Linking Transportation and Land Use

The planning profession often has to look ahead, to see the bigger picture, and help connect people to their destination. One principle that helps achieve this is linkage between land use and transportation. This is vital for organizing at the neighborhood, community, county, and regional scales. Transportation services and infrastructure can impact land use patterns, quality of life of an area, and the overall economic trajectory of a region.

Before going too far in describing how this principle can be applied, it is important to define three components:

Land use – The fundamental setting and context for determining application of the land use/transportation linkage principle. Are you dealing with a local neighborhood issue or something at a higher scale that may involve more agencies to consult or review a proposed solution? Are you in a semi-rural area or a dense urban setting? Both the primary project and the associated benefits may be affected.

Transportation – The key determinant that may involve greater review and comment, depending on the mode (highway, transit, vans, bicycles, etc.), scope of the project, the jurisdiction(s) involved and the level of community outreach and information required. Sometimes, however, a controversial proposal may create a level of public interaction that is beyond the initial physical scale of a project.

Linkage – The key ingredient for the principle to work as designed, in order to yield multiple benefits. Linkage can include physical connections, improved accessibility, coordination, and integration. Recognition by participants that these outcomes are important is needed to yield both direct and indirect benefits. Linkage works two ways: the project affects the geographic area, and the geographic area will affect the project. An open and participatory involvement process typically helps to keep all participants informed and maintaining a stake in the outcome.

All professions have various qualifications, standards, and principles that reflect their values and approaches to the issues that they address on a daily routine. These standards are intended to frame ethics and core education and practice requirements to ensure a fundamental level of attainment for practitioners and academics engaged.

Applying the principle

Conceptually, two examples come to mind which demonstrate how linkage can work. One way is through transit-oriented development (TOD), involving a rail or transit line, including busses. In legislation and in local ordinances, TOD usually involves development within a quarter to a half mile radius around a station. This compact area is intended to facilitate use of transit, including walking, handicap access and close-in parking for driver access. Accessibility to the station and transit platforms is also critical. If the new or existing development does not provide effective accessibility, then the result will become transit adjacent development (TAD) rather than TOD. The TOD area can also be used to provide development bonuses for locating there, as well as a rationale for financing mechanisms to capture a portion of the value of new investments to derive funds for other municipal projects. In Pennsylvania, the Transit Revitalization Investment Act (TRID) is intended to support the creation of TODs and the simultaneous funding approach for other investments.

Another way to showcase linkage is through interchange area districts involving cooperating developers, office parks, and shopping centers to create an incentive for locating around the interchange and a financing approach for needed public improvements to benefit both the community and the participants. Here in the Greater Philadelphia region, PennDOT has been an active partner with Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) in Chester (Rt.29 and 202) and Montgomery counties (King of Prussia/Upper Merion) have been successful in such approaches, including working with local Transportation System Management Agencies (TMAs) for supplemental van services in coordination with SEPTA where possible.

How we can help

Land use and transportation linkage works and is available for use in a variety of settings beyond the two instances that I have described. Now is a particularly critical time to identify opportunities to leverage this principle. Understanding how transit adds value to development projects and determining how it can support broader community goals and objectives is crucial for long-term success. Situations like TOD investment will play a significant role in the years to come because of the American Jobs Plan providing significant federal investment across the United States. ESI combines economic, strategic, and analytics capabilities to help clients navigate an ever-changing environment and achieve these types of objectives. Likewise, thoughtful engagement with decision-makers, stakeholders, and the public provides the foundation for sound planning, successful projects, and better communities.


Richard Bickel | [email protected]

Richard Bickel is a member of ESI’s Senior Advisory Board. He has been a practicing professional planner for more than 43 years. Richard has been active in the American Planning Association, American Institute of Certified Planners, and Transportation Research Board throughout his career. He currently serves on the Legislative Committee of the Pennsylvania Chapter of APA and was President of the Eastern Pennsylvania Chapter of the APA, one of the forerunners of the current statewide chapter, and a member of the national Legislative and Policy Committee and a site visitor for the Planning Accreditation Board.

Share This