus service. Minimum residential densities per net acre within the transit corridor for local bus service range from four units per acre for 20 bus/day, seven units per acre for 40 bus/day, and 15 units per acre for 120 bus/day service
Other Density Information
- Creating Great Neighborhoods, Density in Your Community (), Local Government Commission, 2003 - Well-designed density supports walkability, transportation choices, and amenities that make communities great places to live. The document includes case studies and lessons learned
- Land Use Impacts On Transportation: How Land Use Factors Affect Travel Behavior (), Todd Litman, Victoria Transport Policy Institute, 05/22/2014 - Extensive overview and numerous links to a comprehensive listing of resources and supporting studies. See section on density beginning on page 13
- Automobile Use And Land Consumption: Empirical Evidence From 12 Cities, Christopher McCahill and Norman Garrick, Urban Design International, Vol. 17, Autumn 2012 - As automobile mode share increases in a city, the amount of land used for transportation also increases, whereas the land available for other uses decreases. This can result in a loss of activities, people, and jobs from the city
- Land Use-Transportation Scenarios and Future Vehicle Travel and Land Consumption: A Meta-Analysis, Keith Bartholomew and Reid Ewing, Journal of the American Planning Association, Vol. 75, No. 1, Winter 2008 - Model based on 23 studies estimates a 17% reduction in VMT from trend by 2050, under compact growth scenarios
- Table 2: Transit Density Requirements, (based on Pushkarev and Zupan 1977) from Transit Oriented Development Using Public Transit to Create More Accessible and Livable Neighborhoods, TDM Encyclopedia, Victoria Transport Institute, 06/11/2014 - Scroll to Table 2. This is a classic study frequently cited concerning the densities needed to support various levels of transit service
- Density Mitigated by Design - MRSC web page with links to illustrations of well-designed density
Transportation-Efficient Site Design
In recent decades, site design of development has tended to focus on efficient vehicle circulation while neglecting pedestrian, bicycle and transit circulation. Well-conceived site design can minimize travel distances and times for pedestrian, bicycle or transit trips. A continuous network of streets and sidewalks providing direct connections between destinations, and short blocks allowing more frequent street crossing to destinations, will minimize walking or cycling distances. In addition, measures that create a safe, comfortable, convenient environment will encourage pedestrian, bicycle and transit travel. Examples of measures include weather protection, lighting, separation from vehicle traffic, bus shelters and seating, bicycle racks, changing rooms, attractive streetscape, and similar measures.
Recent studies indicate that improved design of pedestrian, bicycle and transit facilities can result in a substantial increase in the number of people who choose to walk, bike or ride transit. For instance, a recent University of Washington study found three times the pedestrian volumes in areas with short blocks and continuous and direct sidewalk connections compared to areas that lacked such systems. Similarly, a study in the Portland area concluded that vehicle miles traveled could by reduced by 10% in the suburbs by creating a pedestrian-oriented environment similar to that found in older Portland neighborhoods.
Reports and Studies
- Why People Don't Walk and What City Planners Can Do About It, Local Government Commission - Nicely illustrated overview of barriers and solutions
- Site Design and Building Orientation, Walking and Cycling Conditions, and Connectivity, in Land Use Impacts on Transport, TDM Encyclopedia, Victoria Transport Policy Institute, updated 04/01/2014
- Moving Forward: Safe Routes to School Progress in Five States, Anne Vernez Moudon and Orion Stewart, Washington State Transportation Center, 07/2012 - Large study of Safe Route to School programs in five states, including Washington documents the success of SRTS programs in increasing rates of walking and biking to school. Also, the report identifies characteristics of SRTS projects associated with greater increases
- Effects of Site Design on Pedestrian Travel in Mixed-Use, Medium-Density Environments, Transportation Research Record 1578, Paper No. 971360, Anne Vernez Moudon, Paul M. Hess, Mary Catherine Snyder, and Kiril Stanilov, Washington State Transportation Center, 1997, modified 05/23/2007 - Differences in pedestrian route directness mean that service radius isn't always a good representation of travel distance. See p. 52.
- Site Design and Pedestrian Travel, Paul M. Hess, Anne Vernez Moudon, Mary Catherine Snyder, and Kiril Stanilov, Transportation Research Record 1674, Paper No. 99-0424, 1999 - Earlier Puget Sound area study by the same team provides interesting observations of differences between urban and suburban locations. For instance, in the suburbs, the distance as the crow flies may be much less than the actual pedestrian route because of block size and cul-de-sacs
- Block and Lot Standards, Greenfield Toolbox - Block Design that supports pedestrian circulation and transit accessibility among other functions. Highlights Portland OR New Columbia development case study and best practice
- Neighbourhood Design, Travel, and Health in Metro Vancouver: Using a Walkability Index - Executive Summary (), Lawrence Frank, Andrew Devlin, Shana Johnstone and Josh van Loon Active Transportation Collaboratory, University of British Columbia, 2010 - Explanation of walkable design and a practical index for measuring walkability
- Related MRSC webpages
A well-connected street (and sidewalk) network reduces the distances that must be traveled between destinations and offers more route choices. In such a system, blocks are small, streets are provided at more frequent intervals, and there are minimal dead ends (cul-de-sacs). A major benefit of good street connectivity is decreased traffic on arterials because there are more alternative routes. A well-connected system also provides continuous, direct routes that facilitate walking or cycling to destinations, including transit stops. Emergency response time is also improved. Neighborhood residents and developers may resist a "grid" street system when they fear increased traffic through neighborhoods or increased expenses related to more frequent street intervals. However, street design that utilizes narrow streets, traffic calming devices and other design features can address many of these issues.
- Roadway Connectivity: Creating More Connected Roadway and Pathway Networks, Victoria Transport Policy Institute, updated 05/15/2014 - Very useful discussion of concept, implementation approaches, costs and benefits, and other aspects. Also case studies, examples and resources.
- Roadway Design, in Land Use Impacts on Transport, TDM Encyclopedia, Victoria Transport Policy Institute, updated 04/01/2014
- Street Connectivity: Improving the Function and Performance of Your Neighborhood Streets, Lehigh Valley (PA) Planning Commission, 06/30/2011 - Features practical strategies to improved connectivity. Nicely illustrated, and good discussion of concepts, challenges, and more
- New Jersey Long Range Transportation Plan 2030 Technical Memorandum Task 11: Local Street Connectivity Redefined, New Jersey Department of Transportation, 07/2007 - See especially pp. 5 - 13 for overview of techniques, benefits and issues
- Connectivity Index, The Greenfield Toolbox - Very useful explanation and illustration of the connectivity index, which quantifies how well vehicular and pedestrian networks are connected to facilitate pedestrian and vehicle travel
- Overlooked density : re-thinking transportation options in suburbia, phase II (), Nicolas Larco, University of Oregon, Oregon Transportation Research and Education Consortium, 03/2011 - Study of suburban multifamily sites found that residents of more-connected developments walk and bike to their local commercial area for more than 40% of their trips, nearly twice the rate of residents of less-connected developments
- Designing Grid Street Networks and Narrow Residential Streets, MRSC
School Siting and Transportation
Traditionally, schools occupied a central place within compact neighborhoods and community centers. Many students could conveniently walk or bike to school. In recent decades, there has been a trend toward building ever larger schools on large sites in low density areas remote from existing population centers.
Several studies document the transportation implications of these trends. According to national travel surveys, 16 percent of students between the ages of five and 18 walked or biked to school in 2001. A comparable 1969 survey found that 47 percent of students walked or biked to school. Greater travel distances are a major factor. Other studies indicate that even children living close to schools are significantly less likely to walk. A poor walking environment, often associated with sprawl, also discourages walking and cycling. The magnitude of school siting impacts on the transportation network is considerable. For instance, a school in one southern city designed to accommodate 2600 students was projected to generate approximately 6000 vehicle trips per day. School siting policies have major impacts on public budgets. The Maine State Planning Office has found that although student enrollment dropped by 27,000 between 1970 and 1995, school busing costs rose from $8.7 million to over $54 million during that same period - again associated with changing land use patterns.
Studies have also linked childhood obesity, reduced opportunity to participate in extra-curricular activities, and a higher level of student anonymity and social alienation to the large school/distant location trend.
Background Information, Articles, Studies on School Siting
- Walkability and Safe Routes to School, 06/02/2014, and School Building and Siting, 06/03/2014 from: Public Schools Toolkit, National Association of Realtors - Articles provide good overview of the issues, and make a great case for why bigger schools, located further away from the families that they serve, make it difficult for kids to walk to school
- Good Schools - Good Neighborhoods: The Impacts of State and Local School Board Policies on the Design and Location of Schools in North Carolina (), by Dr. David Salvesen, Principal Investigator and Philip Hervey, Center for Urban and Regional Studies, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2003 - Insightful report offering useful recommendations for local government, school boards and state departments of public instruction
- Walkable Neighborhood Schools, Oregon Transportation and Growth Management Program (TGM) - Very good materials on smart growth schools, renovation of older schools, rethinking school acreage needs, and walkability
- Local Governments and Schools: A Community-Oriented Approach, ICMA and Smart Growth Network, 2008 - Discusses how local governments and school districts can collaborate to create smaller, more walkable and community-oriented schools
- Rethinking Community Planning and School Siting to Address the Obesity Epidemic, Marya Morris, American Planning Association, NIEHS Conference on Obesity and The Built Environment: Improving Public Health Through Community Design, 05/2004 - See especially School Siting and Walkability section, beginning at page 11. Focuses on reversing trends like building newer and larger schools that increase walking distance, even when school populations decline
- Helping Johnny Walk to School: Policy Recommendations for Removing Barriers to Community-Centered Schools, Renee Kuhlman, National Trust for Historic Preservation, 2009 - Makes the case for community-centered schools, and offers sound policy recommendations to facilitate walking while often reducing overall school costs
- Youth Travel to School: Community Design Relationships with Mode Choice, Vehicle Emissions, and Healthy Body Weight, Lawrence Frank and Company, Inc. for U.S. EPA, 12/2008 - Helpful information about the relative importance of different factors in determining whether students walk to school. These are nicely summarized in the introduction
- School Planning, Washington Department of Commerce - Including Summary Report: First Summit on School Planning and Siting, prepared by Jones & Stokes for Office of Superintendent for Public Instruction, 02/2007
- Resource Lists: Smart Growth in Schools - Comprehensive collection of articles about smart growth and smart siting of schools, and Site Selection for Schools - Site selection criteria from around the country and from a variety of perspectives, National Clearinghouse for Education Facilities
- Models and Guidelines: Managing Maryland's Growth: Smart Growth, Community Planning and Public School Construction, Maryland Department of Planning, 07/2008 - Very thoughtful guidelines for community-centered schools, school siting, coordination with land use planning, safe routes to school and other school planning issues
- Design Guidelines for Pedestrian-Friendly Neighborhood Schools, Recommendations by Dover, Kohl & Partners and Chael, Cooper & Associates for the City of Raleigh, N.C. - Neighborhood, school site and building design guidelines that enable and encourage walking to school. Provides a range of guidelines including those for connected streets and sidewalks, designing for safe routes and crosswalks, natural surveillance, bicycle facilities, bus areas, and building entrances and community use of schools
Local and State Government School Siting Policies
Siting Policies for Other Government Offices and Institutions
Many government agencies, and institutions, such as government offices, courthouses, post offices, and museums attract significant numbers of customers, visitors and employees. They can be major generators of traffic and parking demand. Such agencies often serve senior citizens, children, handicapped individuals and others who do not have automobiles, or who choose not to drive. Washington's Commute Trip Reduction Plan encourages such agencies and institutions to locate within high-density areas, central business districts, or other activity centers that offer regular transit service and pedestrian and bicycle facilities. Clustering such uses together within community centers can help minimize new vehicle trips and parking demand, and can make combined trips possible. In addition, strategic location of agencies and institutions that attract visitors can contribute to downtown revitalization efforts and increased vitality of community centers.
Incentive Programs to Encourage Close-in Living
Some communities are experimenting with different types of financial incentives that encourage homebuyers or developers to choose transportation efficient locations. Transportation efficient locations are areas that have good transit service, good walking and cycling conditions, and minimal commuting distances. Residents in these areas potentially have reduced transportations costs and more money available for housing or other needs. Location-efficient development also benefits local governments when the costs of providing public facilities and services can be minimized.
- Location Efficient Development and Mortgages, TDM Encyclopedia, Victoria Transport Policy Institute - Lenders use a model to determine which locations have lower transportation costs, allowing applicants to qualify for higher loan amounts, updated 12/13/2010
- Penny Wise, Pound Fuelish: New Measures of Housing + Transportation Affordability, Center for Neighborhood Technology, 05/2010 - Makes the case for considering the combined cost of housing and transportation when calculating housing affordability. Notes that the "drive until you qualify" effort to seek reduced housing costs often backfires when increased transportation costs exceed the savings in housing costs
- H + T Affordability Index - An innovative tool that challenges the traditional measure of affordability which recommends that housing should be less than 30 percent of income. The H + T Index, in contrast, takes into account not just the cost of housing, but the costs of housing and transportation to provide a more complete picture of the costs assumed when choosing where to live. Website allows user to view traditional vs. H + T affordability indexes for major metropolitan areas around the country
- Florida Transportation Mobility Fee Study: Final Report (), Florida Department of Community Affairs, 06/2009 - Describes fee approaches that consider vehicle miles traveled as a factor in amount of fee paid
- Lancaster CA Distance-Based Impact Fees, Posted on The New Rules Project website - Impact fee model includes a surcharge levied on new development beyond the central core - the farther out, the higher the charge
- Pay-As-You-Drive Vehicle Insurance, TDM Encyclopedia, Victoria Transport Policy Institute - Insurance premiums based on how much the policyholder drives the vehicle during the policy period. (The more you drive, the more you pay.) Updated 05/22/2014
- San Mateo CA Transit Oriented Development (TOD) Incentive Program - Regional agency rewards constituent cities for building units near transit stations. Winner of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency National Award for Smart Growth Achievement, 2002
- Incentives to Facilitate Infill Development, MRSC