Thursday, March 1, 2018

The Smart Transportation Guidebook is 10 years old!

Happy 10th Birthday to the Pennsylvania/New Jersey Smart Transportation Guidebook!
This remarkable document (full disclosure: I was one of its “fathers”) is a citizens guide to linking transportation and Smart Growth.  The subtitle says it all:  “Planning and Designing Highways and Streets that Support Sustainable and Livable Communities.”
The guidebook was the product of a remarkable collaboration between PennDOT (led by Al Biehler) and New Jersey DOT (led by Jack Lettiere and later Kris Kolluri), facilitated by the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC).  Both state DOTs had been struggling for several years with the failure of the old model of building new highways as an answer to congestion and had been experimenting with new techniques of multimodal corridor planning, collaborative planning, linking transportation and land use, and environmental stewardship.  The Smart Transportation Guidebook was a distillation of that learning experience and was intended to stimulate informed, community-oriented transportation planning.
How well has the Guidebook been implemented in the two states over the past decade?  I think the answer has to be a less than enthusiastic “sometimes well, sometimes not so much.”
Are the principles and practices recommended in the Guidebook still relevant and useful?  YES.  (Feel free to discount my opinion a few points for “parental” favoritism.)
I will give just one extract:  the six principles of Smart Transportation:
1.     Tailor solutions to the context.  In the words of the Guidebook, “Roadways should respect the character of the community, and its current and planned land uses.”  The design of a road should “respond to its unique circumstances” and should consider the presence of environmental resources.
2.     Tailor the approach.  Project team members and stakeholders should tailor their approach to the specific need, type, complexity, and range of solutions of a transportation problem.
3.     Plan all projects in collaboration with the community.  Collaboration between the state DOT and local stakeholders is critical and should involve “the integration of land use planning with transportation planning, and a focus on the overall transportation network rather than a single roadway.”
4.     Plan for alternative transportation modes.  Roadway project development should consider the needs of pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit users where appropriate.
5.     Use sound professional judgment.  The project team should use its best judgment, considering the “specific circumstances” involved.  “The smart solution on some projects may be to seek design exceptions or waivers to allow for true context-based design.”
6.     Scale the solution to the size of the problem.  The project team should look for a solution that “fits within the context, is affordable, is supported by the communities, and can be implemented in a reasonable time frame.”
Can we please do this all the time?
I’m happy to report that the Smart Transportation Guidebook is still available on the New Jersey DOT website (here) and the DVRPC website (here).

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