Posted by: Bob Williams, VP of Advocacy
We are often asked at Reconnect Rochester questions regarding who is responsible for prioritizing transportation projects in our region and the process through which that is accomplished. The answer leads back to the 1962 National Highway Act which required all urbanized areas of greater than 50,000 population to form a Metropolitan Planning Organization, or MPO, for the channeling of federal funding to both individual projects and transportation programs.
One of the most important duties of an MPO is to develop and periodically maintain a Long-Range Transportation Plan (LRTP) at a minimum 20 year planning horizon. This document sets the agenda for the region’s transportation investments while adhering to fiscal realities. In Rochester, as you read this, work is being performed on the 2040 edition of the Genesee Transportation Council’s LRTP. GTC has been a strong partner of Reconnect Rochester and has made us a part of their community input process for this document.
It is also important to understand that transportation planning is evolving. No longer a one-dimensional endeavor, transportation planning must address the needs of all citizens. Sustainable transportation planning and sustainable transportation plans are frameworks for action which consider environmental, economic, and social issues to create a healthier and more prosperous region for all.
We at Reconnect would like to see our regional LRTP become influenced to the greatest extent possible by the principles of sustainable transportation planning. As such, we’ve prepared a list of plan elements that we feel should not only be included in any regional transportation plan, but also refined and made into points of emphasis.
- In quantifying the regional mode share, treatment of the peak period which includes trip pattern elements such as ‘suburbs to core’ and ‘rural to suburbs’ should be included. Data following on this which assumes the status quo and is forecasted out to 2040 would be instructive with the ultimate intention of establishing mode share targets for pedestrianism, bicycling, transit, carpooling, and single occupancy vehicles. These targets would inform all initiatives to follow and can be as incremental or aggressive as desired.
- A supportive built environment for sustainable transportation planning should be a significant plank in the regional planning platform. Planning for a 9-county area carries significant challenges in this regard, but there is high value in ensuring that all long-range initiatives and proposed projects are compatible with local comprehensive plans. This would signal an intention to have a system of checks on development with respect to facility provision, parking supply, and density, ensuring that any new development works with the overarching goals, instead of in opposition.
- The treatment roads in a transportation plan focused on sustainability is not a simple task. It is important to continue to promote safety, enable efficient good movement, and address maintenance responsibilities on automobile facilities, though the wording and scope of this commitment cannot run counter to other identified needs such as adding new or increasing the frequency of public transportation.
- The roadway safety discussion should be reframed. Rather than engineering for driver error at high speed, the emphasis should be on traffic calming wherever possible via complete streets measures. This would have the side benefit of enabling and/or reinforcing the use of multimodal level-of-service measures to assess roadway design, putting the focus on moving people and goods, not vehicle counts. On the freight side, it is important to define a diffuse trucking network which avoids over concentration and over burden on non-characteristic facilities.
- On the topic of transforming transit, a rapid transit and transit priority (RTTP) network in the region should be defined. Going beyond public transportation priority and signalization efforts, enhancement of existing transit should be expedited by the identification of current frequent peak period corridors followed by assignment and prioritization of new transit projects.
- To further development and density goals, the RTTP previously described must be integrated into the community. Transit should not be promoted in isolation, but together with walking and cycling opportunities on the identified transit corridors. It is necessary to signal a commitment to maintenance of bicycle and pedestrian networks, especially winter maintenance. Beyond ridership, congestion mitigation, or operating costs, the opportunity for land use intensification is a new indicator of success for transit implementation. The provision of all three active transportation elements creates a strong foundation for true transit oriented development, and not just transit adjacent development where the inhabitants maintain their old habits.
- Finally, in order to promote sustainable mobility choices, promotion and education must be part of the package. Transportation demand management strategies should have many tools/incentives at their disposal to impact mode share and trip reduction. Monetary and non-monetary incentives, cyclist awareness campaigns for motorists, student educational initiatives, special events, employer partnerships, provision of parking for sustainable modes of travel, and municipal or regional motor vehicle parking pricing strategies are just some of the possible ways to encourage a constituency behavioral change.
To summarize, these measures are mainly about steering policy priorities back toward a balanced transportation system that has been missing in American culture since the end of the second World War. In the current regional arrangement, more sustainable behavior which was once a matter of course has become difficult if not impossible. By looking at the regional transportation network as one system, and creating a sustainable transportation framework, we can add momentum to initiatives in other domains, all working toward more vibrant communities and a more sustainable future.
It is not too late to make your voice heard on Rochester’s 2040 LRTP. The GTC has launched a 2nd round of surveying meant to gain a better understanding of preferred transportation alternatives. This is a strong opportunity for the public to help shape future regional transportation policy.