You are here

Climate Leadership Academy


Deputy Administrator Therese McMillan
 Talking Points
 Climate Leadership Academy
 Chicago, IL
 September 22-23, 2009

Livability Initiative

Fostering livable communities is a key aspect of President Obama’s urban policy agenda and Vice President Biden’s Middle Class initiative.

How a community is designed – including the layout of its roads, transit systems and walkways – has a huge impact on its residents. For instance, nearly one-third of Americans live in neighborhoods without sidewalks and almost one-half of households say they lack access to public transportation.

Improving the livability of our Nation’s communities will help raise living standards.

To address this, Secretary LaHood has implemented a DOT-wide Livability Initiative to enhance the economic and social well-being of all Americans by creating and maintaining a safe, reliable, intermodal and accessible transportation network that enhances choices for transportation users, provides easy access to employment opportunities and other destinations, and promotes positive effects on the surrounding community.

DOT– HUD- EPA Partnership

Secretary LaHood has also partnered with the Secretary of HUD and the Administrator of the EPA to form an interagency Partnership for Sustainable Communities.

Six guiding ‘livability principles’ will be used to coordinate Federal transportation, environment, and housing investments at each agency:
•Provide more transportation choices by developing safe, reliable and economical transportation choices to decrease household transportation costs, reduce our nation’s dependence on foreign oil, improve air quality, reduce GHG emissions and promote public health.
•Promote equitable, affordable housing by expanding 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.
•Enhance 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.
•Support existing communities through transit-oriented development (TOD), mixed-use development and land recycling – to increase community revitalization, improve the efficiency of public works investments, and safeguard rural landscapes.
•Coordinate policies and leverage investment 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.
•Value communities and neighborhoods and enhance community characteristics by investing in healthy, safe and walkable neighborhoods – rural, urban or suburban.

To implement these principles, FTA staff is now working with our Federal partner agencies to:
•Identify and propose solutions to institutional and legal barriers that inhibit coordinated planning and program development.
•Examine localities that are already successfully applying the Partnership principles for Sustainable Communities.   We want to better understand the ingredients for success, including how the challenges were overcome. And share what we learn will all communities.
•Develop programs of training and technical assistance to improve the institutional capacity of State/local officials to produce Sustainable Communities.

Livability-Related Programs/FTA Priorities

FTA has long fostered and promoted livability through various agency programs and activities. Examples:

The New Starts and Small Starts programs are the Federal government’s primary financial resource for supporting locally planned, implemented, and operated major transit capital projects.

These programs have helped make possible dozens of new or extended transit fixed guideway systems across the country – heavy rail, light rail, commuter rail, bus rapid transit, and ferries.

These public transportation investments have improved the mobility of millions of Americans, provided alternatives to congested roadways, and fostered the development of more viable, safe, and livable communities.

The FTA-HUD Working Group is another example. FTA is working with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to better coordinate affordable housing and transit through joint planning, demonstration projects, and research on best practices of TOD and affordable housing.

The average American household now spends 34 percent of its annual budget on housing and 19 percent on transportation—more than half of its budget.

For low-income working families, the impact is even greater. 

These transportation figures drop significantly for transit-rich areas and increase for auto-dependent exurbs.

Building upon previous efforts to better coordinate transportation and housing plans, FTA and HUD have developed an “Action Plan” that reported to Congress ways in which the two agencies propose to promote affordable housing near transit. 

We have also established an interagency working group to develop coordinated/integrated strategies, methods, and policies to promote the role of public transportation in affordable housing.  We are currently working with HUD to develop a workplan for implementing their proposed strategies in this area.

We are also working together to conduct research on good practices for development of a “Best Practices Manual” to provide guidance to local communities on how to best plan and develop affordable housing near transit.

The Job Access and Reverse Commute Program (JARC) provides low-income workers and students with transportation services to jobs, employment centers, and educational institutions.

A recent study of the economic benefits of employment-related transportation services concluded that transportation funded through the JARC program provided access to approximately 43.4 million jobs, including 21.2 million low-wage jobs.

FTA:  Building Sustainable Communities

As you can see, livability is not a new concept for FTA. In fact, at FTA we think that we have always been “all about livability.” 

Key Federal transit initiatives supporting sustainability include:
•Improving mobility and accessibility;
•Promoting TOD and joint development;
•Improving housing affordability; and
•Coordinating land use- transportation planning

Land use has always been a key factor in transit planning and investment decision making.

Local zoning ordinances and other land use policies dictate the nature and type of development that may occur, and the extent to which that development will be transit supportive.

We all know that the success of transit depends upon the underlying pattern of land development.

Transit also plays a critical role in community building.  Federal transit programs were located in HUD even prior to the establishment of DOT. Transit is still crucial to “place making,” in addition to providing mobility. 

Transit is part of the network of roads, streets, walkways and bikeways that are key to building “place.” 

Transit provides a catalyst for targeted economic development in existing and proposed station areas enhancing the economic health and vitality of communities.

What is Transit-Oriented Development & Joint Development?

TOD is compact, mixed-use development near transit facilities and high-quality walking environments.

TOD is development-oriented toward transit usage.  TOD is:
•Multi-use, multi-density development
•Pedestrian friendly
•Reliable transit – frequent headways, on-time performance with jobs and housing within ½ mile of station/center

TOD is about creating sustainable communities where people of all ages and incomes have transportation and housing choices, and increasing location efficiency where people can walk, bike and take transit.  It provides value for both the public and private sectors.  This is why affordable housing TOD is so important.

TOD leverages transit infrastructure to promote economic development and smart growth.

It boosts transit ridership and reduces automobile congestion.

And, most importantly, TOD creates a sense of “place” and enhanced community livability. 

FTA has a specific form of TOD called “joint development.”  Joint development takes place on, above or adjacent to transit agency property and involves the common use of property for transit and non-transit purposes.

Joint development uses real estate in which FTA has an interest for construction of a project undertaken jointly by an FTA grantee and another party.
 The non-transit portion of the joint development can be for public or private use.

TOD or Joint development activities are eligible under FTA existing programs. TOD is an eligible planning expense and transit-related components of TOD and joint development are an eligible capital expense.

To be eligible for Federal transit funding, the TOD component must be transit related, and generally:
•Provide a public transportation benefit, by enhancing the effectiveness of a public transportation project; or
•Provide an economic link, by enhancing economic development.

The transit agency interest in TOD or joint development is: RIDERSHIP. 

In many places, the transit agency’s annual funding may depend on maintaining or improving ridership. 

TODs can increase transit ridership, making existing and planned transit systems more productive.

Livability’s Role in Mobility and Accessibility

DOT and FTA believe all segments of the population must have access to safe transportation services to get to work, housing, medical services, schools, shopping, and other essential activities.

Transit provides critical “lifeline” services that connect all members of the community with employment, health, educational, and other important opportunities and services.

As we work to reduce GHG emissions and increase the livability of our communities we need to make sure that community transportation services are seamless, comprehensive, and accessible to those who rely on them for their lives and livelihoods.

For persons with mobility limitations related to advanced age, persons with disabilities, and persons struggling for self-sufficiency, transportation within and between our communities needs to be as available and affordable as possible.

FTA emphasizes the need to coordinate the transit services provided through its JARC, New Freedom, and Elderly/Persons with Disabilities Programs enabling communities to leverage non-FTA human services transportation and extend transit service coverage. 

This effort needs to be woven into any transportation/land use planning to ensure that physical design of, and service provisions within the TOD structure serve broad and diverse mobility needs.

Planning is Fundamental

Planning is the under-pinning for livable communities.

FTA recognizes that to improve planning, States and localities must focus on the outcomes of our plans and investments.

They need to coordinate land use and transportation plans to ensure that investments of limited transportation funds support development patterns that are energy efficient and increase the mobility and accessibility of a community’s residents

FTA and our sister agencies are working to increase the capability of States, regions and localities to meet their planning challenges. 

Examples include the Transportation Planning Capacity-Building Program (TPCB) that provides opportunities for the planning community to network and learn from each other; and Administration of the Public Transportation Participation Pilot Program (PTP) which targets innovative approaches to public involvement in public transit.

Also, in fostering effective planning for TOD, FTA is working with Reconnecting America and the Center for Transit-Oriented Development (CTOD) on a number of items. Most recent is the report, “TOD Tools for MPOs,” which is now out for review/comment by a long list of stakeholder organizations, including APTA.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions and TIGGER

Along with making communities more livable and sustainable, transportation has a large role to play in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Transportation accounts for 28 percent of the United State’s GHG emissions—second only to emissions from utilities.

Thus, Federal investments made today in public transportation infrastructure will have lasting impacts on reducing GHG emissions and mitigating transportation’s impact on climate change.

Public transportation offers a low-emissions alternative to driving and facilitates compact development, further reducing travel distances and a community’s carbon footprint. Transit can help communities become more environmentally sustainable.

Through the National Transit Database, FTA collects data on passenger miles traveled and electricity, diesel, and other energy consumption from transit agencies across the country. 

DOT is working with EPA to develop new coordinated tailpipe emissions and fuel-economy standards for 2012 through 2016. This national level data show significant GHG emission savings by use of public transportation.

Studies show that transit’s land use effects have an even greater impact on reducing GHG emissions than transit’s efficiency over the private auto. In addition to producing lower GHG emissions per passenger mile, transit can reduce GHG emissions by facilitating compact land use. 

TOD and the denser urban form facilitated by transit availability means that people do not need to travel as far to get to their destinations.  Combining transit and supportive land use policies offers synergies that increase each strategy’s impact.

Transit’s ability to reduce GHG emissions was recognized in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The Recovery Act provided FTA with $100 million in discretionary stimulus funds to support transit capital projects that resulted in GHG emissions reductions or reduced energy use.

FTA published a Federal Register Notice on March 24, 2009 announcing the availability of funding and inviting proposals for these grants titled Transit Investments for Greenhouse Gas and Energy Reduction…or TIGGER as we like to call them. 

FTA received more than 200 application proposing more than 550 projects, totaling over $2 billion.

Because of the intense demand for the TIGGER funds, FTA was unable to fund all eligible applications.

It was a tough decision as there were so many innovative projects sent in; but on Monday, Secretary LaHood announced 43 award recipients for TIGGER funds. (OR…we will be announcing the award recipients soon).

Future Challenges
•Program Coordination within DOT
•Program Coordination between Federal and other governmental programs
•Funding: at all levels

Updated: Wednesday, March 16, 2016
Submit Feedback >