Each year, a huge portion of the state’s overall budget – more than $3 billion - is allocated to transportation, with at least 90 percent directed to the road and bridge program and the remainder being distributed to all other forms of transportation, from rail to buses to air and water — making transportation one of the most hotly debated items of this year’s budget process.
Not surprisingly, transportation projects also generate some of the most hotly contested decisions at the local level. Citizens lament costly projects that, due to rigid standards dictating wide, straight and uncompromising roads, often carve swaths of character from the middle of Michigan’s most cherished communities, farms and forests. But at the same time, increasing congestion on our roads prompts outcry for new roads and bypasses. Caught in a nasty Catch-22, newer roads and bypasses are built and, within a short time, bring more sprawl and congestion in their wake.
Strict design standards and a paradigm that segregates transportation and land use planning into separate processes by independent agencies have stifled innovative transportation in Michigan, leading to dissatisfaction among residents and planners alike.
While MDOT currently attempts to incorporate the public’s input through a significant public hearing process, it is clear with each delayed project and controversial design that citizens, business interests and community leaders who may have a vested interest in the planning process too often have very little ownership of the project when the final plans are unveiled.
CSD offers an alternative to the traditional transportation-planning model. It integrates five core principles into the decision-making process:
1) Transportation projects should promote safety in design, construction and maintenance;
2) Mobility for all citizens via a variety of modes of travel is a legitimate issue in all projects;
3) Projects should take full advantage of opportunities to enhance the environment;
4) Projects should protect the character of the communities they seek to mobilize; and
5) Planners should use innovative public participation to generate publicly owned projects.
CSD involves a commitment to a process that encourages transportation officials to collaborate with community stakeholders so the design of the project reflects the goals of the people who live, work and travel in the area. Such collaboration results in creative and safe transportation solutions. Often referred to as “looking beyond the pavement,” CSD articulates the role that streets and roads can play in enhancing communities and natural environments - be they urban, suburban or rural, scenic or historical. Through a planning and design process that encourages practitioners to collaborate with communities, CSD responds to local needs and values while accommodating the safe movement of motor vehicles.
CSD is not an entirely new process for MDOT and other Michigan planning officials who have developed community friendly projects under such programs as the national Scenic Byways program or the Michigan Heritage Route program. Until now, however, CSD has not been formally incorporated into the regular transportation-planning paradigm. One aspect of Michigan transportation planning that needs serious investigation is its relationship to land use planning at the local level. In its landmark 1995 study on state development trends, the Michigan Society of Planning Officials identified a sprawl cycle that continues today: new development precipitates transportation infrastructure expansion which in turn facilitates more new development. It doesn’t matter which comes first, the road or the subdivision; once the cycle has begun, Michigan’s transportation policies will perpetuate it. In recent months, the Michigan Land Use Leadership Council – a 26-person body appointed by Governor Granholm with the support of state legislative leaders – specifically recommended that the state support multimodal transportation systems and “alternative road design standards where safe and otherwise appropriate, including context-sensitive design rules that minimize environmental and community character impacts” [Chapter 4, Recommendation 6 and Chapter 6, Recommendation 9].
In many cases, roads facilitate economic development, including residential, commercial and industrial expansion. The sustainability of this growth, however, is at the heart of questions about our transportation system. CSD offers an opportunity for Michigan to end one of the cycles of sprawl that are undermining our communities. In the words of Tom Warne, Executive Director of the Utah Department of Transportation and Chairman of the AASHTO Standing Committee on Highways:
"This new approach is nothing less than visionary, and a transformation of the way state transportation agencies design their facilities and conduct their business, working with and for their customers... highway projects can be designed with imagination, creativity and collaboration to preserve and enhance the character and quality of a community without sacrificing transportation mobility and safety."
Land Programs Director
Michigan Environmental Council
119 Pere Marquette, Suite 2A
Lansing, MI 48912