Vice President Al Gore’s recent introduction of a “livability” agenda is designed to provide billions of dollars in federal funds to communities that adopt “smart growth” planning as a way of addressing urban sprawl. It is an issue which the highway industry must address in a very intelligent manner.
First and foremost, the highway industry must educate its members at the grass roots levels about what the federal “smart growth” proposal could do. In essence, it blames our nation's traffic congestion and air quality problems on sprawl and then provides federal funding to promote mass transit use, as well as other land use options such as promoting the purchase of parks and ultimately prevent the building of new highways.
This is exactly why we have to be careful to craft the right approach in dealing with this issue. We certainly do not want to be portrayed as being "pro-sprawl" advocating policies that will be construed to be against the environment. In fact, we must make the case to the public that our approach is a better way. Fortunately, the facts are on our side in this issue, but our job is to make sure that these facts become public knowledge.
TRIP has been conducting research on this issue and we will be publishing a research paper in the coming months. Our research has led to these conclusions:
• Regional policies which combine urban growth boundaries, increased density, restrictions on road expansion and introduce rail transit are likely to decrease the livability of a community. These policies have been found to lower standards of living by increasing housing costs, reducing social integration, increasing decentralization, harming air quality and worsening traffic congestion.
• The continued trends of urban decentralization should be recognized not as a result of transportation investment decisions, but rather are the result of individual and business preferences. The inability of public policy to reverse the decline in public transit ridership also should serve as a reminder that government policies should not be crafted in an attempt to alter individual preferences, including automobile usage, but instead should strive to accommodate these desires in a productive manner for the community.
• The future livability of our communities depends on strong local planning that acknowledges that growth is inevitable and strives to accommodate it in a manner that is consistent with a comprehensive vision of a region’s future.