Reuters

Mandated planning improves metro area transit patterns, but maybe not enough.

The words "sustainable" and "transportation" don't really fit together too well here in the U.S. For the most part, the transportation scene in America is dominated by people driving cars everywhere they go, often alone. But that's all starting to shift slightly, with more places emphasizing so-called "alternative" transportation options, like public transportation, bicycling, or simply making use of ones legs and walking. And according to a new study, the places that are making this shift most effectively are doing so because of strong top-down guidance.

Of the 225 metropolitan areas in the U.S. with populations above 100,000, those that show the most progress being made toward the widespread adoption of a multi-modal transportation diet are those located in states where comprehensive transportation planning is mandated. By looking at how transportation patterns changed between 1980 and 2008 in all these areas, Ohio State University researcher Anna McCreery found the most positive change in the places with top-down planning requirements.

McCreery measures what she calls the "transportation ecoefficiency" of each metro based on the various commuting patterns and demographic trends, such as the percentage of commuters driving to work alone, the percentage of residents taking public transit, the percentage walking or riding a bicycle to work and the population density of each area. Those with mandated planning efforts had better transportation ecoefficiencies than those that don't.

This work also found a positive correlation between improved transportation ecoefficiency and higher per-capita income. Richer places tended to have more sustainable transportation patterns.

The major caveat here is that, overall, transportation ecoefficiency is going down. It's only going down slightly less in the metros with stronger top-down planning requirements. Car-oriented land use and mobility patterns over the past few decades continue to dominate transportation in the U.S., and are increasing at a faster rate than the alternatives.

Though McCreery's work suggests that top-down planning efforts can play a big role in developing more sustainable transportation patters in urban areas, there's still a long-standing trend in the U.S. of cities and metropolitan areas being hugely dependent on the personal vehicles to keep things moving. That trend doesn't look to be changing dramatically any time soon.

Image credit: Bret Hartman / Reuters

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Tents with the Honolulu skyline behind them
    Life

    Where Is the Best City to Live, Based on Salaries and Cost of Living?

    Paychecks stretch the furthest in smaller cities for most workers, but techies continue to do best in larger, more expensive cities.

  2. photo: a high-speed train in Switzerland
    Transportation

    The Case for Portland-to-Vancouver High-Speed Rail

    At the Cascadia Rail Summit outside Seattle, a fledgling scheme to bring high-speed rail from Portland to Vancouver found an enthusiastic reception.

  3. Design

    How Advertising Conquered Urban Space

    In cities around the world, advertising is everywhere. We may try to shut it out, but it reflects who we are (or want to be) and connects us to the urban past.

  4. A sign outside a storefront in Buffalo, New York.
    Environment

    Will Buffalo Become a Climate Change Haven?

    The Western New York city possesses a distinct mix of weather, geography, and infrastructure that could make it a potential climate haven. But for whom?

  5. Equity

    When Cities Don’t Accept Cash for Public Services

    This year saw a wave of backlash against cashless retail, but what about when cities like Washington, D.C., want to move toward all-digital payments?

×