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Principles of sustainable transportation

In response to the changing fundamentals of transportation, it’s time to rethink transportation in Northeast Ohio. Below are some ideas — planning principles for sustainable transportation and a list of features for a new transportation system. (This page focuses on the “what” of sustainable transportation. A following page addresses the “how” of changing the system with a reform agenda.)

Transportation should support places we like (downtown Delaware, OH)

Principles for sustainable transportation

Transportation as a means, not an end — Transportation is a means for developing great communities and supporting a strong economy, not an end in itself. Transportation investments are only justified if they support larger goals. Transportation per se, isn’t a good thing. It’s a cost. The less we need, the better off we will be.

Access by proximity — Transportation is really a land-use issue. When things are located close by, you don’t need as much transportation. In practice, this means that transportation planning should be integrated with regional land-use planning, and transportation investments should promote development at high-density nodes of activity. (More here on the relationship of transportation and density.)

Choice and affordability — Households in Ohio spend as much on transportation as they do on housing. The best way to reduce that burden is to provide real choices among many modes of transportation, especially transit.

Strategic planning instead of forecasting — Instead of following trends that perpetuate the status quo, create a positive vision of the future and invest transportation funds strategically to produce the desired result.

Fix-it first — The maintenance of existing infrastructure in older cities and towns should have priority over the expansion of infrastructure in new communities.

Flexible funding for capital investments — Break down the silos of public funding and allow creative solutions to transportation problems.

Quality places — The quality of places — streets and neighborhoods — should not be sacrificed for the movement of traffic through places.

Carbon reductions — All changes in transportation should help meet the goal of 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. The climate crisis is making this principle more important every day.

Design features for sustainable transportation

Nodes and corridors — Where development is focused in higher density nodes and corridors, transportation alternatives, such as transit, become possible. Transportation investments can promote this spatial pattern in Northeast Ohio. The map at right suggests where nodes of higher density already exist.

Multi-modal connectivity — A diversity of transportation modes should be provided (automobiles, transit, bikes, walking, air, trains, water), and they should connect seamlessly.

Walkability — As walkable communities expert Dan Burden says, “Walkability is the cornerstone and key to an urban area's efficient ground transportation. Every trip begins and ends with walking. Walking remains the cheapest form of transport for all people, and the construction of a walkable community provides the most affordable transportation system any community can plan, design, construct and maintain. Walkable communities put urban environments back on a scale for sustainability of resources (both natural and economic) and lead to more social interaction, physical fitness and diminished crime and other social problems. Walkable communities are more liveable communities and lead to whole, happy, healthy lives for the people who live in them.”

Complete streets — To enhance mobility for everyone, most streets should be complete streets that accommodate multiple modes of transportation, including transit, biking, and walking.

Transit-oriented development (TOD) — In cities around the world, there is a virtuous synergy between transit (especially light rail and bus rapid transit) and development around transit stops. Northeast Ohio needs to create more of such opportunities. More here.

Traffic calming — Techniques of traffic calming can restore livability to neighborhoods that have been degraded by dangerous cars. Summary of techniques here.

Context-sensitive design — Flexibility in transportation design can permit projects to fit a particular physical setting and preserves scenic, aesthetic, historic, and environmental resources, while maintaining safety and mobility. Details here.

Bicycles as transportation — With the development of the right facilities, bikes can become more than recreational vehicles. They can meet real transportation needs for a substantial part of the population.

Passenger rail — Passenger rail is one of the big missing pieces of transportation in the U.S. It can be the sustainable solution for much inter-city travel, providing a cost-effective and environmentally friendly alternative to air travel and highway driving.

Car-sharing — Car-sharing services (such as CityWheels in Northeast Ohio) make it possible for people to live a relatively car-free lifestyle because they can have access to a car when they really need one.

Work-housing match — With the involvement of businesses, strategies can be developed to encourage employees to live near work sites, and incentives can encourage companies to locate facilities near people who need jobs.

Reduced parking — Minimum parking requirements make it impossible to develop communities with a dense, urban feel. Maximum parking requirements can prompt creative solutions to reduce peak parking demands.

What matters most about cities and regions are people and places. Transportation is of secondary importance — a means to connect people and places. If anything, transportation is often something we want to minimize so we can spend more time at a desired destination — be it working, shopping, socializing, recreating, or being with our families. Successful transit metropolises have gotten the order right — land-use visions lead transportation policies, not the other way around.

— Robert Cervero, The Transit Metropolis

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