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Land use & transportation

Considering context and targeting investments

Land use and transportation decisions are closely linked and it’s important for decision-makers to consider how each impacts the other.

When making transportation decisions, the context of a transportation facility matters. Factors such as whether the area is urban or rural, the community size and surrounding land use (residential, commercial, industrial, agricultural, etc.) can all impact the priorities for a specific route. Better understanding the surroundings can help us make better decisions about how we invest on transportation.

MnDOT has long embraced the principles of Context Sensitive Solutions, but implementation has varied. This update to the Statewide Multimodal Transportation Plan is considering how MnDOT can help develop a common language or framework to better ensure transportation projects are planned, designed, developed and maintained in a way that reflects and is informed by the surrounding context. But what does this framework look like? Which types of decisions should be more or less influenced by context?

Photograph of a highway winding through trees.

In some circumstances we may want to go one step further. We may want to target certain investments in areas with particular types of land use or development patterns. (In other words, we might want to make investments based on what's currently—or could be in the future—near the transportation facility. Is it parks, farms, factories, office buildings, fields, shopping centers, or something else? Is there a network of connected transportation facilities or a lot of dead end streets?) For example, recent MnDOT bicycle planning efforts found that Minnesotans value connections within communities more than long-distance routes. Additionally, the Minnesota Legislature has established a number of goals for the transportation system, which include increasing the use of transit, bicycling and walking as a percentage of all trips. The surrounding features of an area play a significant role in an individual’s likelihood to use these modes. It’s also important to acknowledge that, generally speaking, populations without regular access to a personal vehicle tend to be concentrated in urban areas and other key communities.

Currently, transportation agencies are often playing catch-up to land use decisions, especially when development patterns do not match up with the existing or planned transportation system. For example, siting schools or medical facilities on the edge of communities stresses the transportation system by requiring people to travel greater distances to go to school or a doctor's appointment.

These land use decisions often necessitate new infrastructure investments (i.e., making new trail or road connections). Transportation planners are faced with limited resources and a need to gain a high return on investments. As such, should investments and service improvements in communities actively planning for and implementing mutually supportive transportation and land use decisions receive funding priority? If so, for what types of programs or investments does that make sense?

What do you think? Let us know your thoughts belowin the right-hand sidebar at the top of this page.

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