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Integrating land use and transport policies

Effective public transport land use policies positively affect sustainability efforts by lowering private vehicle use. Across most OECD nations, land use strategies are the purview of local, rather than national government. When it comes to climate adaptation, cities are in the driving seat.

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)
21 April 2021

Land use planning is place-based by definition and highly context-specific. It thus requires a high level of information on local conditions. Land use mix refers to the diversity and integration of land uses (i.e. parks, residential, commercial, industrial).

The land use mix can be measured in several ways:

  1. the ratio of jobs to residents;
  2. the variety and mixture of amenities and activities; and
  3. the proportion of retail and housing.

Therefore, diverse and mixed land uses can reduce travel distances and enable walking and other active modes of transport to access goods and services. However, some research suggests that the politics of land use and transportation decisions rarely favours accessibility as an important policy outcome.

Land use policy and transport policy are normally integrated through transit-oriented development (TOD) strategies. TOD planning should cover diverse scales, not only small land plots around stations. TOD planning on a large scale is a way to ensure a sufficient number of public transit customers and to justify the investment in public transport. For example, in 2004, the Hammarby Sjöstad neighbourhood in southern Stockholm set itself the goal of increasing public transport ridership, bicycle use or walking by 80% by 2010. By 2008, ridership had already increased to 79% due to increases in the number of residents. Its tram line was built as the main commuting traffic mode and the first tram line ever to serve as a connection between the southern neighbourhoods of Stockholm. Other features of the local transport system include its pedestrian and bicycle network, its large carpooling system and the ferry system.

In 2004, the Hammarby Sjöstad neighbourhood in southern Stockholm set itself the goal of increasing public transport ridership, bicycle use or walking by 80% by 2010. By 2008, ridership had already increased to 79%.

In Metro Vancouver, municipalities and regional authorities use the concept of Frequent Transit Network (FTN) to identify corridors linking urban centres and other key activity areas with high-frequency, high-quality service. Whether served by bus, rail or ferry, FTN corridors – and especially the nodes where these corridors intersect – are important places for the region to direct growth and development. The FTN has become an important organising framework in Metro Vancouver for co-ordinating land use and transport policies. One key lesson from the experience of Metro Vancouver is that, to improve accessibility, it is necessary to rethink transport. To deliver the Regional Transport Strategy of the metro area, the transport authority, TransLink, needs to invest strategically to maintain and expand the transport system. For that, investment decisions are made in tandem with decisions on land use and demand management.

The key issue is to ensure that new projects enhance goods movement and travel time reliability without increasing general purpose traffic; therefore, understanding what land uses are in place and current and future demand is essential. Where basic networks are incomplete or supply is insufficient to meet demand, decisions on the expansion are made in a way that promotes regional goals as cost-effectively as possible. TransLink has noticed that infrastructure alone cannot resolve transportation problems, especially if new infrastructure acts to encourage people to travel farther or more frequently.

The provision of strategic infrastructure is a critical element that determines the character of a city at any stage of development. Public transport and services determine urban mobility patterns including modal choice. That is why infrastructure developments should be directly linked to strategic planning policy, which in turn informs local planning and regulation. This is not always easy, as linking transport to land use and strategic planning depends on the level of maturity and capacity of the institutional planning framework of the region or city. That is probably one of the reasons why cities in less developed countries focus exclusively on trying to satisfy transport demand and the provision of infrastructure without necessary consideration for other urban development issues.

One of the best-known examples of urban containment land use regulations and TOD is the Finger Plan of Copenhagen’s Capital Region. The Finger Plan is a national planning directive that sets overall principles for municipal planning in the Greater Copenhagen area. It requires that municipal planning be carried out based on an assessment of development in the area as a whole and must ensure that the main principles of the overall “finger city” structure are continued. The main lesson from this plan is the importance of co-ordinating urban development with the expansion of infrastructure such as transport. Thus, under this plan, the principle of accessibility is a key element of controlling sprawl and maintaining a compact urban form. For instance, the plan provides that large office workplaces should generally be located within 600 metres of the closest public transport stations.

For cities with less mixed land use, such as those in Asia and North America, large residential developments are separated from jobs and retail centres by long distances. In cities with more space dedicated to single-use areas, residents tend to travel overall longer distances and carry out a larger share of their travel in private vehicles than residents who live in areas with more land in mixed use. Low levels of mixed land use increase commuting distances and have a negative impact on social cohesion and city productivity levels.

This is the case for several cities in Latin America, where the pattern of land use has led to the hollowing out of city centres and moved populations to the suburbs away from jobs and services. In Mexico, for instance, urbanisation does not translate into economic development because cities fail to provide an environment that connects inhabitants to economic opportunities and to social and urban infrastructure, and prevents firms from reaping agglomeration benefits. In this case, as in many other developing cities, institutions governing land use may only mature enough over time to effectively regulate land markets and manage land conversions.

Low levels of mixed land use increase commuting distances and have a negative impact on social cohesion. This is the case for several cities in Latin America, where the pattern of land use has led to the hollowing out of city centres and moved populations into the suburbs and away from jobs and services.

The experience of Germany and the US suggests that linking national urban transport funds to integrated urban planning has proven useful to increase co-ordination of urban transport and land use planning. In the US New Starts programme, project sponsor agencies are required by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to submit information of existing land use, transit-supportive plans and policies, performance and impacts of policies.

In Germany, planning procedures involving interest groups and the public are part of the requirements to access national funds for urban transport projects. Developing an environmental impact assessment and a cost-benefit analysis are part of these requirements.

Linking national urban transport funds to integrated urban planning can also pay off in emerging economies. In India, for example, this has been facilitated by national funds made available for urban transport projects as part of a larger urban development project and funded by the Ministry of Urban Development. In order to be eligible for funding, transport projects have to be part of a comprehensive city development plan. The effectiveness of land use policy towards higher densities and mixed use depends on the willingness of residents to accept high levels of density by changing from using private cars to public transport and non-motorised modes of transportation.

Certainly, the level of service is also a determinant on changing people’s behaviour towards using transport. Traffic congestion, little diffusion of cycling and walking for systematic trips, the inefficiency of parking management and the absence of city logistics measures are some of the factors that may affect people’s transport behaviour and perception.

Another problem is that, in general, when land uses are planned without co-ordination across policy sectors, the distance between origin and destination tend to be longer.