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Making the Connection Between Land Use, Transportation, and Air Quality

Oregon leads the way

June 1, 1997 | By Keith Schneider
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

When Oregon Transportation Department planners proposed in 1988 to build a $1 billion six-lane highway bypass through the wheat and berry fields of Washington County, citizens flocked to public hearings to champion a fundamentally different transportation plan for the region.

The activists, who included farmers, business people, and home owners, pointed out that one of the primary causes for the increasing traffic congestion in the county, a suburb of Portland, was how land was being used.

As suburban sprawl continued to press outward, residents had no choice but to use their cars for even the simplest errands. The way to solve Washington County's looming gridlock, the citizens reasoned, was to give people more choices for how to live and how to get around.

Among the most prominent proponents of the new approach was 1000 Friends of Oregon, a respected land use advocacy group that was founded by former Governor Tom McCall. 1000 Friends saw that fast-growing Washington County could serve as a model community for an innovative and productive land use/transportation plan.

The group called in experts from the around the country to help. Among them were Peter Calthorpe, a neotraditional architect and planner from San Francisco, and ECONorthwest, a consulting firm in Eugene, Oregon.

The resulting visionary program received financial support from foundations, the Federal Highway Administration, and the Environmental Protection Agency. It is popularly known as LUTRAQ, which stands for "Land Use, TRansportation and Air Quality."

The idea behind LUTRAQ is to establish well-designed neighborhoods, with homes, stores, offices, schools, and recreation within walking distance of each other and bus and rail transit stops.

The LUTRAQ team was made up of traffic engineers, architects, planners, and other technical specialists. A primary reason for the program's success were original computer models, which identify flaws in the conventional reasoning behind the building of new roads.

Researchers proved that traffic congestion is lessened by lowering demand, not by increasing road capacity. The LUTRAQ studies further showed that:

•Building new neighborhoods around transit stops reachable by a short walk lowers traffic congestion by more than 10%.

•Transit-oriented (as opposed to car-oriented) communities sharply reduce household expenses by allowing families to function well with one car, instead of requiring fleets of personal vehicles. The annual savings on car payments, insurance, and fuel averages $5,000 a year for each car a family no longer needs.

•Transit-oriented development allows twice as many children to safely reach school by walking or riding their bicycles.

•LUTRAQ also successfully made the case that just as railroad suburbs in Eastern cities were popular 100 years ago, a strong market exists today for modern transit developments. The team projected that during the next 20 years, about 75% of Washington County's new jobs and 65% of the houses could be supported in such communities.

•The computer models helped convince state and local officials to choose a plan for privately-financed compact home and business development over the taxpayer-financed highway, which would have cost $1 billion plus millions of dollars a year for maintenance.

The LUTRAQ team also has made progress on reversing trends in travel behavior, according to Project Director Keith Bartholomew.

The Portland area's regional government, known as Metro, has adopted a land use plan that calls for concentratingfuture growth into town centers that are served by light rail and buses. The approach is working--buyers are snapping up new homes and shops close to transit stops at prices that are lower than in any other metropolitan region in the West.

LUTRAQ, said Mr. Bartholomew, has proved to be "a rallying point for people not satisfied that a high quality of life necessarily includes acres of parking lots and miles of congested roads." G

For more information, contact: LUTRAQ, 1000 Friends of Oregon, 534 SW Third Ave., Suite 300, Portland, Oregon 97204; Tel. 503-497-1000.

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