Link Transportation Policies and Land Use

Dec 2015

Integral to successful livable communities are policies that link transportation and land use. Projects can bring new vibrancy to downtown areas, commercial cores, neighborhoods, and transit corridors. They do this by enhancing their amenities and ambiance and making them places where people want to live, work, and visit. Often, transportation and land use plans support and encourage partnering with local communities to promote livable communities.

How does housing that is located near public transportation and job centers benefit communities?

The inclusion of homes at various price points and rent levels in mixed-use communities or in proximity to public transportation reduces residents’ reliance on personal vehicles. This helps to reduce traffic congestion as well as greenhouse gas emissions. Walkable communities and compact development also encourage a healthier lifestyle with greater physical activity among residents.

Why are these policies important for housing?

Housing that is built at sufficient densities to support public transportation provides residents with the opportunity to choose from a range of transportation alternatives. These can include public transportation that is less costly, and more energy-efficient, than a personal vehicle. Access to public transportation allows people to be connected to many parts of their communities and the cities/places in which they live.

Land use policies that increase the amount of the build environment around transit stops or in urban centers but do not ensure that some of the living units are offered at lower rents or values affordable to working families may succeed in improving livability only for higher-income families. If is important for communities to use a range of policy tools to ensure that connected places in these desirable locations are available for low- and moderate-income households.

As communities grow and change, their ability to accommodate varying options for living and working and the kind of transportation they use, will have significant implications for livability. Households that have transportation options independent of auto-ownership have more funds to dedicate to housing costs. The more people that live, work and study in close proximity to public transportation and jobs corridors, the more likely they are to use the transit systems. Typically, increased transit ridership results in fewer vehicles competing for valuable road space; resulting in cleaner, healthier air for everyone.

Policies connecting land use and transportation help to satisfy growing market demand for more vibrant, walkable and transit convenient communities. These policies address multiple goals regarding transit and affordability. For instance higher densities are critical in improving the cost effectiveness of public transit and increasing the supply of housing. Without higher densities it is much more difficult to preserve public green space, an essential aspect of health and well-being. Green spaces allow people to walk and exercise, gather with friends and family, or just relax and enjoy nature.

For these policies to work, it is necessary for transportation agencies, housing supporters, local jurisdictions, and members of the public and the private sector to work together to create development patterns that are more supportive of transportation options and that benefit housing. These measures include efforts to ensure that there is consistency with local land use and regional policies, plans and agreements when placing new or expanding existing transportation facilities.Planning processes need to be strategic and done in parallel with efforts to expand the efficiency and ease of public transport to major areas and work centers.

When planning for and supporting housing options, particularly at affordable levels, transportation connections are integral to success.

Where are connected transportation and land use policies most applicable?

Opportunities to increase and diversify housing choices are greater in areas with existing infrastructure and services in place. Locating new housing where non-automotive transportation options are viable choices is critical. Increasing the density and concentration of housing will allow the ridership markets necessary to support high-quality transit service. Additionally, it is important to look for opportunities in the design of such projects for the inclusion of pedestrian and bicycle facilities that connect housing to adjacent land uses and transit. These opportunities can include improved sidewalks and crosswalks linking the housing to a nearby community facility such as a school or a public park; or streetscape improvements that support increased pedestrian, bicycle, and transit activities. Along with proximity, design and placement of facilities to provide for safety and access to service or jobs is important. When community and neighborhood connectivity provides bicycle and pedestrian networks, it not only provides access, but supports an active, healthier mobility choice.

Examples of transportation policies

In an effort to create more livable communities, many states, counties and cities are adopting Complete Streets policies. Complete Streets are roadways designed to allow safe, attractive, and comfortable access and mobility for pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and public transportation users of all ages and abilities. Proponents claim that Complete Streets also create a sense of place and improve social interaction, while generally improving adjacent property values. Places that adopt complete streets policies ensure that their streets and roads work for everyone.

Just as Complete Street initiatives aim to enhance multimodal access and use, transit-oriented development (TOD) seeks to actively link development patterns with local transportation options. The goal is to complement rather than isolate development and transportation and vis versa. The Twin Cities TOD Website brings together many of the existing resources and initiatives around TOD in the Twin Cities, including funding sources, regional and local initiatives and transit corridor planning. The website also hosts the Twin Cities TOD Toolkit, which provides technical assistance and information for people interested in the ways in which TOD can help the Twin Cities region shape future growth. It is a collection of materials that can be used together or individually to discuss TOD from the regional to the neighborhood level.

The Minnesota Legislature created the Livable Communities Act (LCA) in 1995 (Minnesota Statutes, Sections 473.25 through 473.254). The LCA is a voluntary, incentive-based approach to help the Twin Cities metropolitan area address affordable and life-cycle housing needs. The act provides funds to communities in order to assist them in carrying out their development plans.

Through funds provided by the Livable Communities Act (LCA), the Council awards grants to participating communities in the seven-county area to help them:

  • Clean up polluted land for redevelopment, new jobs and affordable housing
  • Create development or redevelopment that demonstrates efficient use of land and infrastructure through connected development patterns
  • Create housing choices at a mix of affordable levels

In order to be eligible to compete for this funding, the LCA requires interested communities to:

  • Negotiate long-term affordable and lifecycle housing goals with the Metropolitan Council;
  • Have in place an LCA Housing Action Plan to identify and give direction to the city’s use of programs, official controls and fiscal devices to help accomplish these negotiated goals; and
  • Make the minimum annual contribution or expenditure on affordable housing activities as required by a formula provided in the law. The formula, based on each community’s share of the tax levy supporting the Livable Communities Demonstration Account, determines an Affordable and Lifecycle Housing Opportunities Amount (ALHOA1) specific to each community.

The LCA created three programs which are all designed to support projects that demonstrate livable community principles. However the Livable Communities Demonstration Account (LCDA) most directly rewards projects that integrate transportation and land use policies.

LCDA funds support regional growth strategies by promoting sensible development and redevelopment. The overall goal is to make better use of urban lands, improve jobs-housing-transportation connections, and expand affordable and life-cycle housing choices in the region. LCDA funds encourage land use patterns that link public infrastructure with housing, jobs and services to meet community-identified needs. Funded projects offer replicable examples of how land and services can be used more efficiently.

Housing Counts Policy Toolbox, Public Lands & Resources
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