Experts Head to Portland to Reverse Transportation Practices that Undermine Livable Communities

Summit aims to reform transportation design to enhance mobility, conserve energy, reduce emissions, save lives

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Although efforts to make communities more walkable, livable and convenient have never enjoyed more support, experts will descend on Portland next week to address a huge gap that needs to be filled if these efforts are to succeed: the design and performance of transportation networks.

Current engineering conventions and existing federal, state and local transportation policies in the U.S. are largely incompatible with sustainable communities. They rely on wide roads to move huge volumes of automobile traffic across a landscape that thwarts walking, bicycling and transit use.

The engineers, planners, academics and public officials participating in the Portland meeting — the 2009 Transportation Summit from the Congress for the New Urbanism and its Project for Transportation Reform — have a head start in advancing sustainable multi-modal transportation systems. Running this year from Wednesday through Friday, November 4-6 in downtown Portland, the summit is becoming one of nation’s leading forums for rethinking prevailing transportation models and their narrow-minded focus on moving cars and trucks. Instead the focus shifts to connecting people with destinations in an environment where walking, biking, riding transit or driving are attractive options.

“Developers learned about the hazards of far-flung car-dependent development with a jolt when the housing bubble popped. Now transportation designers are catching up quickly,” says CNU President and CEO John Norquist. “This is the event where you’ll find the most reform-hungry transportation engineers collaborating with urbanists and smart growthers. There’s a big opportunity that exists to get transportation policies aligned to deliver convenience, quality of life and meaningful transportation cost savings that people increasingly want.”

Find details at the event’s website —— and follow the action in the summit section of CNU’s group blog. (For media registration, contact Stephen Filmanowicz of CNU at 312-927-0979 or

The work of the summit builds on CNU’s nearly two decades of leadership in advancing policy and planning reforms that support walkable livable communities. An innovative collaboration between CNU and the Institute for Transportation Engineers — the Manual on Context-Sensitive Design for Major Urban Thoroughfares — provides badly needed design guidance for major streets that are walkable and compatible with livable neighborhoods. As that work wraps up (publication as an ITE Recommended Practice is expected this winter), CNU's PTR has expanded its scope to concentrate on getting whole networks designed and functioning properly.
Networks generally get short-changed in transportation planning and in federal and state policy. While a great deal of attention goes to the design and operation of individual components of a region’s transportation system — most federal funding, for instance, goes to relieve congestion on individual road segments, usually by widening a stretch of road — very little thought is given to how these changes impact the function of networks as a whole.

A growing body of research, some of which will be presented and discussed by its authors at the summit, shows that highly connected networks of walkable streets perform efficiently: promoting mobility, improving safety, reducing energy use, and encouraging economic vitality and higher-value land use.

Highlights from the summit agenda include:
• Regional planning pioneer John Fregonese will demonstrate how improvements in modeling and trip prediction reveal the huge potential role of sustainable transportation networks in reducing carbon emissions.
• Portland-based real estate economist Joseph Cortright will give an in-depth review of research he completed for CEOs for Cities showing locations with higher scores on performing better in the real estate market. And Todd Litman of the Victoria Transportation Policy Institute will share recent polling showing a growing majority of households prefer to locate in accessible multi-modal neighborhoods (with shorter commutes, nearby amenities and good walking, cycling and public transit service) and will often choose small-lot and attached homes in order to obtain these features.
• University of British Columbia sustainable transportation professor Lawrence Frank will present evidence of complex street grids with more direct routes resulting in higher levels of walking, with additional impacts on per capita levels of physical activity, body weight, and vehicle emissions.
• Transportation engineering professors Norman Garrick (Connecticut) and Wesley Marshall (Colorado-Denver) who will share research showing dramatically lower rates of traffic injury and deaths — and significantly improved emergency response times — in areas with highly connected street networks and compact urban development patterns. Last year’s conference in Charlotte included lessons of how that city delivers prompt emergency services at major cost savings in compact neighborhoods with connected grids.
• Texas planner and CNU policy reformer Scott Polikov and Rick Hall, a transportation engineer and former Florida Department of Transportation official, will advance proposals for rebuilding the federal Transportation Improvement Planning process that works to focus metropolitan planning organizations on fruitless road widening rather than creating highly connected sustainable networks that are compatible with regional smart growth plans.
• Tours on foot, bicycle and transit will acquaint participants with sustainable transportation networks that make Portland a US leader in transportation reform. And local experts such as Metro councilors Robert Liberty and Robert Bragdon will provide lessons and insights from this remarkable implementation. Congressman Earl Blumenauer had planned to deliver an address at the summit but will be in Washington for an extended session.

Guided by chairs Norman Garrick and Marcy McInelly (who helped bring the event to Portland), members of CNU’s Project for Transportation Reform are developing a statement of principles of Sustainable Transportation Networks to be advanced at the summit and shared with federal officials who will be in attendance. Read the preamble.

Attend CNU's Summit and join the professional revolution that's replacing conventional auto-oriented design with transportation that supports healthier, safer and more livable neighborhoods