I am passionate about intersections - organizational, social, cultural, and physical - where people come together and have to coordinate to figure out what happens next.

The Journey

Posted: May 6th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Comments Off on The Journey

Mode shift means having populations change their travel behavior, usually through economic and infrastructural incentives. What I’ve found though is that’s just half of the solution, because these incentives are created by organizations — legislatures and agencies. Just as we ask populations to shift their behavior, the other side has to change as well. Both the producers and the consumers of transportation have to broaden their field of scope to see other ways of accomplishing goals. It’s a mind set.

In transportation terms, agencies and planners have previously focused on narrow methods to achieve objectives: residential areas are far from commercial areas. Traditional planning says the best possible solution is to build four lane divided highways between these two land use areas, allowing trips between the two places. Where we can’t do so because of space or financial limitations, we’ll build as close to that as possible. Done.

Mode shift takes a step back though. The mind set of mode shift says we can get from origin to destination in a variety of ways, and as policy makers, planners, and builders, we should equitably support this daily journey.

Agencies charged with making these options available may try to accomplish the goal in the same manner it built highways: come up with a solution, budget for it, and implement. Anything outside that scope might seem hard to integrate.

Taking a trip is very different than taking a journey.

Last week I was in meeting with MassDOT about, among other things, how the GreenDOT directive could influence and achieve mode shift. A host of advocacy groups were represented, though lacking any driver advocates. Perhaps we didn’t need them, as this is an agency up until a few years ago a large part of it was nearly solely focused on building highways for automobiles to get from point A to point B as quickly and safely as possible. No more. MassDOTs focus is now multimodal; planes, trains, and automobiles. Plus walking and biking.

The agency is growing into its new identity. We talked about how to achieve better mode shift and how we, as advocates could help. So many ways. There are so many projects that are being planned that there isn’t even enough time to promote them to advocates. Projects that improve pedestrian and cycling environments are being implemented at highways speeds.

There is no time to do a power map, research case studies, visualize data, or suggest bibliographies. There isn’t a quantification of what you can do, or even should do. Only what you have to do.

Our hosts were gracious. We were often thanked for our time, our insight, and our passion to partner with a state agency. But concurrently apologizing for the rushed nature of the meeting. There were projects to complete!

It is in this academic study I got to take that step back, to equitably include additional methods for mode shift: coalition building, power mapping, court cases, media and messaging. In my first post, I described mode shift partially as the perception of the public of what is possible. The “I need to go to work each day, as safely and quickly as possible at the least cost.” Right now, the only perception is generally narrow: buy a car, drive it work, park it. MassDOT has changed their focus though; all modes must be accommodated.

The outcomes of mode shift is that populations change their behavior. The challenge is letting them know that this new freedom to choose is possible, encouraged, and supported in the same way we used to do for automobiles.

Mode Shift: A conversation with a veteran dog wagger

Posted: April 1st, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Comments Off on Mode Shift: A conversation with a veteran dog wagger

I sat down with Steve Miller, a long-time transportation activist, co-founder of Boston’s Hub On Wheels Bike festival, and a gubernatorial appointee on the state’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Board. He currently publishes a weekly blog titled, “The Public Way: Transportation, Health, and Livable Communities.” and is a board member for LivableStreets. In his day job, he oversees the New England Healthy Weight Initiative at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Nutter: I wanted to get into a discussion about mode shift. Of all the things we talk about in transportation and environment and urban design and even zoning code and healthy communities and even obesity, mode shift is the knuckle, the key for everything. It’s is the hardest thing to talk about because it can be wonky — “mode shift” itself is a wonky kind of term. It seems to be about creating opportunities for everybody to make their own individual choices. Massachusetts is one of the few states where this is talked about at a high level and the state is becoming a national leader. But nobody is really sure on how to do it. There is the push and the pull and the endgame around it. There’s telling people to walk. People need to have an incentive but they need one that is real — not like a “I’ll give you $5 if you walk to work.”

Miller: When you say mode shift, what shifts are you referring to?

Nutter: I’m talking about a shift from the majority of the population — however much the transportation community wants it to be different — getting around by car to some other form of “active” transportation.

Miller:  Many people believe that it’s not true, that the shift is not actually happening.

Nutter: True.  And, in fact, no matter what the longer-term demographics are doing, people get around by car. We have an infrastructure that wholly and completely supports that, and really supports nothing else except for some things around the edges.

Miller: I would say inadequately supports transportation by car, actually.

Nutter: Right. It is layers on top of layers, so you have city streets which are historic and made to be for communities and then state highways which were laid on top of that in the early turn of the century, and then superhighways which were laid on top of that which were literally about from A to B. But there was never — even prior to state highways — there was no talk of mode shift. There was a sidewalk, because that is streetlife.

Miller: There is a conscientiousness and a deliberateness now instead of a “go with the flow” like there used to be: People want to drive, so we’ll make cars for roads, which will make more people drive, and therefore people will want to drive so we’ll make more roads. You sort of went with the flow, but now there is this conscientious effort to almost go against the majority flow and with the minority flow.

Nutter: I’d like to know your thoughts on how to achieve that. I know that is a huge question, but luckily we have a series of policies — GreenDOT and others — that are really about mode shift even though they may not say they are about mode shift specifically. In fact, the policies may not even be in transportation, they may be about a health initiative on getting people to walk more. In Massachusetts we are at this point where our roads are at capacity and we have no more space to build roads or add lanes, our subways and buses are at capacity and we have no more money for that, so the only way to accommodate more people and have economic growth is to get people to walk and bike more because that could pull some people away from the subways, some from the buses, some from the highways, in addition allowing for greater choice.

Miller: The first complicating issue here is that mode shift is mostly a derivative impact of other changes rather than an originating goal and strategy. There are things you can do that facilitate mode shift directly, such as creating the ability to do something other than having a car like having bike facilities, having bike festivals, having trolleys and trains. That’s the proactive, positive component. But to develop and strengthen and activate the latent demand, is all a secondary impact. Most of what creates mode shift is changes in land use and zoning, its changes in the economics, and its changes in the distribution of residences to jobs. So part of what makes this complicated is you need to be operating on both sides. And maybe a third side as well, which I’ll get back to.

The first side is you need to operating on these other primary aspects; you need Smart Growth, you need New Urbanism, you need employment justice and spatial geography balancing. These are big picture, longer range projects and movements.

Secondly you need, proactively, to make it feasible to use an alternative. If there is no bike lanes, if there are no bikes, if there are no trains, it doesn’t matter where you live.

The third leg of the stool is the disincentives. That’s where economics comes in. How do you make it cheaper to take the alternatives? Positively, you could subsidize bike purchases or subsidize T-passes. Even more powerful than that is raising the price of gas. Find ways to disincentivize purchase and use through cost and accessibility. We did this with tobacco, making it harder to find a place to smoke, raising the price of cigarettes, and having a cultural thing that makes people who smoke look stupid as opposed to cool.

Some of that is cultural and economic, but there are the physical disincentives. In the Netherlands, they took up the roads away by saying they were for pedestrians or for bikes. Or you make it so cars can’t go fast. What gets interesting about some of this is there are inadvertent ways to do it and there are explicit ways. The inadvertent is you cut your maintenance budget and you just let your potholes sit there. The proactive is you re-time all your intersections to favor bikes and peds and give buses priority even if it messes with traffic flow. That’s a two-fer because it actually incentives and disincentives.

This complication makes this a really hard thing to do. And the mega context that makes it even harder is as you said in the beginning, such a high percentage of the population is so deeply wedded to the use of a car for the fact that there is no alternative, for the the fact that it is enormously convenient. If you’re going more than 10 miles and there are five people in your family and they’re all going different places at unscheduled times, there is no substitute for a car.

Nutter: Unless you live in Manhattan.

Miller: Unless you have enormous geographic change, that’s right. Now though more and more people are living in city centers, or in villages, I think that the great suburban collapse that everybody was touting five years ago is not going to continue. The suburbs are going to re-energize themselves as money flows through the system again. There could be enormous over-developed swaths, maybe outside of Las Vegas, or parts of Atlanta, or Texas that will never recover. But lots of places will recover. So that sort of Death of the Suburbs, “everybody’s moving to the city,” that’s not going to happen. There just are not enough houses in the city.

Nutter: There aren’t enough houses, but if we went with population growth as a measure, one thing we could do is say we can’t develop any more land. Or we can only develop a quarter of the amount of land we would normally need and tied to population growth. Like air pollution. Virgin land development has basically similar long-term effects on our bodies and our communities as pollution. You start to compress people into what the existing infrastructure can hold, and that drives the incentive to develop Smart Growth and bike lanes.

Miller: Now you get into kind of density that people want. Huge fights in Cambridge over Central Square. Do we want Kendall Square to march up Main Street and come into Central Square? I have very mixed feelings. The subway is right here, you should have high rises. I don’t want to live in Manhattan. Its too damn noisy, its too dirty. Where’s the compromise, where’s the way through this?

Nutter: Paris. Also very dense.

Miller: The trick here is smaller apartments. Smaller space between the apartments. And smaller cars. If you don’t provide enough facilities for cars, you start reversing this trend. The micro-apartments in itself is ridiculous. Its never going to be a mass movement to have these 200 sf houses, but starts to set a cultural trend into “smaller is ok.” And I think that’s really important.

So I don’t think there is a particular handle that says we’re going to get mode shift. If I had to come up with a strategy, it would be a lot of this other stuff which is important for its own right and then some proactive investment in alternative facilities. The trick with all the Smart Growth-like strategies is has to make sense in both a mega principal for the future and for someone’s comfort and convenience right now. You have to connect the here and now with the future dynamic. Very few people, not a huge percent, are willing to sacrifice now for the future.

Nutter: That’s really kind of the big thing and the issue with policy and population. Policy generally tries to think about the future. But population and politics thinks about here and now. When the policy expert says “What would be great is if we all rode bikes and this is what we should do to make that happen.” The politician looks at it and says “That’s not what happens right now and my constituents need to elect me next year so I’m not going to be involved in that.” As a state, and as a nation, we have set a goal of mode shift though I wouldn’t call it that explicitly.

Miller: Right. We need a different way to frame it so that is the goal but it is not what we’re explicitly going after.

Nutter: One of the reasons I think the United States is where its at now (in terms of automobile use) is that we have a very different property rights structure than most of Europe or Japan. Because of that, if you own property you can do whatever you want with it, whether or not its for the good of the country or community.

Miller: Very few countries of the world have our kind of attitude.

Nutter: That has given us what we have, combined with these other transportation policies. When I’m looking at it I’m thinking that it has to go back to the property owners. Public infrastructure is one thing but if the built environment is created in a certain way–for example if it is spread out too much or if buildings are too large in scale–meaning the ability of the built environment to interact at the human scale–walking and biking can’t work in that system. One of the reasons why bike lanes and sidewalks aren’t used in areas with spread out development.

Property owners have to be included. They have to start thinking about different ways that they could develop or organize their property. Part of their incentive has to be based on the good that it can bring to the community. They’re not going to do it out of the kindness of their heart. Maybe one percent of them may, but if you’re a property owner, you want to maximize value. Give the property owner some sort of financial incentive to make whatever it is that they do better for the community. For example, the building next to Converse downtown, this first new building that does not have a parking garage. Their proformas initially probably said you’re supposed to have one space per whatever. Not only that, the city said you have to have one space per whatever. But they were able to find some sort of financial incentive to not do that.

Miller: The irony here is that the property owner has a huge incentive not to build parking lots. They are sort of being forced by old policies to do it.

Nutter: And old development models.

Miller: Old policies, old development models, old bank expectations, old neighborhood expectations.

Nutter: We’ve all been attuned to that “we need to provide parking.” And banks don’t give loans to projects that don’t have parking because they might feel its not going to be financially viable. Developers don’t care, property owners may or may not care. They’ll do whatever it takes to maximize the value of their property. Changing that structure seems to be one of the ways. That’s exactly what we did with the suburbs. We had all this rural real estate that had poor infrastructure to get to. If you wanted to be downtown Boston and you were 20 miles away, it took forever. But once you put a highway in, and you put in zoning codes the land instantly becomes valuable. Of course, this is happening in the context that the target customers had accessibility to automobiles and fuel made economically viable through loan programs and subsidized oil.

Miller: This is the side effect of the proactive approach. If you start making more train tracks, and subways and bus lines, people will start developing and then living around them. That’s been the experience almost everywhere. Even bike lanes might have that effect.

Nutter: I think so. I think that Beacon Street in Somerville is going to become the coolest place to live.

Miller: That’s interesting but that’s not so much direct incentive.

Nutter: Its more like a package of incentives. Its not Rich Davey getting up and saying “We’re going to have 5% mode shift.” That’s great but so many people would fight against that. So we need something else that achieves the same goal. I’m trying to figure out why these policies that created GreenDOT are in place and why they’ve taken hold. For example, how did the Healthy Transportation Compact come into being? Why is it real? I mean, it seems like a dream.

Miller: That was Denise Provost who put it in on the behalf of step in Somerville because they were worried about air pollution. Because there is enough overlap of people concerned about air pollution, climate change, bicycling, they all sort of know each other’s arguments and will support them even if they are coming from a particular priority. So on one hand Denise was doing that. On the other hand, when Patrick was first elected, i pulled together a meeting of the secretaries of public health, transportation, and environment. I knew people in the Patrick administration, I used the Harvard connection to get public health, LivableStreets had started so we had some cache in transportation, so once we got one secretary to come, then others had to come because they didn’t want to miss anything. It was right in the beginning of Patrick’s administration. We had a joint meeting with the three secretaries basically around the message that the future of public health, transportation, and environment is coming up with a joint platform.

So when the healthy transportation compact was being put in the legislative package, you already had some acceptance at the highest levels in the administration of having that there. Those two internal things started happening. Externally there has been this resurgence of bicycling, of climate change consciousness all across the country. So you have a larger context and you have a little bit of internal work and you had a champion in the legislature. Most of the people in the legislature and the administration didn’t think through the implications, they just saw the immediate language. “You want to promote healthy transportation? Sure that sounds good.” That’s how it went through. It wasn’t taken seriously for the first couple of years, partly because Aloisi and then Mullen had their hands full just dealing with organizational reform. Mullan’s primary focus was taking all these separate units and actually creating one department. It’s why Davey has some time to think more about the policies. Mullan made gestures toward the policies.

Nutter: I think that this concept of raising the price of fuel is really important. If you could do it very gradually across several years — like we’re going to raise up to $10 across 15 years, whatever it is. Something that gives everyone the ability to adjust because we have a system that is based on gas being $3 a gallon.

Miller: The problem with the gas tax is that Massachusetts can’t get too out of line with its neighboring states. Its on the lower scale of its neighbors at the moment, but more expensive than New Hampshire. We could go up maybe 10 cents to put us relatively on par with Maine and Rhode Island but cheaper than Connecticut and New York. A dime a gallon would be a great beginning, but if we go too high we might lose out. Economic change comes at the margins. The core of the system just keeps churning on. It’s like the economic meltdown. It wasn’t the core that died, it was the speculative fringe. Which is why it doesn’t matter if its two percent. That doesn’t keep it from being the tail that wags the entire dog. The bad part is a sliver of the population or business that would say “Screw Massachusetts, we’re going to New Hampshire” will control what happens to vast majority.

Nutter: Is there a way that you would propose raising the cost of fuel from a policy perspective?

Miller: I think what you’re saying is the right way, but I’m not sure if goes far enough. Now with all the fracking, the cost of fuels are dropping. One way is to continue subsidizing electric vehicles and hybrids. Another is start being really pushy about zoning and smart growth. I don’t know if you’ve been following the zoning reform efforts but it’s just some minute changes that we’ve been able to get through. It is taking forever. Somebody told me they had been working on this for 20 years. This year we have a small chance and what they’re going to accomplish is small. The best would be congestion tax. The problem with that you just reinforce the suburbs, you give incentives for businesses to move to the suburbs.

Nutter: Unless their employees don’t want to be there. Its one of the reasons Converse is relocating. I was told that prior to Google opening an office in Pittsburgh, the mayor was touting to them the education in the area, etc. But Google said they’d like to open up a place but the city didn’t have enough bike lanes. Not enough infrastructure. Their employees wouldn’t want to move there. So it’s keeping up this momentum, that you don’t want to have to drive.

Miller: How do you make that stick. How do you make culture an active policy focus? That’s a hard one. That’s about hipsters and cool and the media.

Nutter: But its also about people who do it everyday, who are not only making it work, but its their choice. I heard on the radio recently someone talking the line attributed to St. Francis: “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.” I think that is what culture change is all about. If you are within a group of people they just start changing. But if you go up to someone and say “you should change” that’s when they’ll push back simply because you told them to change.

Miller: You have to live it. This is where bicycle ambassadors are important, those of us who just go out and do it.

Nutter: Riding my bike around Cambridge, Somerville, and Boston, in the past three years has gotten immensely better. Partially because of the infrastructure but because the drivers and the community is attuned to seeing me there. Even though there are just a couple of cyclists. There is really just a smattering.

Miller: Yes, it turns out that we cyclists are the margin that is shaking the dog.

Power Mapping Mode Shift

Posted: February 26th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Comments Off on Power Mapping Mode Shift

Microsoft PowerPoint - MPP+session+6+power+map

I recently mapped out the power struggles of achieving substantial mode shift in Massachusetts. When trying to change or enhance a specific policy, its easy to get wrapped up on a few known people or groups who oppose it. With most policies though there are few who would outright oppose it, and often a complex web of power with issues that have little to do with the policy itself.

With mode shift there are a number of individuals and groups who may choose one side or the other. The largest realization here was that there are a substantial amount of small, local players. Because mode shift involves rethinking the existing space we use for automobiles and better funding for transit, the some groups will have a larger stake in one or the other.

The most interesting strategy came out of this exercise that is a truism for all policy: making it relevant to each potential supporter and non-supporter. Groups aligned with the issue–like public health groups–may not participate because transportation isn’t part of their agenda. Other groups and individuals may initially object to individual mode shift projects but could be persuaded to be supporters if they could see how it would help them.

With mode shift, it is important to realize that Massachusetts isn’t going to become Copenhagen. Rather the goal is to develop an incentive structure that promotes choice, ultimately removing a percentage of automobile trips. This means less traffic congestion. And that can appeal to nearly everyone. As the classic Onion article headline reads: 98 Percent Of U.S. Commuters Favor Public Transportation For Others



Which Came First, the Infrastructure or the Mode Shift?

Posted: February 26th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Comments Off on Which Came First, the Infrastructure or the Mode Shift?

With mode shift its interesting to see how the interplay of opportunity and culture play together. How we choose to get around, specifically in our daily commutes to work or school, can be shaped heavily by land use, by the scale of buildings, by the availability of infrastructure, or by culture. And its is often all of these things together.

To examine this in the context of mode shift, I recently started checking out Social Explorer. It’s a site that allows you to map census data going back to 1790! I decided to look at walking before and after the implementation of highway infrastructure, and to also look at land use in terms of density. I’ve chosen two points, 2010 and fifty years prior, 1960. The results are interesting.

First, lets look at what percentage of people got to work by car in 1960. This map is zoomed out to about the extent of the present-day commuter rail system and to the communities that are largely served by some kind of limited-access four-lane divided highway. These are also communities that are up to about 15 miles outside the city. All of them were served at this time by some level of regional arterial, maintained and administered by what was then the Massachusetts Department of Public Works (the “highway department” didn’t come into being until the 1990’s). These were roads like Route 9, Route 38, Route 28, Route 2, or parkways like the Jamaica Way. What is interesting about these roads at the time, while they connected cities together well enough, they served the populations that lived along them rather than just those passing through.  This made passage slower for those going from point A to point B but raised the quality of life for the communities that they passed through. It also provided just enough incentive to live a little closer to work, raise the demand for public transportation, and make communities more compact. But it also gave opportunity to those wishing to drive to work or make deliveries possible without restriction

You can see that for the most part, outside of Boston’s core, about 50% of commuters drove to work. Even in bike-crazy Copenhagen, about 30% drive to work, because there is always a need for private automobiles. But this also means that 50% of the people living up to 15 miles from the commercial center of the region got to work some other way rather than driving.

Drove 1960

In 2010, after the implementation of not only Interstate 90 running east-west (and largely parallel to the more community-focused Route 9) and Interstate 93, those percentage of those driving to work changes dramatically–even though more jobs can be found 15 miles outside the city than in 1960 and we spent hundreds of millions investing in commuter rail.

Drove 2010

You can see that many census tracts approach more than 90% driving to work. Statistically you can say at that point that “everyone drives” because it is largely true. What is also interesting here is that communities that are part of Boston-proper, and are well-served by the best subway line Boston has–the Red Line–have dramatically increased their share of driving to work. Places like Dorchester and Roxbury, which are some of our lower-income neighborhoods where the burden of automobile ownership is higher, doubled their driving to work habits.

A few places, like the area around Lincoln, decreased their driving to work, along with the areas of Somerville and Cambridge that got the Red Line extension. What is also interesting is that the new Red Line stops in Somerville and Cambridge do not have a highway nearby but the areas of Dorchester that saw a rise in commuting by automobile do have Interstate 93 running parallel to the subway line. Clearly it is difficult for a  subway line to compete with a highway.

Walking is the most interesting form of commuting. In order to walk, you have to live pretty close to where you work–like less than a mile or so. Walking also creates pedestrian activity–the kind you find on Newbury Street even in the dead of winter–allowing all kinds of small, often  proprietor-owned–to be able to exist economically. Pedestrians make for great, vibrant, thriving towns and increase safety on the street.

In 1960, an amazing about of people reported that they walked to work–even if they lived 15 miles outside of the core urban area. Now I’m not saying people walked 15 miles to work. Not at all. Rather, there were more smaller shops, more opportunity for neighborhood shops, more green grocers instead of supermarkets, and so forth. All these places needed workers. And instead of working in a big office building downtown (this was just before the Prudential Center or John Hancock tower was built), commercial areas were distributed more densely across the region. So maybe a lawyer could work in a firm in Newton Center and lived a few blocks away, for example.

Walked 1960

Now in this map we can see that in many towns outside of the urban core, the amount of people walking to work falls somewhere between 4 and 16 percent. This may not seem like a lot, but that’s basically around the targets for GreenDOT’s mode shift goals. It’s a big goal. Just check out where we are today after building highways into the urban core:

Walked 2010

Basically nobody outside the urban core walks to work anymore. The exceptions are college campuses, which are–especially in New England–compact small towns where everything you need in daily life is within walking distance, even if you live off-campus.

One other thing is density. It hasn’t changed as dramatically as how we move around. Planners often talk about increasing density to make car use decline. And while that may be true, what I find is that infrastructure availability is just as important. For example, present-day Somerville is one of the densest places in the United States, and the most dense in all of New England. Yet its population has little to no opportunity to access dependable public transportation and has to rely on bus lines that get stuck in traffic and often run in highly inconvenient intervals. Consequently, the areas at the Cambridge line near the new subway stops after 1960 saw a decrease in driving to work and the areas further away saw a dramatic rise in driving to work.

DENSITY in 1960

Density 1960

DENSITY in 2010

Density 2010

One final note about density. Boston’s West and North End in 1960 has density levels that would compete with present day Hong Kong, Manila, or Dehli. One census tract in the North End had more than 114,000 people per square mile! This is about 8 times the present-day density of Cambridge, a fairly-dense city by North American standards where a third of people commute to work by either bike or walking, and where pedestrian activity is large enough to support many neighborhood centers that fulfill most daily needs.

Two Interesting Case Studies

Posted: February 5th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Comments Off on Two Interesting Case Studies

There are many case studies that survey the links between land use, the environment, and transportation. Here are two that I’ve found particularly interesting. The first is from 2004, by Jonathan Levine & Aseem Inam, titled “The market for transportation-land use integration: Do developers want smarter growth than regulations allow.

The authors suggest that developers are basically building within the system that they are regulated in, and that if given the choice, they would rather build walkable communities.

The second case study is from The Harvard Forest, Harvard University. Released in early 2014, Changes In The Land, describe four scenarios for the future of Massachusetts, based on land use and transportation network. The case study argues that how we shape our land use policies will affect how our forests are able to function.

One report comes from the consumption and the other from conservation. But both point to the similar outcomes: our want to live in compact, walkable, connected communities meshes well with our need to better manage our land. It is our policies inbetween these needs and wants that have been most resistant to change.

Achieving Mode Shift in Massachusetts

Posted: January 29th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Comments Off on Achieving Mode Shift in Massachusetts

Over the next few months I’m going to be examining the policy topic of mode shift, an specifically how it can happen in Massachusetts.

Mode shift is clearly a transportation policy phrase. Few in the public think about shifting modes when they choose walking over driving to get to a destination. Most likely they will be making the choice because its the option available to them that feels most convenient or is part of their natural behavior. If you live in compact, walkable neighborhoods where many of your daily needs can be met in short walks, and where the infrastructure takes into account for your level of ability, and where that journey is perceived as safe and pleasant, you might choose walking over driving. If there are disincentives to driving–perceived lack or high direct cost of parking, or traffic congestion–these may cause you to walk even those some of the more positive incentives are lacking.

Successful mode shift is the result of an integrated set of changes to our physical environment, land use and zoning, policy, and individual behaviors. A series of policies that are being written that help achieve these goals ranging from the direct, like making the costs of driving more transparent and achieving more equitable funding for non-automobile infrastructure, to less direct like creating large scale and coordinated conservation zones around cities and towns to limit long term sprawl so that future development will be constrained and compact to increase the walk-ability of cities and towns.

Massachusetts is taking a national lead in developing sets of policy directives (some coordinated and some not) that span transportation, environment, public health, and zoning to achieve mode shift. While mode shift is good supporter of goals in each of these areas, the state has additional reasons. We are a small state where much of our land use is constrained. We also have dense, complex, and expensive to maintain existing automobile infrastructure that is near capacity. Both of these happen in a vibrant economic environment, creating long-term population growth. One way to allow for growth is to remove some automobile trips from the system. For Massachusetts, mode shift is an economic necessity.

Brooklyn Design Published

Posted: December 31st, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Comments Off on Brooklyn Design Published


Using Coordinated Conservation Easements to Reinforce GreenDOT

Posted: December 20th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Working Policy Papers | Comments Off on Using Coordinated Conservation Easements to Reinforce GreenDOT


In the last several decades land development has grown at rates much larger than population growth, causing our cities to be less compact and require the use of an automobile, and our farmland and wilderness areas to be overdeveloped. Development could be curtailed through the use of large-scale transfer development rights banks, where landowners could sell the rights to develop to other landowners in already urbanized places. Over the long term, this would allow our urban land to be more efficiently developed, more compactly, and allow for public health and environmental gains that are the goals of current legislative policies.


The relationship between land ownership and the public good is often framed as a debate between the rights of each interest. This competing dynamic is the basis for an evolving tort law defining this relationship. One area of ongoing debate is the improvement of a parcel of land, the rights of owners, and the how the guiding hand of regulation can or should play a role in controlling how, where, and how much land is developed.

Development that responds to the human form by being compact, walkable, and connected is shown to be the best for the public good.[1] It supports healthy communities and individuals, lowers overall energy consumption, reinforces regional planning objectives, and has been shown to increase economic stability in neighborhoods[2]. Land is a finite shared resource. In the last several decades there has been an increase in the development of land that is exponential and incongruous with population growth rates,[3] leading planners, advocacy organizations, and governments to try and restrict development through a variety of regulatory instruments. For example, in Massachusetts the urbanized area has increased more than four-fold[4] in the past 60 years,[5] even though population growth rose just 25%.[6]

This paper argues that the reduction of growth in over-development of land would be better achieved by lowering the economic benefit of development and recognizing the value of development rights–separated from the inherent value of a property–that landowners hold often because of adjacent publicly owned infrastructures. By severing these development rights, landowners in areas deemed of need to be preserved could realize the value of development by selling these rights to landowners in areas sought for growth. Multiply this severance across thousands of parcels and sustainable, deed-restricted conservation can take place without the use of traditional regulatory restrictions.

The improvement of land generally is performed by an owner because there is economic value to do so. Some of that value is derived from the inherent quality of the land–the views from it or because of the minerals underneath it. However, some of the value of developing it is attributed to the abutting parcels around it and the adjacent connections it may have. These may be natural, such as land on the coastline or near a regarded mountain peak. However, for most parcels, the non-inherent, non-natural adjacent value of developing is directly dependent on man-made adjacencies by other land-owners, be they private or public.

Prior to the middle of the 19th century, there was a more clear-cut distinction between where the value of the developability of land came from. In urban areas, land primary held developable value due to its adjacencies to other parcels–for example, how close it was to the center of town, to the shipping port, or along a main thoroughfare. Land outside of urban areas were valued more for their inherent qualities–if it had a good source of water, if it had good soil, if it received an adequate amount of sunshine, or had a natural energy source such as a waterfall.[7]

During this time, growth happened more slowly than in recent decades, partially because transportation methods were slower.[8] Urban growth began at ports of trade and moved out from there.[9] New towns would be started in rural areas along regional trade routes that had access to sufficient farmland and all the resources needed. Growth in the new areas was organic, often a few partially self-sufficient agrarian or manufacturing settlements that could create a surplus of goods to sell in other markets (often the ports or stations of trade). Travel time between towns made the volume of inter-regional or inter-state travel fairly low, reducing the economic impetus of large-scale extra-urban development.

With the arrival of the locomotive, the automobile, and distributed energy utilities in connection with their far-reaching infrastructures, each becoming more refined and efficient over time, the development value of all land increased not by its inherent qualities but by its adjacencies to transportation and energy infrastructures. Nearly all but the most remote of land rose its it development potential. This has given landowners significant opportunity to realize a return of a development investment of their parcel.

In the present day, land no longer needs to be near a stream for water or an energy source. The space itself, apart from its adjacencies or inherent qualities, is often simply a medium for development. A town can be created nearly anywhere, not just near a good food production area. In fact, due to the abundance of efficiently distributed inexpensive energy, no longer must land have inherent natural qualities to be suitable for development; it is easy enough to fill in tidal flats or move mountains to make land more valuable for development.

Governmental bodies have developed increasingly complex methods of regulating development, from local zoning ordinances to regional land-use agreements and targets created by inter-governmental agencies with low accountability or authority.[10] This regulation has been developed because municipalities are trying to control the rights of individual landowners so that they may act in greater accordance with the public good. In the mid-19th century, there was little pressure to develop marginal tracts of land due to the strong local environmental and non-regulatory forces that determined the value of improvement. The introduction of 20th century infrastructures removed these forces leaving only regulatory power of control, which is often too weak and malleable to be sustainable over generations.

Through the course of recorded history, the benefit of the lack of ability to develop broadly has been cities and towns planned at the pedestrian level, without the need for populations to have access to large-scale and expensive transportation systems. For example, in the last 30 years of the 19th century, many cities on the East Coast experienced explosive population growth. Even without extensive zoning, what was built was fairly uniform and highly compact. For example, in the Boston neighborhood of Dorchester during this time, nearly 9,000 individual landowners made a decision to build a house.[11] Today this neighborhood has a WalkScore of 75 and “most errands can be accomplished on foot.”[12] Its 14,000 people per square mile contrasts to Los Angeles, largely developed after the introduction of infrastructures, half as dense and difficult to traverse on foot.

This type of compact development similar to the kind created in the 19th century and before is a known solution as part of range of current policy goals. Modern planning and public health research has shown that it reinforces physically and mentally healthy communities and individuals, lowering the overall amount of carbon use, supporting equitable goals, diversifying the tax burden, reducing the per-user cost of infrastructure, and supports regional-level land-use best practices.[13]

Many policy strategies have been proposed and adopted to support and reach these goals. In recent times, cities such as Portland, Oregon have tried to combat this economic tide by creating urban growth boundaries, often with little success. Unregulated development often simply occurs outside the boundary, acting as a release value for the economic forces and with little to no restrictions put on travel between the two zones.[14] The forces of development are strong and multifaceted–each individual landowner has an economic interest in the property and while each parcel has differing development potential, nearly every parcel has some type of improvement value because of the issues discussed at the beginning of this paper. What were once completely inaccessible and difficult to develop hillsides can be made economically viable in very short amount of time with explosives and bulldozers. The delineation of a growth boundary is a singular approach originating from the sphere of the public good, while the reasons for the need of the growth boundary are widely varied and from many participants acting primarily outside of that sphere.

By acting together over a large region that is matched in scale with ease of travel between areas through coordinated conservation, governments can better spur landowners to act in ways more beneficial to the public good. One method of accomplishing this would be to form a transfer development rights (TDR) bank, allowing sending areas to sell their assets-as-development-rights to be bought later by another landowner in a receiving area.

This kind of coordinated conversation would not be a type of urban growth boundary. Rather than a type of singular regulatory approach to regional growth management, TDR banks are market-based conservation strategies to affect land in a reverse way that the urban sprawl of the last 50 years has done; by reducing the value of developing land parcel by parcel.

Land Ownership and Its Bundle of Rights

A bundle of rights, such as mineral or air rights, come with an estate in the land. These are physical things and come from the concept of “Cuius est solum eius est usque ad coelum et ad inferos”—the ownership of the land and everything above or below it that dates to the time of Edward I. There are also rights endowed to a land owner by an economic market and often restricted by a governing body. While all landowners have the right to develop (barring easements and other covenants in the deed), what and how much they develop is often determined by what would be most profitable. Skyscrapers aren’t built in the middle of an Iowa cornfield. The energy, complexity, and cost limit this type of development to parcels with the right amount of adjacencies to make it profitable.[15]

All rights have the potential to be severable from the land. Owners may sever these rights from the land by placing easements into the deed. This has often been done for mineral rights through conveyance that began in earnest in the 19th century. In the early part of the 20th century, landowners have been able to abstract these rights and disconnect the use of the land in a formalized way through instruments such as conservation easements. Conservation easements began as a way of preserving tracts of land from development. Landowners can enact conservation easements because they see the value of their property in terms of what its conservation provides rather than how it could be exploited for development.  Additionally, landowners can sometimes reap tax benefits by conserving their land, but only if the taxing body also recognizes the value of the land in its conservation. While most often done at the level of individual land parcels, Montana is one state that has begun a program to coordinate conservation easements as a method of wildlife conservation and engage landowners directly.[16]

More recently, landowners who choose to conserve the land from further development have been able to sell these rights to another parcel owner. When sold, the process is called the transfer of development rights. Currently, the value of a parcel is most often determined in the context of zoning, when a government agrees with the landowner that the preservation of their undeveloped or underdeveloped land would benefit larger the larger use of land under its governance. In order to compensate the owner and to give the rights market value, the governing body needs to establish areas or parcels that are able to utilize these sold rights. Often this occurs by relaxing the zoning requirements of a non-contiguous parcel receiving the development rights. By coordinating conservation easements, governments can achieve land-use goals by coming from the point of view of the landowner rather than as the heavy hand of restricting use through zoning.

An Evolving History of Transfer Development Rights

TDR programs started with two parcels, one to send rights and one to receive. It has evolved from there to encompass larger collections of parcels. Several programs spanning entire regions or states. Each iteration being an advisory model, a regulatory enforcement model, or a blend of both. The first TDR is thought to be in New York as historic preservation of Grand Central Terminal, in the case Penn Central Transportation Co. v. New York City.[17] Owners of the building were able to realize the value of their ability to develop by selling their right to do so to another parcel owner across the street. That owner was able to build a taller building and Grand Central Terminal was preserved as a landmark building for the public good. In this way, TDR is a concept as a way to stabilize the forces of development in a relatively small context of one urban parcel to another. New York City continues to have a robust TDR program across the city.[18] It has the advantage of a single governmental entity able to administer programs.

Transfer development rights have been used to preserve open space and farmland at a larger level where county governments have the authority to regulate land use, such as in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.[19] These instances have required governmental agencies overseeing larger tracts of land to issue directives of how other municipalities can institute TDR but do not set up the coordination of such programs. Another good example of this is New York state[20] providing guidance for municipalities concerned with loss of open space to create their own program, such as in New Paltz.[21]

Increasing in scale and policy complexity, the largest formal transfer development rights management area is the New Jersey Pinelands Development Credit Program. This program spans four rural and suburban counties and is primarily aimed at limiting growth and development in across the seven counties identified as part of the Pinelands National Reserve. Here, TDR is a method of keeping the rural land rural.

In Washington State, TDR is being used to keep the urban areas sufficiently urban, by seeking to remove new land from development and limiting supply. The state has begun a program in the Puget Sound area–Greater Seattle–to combat urban sprawl, which has caused environmental damage to the area.[22]

Other states, such as Rhode Island, are furthering the connections between land use (conservation and development), environment, transportation, and traditional industries such as agriculture and fisheries. Rather than regulatory control from the government, they are asking the citizens to map out areas to conserve and areas to build up, including landowners and land users in the discussion.[23]

Examples of Inter-Municipal Coordinated Conservation

Coordinated action on land use is complex and requires cooperation from a range of government bodies as well as landowners. Four examples are described here.

New Jersey Pinelands Development Credit Program

This state program is considered one of the first inter-municipality preservation areas. It has focused on preserving the Pinelands area, established in 1981, and covering 1,700 square miles in the area roughly between the northern suburbs of Philadelphia and the Atlantic Ocean. Fifty three municipalities participate. The program began as a response to strict regulations imposed upon landowners within areas designated for preservation. Landowners were able to realize part of their economic value by selling their development rights to a bank. Credits are given to landowners based on agreed set criteria and applied to each parcel: Every 39 acres is given a credit, and wetlands are granted 2/10ths of credit. Parcels less than 10 acres with existing non-residential development are not given credits. Each existing single-family house on a parcel reduces its credit by 25%.[24]

Since its inception, 11 parties have purchased an unspecified amount of credits. However, one large residential developer has purchased 80 of the available credits. One hundred and eighty-eight landowners have severed 258 credits, often in fractions of credits.

Boulder County Noncontiguous Planned Unit Development

Boulder County’s planned unit development (PUD) policy promotes a mixed-use approach to all development. Nonurban area landowners located within approved sending areas may transfer their PUD rights to a receiving district following a set of criteria and in consultation with adjacent landowners. The voluntary program, coordinated by the county government, covers 750 square miles.

Collier County Transfer of Development Rights for the Rural Fringe Mixed Use District

Like the Boulder program, this is an intra-county program, and located in southwest Florida. It was adopted in 2004. One credit is granted per five acres. To date, nearly 1,500 credits have been issued. The program is voluntary for landowners and covers about 2,300 square miles.



Regional Transfer of Development Rights in Puget Sound

Like the Pinelands program, this is an inter-county program and spreads across four counties that make up the Seattle Metropolitan area. Seventy-one cities across more than 6,800 square miles are covered in the program. Each county has began developing its own TDR program, using their authority to enforce and respond to local needs, and this program is a way for the state to coordinate these efforts. This has been organized as a partnership between the county governments, state agencies, and non-profit advocacy organizations, working from federal grants to promote the legislation that supports regional cooperation.[25]

Transfer Development Rights in Massachusetts

Massachusetts has been named as having some of the most outdated land use laws.[26] However, the state has already started to put in place some of the frameworks that are required to create a successful statewide or regional transfer development rights program that could go beyond an advisory program. The state could leverage existing legislation and benefit from a transfer development rights bank to support the goals of municipalities, advocacy organizations, legislative directives, and state agencies. The possibilities for a broad-based transfer development rights program can bring better land-use best practices across generations and become a national model for other states and metropolitan regions to replicate.

Massachusetts covers 10,555 square miles and composed of 351 cities and towns, each with their own zoning regulations and the authority to enforce them. Because each municipality is relatively small in terms of budget and staff (apart from a few major cities), each has limited time and money to devise a TDR system, coordinate it with adjacent municipalities, and administer it for generations. They already have a difficult time taking into account broader interests.[27]

Filed legislation such as the Land Use Partnership Act of 2009, authorizes cities and towns to start a TDR, but does not coordinate it among them.[28] Only two towns and one county currently have a TDR program in place; Raynham, Framingham, and Barnstable County, affecting about 12% of the state’s land area (and most of this area being the county).

However, if a state agency were charged with being a clearinghouse for municipalities and landowners, actively engaging them, and coordinating sending and receiving areas across municipalities, there might be a better chance for success. Its in the best interest of the state to take on this role, as to coordinate it existing scattershot of legislative directives and bills aimed at the same goals as what a TDR Bank could accomplish, such as The Community Preservation Act of 2000, section 40B of 2004, and H.1859 of 2013.[29]

One of the goals of the Community Preservation Act of 2000 is to create funds to preserve open space, through the purchase of easements or properties, through fee or eminent domain.[30] While bestowing such ultimate power to municipalities provides them with the strength against uncooperative landowners who do not have any interest in the public good, it is a heavy hand approach giving landowners little incentive to work toward the goals. If we wanted to restrict growth to only existing urbanized areas and leave non-urbanized areas untouched, it would be prohibitively expensive for municipalities to purchase–even through eminent domain–all of the parcels (or even a partial interest) that would be needed to have a fully successful conservation program. A sampling of purchases of the last 14 years across the state shows about $16,000 an acre being spent.[31] Further, if ballot measures such as Oregon’s Measure 37 or Arizona Proposition 207 were to spread to the Commonwealth, a CPA program would be entirely unsustainable.

Many of the projects completed by the CPA involved the local municipality purchasing the development rights. Wouldn’t it be more beneficial of tax dollars for cash-strapped municipalities (and CPA funds) to allow other landowners to purchase these restrictions through a TDR bank program? Creating a TDR bank would allow the CPA to coordinate and administer rather than acquire. For the nearly half of the municipalities in the state that have chosen to participate in the CPA program, it could be an excellent community vehicle for determining sending and receiving zones for participation in a state-wide TDR bank.

The state has another kind of quasi-proto TDR bank in place, but without the needed sending and receiving areas, and with little coordinated communication or engagement of either landowners or municipalities. In addition, it is limited in scope to affordable housing only. The Massachusetts Comprehensive Permit Act: Chapter 40B, established in 1969, seeks to encourage higher density development of affordable housing (often near public transit stations or as in-fill to existing urban areas). It gives flexibility to local Zoning Boards of Appeals to approve affordable housing developments if a quarter of the units have long-term affordability restrictions. Thus, it seeks to centralize the decision to build at higher densities through an often unelected body using sometimes arbitrary standards.

In addition to legislative affairs, agencies are issuing guides and creating policies that lay the foundation for a statewide TDR program.  The Department of Environmental Affairs and the Department of Transportation have taken steps to encourage conservation, with their Smart Growth Toolkit and the new GreenDOT policy and office.

Regional planning authorities such as the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission and the Metro Area Planning Council have included TDR language into their documents;[32] however there currently is not a specific TDR program at the regional or state level. Non-governmental advocates, such as the Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance, also are calling for policies and legislation that would be supportive of a TDR program.

GreenDOT and TDR

Existing land use practice has happened partially because transportation policy, funding, and implementation has opened new areas for development. In essence, the transportation infrastructure of the last 50 years has been the main driver for increasing the value of privately-owned land to which landowners have benefited.

This is where the state has an opportunity to fully connect transportation and land use. Since 2009, Massachusetts has had a new agency that pulled together previously disparate transportation agencies. The legislating that created the Massachusetts Department of Transportation included language calling for an office of sustainability within the new department. MassDOT secretaries since have interpreted this into a combined set of sustainability goals called GreenDOT and have raised the GreenDOT coordinating office to the level of Assistant Secretary.

GreenDOT goals are pulled from transportation sources, but also from public health and environment department goals. The main goal is to achieve “mode shift” in transportation throughout the state. Specifically, we don’t have the money or the space to build or maintain more highways or add more lanes. We’ve achieved a kind of infrastructure peak. But we need population growth in order to fuel our economic growth, so we’re going to have to start directing our transportation resources to create more integrated infrastructure for pedestrian and bicycles. Because the mode of walking and biking require things to be closer together we also need to funnel new development toward compact growth. [33]

GreenDOT could be an impetus for setting up a state-level coordinated conservation easements through the TDR instrument. Changing how transportation functions through a set of goals will also require the use of land use policies that encourage the compact growth, and while some of that can happen from regulatory functions such as zoning, there will need to be incentives set up for landowners not to develop as they please and be compensated for their presumed loss.

Through the Department of Housing and Community Development, if the state took the role to administer or designate the administration of a state-level TDR land bank that would support the bulwark of new policies and allow landowners from different municipalities to be compensated. One cited issue where TDR is not effective is for rural areas where there isn’t demand for development–in fact that there needs to be a stable market for development for TDR to be most successful.[34] Cities and towns in the Boston metro have a fairly stable market–the last real estate downturn was mild for the area, especially compared to the rest of the country[35]. A state-wide TDR program could share that wealth because it would allow rural landowners to conserve their land and concentrate development around existing infrastructure in the state.

Transfer development rights can be a powerful tool that allows landowners to voluntarily participate,[36] and communicates to the market in more exact terms than previous methods (such as where a new road was built) what a governing body sees as most beneficial development areas under its control.


[1] Integrated Approach to the Planning and Management of Land Resources, United Nations Agenda 21, Chapter 10

[2] NRDC Reducing Foreclosures and Environmental Impacts through Location-Efficient Neighborhood Design

[3] “Population and Sprawl – Sprawl – Sierra Club.” Population and Sprawl – Sprawl – Sierra Club. N.p., n.d. Web. Last accessed December 15 2013.

[4] US Census 2010. Last accessed December 15, 2013

[5] “Urbanized Areas Expand By A Million Acres A Year,” St. Petersburg Times, April 11, 1954, pg 6-F.

[6] US Census Bureau via Google

[7] Lindert, Peter H. 1988 “Long-run Trends in American Farmland Value,” Working Papers Series, no. 45. University of California–Davis Agricultural History Center. pg 3

[8] Mumford, Lewis. 1961. The City in History: its origins, its transformations, and its prospects. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World. pg 429

[9] Jaffe, Eric. 2010. The King’s Best Highway: the lost history of the Boston Post Road, the route that made America. New York: Scribner. pg 7

[10] Reuters. “Tea Party Activists Fight Agenda 21, Seeing Threatening U.N. Plot.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 15 Oct. 2012. Web. Last Accessed December 15 2013.

[11] Warner, Sam Bass. 1978. Streetcar suburbs: the process of growth in Boston, 1870-1900. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

[12] “South Dorchester.” Walk Score. N.p., n.d. Web. Last Accessed December 15, 2013.

[13] “Smart Growth Benefits Municipal Budgets.” Smart Growth America. N.p., n.d. Web. Last Accessed December 15,  2013.

[14] Jun, Myung-Jin. 2004. “The effects of Portland’s urban growth boundary on urban development patterns and commuting”. Urban Studies. 41 (7): 1333-1348.

[15] Though we could argue that many skyscrapers have recently been built in the middle of desert. This has been made possible through the selling of minerals through the right of extraction exercised by the landowners. This is a complex method of transfer of the value of mineral rights and the prime enabler of landowners in non-mineral rich areas to realize the value of their own development rights by flooding the market with these minerals in the form of inexpensive energy than can be efficiently distributed.

[16] Mortensen, Erica. “Montana Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy: From Planning to Implementation.” Web. Last Accessed December 15 2013

[17] Penn Central Transportation Co. v. New York City. US Supreme Court. 26 June 1978.

[18] Been, Vicki and Infranca, John, Transferable Development Rights Programs: ‘Post-Zoning’? December 2012. Brooklyn Law Review, Vol. 78, 2012

[19] United States. Lancaster County Government. The Lancaster County TDR Practitioner’s Handbook. Brandywine Conservancy, Jan. 2008. Web. Last Accessed December 15 2013.

[20] United States. Department of State. New York State Government. Transfer of Development Rights. James A. Coon Local Government Technical Series, 2011. Web. Last Accessed December 15 2013.

[21] United States. Town of New Paltz, NY. Farm Preservation Plan. ACDS LLC, 2004. Web. Last Accessed December 15 2013.

[22] “Regional Transfer of Development Rights.” Regional TDR Rights Program. Web. Last Accessed December 15 2013. www.commerce.wa.gov/Services/localgovernment/GrowthManagement/Regional-TDR-Rights-Program/Pages/default.aspx.

[23] “RhodeMap RI | Help to Build a Better Rhode Island. Suggest Ideas, Leave Comments, and Second Ideas You Support.” RhodeMap RI. N.p., n.d. Web. Last Accessed December 15 2013.

[24] New Jersey Administrative Code. 7:50- 5.43(b)1.iii and iv

[25] Bonlender, Brian, Bob Drewel, and Gene Duvernoy. Regional Transfer of Development Rights in Puget Sound. Rep. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, June 2013. Web. Last Accessed December 15 2013.

[26] Howell, Peter, and Abigail Weinberg. Western Massachusetts: Assessing the Conservation Opportunity. Rep. The Kohlberg Foundation, Section 5, Web. Last Accessed December 15 2013.

[27] “The Ten Primary Building Blocks of the Land Use Partnership Act.” Massachusetts Housing and Economic Development, May 2009. Web. http://www.mass.gov/hed/docs/permitting/zoning/building-blocks-5-09.pdf.

[28] “Land Use Partnership Act.” Land Use Partnership Act. Web. Last Accessed December 15 2013. http://www.mass.gov/hed/economic/eohed/pro/zoning-reform/land-use-partnership-act.html.

[29] An Act Promoting the Planning and Development of Sustainable Communities, H. 1859, 188th Massachusetts General Court.

[30] Massachusetts General Laws Chapter, §§ 44B-5e-5e.

[31] “Community Preservation Coalition.” CPA Projects Database. The Community Preservation Coalition, Web. Last Accessed December 15 2013.

[32] Valley Vision 4. Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, 20 Mar. 2013. Web. Last Accessed December 15, 2013.

[33] GreenDOT Final Implementation Plan. Massachusetts Department of Transporation, 12 Dec. 2012. Web. Last Accessed December 15 2013.

[34] “Ohio State University Fact Sheet.” Transfer of Development Rights, CDFS-1264-98. Ohio State University Extension, Web. Last accessed 15 December 2013

[35] Morgan Brennan. “Cities Where Real Estate Is Ripe For A Rebound.” Forbes 1 January 2012. Website. Last accessed 15 December 2013

[36] Aken, Jeff, Jeremy Eckert, Nancy Fox, and Skip Swenson. Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) in Washington State: Overview, Benefits, and Challenges. Rep. The Cascade Land Conservancy, Mar. 2008. Web. Last accessed 15 December 2013

Grounding the McGrath

Posted: November 14th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Comments Off on Grounding the McGrath


Vehicle Miles Travelled, Convienence Stores, & Obesity

Posted: August 12th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Comments Off on Vehicle Miles Travelled, Convienence Stores, & Obesity


In the past 40 years there have been substantial changes to how we transport ourselves from home to work, school, and social activities. Partially through demand of users and partly because of system-induced demand–the way we have built our cities and towns–we are driving more, walking less, and living at longer distances from our daily activities than we were before.

In addition, highway design standards have evolved to become the defacto design standard against which all other roads are judged. This has been due to the perceived safety and efficiency of a road designed to highway standards: usually divided multiple lanes in each direction, reduced crossings though substantial turning lanes at major intersections in combination with “free” rights (a single lane with a radius that allows turning without waiting for a signal change), specific grade changes and curve radii, among other features. Originally developed for the Eisenhower Interstate System for mainly rural areas, these design standards have been applied at some level to all means of road systems, often without context in mind. At the same time, we have seen an ever increasing level of public debt to pay for the new infrastructure. Together with the vast increase in disconnected suburban housing divisions that have a sole-reliance on the automobile commuting travel, these changes have been marked by an exponential increase in vehicle miles traveled. In perceived correlation, we have also seen obesity rates rise, and since the mid-1990s, rise at faster rates than before.


To begin to examine these changes, I have chosen one year in the recent past where all the necessary data is available, 2008. To further sort the data, I’ve created two groups: states that were listed as obese in that year and those that were not (where 0=not obese and 1=obese). Those states are shown in the Obesity Trends (figure 1) here as Alabama, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia.

My research hypothesis is that there is a positive correlation between the levels of higher highway debt as a percent of total expenditures, and higher vehicle miles traveled per licensed driver, and higher obesity rates.

This hypothesis comes from two assumptions. First, there are limited functions of government and also limited resources. A state that spends more on highways often does so as an economic investment though highways tend to serve automobile-centric sprawl in the suburbs and tends to reduce walkability in urban areas. Could it be that the bonding of highways takes resources away from programs and policies that might encourage walkable neighborhoods and discourage driving? Secondly, the hypothesis assumes that sedentary lifestyles—driving is essentially sitting—contributes to weight gain. There is some research that validates both of these assumptions; it is beyond the scope of this study to examine these any more than anecdotally.


Interestingly, while the level of the population that is measured as overweight has seen little change in the past 50 years (figure 2), while the level of obesity—those with more than 30% body fat (BMI) has risen since the late 1970’s and this roughly correlates with the 150% percent change since then in vehicle miles traveled.

I’ve also looked an additional variable beyond automobile use and infrastructure. When a road is built to highway standards it often promotes the development of specific businesses designed to perform best in automobile-centric environments; parking lots easy to access, large signs, long expanses of street frontage. One of the most successful business models has been the convenience store, often with an attached gas station. Their growth rate has risen dramatically over the past forty years and the business model is largely made possible by roads designed to highway standards. Convenience stores usually sell heavily processed food products that nutritionists claim lead to obesity. I compare the amount of convenience stores per licensed driver, the amount of vehicle miles traveled per licensed driver, to the number of lane miles available (where one lane three miles long would be the same as three lanes one mile long). As a secondary hypothesis, I propose there is a positive correlation between these variables.


All but one of the variables included in this study comes from the federal government and primarily from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). Additionally, I have captured a few variables from the Census Bureau and the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

The FHWA and the CDC do not actively engage in data collection.[1] Rather their role is to work with the states — their highway and health departments respectively — to establish collection guidelines and to combine and publish the data. The data from the FHWA comes from the annual Highway Statistics. Data from the CDC comes from their also annually published Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System[2], a measure of behavioral risk factors of the adult population.

To find the annual expenditures of each state, I have turned to the professional membership organization National Association of State Budget Officers’ (NASBO) annual State Expenditures Report[3]. Its data is gathered directly from the budget officer of each state and all budget officers are members and report.

The Variables, in detail

1) Amount of Highway Debt. From Highway Statistics, sheet SB-1 “State Obligations for Highways – 2008, Obligations Issued or Assumed During Year”. This number describes the combined debt currently owed by the state for all years up to and including the study year. The table can be found at http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/policyinformation/statistics/2008/sb2.cfm.

2) Total Expenditures. From the National Association of State Budget Officer’s annual State Expenditures Report. The number includes nearly everything the state spends money on, no matter the source of funds. The report can be found at http://www.nasbo.org/sites/default/files/2009-State-Expenditure-Report.pdf.

3) Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT). Vehicle miles traveled are the number of miles driven within the study area. Data included in this report comes from Highway Statistics, table VM-2, “Functional System Travel, Annual Vehicle – Miles” found at http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/policyinformation/statistics/2008/vm2.cfm.

4) Total Lane Miles. Defines the hypothetical length of all the lanes in the study area if they were connected in as single continuous lane. For example, a four lane one mile road would be four functional lane miles. The data comes from the table HM-60“Functional System Lane-Length – 2008 Lane-Miles”, found at http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/policyinformation/statistics/2008/hm60.cfm.

5) Obesity Rate. The Center for Disease Control classifies adults as obese is they have a Body Mass Index (BMI) of over 30. BMI is a calculated score created by an individual’s weight divided by the square of their height and multiplied by 703. Those classified as obese are statistically prone to higher health issues. The numbers used in this study are for the population of the state as published in the 2008 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.

6) Number of Licensed Drivers. This number is the population of all licensed drivers, therefore a reduced population number that includes only those with the ability to be the primary user of the infrastructure. This number is taken from Highway Statistics table DL-22 “Licensed Total Drivers” found at http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/policyinformation/statistics/2008/dl22.cfm.

7) Number of Convenience Stores. This number by counting the convenience stores in each state, using data from the American Fact Finder, based the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) codes for convenience stores (445120) and convenience stores with gas station (447110).

To develop my dataset, I took these variables and combined them into a single spreadsheet. Further, I did calculations to break several down on a per licensed driver level before bringing it into Stata.


My research hypothesis is that there is a positive correlation between the levels of higher highway debt as a percent of total expenditures, and higher vehicle miles traveled (VMT) per licensed driver, and higher obesity rates.

Using multiple regression analysis, with the obesity rate (ObesRt) as the dependent variable, we can see that vehicle miles traveled strongly correlates to obesity but we would reject that highway debt has correlation.

If nobody drove, the data is reporting that the obesity rate would be about 19%. The data shows that there is a very strong correlation between the amount a population drives and the overall obesity rate. (figure 3)


Interestingly, this correlates well with the measured rise in national obesity levels describes in the first section of this study. However, how much highway debt a state has has little significance to its rate of obesity.  In fact, this dataset shows a negative correlation; the more highway debt the lower rate of obesity in a state.
(figure 4) Additionally, to compensate for the potential “red flags” of outliers in both of these graphs, the same anayslis was performed with removing them but achieveing the same general outcomes. Further, each comparison has different outliers and comparing all states was important to the integrety of the dataset.


When looking at vehicle miles traveled broken down by states that are labeled as obese (group 1) against states that are labeled as not obese (group 0), the two groups show as be less than or equal confirming my hypothesis between VMT and obesity rates . (Stata command: ttest VMTperLD, unpaired unequal by(ObesState))


So what is it that does correlate? I took all the variables and created a correlation matrix (see attachment at the end of this paper). What it has found is that most of the correlations are market demand related (highlighted in yellow). For example, expenditures of a state correlates to the amount of highway debt; vehicle miles traveled per licensed driver correlates to the amount of lane miles a state has per licensed driver; the number of convenience stores correlates to the number of licensed drivers in the state. Among those correlations though three were less than obvious (highlighted in orange):

  1. Obesity rate to total lane miles
  2. Obesity rate to vehicle miles traveled per licensed driver
  3. Obesity rate to the number of convenience stores per licensed driver

I think there is a more complex relationship between obesity and road infrastructure—without regard to how its construction has been paid for, which is why the convenience store statistics in the dataset (though I now find them to be too limited) have been included. There are many factors at the individual-choice level that define the level of obesity in the overall population. For example, scientists often point to the intake of added sugars from soft drinks as one of many major correlations with obesity. (http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/sugary-drinks-fact-sheet/).  Connecting that, soft drinks are the number one selling item at convience stores, according to Convienence Store News. (http://www.examiner.com/article/the-cost-of-top-4-sellers-convenience-stores).

This dataset shows a strong correlation between the more road infrastructure and the amount of convenience stores, even when controlling for the amount of licensed drivers. (figure 5)


The more roads available, the more your population has the opportunity to drive and visit a convenience store to purchase soft drinks. This study used a combination of standalone convenience stores and those that also have a gas station, so some of this correlation is simple market response of providing fuel to drivers. However, gasoline sales have low profit margins (figure 6) and convenience store sales augment this.


The connection between roadway infrastructure and obesity illustrates a point: obesity rates are partially reflective of an infrastructure—physical and economic—that induces behavior. For example, by doing a regression analysis of just lane mile to number of convenience stores, the data shows a very high significance level.

Large-scale travel by automobile and consumption of processed food products—both of which would only occur when it is perceived as the “easiest” option and the availability of processed food also seen as “easiest” (or rather “convenient”?)—could lead to obesity. Again, this dataset shows a disconnect when trying to over-generalize. Correlation between lane miles per licensed drivers and obesity is weak. States that have the highest lane miles per licensed driver have no higher obesity rates than states with the lowest. (figure 7)


What is interesting though is that we can make connections between the amount of road infrastructure and convenience stores, and we can make connections between obesity rates and convenience stores, and between obesity rates and the amount the road infrastructure is used (via vehicle miles traveled). Connections are possible yes, but statistical correlations using the dataset given are inconclusive, and all further discussions all becomes anecdotal without further study.

One takeaway is that the tradeoffs of land use planning and government spending become apparent using the dataset. States that design their infrastructure and land use to require more use of the automobile—the sprawl model of growth—the less it spends per person. In essence, it is an inexpensive upfront cost to grow through sprawl for states. Two correlations show up in a kind of counterbalance: states that spend more per person have less convenience stores overall. When there are less convenience stores per licensed driver, the obesity rate falls in conjunction. Basically: States that spend less per person force their populations to use the automobile as their primary means of transportation (because they are not paying for the complex coordination and development of walkable neighborhoods with transit that requires a larger government role). The more automobile travel, the higher the obesity rate and the higher the obesity rate, the more convenience stores there are.

There is a bit of murkiness to the dataset and another takeaway is that my dataset is too small and/or random. To start to speak to questions about state spending would need more economic variables in the dataset—GDP, or a measure of inequality, or simply income levels set into groups.

My final takeaway was found by breaking the states into two groups: those labeled as obese and those not. The dataset seemed even more insufficient when doing analysis in this manner: states were not “obese” had significant correlations with regard to vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and their overall obesity rate, with an intercept of 20% if VMT were zero.

In the obese group of states, VMT had little significance to the obesity rate, however their intercept was 28% obese if VMT were zero.

Summarized: there is something else at play in states labeled as obese.

This brings the analysis back to the number of convenience stores. Running through multiple regression of the rates of obesity to vehicle miles traveled, lane miles, and the number of convenience stores (all by the number of licensed drivers in the state), the grouping of obese states and not obese states shows an interesting result: the number of convenience stores is the most significant finding to the obesity rate among the obese states.

Final summary correlation (but not causal) takeaway: states become overweight (heading to obesity) if they drive a lot, but only to a certain level. To become obese, they need to have a lot of convenience stores. To put another way and to put very broadly: inactivity will make you gain weight, but inactivity plus poor food choices will make you obese.

[1] From the executive summary of the FHWA report Highway Statistics, prepared by The Office of Highway Policy Information: “The vast majority of highway data are submitted by the States. Each State is analyzed for consistency against its own past years of data and also against other State and Federal data. Major issues are resolved with the help of the data provider.”

[2] From the 2008 BRFSS Overview document: “The Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) is a collaborative project of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and U.S. states and territories. The BRFSS, administered and supported by CDC’s Behavioral Surveillance Branch, is an ongoing data collection program designed to measure behavioral risk factors for the adult population (18 years of age or older) living in households. BRFSS field operations are managed by state health departments that follow guidelines provided by the CDC. These health departments participate in developing the survey instrument and conduct the interviews either in‑house or by using contractors. The data are transmitted to the CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion’s Behavioral Surveillance Branch for editing, processing, weighting, and analysis. An edited and weighted data file is provided to each participating health department for each year of data collection, and summary reports of state‑specific data are prepared by CDC.”

[3] From the appendix of the report: “The Fiscal Year 2009 State Expenditure Report reflects three years of data: actual fiscal year 2008, actual fiscal year 2009, and estimated fiscal year 2010.The text of this report focuses on actual fiscal year 2009 data, with a secondary focus on estimated fiscal 2010. This report documents state expenditures in six functional categories: elementary and secondary education, higher education, public assistance including Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and other cash assistance, Medicaid, corrections, and transportation. All other expenditures make up a seventh category. The report includes expenditures from four fund sources, including general funds, federal funds, other state funds, and bonds. States were asked to include spending from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) in the federal funds totals for the seven categories. Data for each category typically include employer contributions to current employees’ pensions and to employee health benefits for employees.”