CNU Summit to Focus on Reforming Transportation, Planning Principles

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The Congress for the New Urbanism will meet in Portland, Oregon, in early November for the annual Project for Transportation Reform, a summit to further define and clarify emerging urban transportation policies that embrace entire networks, rather than interdependent transportation segments, and that seek to balance modal transportation splits and reduce overall vehicular miles traveled (VMT).

Summit attendees and partners, including Streetsblog, will participate in discussions on emerging network planning and develop a strategy for informing the national transportation infrastructure debate, of particular significance as the climate and transportation bills move forward. As the draft CNU Statement of Principles on Transportation Networks notes [PDF], climate change and infrastructure problems in the US continue to intensify:

The US now has the world’s highest level of VMT per capita, while simultaneously experiencing the highest traffic fatality rates of any developed nation. Per capita traffic delay has more than doubled in the United States since 1982.3 This deterioration in transportation system performance has occurred in spite of an ongoing public investment of more that $200 billion per year in transportation infrastructure."

CNU President John Norquist said the current focus by transportation professionals on road capacity gives us cities like Detroit, where consistent spending to widen roads has destroyed communities.

"Federal and state DOTs don't understand how cities work. They still want to take rural forms and jam big roads into cities." he said. "Rather than measuring projected traffic flow, they should be measuring how much value it adds to a neighborhood. The US can't afford to be energy wasting and spending money on projects that destroy the value of neighborhoods."

U.S. Representative Earl Blumenauer will kick off the summit and representatives from Oregon Metro will showcase the many innovative transportation and design policies they have implemented in the region that have given Portland one of the highest walking, transit, and bicycle mode shares in the country.

Summit organizers hope to develop the language around network-wide transportation reform so the CNU can persuade lawmakers in Washington DC to incorporate this new urban vision into upcoming climate and transportation legislation.

Marcy McInelly, co-chair of the CNU's transportation reform initiatives and principle of Sera Architects, said, "Reform is about giving more latitude to use highway funds for pieces of the network that may not be for highways. Right now the federal funds have to increase vehicular mobility, which raises VMT. If you had a funding formula that allowed you to count benefits to cost, it would almost always [result in] the other modes besides cars coming out more beneficial.  It would balance consideration of other modes."

Norquist said the CNU is working with the Institute for Transportation Engineers (ITE), the most significant body of professional transportation engineers in the county, to develop transportation standards that ennoble urban streets alongside rural roads and freeways in guides like AASHTO's Green Book for highway and street design.

According to Norquist, reform initiatives should focus on altering "the functional classification system.  The current regulatory framework tries to feed future traffic demand, instead of trying to facilitate the network." 

Referring to the traditional advocacy position that tries to chip away at the 80-20 funding formula (80 percent of federal funding for freeways, 20 percent for transit), Norquist said a more fundamental change is needed.

"We're completely for the idea of changing the 80-20 split. But even if the environmental community wins and gets 25-75, you're still spending 75 percent of the money on road capacity. The should focus on creating roads that are useful and pleasant and create a place where people actually want to be."

Norquist also promised the conference would be fun. "This conference will have the most dynamic and exciting traffic engineers in the world," he said, with a laugh. "These are the reform traffic engineers, the recovering traffic engineers."

The Project for Transportation Reform with take place from November 4-6 and registration is still open.  Streetsblog will be covering the summit with regular stories and tweets, so stay tuned.