All Transportation is Local

A Field Guide for City Leaders

Transportation policy has enormous bearing on a city’s success and on issues of fairness, prosperity, and safety. Mayors must recognize that cities hold substantial power over transportation, because they control how the street is used and how new developments connect with transportation systems. Leaders who link transportation accomplishments to broad goals can improve life for their citizens while winning public acclaim.

Introduction

As an elected official, you hear from your residents about transportation all the time.

Your constituents complain about rush-hour congestion or about inadequate bus service. They’re annoyed by cut-through traffic driving too fast on residential streets, and they worry about children being able to walk to school safely. They have lots of opinions about parking, potholes, cracked sidewalks and thousands of other transportation-related topics.

Despite transportation’s importance to your constituents, you—like many other local leaders—may feel there’s little that can be done about it. You may have been told that state or federal action outweighs local action, and that transportation infrastructure is the province of higher levels of government.

But that impression is wrong. Local officials have more influence over transportation than even they think they do. Memphis, Chicago, and many other municipalities are using “quick-build” techniques to reconfigure dangerous intersections quickly, instead of accepting traffic deaths as inevitable. Denver; Cambridge, Massachusetts; and cities around the country are changing their zoning and development codes so they can keep growing without huge increases in car traffic. Oakland is targeting transportation investments to make it easier for children to walk to school, while Seattle strategically uses its dollars to expedite buses through existing bottlenecks.

Local leaders in those places have recognized that transportation is intrinsically linked to broader values that matter to citizens like economic growth, equity, public health, and safety. They also recognize that local government has immense power over transportation, because it controls how the street is used and how new development connects with transportation systems.

While conventional wisdom casts transportation as a second-tier issue in terms of public interest, it has huge bearing on a city’s success and on issues of fairness, prosperity, and safety. When transportation accomplishments are linked to these broad issues, they not only improve the city but help leaders win acclaim. Local leaders like Charlotte’s Anthony Foxx, Denver’s John Hickenlooper, and New York’s Michael Bloomberg used transportation successes to grow their reputations. More mayors are doing so today.

This handbook outlines practical steps that local elected officials can take right away to improve their transportation systems and make their cities better places to live, work, and visit. This how-to guide has four sections. “How to Make the Most of Your Time in Office” and “Alliances That Get Results” deal with the human dimensions of leadership, and “Make the Most of Your Infrastructure” and “Rewrite the Rules to Boost Growth, Not Traffic” deal with the physical and policy dimensions. No single formula fits every single jurisdiction, so elements from each of these sections can be selected as appropriate to your own circumstances. The important part is to find the combination of recommendations that work best for you and your residents.

Policy Impacts

Many American cities have been optimized for car use. Decades-old street and development standards make it hard to build walkable, transit-friendly “Main Street” neighborhoods. This worsens traffic, depresses the tax base, and makes the city less accessible.

TC-ATIL-street-Scene05

To fix this, cities are modernizing development requirements so that new growth creates places that are more walkable and transit-accessible.

Allowing shared parking for complimentary uses (like an office that's busy during the day and a restaurant that's busy at night) saves space.
Development standards can be updated so new buildings don’t overbuild parking and instead support a walkable environment.
Quick-build or tactical techniques can rapidly transform excess street space or underused parking into space for people.
TC-ATIL-street-Scene04

Cities are getting the most out of their infrastructure by re-purposing street space for transit and other transportation options.

Their leaders are moving quickly, explaining how transportation changes achieve city goals (like safety), and working with community allies and transit agencies.

Change happens faster when city leaders win over civic groups, advocates, and neighborhood leaders.
TC-ATIL-street-Scene02

In thriving, busy neighborhoods, cities are using active management tools —like curb management, parking pricing, and transportation options campaigns — to balance competing demands for street space and keep everyone moving.

Parking becomes easier with effective management (like lowering the price of parking off-street and raising it for high-demand curb spots).
Campaigns and incentives encourage workers, residents, and visitors to use transportation options.
Loading zones allow deliveries to happen more smoothly in busy neighborhoods.
Bus bulb-outs and sidewalk extensions make it safer to cross the street and speed up transit service.
Streets can be redesigned with bicycle, bus, and pedestrian priority measures to move more people and function better as public space.
TC-ATIL-street-Scene01
TC-ATIL-street-Scene05
TC-ATIL-street-Scene04
Allowing shared parking for complimentary uses (like an office that's busy during the day and a restaurant that's busy at night) saves space.
Development standards can be updated so new buildings don’t overbuild parking and instead support a walkable environment.
Quick-build or tactical techniques can rapidly transform excess street space or underused parking into space for people.
TC-ATIL-street-Scene02
Change happens faster when city leaders win over civic groups, advocates, and neighborhood leaders.
TC-ATIL-street-Scene01
Parking becomes easier with effective management (like lowering the price of parking off-street and raising it for high-demand curb spots).
Campaigns and incentives encourage workers, residents, and visitors to use transportation options.
Loading zones allow deliveries to happen more smoothly in busy neighborhoods.
Bus bulb-outs and sidewalk extensions make it safer to cross the street and speed up transit service.
Streets can be redesigned with bicycle, bus, and pedestrian priority measures to move more people and function better as public space.
Acknowledgments

The development of All Transportation is Local could not have been accomplished without a broad set of perspectives and the contributions of many transportation reformers. Staff at TransitCenter who contributed include Steven Higashide, Zak Accuardi, David Bragdon, Tabitha Decker, Stephanie Lotshaw, Jon Orcutt, and Hayley Richardson.

We also acknowledge the research and expertise of the team at NelsonNygaard, particularly Brie Becker, Matthew Garcia, Lisa Jacobson, Lilly Shoup, Jeff Tumlin, and Rachel Weinberger.

Thank you to Ann Cheng of TransForm, Ethan Elkind of the Council of Infill Builders, and Meg Fencil of Sustain Charlotte for reviewing drafts of this work.

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