Mixed Use and High Density are the Cures for Phoenix’s Traffic Ills – Arizona DOT

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Paul is communications director for Mobility Lab. He specializes in storytelling and editing, as well as environmental and pop-culture issues related to transportation.
December 11, 2012

What’s really interesting in a new Arizona Department of Transportation report is not the finding that higher-density metro areas in Phoenix are less congested and traffic clogged than car-dependent outlying suburbs.

No, the most important aspect of the report may be the crucial recommendations located way at the back between pages 216 and 219. “Land Use and Traffic Congestion” notes that these are the steps to improving the sanity of Phoenix’s citizens who are stuck in a traffic jam:

  • Education to build awareness about the benefits of compact, mixed-use development and that, counter-intuitively, density helps reduce traffic congestion and noise and promotes safety.
  • Market mixed use, residential development as a way for all all kinds of populations to live, work, and play together in places that have a multitude of options and improve the lives of residents.
  • The use of planning tools (parking policies, turning lanes, signal synchronization, one-way street systems) that examine traffic impacts under a variety of development scenarios.
  • Site plans and long-term visions will help describe what a place will look like in 5, 10, 20, and 30 years down the line. The Arizona study suggests the use of GIS- or map-based land-use planning tools like Envision on IPLACE3S.
  • Improved coordination with local planning. The report notes that “strong smart growth states like Maryland have modified certain planning provisions regarding annexations, determination of adequacy of public facilities, and transfer of development rights to try to encourage more accountability in local plans, although the important rights still remain with the local jurisdiction.”
  • Incentives can play a crucial role in changing long-held and wrong-headed beliefs about the perceived evils of density. For example, in Maryland, the state made clear that it would no longer provide funding for public development outside of specified focused-growth areas. There are many other incentives such as planning grants, tax credits, “green tape” programs, reduced parking requirements, and bicycle and pedestrian project financing.

These are the kinds of recommendations we have been advocating. Mobility Lab has a front-row seat in the living laboratory of Arlington County, Virginia, and we see measures like those touted by the Arizona DOT improving the lives of people here everyday.

Photo by oheredia

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