Planning and Community Health Research Center

Transportation Alternatives

The way a community is planned — its land development patterns, transportation options, and community design — greatly impacts public and environmental health.

Travel behavior and transportation mode choice, or the decision to drive, use public transit, bike or walk to a destination, is heavily influenced by built and physical environment factors such as community design, land-use mix, residential density, street connectivity and transportation infrastructure.

Planners play an important role in shaping the built environment and providing transportation options and alternatives other than the automobile to all people in a community — children, adolescents, adults, people with disabilities, and the elderly. Through community visioning and goal setting processes, plan making, plan implementation, site design and development, and public facility siting, planners can help to create communities that provide multiple transportation options. These options include public transit and bicycle and pedestrian facilities, which in turn help to create compact, walkable communities that allow more mixing of land uses, balance jobs and housing, reduce reliance on cars, improve air quality, and ultimately improve public and environmental health.

Accessible Transit Services

The current automobile-centered transportation system does not adequately accommodate all users — children, adolescents, adults, people with disabilities, and the elderly. Investing in "complete street design" at state and local level helps create safe walkways for all community members. This can be achieved by furnishing the streets with important elements like street signs, frequent crossroads, bus stops, bicycle lanes, and median islands.

Moreover, while many people depend on public transportation as their primary means of transportation, there is a need to adopt transit oriented development patterns that ensure affordable housing near public transit and job centers. This is crucial as it allows for greater mobility to enable competing in the local and global economy. Transit oriented development also helps low-income families who are unable to afford private cars by offering them a variety of affordable choices to work and live near job centers.

Planners play an important role in providing and insuring the availability of various public transportation systems (such as buses and trains) to all users, regardless of age or physical ability. Through promoting smart growth transportation patterns and advocating for affordable, clean and safe transit systems, planners can help communities gain more access to jobs and improve their quality of life while caring for the environment.

APA's Commitment

APA is committed to advocating for a well-integrated multimodal transportation system that serves individual, local, regional, state, national, and global needs and achieves goals of choice, mobility, access, sustainable development, and efficiency. In line with this commitment, APA initiated several research projects and produced a variety of resource material to assist planners and public health professionals in advocating for enhancing the transportation system and designing livable and healthier communities.

Complete streets is an ongoing project in cooperation with the National Complete Streets Coalition. It aims at transforming community planning, urban design, and engineering street design practices to create walkable and pedestrian friendly communities. The project also entails compiling a Best practices manual on complete streets, with a toolkit for planners and decision makers. The manual contains complete streets policies, cases studies, advantages and disadvantages of various approaches, and recommendations on the best practices in planning and design.

With funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, APA engaged in a three-year project — Planning and Designing the Physically Active Community — to research best practices and case studies of how leading edge communities are addressing physical activity concerns in comprehensive plans, urban design initiatives, capital improvement programs, and development review processes. In 2006, APA compiled and published research results into a Planning Advisory Service report: Planning Active Communities (PAS Report 543/544).

In addition to these projects, APA published various policy guides and toolkits on the issue of transportation to assist planning and public health professionals. The Policy Guide on Surface Transportation, published in 1997, highlights the impact of the transportation system on the quality of built and natural environment and public health.

"Zoning to Promote Health and Physical Activity" in Zoning Practice contains a toolbox full of information to inspire planners and public health professionals on how to implement smarter land-use practices. Planning for Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) is a guide published in PAS QuickNotes to assist public officials and local planning commissions in planning TOD projects from start to finish and help them produce successful project outcomes.

Apart from policy guides and toolkits, APA produced numerous publications on street connectivity, street design and transit oriented development in print and digital form. Context Sensitive Street Design, from 2003, is a CD-ROM available to assist planners and public health practitioners in advocating and designing better transit systems that promote healthy, walkable neighborhoods. The CD contains resource material, presentations and conference recordings. Planning for Street Connectivity is another PAS report, published in 2003, to help planers, decision makers, and residents better understand the concept of connectivity and how it can be improved in their own communities. The report discusses recent research and examples of how integrating land-use and transportation policies can create well connected and walkable streets.