Transportation Planning for Better Cities

View all blog posts under Articles | View all blog posts under MSCE

City at night

The history of transportation planning in the United States dates back to the earliest days of the highway system. As automobiles gained in popularity, so did the need more inter-city and national roads. The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1925 became the first in a series of government-funded construction efforts to build a network of smooth, all-weather roadways connecting major population centers.

Growth in public mass transit took shape as our new roads quickly became clogged with cars and trucks. However, it wasn’t until the early 1960’s that highway and public transit planning became strategically linked as part of a balanced transportation system that improved traffic flow.

Today, urban transportation planning is a global initiative of great importance. Developing countries are urbanizing at a rapid pace without plans to support urban mobility among their populations. The World Bank speaks to urban transportation planning as a critical need for health and well-being of cities and their people, along with the economic value it can bring.

Effective and energy-efficient planning requires a holistic approach that goes beyond civil engineering to include the mechanics of supply and demand. It’s a combination of factors such as land use, human behavior, safety, affordability, emissions, environmental impact, public policy, and more. The future will be one of integrated urban mobility systems that move people and products in the most resourceful way.

The International Making Cities Livable Council puts forth ten “rules” for urban transportation planning that takes psychological, economical, ecological, architectural, and engineering concerns into consideration:

  • Accommodate the needs of all persons in the community including children, the elderly, and people with disabilities.
  • Recognize that prosperous, successful cities are built on accessible streets with open spaces that attract more people.
  • Encourage mixed land use to reduce the distance that citizens need to travel to work and play.
  • Use mathematical models of traffic patterns and congestion to help support decision making.
  • Study the environmental hierarchy of potential transportation modes – walking, cycling, mass transit, and private vehicles.
  • (Look at the various functions of every street in supporting varying types of transportation, social activity, and commerce.
  • Be aware of parking and parking restrictions as an especially effective traffic control strategy.
  • Design heavily traveled roads in ways that can help minimize environmental impact.
  • Include wide sidewalks, bike lanes, and walks to support increased bike and pedestrian traffic.
  • Create green spaces along the roadways as a way to improve the climate and enhance visual appeal.