The Road Information Program (TRIP), other members of the highway construction industry and the American Highway Users Alliance (AHUA) are gearing up for the release of Building Better Communities: A Tool Kit for Quality Growth in order to provide members of our industry with research-based facts and talking points that can be used to address issues such as "smart growth" and "sprawl."
The most important aspect of the tool kit is that it is based on feedback received from focus groups conducted in six cities. These focus groups provided us with a better understanding about public attitudes on smart growth and sprawl, and they enabled us to determine what the public thinks about our approach.
We have talked in this column before about some of that reaction: the public does not like the idea of living in high density, apartment-style living; the public prefers decision-making about land use and transportation policies to be made at the local level; the public wants to be able to choose for itself where they can live and how they travel.
Using this valuable information, a working group comprised of staff from TRIP, the Associated General Contractors of America, the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, AHUA and the Associated Equipment Distributors developed the research-based approach that is now being released as the tool kit. The very name for the tool kit is derived from reaction of the focus groups to our approaches. People in the focus groups overwhelmingly supported the phrase "building better communities."
The name "Quality Growth" was agreed upon as a way to provide our industry with a proactive way to address smart growth. We chose not to use smart growth as our term because some groups are advocating smart growth policies that call for no added road capacity. We disagree with that approach, and what we learned from the focus groups supports us in that conclusion.
The tool kit will be issued with specific fact sheets on areas pertaining to the smart growth and sprawl issues. These research-based fact sheets are similar in concept to the state and national facts previously produced by TRIP. The tool kit includes the following areas with fact sheets: Traffic Congestion, Air Quality, Transit, The Automobile: Providing Freedom and Opportunity, Traffic Calming and Transportation Planning.
The tool kit also includes case studies on the following: the European Model, Portland, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. These cities and areas were chosen because they are often cited by smart growth advocates to make key points in support of their position. Another key section of the tool kit describes how to build coalitions and how to effectively deal with the media.
The introductory section is called, "Our Vision for Quality Growth." As the title suggests, this section lays the foundation–or principles–for building better communities. They are as follows:
- Americans are and should remain free to choose where they live and how they travel, and public policies related to future growth should not limit those choices;
- Economic development and population growth confer benefits on communities if the challenges associated with them are properly managed;
- Citizens should have an opportunity to participate in decisions affecting future growth in their communities;
- Infrastructure investments should reflect public sentiment and needs, and transportation improvements should be aimed at improving road safety, in addition to accommodating, rather than stifling, projected growth in travel; and
- As our nation continues to grow, environmental improvement and economic development should complement each other to produce healthy, vibrant communities.
These principles were devised to provide guidance to policies that are formed to address sprawl and smart growth in a proactive way. As these become public, rest assured that smart growth advocates will take aim and try to debunk our approach. That’s part of the reason why we tested our approach on focus groups. We know that our approach is what the public wants. It’s now our job to get that message out.