If you’ve been following what COMPASS is up to, then you likely know that we are in the midst of updating the regional long-range transportation plan, Communities in Motion. This next plan will look to the year 2040 (“Communities in Motion 2040”) and will expand beyond a traditional transportation plan to include additional issues related to planning for a sustainable future: land use, housing, health, economic development, farmland, open space, and community infrastructure.
Over the next months, I’ll use this space to discuss how each of these issues relates to the transportation elements of the plan, and vice versa. This is the first of those discussions. Today I’ll focus on land use.
Simply put, “land use” describes how people use land. Land uses can include everything from housing to farming to recreation. Land use decisions directly affect our transportation system by creating (or not) a need to move from one type of land use to another, such as commuting from home in a residential neighborhood to work in shopping center.
Likewise, planning, design, and construction of roads, highways, and other transportation facilities affect both existing land uses and plans and proposals for future land uses. For example, a new or improved roadway can open a previously inaccessible area for development.
The combination of land uses and transportation facilities affects the safety and efficiency of travel, whether by walking, car, bus, bike, or other transportation modes.
In Idaho, local governments prepare comprehensive plans, determine local transportation choices, and make local land use decisions, such as zoning changes. Private interests propose development and develop land, such as building housing subdivisions. The Idaho Transportation Department and local highway districts plan, design, and construct transportation facilities to support state and regional travel needs of the public and commerce. In addition, Valley Regional Transit plans for and operates transit services.
Because the link between land use and transportation is critically important to economic health and livability in Treasure Valley communities, COMPASS is working to find ways to improve coordination at all levels. Coordinating land use and transportation planning and development can increase viable options for people to access goods, services, and other resources to improve the quality of their lives and can help prevent traffic congestion, improve safety, and increase opportunities for alternative forms of transportation, such as bicycling, walking, and using transit. For example, coordinating transit services with the location of low income housing can provide transportation to jobs for individuals who may not own a car.
Coordination can also create a balance of mixed uses, including housing, education, employment, recreational, retail, and service opportunities, all in one area. When land uses are mixed, it can decrease the burden on the transportation system, as individuals can easily access jobs or shopping near their homes, instead of having to drive from one part of town to another.
Ultimately, cooperation and coordination among regional interests leads to consideration of long term, broad impacts of land use and transportation decisions on our natural and built environments and our quality of life.