Thomas M. Downs
Professor, University of Maryland
Director, National Center for
Smart Growth, Research,
Education and Training
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Environmental and Public Works Committee:
It is a pleasure to appear before you this morning to address the role of the planning process and its linkages to transportation planning, land use planning, economic development and growth management.
I will lean heavily on the recent work of Dr. Susan Handy, a professor at the University of Texas, who is both an engineer and a planner.
Dr. Handy did a comprehensive review of all of the literature that has focused on the transportation and land use connections.
It turns out that there are few major studies at the national level that have looked at the connections between transportation and land use patterns. While we as a nation have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on developing better pot-hole material, better cement, and better bridge steel; we have spent almost nothing on the most important aspect of transportation – how it has changed the way we live and work.
Dr. Handy found that in a study in 1999 by Hartgen and Curly that regions without beltways grew faster and that population densities declined faster in regions with beltways. She also learned that a 1980 study by Payne and Maxie found beltways had no impact, positive or negative, on economic growth. This study also found that office and apartment development locates near a beltway, but at the expense of other parts of the region.
After Dr. Handy looked at beltways, she then examined the research on the effects of highway corridors. She found that a 1998 study by Hansen concluded that highway capacity expansion stimulates development activity, both residential and non-residential, in the expanded corridor. A 2002 study by Ten Siethol and Kockelman demonstrated dramatic increases in property valuations most proximate to the freeway corridor. A large review study by Boarnet and Houghwout in 2000 suggests that highways influence land prices, population, and employment changes near the project, and that the land use effects are likely at the expense of losses elsewhere. Dr. Handy’s conclusions from these studies is “Building new highways will not increase the rate of growth, but will influence where in a region growth occurs and what kind of growth occurs. Not building highways will not necessarily prevent continued decentralization.” The research seems to suggest that highway capacity expansion serves to move the economic chairs around a region, but does not create a new net growth in a regions economy.
Dr. Handy then looked at the issue of increasing highway capacity and induced demand (or build it and they will come). She found that there does seem to be some correlation between capacity expansion and vehicle miles of travel (VMT), but that the elasticities are lower than suggested by popular literature. She concludes that simply not building new highways will not significantly slow the growth in VMT.
The conclusions about highways impact on land use only serves to show us how little we know about the real outcomes of these large scale national investments. We, in part, do not know because we are not funding the research that would give us better answers.
On the transit side, Dr. Handy looked at the research on the effects of light rail transit (LRT) investments on land use and development. She found a TCRP report in 1995 that shows that transit investments and services are incapable by themselves of bringing about significant and lasting land use and urban form changes. A 1996 study by Vesalli showed that transit system’s impacts on land use are limited to rapidly growing regions with a healthy underlying demand for high – density development.
The research on transit impacts shows us what we all intuitively know, that outcomes really depend on the local governments land use decisions and on the health of the regional economy. The research suggests that the real accountability for outcomes in transit development rests squarely on local land use decision makers. A close look at the Washington region’s success or failure in capturing the enormous federal investment in METRO proves this point.
Lastly, Dr. Handy looks at assumptions that changing development patterns will effect travel behavior and she comes to the conclusion that “land use and design strategies may reduce automobile use a small amount”, Kitamura, et al. 1997.
The conclusions of her review of research findings over the last 15 years is:
1. New highway capacity will influence where new growth goes, but not the overall growth within a region.
2. New highway capacity probably increases travel a little.
3. LRT can encourage density with the right help.
4. New Urbanist design strategies make it easier for those who want to drive less to do so.
Dr. Handy then asks why the data does not yield more, and answers that the interactions between transportation investments, land use patterns and travel patterns are much more complicated than we have assumed. We are not collecting data on those complex interactions in part because we have traditionally looked only at the movement of people and goods as the outcomes of transportation investments.
Dr. Handy suggests that we must be able to use increasingly sophisticated statistical techniques to handle the complex web of connections and the limitations of the data. She strongly suggests that we invest in better and more sophisticated data collection and that the focus after that should be on the translation of empirical results into planning and forecasting tools.
While Dr. Handy’s work looks at the actual outcomes of investments in highways and transit within a region, there are several areas that are not reviewed , because the issues are mostly ignored.
The first area that has almost no data available is the relationship of regional health to transportation investment. If childhood asthma is increasing at catastrophic rates, is it related to air quality, VMT, or land use patterns; and if so, how? If the nation is now in a spiral of obesity, is there a relationship to the type and quality of transportation investments in a region?
Recent research also suggests that auto mobility comes at a very high price for the poor, exceeding expenditures on health, education, and food. Do we know if these impacts on the poorest 25% of families varies by region, and do we know what strategies work to relieve the strain of that cost burden?
We can now ask even more ambitious questions. How do these health costs and family transportation costs effect the economic health of a region? We do not now know the answer, but it is clear we now have the tools to begin to understand those relationships, we just have to make the effort.
We have not, as a nation, looked at the results of our investments. The creation of the Bureau of Transportation Statistics was supposed to help with research on data quality and integrity, as well as how to use the data in complex regional models. It is unclear how BTS lost its way, but it has, until recently, been either a hobby shop where research focused on what was of interest to the researcher; or it became a job shop for the Office of the Secretary, doing small scale projects. BTS is also limited by the fact that it receives most of its funding from FHWA.
Several suggestions to strengthen our understanding of the complex relations between transportation, land use, and behavior:
1. Take mandatory set asides out of Transit, Highway, and Aviation to fund an independent BTS.
2. Require BTS to not only report annually to the Congress on its funding agenda, but also its findings, with recommendations on the relationship of those findings to the regional planning and forecasting process.
3. Given the real and understandable Federal reluctance to engage in any local land use decisions, the next step in the accountability chain would be to take the introductory purpose statements of TEA – 21 and place those objectives in the planning language section of the new bill. It would then provide a framework for developing accountability for outcomes at the regional level. Because there are no expectations of outcome, beyond clean air, there is little we can do as a country to measure the results of our investments.
4. If there is going to be a research chapter in this reauthorization, do not let it be totally dominated by one mode or one profession. If we could establish, through research, better data, better models, and better frameworks for decision-making, we could become more accountable for the results of our transportation expenditures as a nation.
5. Incorporate requirements into the planning process to address issues of health, pedestrian trips, and land use impacts. It is important to have the planning process address these areas, not to make judgments about the outcomes, but to make sure they are part of the factors considered in planning.
While this may seem a long digression there are several key points to be made in summary:
1. There is little real relationship between the transportation planning processes and its impact on land use and travel.
2. The planning process is primarily a way to move a capital program into the pipeline, and not a series of complex competing goals needing resolution.
3. Unless we begin to measure and compare actual outcomes of our investments, we will be exactly in this same spot for the next reauthorization.
4. Unless there are outcome requirements for the MPO planning process and some direct, non-modal funds to meet those requirements, MPO planning will not change.
5. We need to actually look at what we want as outcomes of our national investments in transportation. It looks increasingly like it should mean making it easier for Americans to make a wide variety of choices in transportation.