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U.S. Department of Transportation
People in shadow


Purpose of the Primer

Transportation agencies have long been tasked with helping to support community goals of mobility, accessibility, and economic vitality. Recently, there has been a rising interest in having sustainability and livability goals help guide transportation system investments, with considerable focus on the interrelationship between transportation infrastructure, housing, and land use planning.

In addition to planning and designing transportation infrastructure, State, regional, and local governments play a key role in operating transportation systems from maintaining local traffic signals and crosswalks to operating regional transit services and Statewide traveler information programs. However, the role that transportation systems management and operations (M&O) plays in supporting livability and sustainability has not been well defined. As a result, transportation planners, operators, and stakeholders are not fully aware of the role that M&O may play in achieving livability and sustainability goals and how M&O strategies can support these goals in a cost-effective and timely manner. This primer attempts to respond to these gaps. It is designed to increase the understanding of the role of transportation systems M&O in supporting livable and sustainable communities.

The primer is directed at transportation planners and transportation system operators at the State, regional, and local levels. It is also meant to support the broader audience of stakeholders involved in all aspects of transportation and community decisionmaking, from elected officials and interested citizens to practitioners in related fields such as land use planning, community development, housing, the environment, and public health.

What Do We Mean by Livability and Sustainability?

Livability and sustainability are two closely related and overlapping societal goals that can be supported, in part, through transportation planning and operations.

Livability in transportation is about using transportation facilities and services to help achieve broader community goals, such as increasing travel choices, improving economic competitiveness, and enhancing unique community characteristics. Livability directly benefits people who live in, work in, or visit an area. Livable transportation systems accommodate a range of transportation modes (walking, bicycling, public transit, and automobiles) by creating balanced multimodal transportation networks that offer multiple transportation choices. Livable transportation systems provide reliable and timely access to jobs, community services, affordable housing, and schools while helping create safe streets and expand business access to markets. Figure 1 lists six principles of livability established in 2009 by the Partnership for Sustainable Communities, a collaboration among the U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Specifically, livability in relation to transportation includes:1

Six Principles of Livability

Partnership for Sustainable Communities

In June 2009, U.S. DOT Secretary Ray LaHood, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, and EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson announced the new Interagency Partnership for Sustainable Communities. The partnership defined six livability principles that will serve as a basis of interagency coordination designed to help America's neighborhoods become safer, healthier, and more vibrant. The partnership will encourage the incorporation of livability principles into Federal programs while better protecting the environment, promoting equitable development, and helping to address the challenges of climate change.

The Livability Principles

  • Provide more transportation choices. Develop safe, reliable, and economical transportation choices to decrease household transportation costs, reduce our nation's dependence on foreign oil, improve air quality, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and promote public health.
  • Promote equitable, affordable housing. Expand 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. Improve 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. Target Federal funding toward existing communities—through strategies like transit oriented, mixed-use development, and land recycling—to increase community revitalization and the efficiency of public works investments and safeguard rural landscapes.
  • Coordinate and leverage Federal policies and investment. Align Federal policies and funding 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. Enhance the unique characteristics of all communities by investing in healthy, safe, and walkable neighborhoods – rural, urban, or suburban.
Source: HUD-DOT-EPA Partnership for Sustainable Communities. Available at

Sustainability is frequently defined as "meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."2 Sustainability incorporates the "triple bottom line" concept, which involves maximizing the positive effect of decisions on three factors: equity (also known as social or people), ecology (also known as environment), and economy. The goal of sustainability is "the satisfaction of basic social and economic needs, both present and future and the responsible use of natural resources, all while maintaining or improving the well-being of the environment and ecology on which life depends."3 In practice, elements of livability and sustainability are closely related, and the transportation solutions that support each area are likely to be similar. Both livability and sustainability address issues of social equity and human health and seek to promote more environmentally friendly travel options and economic activities.

The key differences between livability and sustainability are their timeframes and scope. Sustainability includes a long-term, multigenerational focus that addresses larger environmental goals such as reducing climate impacts, increasing energy efficiency, and reducing natural resource use. Meanwhile, livability initiatives are often focused on near-term planning, funding, and implementation strategies at the community level.

This primer treats livability and sustainability as entwined concepts, seeking to identify ways that M&O can support both sets of goals.

What Is Transportation Systems Management & Operations?

Transportation systems M&O refers to multimodal transportation strategies to maximize the efficiency, safety, and utility of existing and planned transportation infrastructure. M&O strategies encompass many activities, such as:

M&O is also connected to planning and infrastructure considerations such as access management, street network layout, and intersection design (e.g., use of roundabouts, right-turn slip lanes and median islands, four-way stops, turning lanes). The emerging integration of operational improvements with urban design and context-sensitive roadway design— through such means as boulevard designs, repurposing of excess road capacity for bicycle lanes, and use of roundabouts—can help improve vehicular operations and multimodal access while improving safety, enhancing aesthetics, and reducing emissions.

M&O strategies involve a range of transportation operators and stakeholders, such as:

Why Is M&O Important to Help Achieve Livability and Sustainability Goals?

Regardless of whether it is a focus or not, the way in which transportation systems are operated affects how people and communities interact with those systems. Table 1 illustrates how transportation M&O is closely linked to livability and sustainability concerns.

Some conventional applications of M&O strategies have been counted as working against livability and sustainability goals because they facilitate automobile travel speeds that compromise the safety of other modes and improve vehicle traffic movement at the expense of other modes, which potentially encourages more vehicle travel and resulting emissions. However, M&O strategy applications can increase travel choices and efficiency for all modes—including transit, bicycling, and walking—while reducing emissions and resource use. For instance, a roadway can be operated to optimize only vehicle travel movement, or it can be operated to improve multimodal system performance through:

Both M&O strategies and livability and sustainability goals share an important objective of using resources more efficiently, whether those resources are land, fuel, or funding. M&O strategies do not have to be expensive or complex. Low-cost actions as simple as accounting for different factors when developing traffic signal plans, restriping pavement, or developing bus schedules and routes can increase transportation system efficiency. Many M&O strategies are activities that State and local governments and transportation agencies currently undertake, but which they may not consider to be part of their sustainability or livability efforts.

The key message is that M&O strategies can help improve how existing transportation systems interface with the communities they serve. As a result, considering how transportation is managed and operated can be a vital aspect of supporting livable communities and sustainable planning efforts.

Table 1. How M&O Affects People and Communities

M&O Affects...

Mobility and Accessibility—How efficiently people and goods can move from place to place and their ability to take advantage of different transportation choices. Example M&O strategies include park-and-ride lots, intermodal centers, TSP, and managed lanes.

Safety—How safe it is to walk, bicycle, take transit, or drive from place to place. Example strategies include traffic signal timing and the addition and improvement of crosswalks and bicycle lanes.

Reliability—How much time travelers are stuck in unexpected traffic due to incidents, work zones, special events, or bad weather. Example strategies include traveler information systems, incident response programs, and work zone and special event management.

Community Life—How pleasant the community environment is in urban areas, suburban neighborhoods, and rural communities. Example strategies include traffic calming, parking management, and pedestrian countdown signals.

Economic Vitality—How efficiently goods reach markets and how costly it is for the public and shippers to reach destinations. Example strategies include freight management strategies, ridesharing programs, and bus rapid transit.

Environmental Quality—How much fuel must be used and pollution produced by transportation operations. Example strategies include traveler delay reduction programs, encouragement of non-motorized modes, and support for increased transit ridership and ridesharing.

1 U.S. DOT, Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), The Role of FHWA Programs In Livability: State of the Practice Summary, March 2011. Available at: [ Return to note 1 ]

2 The "Brundtland definition" in the World Commission on Environment and Development, Our Common Future (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987). Available at: [ Return to note 2 ]

3 U.S. DOT, FHWA, Sustainable Highways Evaluation Tool, [ Return to note 3 ]

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