Bill Hudnut on How to Fix Transportation Planning

Traffic near Las Vegas, by Roadside Pictures, creative commons license

As I have written before, I believe most of the issues of growth, mobility, equity and the environment that planners and environmentalists think about are fundamentally regional in character. But our political mechanisms place most of the authority for dealing with them at the smallest levels of local government. This causes all sorts of chaos, since city and suburban municipalities by their nature do not consider matters beyond their limited, frequently artificial borders and too often drain people, jobs and resources from each other while competing for revenues - to cite just one type of dysfunction. This breeds sprawl, which breeds increased traffic and inconcenience, and so on.

While mayor of Indianapolis, urbanist Bill Hudnut actually did something about this issue, advancing a form of merged government between the city of Indianapolis and surrounding Marion County. And Bill believes that we have an existing structure on which to build regional solutions in the metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) mandated by federal transportation law. I agree, with a caveat.

The caveat is that MPOs in the real world are fraught with problems of inequitable representation and political weakness. In most places, they don't work very well. But the idea of vesting multi-jurisdictional MPOs, each covering a metropolitan area, with defined political responsibilities is a good one.

Here are Bill's six ideas for strengthening MPOs and giving them a mission better-suited for 21st century problems:

Elect the membership. Elected officials and agency staff could be excepted; they would serve ex-officio.

Give MPOs actual authority to zone land, allocate funds, issue bonds, levy taxes, and enforce federal and state regulations regarding clean air and water.

Require MPOs to focus on greenhouse gas emissions as a planning issue, and require that transportation plans comply with results-based goals for climate stability.

Require neighboring regions to link their planning through a uniform approach to presenting information and benchmarking results.

Develop and implement multimodal regional access plans.

"Mandate a "fix it first" strategy for MPOs, which is to say, rebuild the old before building the new.

That would be a heck of a start. For more about Bill and these concepts, I have a somewhat longer story up on my home blog at NRDC, here.


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