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The New Normal for Transportation Planning

09/22/2011

From Dave Van Hattum, Policy & Advocacy Program Manager

New housing and commercial developments are increasing inside the I-494/694 beltway.  According to John Kari, a planning analyst for the Metropolitan Council, this is “the change in planned land use expectations that we’ve seen since we’ve been doing local comprehensive plans since the 70’s.”

Every five years, the Metropolitan Council provides a snapshot of housing and commercial development. Not surprisingly, the number of housing starts was down substantially, due to a stalled economy and lower population growth. Two trends of particular interest are 1) an increase in the share of multi-family housing units vs. single family detached homes, and 2) an increase in the share of new housing units being built in the developed portion of the region (i.e. an area slightly larger than the interior of the 494/694 beltway). Between 2005 and 2010, 60% of development occurred in the developed area, far more than a projected goal of only 30%. The good news is that many of these new units are on corridors with robust bus service.  

This fall, the Council will begin the process of creating a new Regional Development Framework. As part of this Framework, the Council will set goals for development. Given that the housing preferences of Gen Y-ers (the largest demographic of home buyers) are tilting toward more urban settings and given the likelihood of increasing gas prices, the goal for future housing in the developed area should be substantially increased. 

Peer regions have seen far greater concentration of housing and employment, and are far more aggressive in planning for growth in areas already served by road, transit and other infrastructure. Between 1990 and 2,000, 88% of Portland’s population growth occurred in high-density urban areas (Pew Center on the States, October 22, 2010). Seattle plans for 93% of the region’s future population growth and 97% of its future employment growth in existing urban growth areas (Seattle, Vision 2040).

Transportation and land use planning have synergistic effects. Greater housing and employment density extends the market for cost-effective transit service. And increased transit service and enhanced walkability makes it possible to increase housing densities without creating traffic gridlock. This New data from the Council should inform local and regional transportation planning in the following ways: 

  • Focus on bringing existing roadways and bridges into a state of good repair and ensuring that our streets provide safety and access for all users (i.e. complete streets).  

  • Prioritize regional federal transportation funds to support the increased development in developed areas, town centers, and station areas. Transit and complete streets projects should receive a greater share of these flexible funds.
  • Parking requirements should be reduced to reduce building costs and reflect the growing preference for less car travel. TIF for TOD. Tax-increment-financing (TIF) can be a powerful tool in speeding up transit-oriented development (TOD) that capitalizes on the increased access that follows new transit service. The Minnesota legislature should make it easier for cities and counties to use TIF to build the new housing --well served by transit-- that metro residents are seeking.

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