New Plans for Transportation — Getting Us Moving

This week, the region’s Transportation Planning Board endorsed 5 initiatives out of the 10 that were part of its research designed by its Long Range Plan Task Force. Now comes the hard part.

Each of these initiatives would improve transportation in the region by reducing congestion, improving reliability, and shortening travel times. But only if they are implemented as designed and not compromised.

The policy endorsed by TPB that offers the biggest benefit is changing land use policies throughout the region. The recommendation: change where new houses and new offices will be built. Housing needs to move inward, from the outer suburbs to the inner ones, shortening commutes – and increasing the supply of housing to match demand, which will make the new houses more affordable for new homeowners. Our officials and planners will need the will to focus on more dense developments close to jobs or to transportation convenient to jobs. If each locality refuses to allow sufficient new housing stock, then we’ll get more sprawl and more traffic.

The second biggest impact would come from employer-based travel demand management policies, encouraging people to telecommute or to promote more efficient travel times and modes. The key to making this work is for policies to reward good behavior, and the danger is the temptation to build systems focusing on penalties. It’s been suggested that we dramatically limit parking or impose high tolls. More effective methods like subsidies or tax breaks are more likely to succeed and less likely to risk voter rebellion.

Transit in dedicated transitways is another important initiative. This could be bus rapid transit, light rail, Metrorail, commuter rail, etc. The key to keeping these effective is dedicated lanes – we’re already seeing BRT initiatives moving into mixed traffic. What is Bus Rapid Transit when you move the vehicles into mixed traffic and off of dedicated transitways? Um… it’s a bus. And it’s not rapid. The region has been investing in more transit even though transit usage is steadily declining. We need better transit, not the same old.

I am encouraged by the progress TPB has made during the three years I’ve been a member of its board. We explored a variety of ideas and performed the research to model the results and make good selections. Implementing these without losing the core that makes them function is the work ahead.