Transportation’s Role in Public Spaces and in Placemaking

By Mr. Bruce Belmore P.Eng., PTOE, AVS posted 16 days ago

Which comes first when planning a new development—the land uses, or the roads that serve the land use? I suspect the answer depends upon who you ask. An urban planner would say that every great public space is based on great land use planning, whereas a transportation planner would say that roadway capacity dictates the amount of development and types of uses that can be supported. Neither answer is entirely correct. Land use and transportation are inextricably linked, and we should think of them as one entity rather than assuming one goes before the other. I can’t think of many great streets with a busy congested roadway cutting through the heart of them, nor of great streets with the absence of interesting land uses.

Think of a memorable urban area you have visited somewhere in the world—it could be a waterfront marketplace or a city center plaza. What are the images you see? Often they include crowds, attractions, shops, public art, and gathering places where you can wander aimlessly and explore. The area is usually walkable in scale and there are options for transportation, potentially with parking kept to the periphery of the area. The memorable area is neither devoid of cars nor overrun with cars either. Am I pretty close?

As a fresh graduate straight out of university, I would often attend project start-up meetings, listening carefully to the client’s vision for building a new development while looking at a draft land use plan. My role was to examine the road network, but I would not spend a lot of thought about the impact that I personally could have on the solution being proposed. A bit oversimplified, but our role as transportation professionals was to make sure the level of service was acceptable to the local municipality.

Things have changed immensely. Today, even a standard traffic impact assessment needs to thoughtfully examine the impact to all road users. We spend our time looking at safety, the blend of land uses, the interaction of modes of travel, apportioning use of road and sidewalk space along the street, the diversity of users, and trying to create public spaces with image and identity. Our role has expanded. We use “complete streets” concepts to design for safe, convenient, and comfortable travel and access for users of all ages and abilities. As practitioners, we need to continue to challenge how we can better integrate transportation into the public realm.

In this edition of ITE Journal, you will find countless examples of how placemaking is bringing land use and transportation together in unique ways. On page 40, an article on community engagement and outreach by Ankita Rathi shows how a suburban community was deeply involved in its downtown revitalization. Jen Malzer and Marianna Brussoni
share resources and ideas for involving kids with transportation projects on page 46. And organizations like Congress for the New Urbanism, Project for Public Spaces, and AARP share their work in placemaking and how it impacts the larger community, beginning on page 16.

I would encourage all of you to consider how our role is more than just providing for mobility. It should be to examine the ultimate purpose for the transportation network as part of development and establish how we can improve on what is being planned. Great communities start with great planning.

Happy placemaking!

This blog post is from the President's message in the October 2019 issue of the ITE Journal