“Livability”

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Fostering the concept of livability in transportation projects and programs will help America’s neighborhoods become safer, healthier and more vibrant.” –U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood

Here’s a new one: the concept of “livability principles” to help coordinate U.S. transportation, housing, and environmental policy. This could have some serious ramifications for trucking, as I suspect the topic of “air quality” and its impact on “livability” could spell some big changes in terms of how goods and services are delivered to U.S. communities in the future.

Testifying together at a Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee hearing chaired by U.S. Senator Christopher J. Dodd today, U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan, and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson announced the formation of what they call an “interagency partnership for sustainable communities” to help improve access to affordable housing, more transportation options, and lower transportation costs while protecting the environment in communities nationwide.

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This builds on work between HUD and DOT earlier this year to implement joint housing and transportation initiatives. With EPA joining the partnership, the three agencies will work together to ensure that these housing and transportation goals are met while simultaneously protecting the environment, promoting equitable development, and helping to address the challenges of climate change, the cabinet secretaries all said.

“Creating livable communities will result in improved quality of life for all Americans and create a more efficient and more accessible transportation network that serves the needs of individual communities,” DOT’s LaHood (at right) noted.

"These principles mean that we will all be working off the same playbook to formulate and implement policies and programs,” added HUD’s Donovan (below, at left). “For the first time, the federal government will speak with one voice on housing, environmental and transportation policy.”

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“It’s important that the separate agencies working to improve livability in our neighborhoods are all pointed in the same direction,” said EPA’s Jackson (below, at right).

“We’re leading the way towards communities that are cleaner, healthier, more affordable, and great destinations for businesses and jobs,” she said. “This partnership provides a framework to guide decisions that affect all communities. This way, investments of financial and human resources by any one of our agencies will meet shared goals and confront significant challenges we all face together.”

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OK, so what do these “livability principles” entail? See the following:

1. Provision of more transportation choices: Develop safe, reliable and economical transportation choices to decrease household transportation costs, reduce our nation’s dependence on foreign oil, improve air quality, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote public health.

2. Promote equitable, affordable housing: Expand location- and energy-efficient housing choices for people of all ages, incomes, races and ethnicities to increase mobility and lower the combined cost of housing and transportation.

3. Enhance economic competitiveness: Improve economic competitiveness through reliable and timely access to employment centers, educational opportunities, services and other basic needs by workers as well as expanded business access to markets.

4. Support existing communities: Target federal funding toward existing communities – through such strategies as transit-oriented, mixed-use development and land recycling – to increase community revitalization, improve the efficiency of public works investments, and safeguard rural landscapes.

5. Coordinate policies and leverage investment: Align federal policies and funding to remove barriers to collaboration, leverage funding and increase the accountability and effectiveness of all levels of government to plan for future growth, including making smart energy choices such as locally generated renewable energy.

6. Value communities and neighborhoods: Enhance the unique characteristics of all communities by investing in healthy, safe and walkable neighborhoods – rural, urban or suburban.

The DOT/EPA/HUD partnership is designed to integrate housing, transportation, water infrastructure, and land use planning and investment – and reap significant benefits from this coordinated policy effort. All three cabinet secretaries touted some big potential benefits from doing this, which include:

More sustainable growth: This joint policy effort is supposed to help U.S. communities set a vision for sustainable growth and apply federal transportation, water infrastructure, housing and other investments in an integrated approach that reduces the nation’s dependence on foreign oil, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, protects America’s air and water and improves quality of life. Coordinating planning efforts in housing, transportation, air quality and water -- including planning cycles, processes and geographic coverage -- will make more effective use of federal housing and transportation dollars

Redefine housing affordability and make it transparent: The triple-agency partnership is also supposed to develop federal housing affordability measures that include housing and transportation costs and other expenses that are affected by location choices. Although transportation costs now approach or exceed housing costs for many working families, federal definitions of housing affordability do not recognize the strain of soaring transportation costs on homeowners and renters who live in areas isolated from work opportunities and transportation choices. The partnership will redefine affordability to reflect those costs, improve the consideration of the cost of utilities and provide consumers with enhanced information to help them make housing decisions.

Develop livability measures and tools: Here’s a big one – coming up with metrics to rank the livability of communities, neighborhoods and metropolitan areas. These measures could be adopted in subsequent integrated planning efforts to benchmark existing conditions, measure progress toward achieving community visions and increase accountability. HUD, DOT and EPA said they would help communities attain livability goals by developing and providing analytical tools to evaluate progress as well as state and local technical assistance programs to remove barriers to coordinated housing, transportation and environmental protection investments.

Just taking a quick read of the joint-agency planning here, there could be many positives and negatives for truckers. On the positive side, if this effort reduces car transportation significantly, then traffic congestion would by extension be reduced. On the negative side, we could see more “clean air” mandates come out of this similar to what is going on at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach in California – mandates that might, and I stress MIGHT here, raise the cost of freight transportation in many communities.

It’s still too early to tell where this ambitious proposal may lead. Tell you one thing though: whether you like it or hate it, this joint agency policy initiative is a major departure from past governmental efforts and could definitely prove to be a bold move if it brings more innovation to the table.

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