Beyond mobility – EPA delivers metrics for sustainable transportation

Since the EPA, DOT and HUD joined forces to create the Partnership for Sustainable Communities and laid out six livability principles, there has been a lot of discussion: How might federal funding guidelines change? How will we measure livability?  Does this mean we can only have one kind of lettuce?

It appears answers may be arriving.  EPA has released a Guide to Sustainable Transportation Performance Measures.  According to EPA,

Many transportation agencies are now being called upon by their stakeholders to plan, build, and operate transportation systems that – in addition to achieving the important goals of mobility and safety – support a variety of environmental, economic, and social objectives. These include protecting natural resources, improving public health, strengthening energy security, expanding the economy, and providing mobility to disadvantaged people.

This shift has been decades in the making and is driven by a variety of factors. One factor is the desire for a more integrated and holistic approach to transportation decision-making. Researchers have been shedding light on the complex interrelationships between our built and natural environments and drawing attention to the need to better consider the multifaceted implications of transportation system changes. At the same time, advanced computer tools are making it easier to quantify and visualize these relationships.

The guide contains 12 examples measures for incorporating sustainable community objectives into transportation decision-making.  The key here is that these measures are going beyond mobility – looking at other factors like carbon intensity and mixed land uses, which should be important inputs into our transportation planning processes, but have not been uniformly adopted.

If you look closely, you’ll also notice many of these measures match well with another tool that HUD, one of the Sustainable Communities partners, has said they will use to evaluate projects: LEED ND.  Transit accessibility, bike and pedestrian level of service, mixed land uses, land consumption and carbon intensity are all measures which play an important role in the rating system.

The document includes a description of the stage in a planning process in which each measure might be useful, the specific metrics one would use, guidance on calculations and data sources and examples of planning process where that measure has been used.

This document doesn’t say how or if funding guidelines will change.  This also isn’t a comprehensive guide on how to include sustainability or livability into a specific planning process (environmental review, for example).  However, this could be a useful tool for any city, county or other entity involved in transportation decision-making to build a better process.   It starts to place metrics around the aspirational language we’ve heard from politicians.

What locations in the Twin Cities are eligible for LEED ND: Part 4

Areas in the Metro Eligible for LEED ND

As part of a series, I’ve been exploring what locations in the Twin Cities metro are eligible for LEED ND based on the land use characteristics.  These locations could be considered “location efficient”, a concept which has gained importance recently due to changes in federal policy that direct the expenditure of federal money.  The benefits of location efficiency include “connecting conveniently and affordably to jobs, schools, shops and other amenities through a range of transportation options”, according to HUD Secretary Donovan.

I would argue that we can also use LEED ND as a guide for growing our region more sustainably.  The requirements of the rating system can show us where it would be appropriate to target future growth, what areas should be preserved until sufficient infrastructure is available, and what areas are totally off-limits.  HUD, DOT and EPA are promoting a similar line of thinking with their recent partnership on Sustainable Communities and corresponding grant opportunity. Continue reading

What locations in the Twin Cities are eligible for LEED ND: Part 1

In a previous post, I talked about the news that HUD will begin scoring grant applications based on location efficiency, and using the LEED ND rating system to do so.  While it is not yet clear what exactly HUD means by this, we can do our own exercise to look at the ND system, compare it to the existing built environment and see what locations in the Twin Cities might be eligible.

This isn’t just about HUD and their projects, it is a way of determining what the best locations are for new development that would ensure compact, contiguous development that makes the most efficient use of infrastructure and has multiple transportation options.  Or in other words, it’s a method to begin planning a more sustainable region.

Before the analysis, a little background on LEED ND is appropriate:

The rating system is divided into five topic areas:

  • Smart Location and Linkage
  • Neighborhood Pattern and Design
  • Green Infrastructure and Buildings
  • Innovation and Design Process
  • Regional Priority Credit

The first three topic areas have prerequisites, or requirements that a project must meet in order to be eligible.  All the topic areas have credits, from which a project proposer can choose to achieve to meet the various certification levels (Certified: 40, Silver: 50, Gold: 60, Platinum: 80).

While the LEED ND system is long and complex, there is really one topic area of the five in the rating system that deals with location and what land is off-limits versus eligible: Smart Location and Linkage (SLL).  In this topic, there are five prerequisites and nine credits.  For the purposes of this exercise, we’re going to be looking at just the prerequisites for LEED ND SLL, because once you get into credits, you have to start making lots of assumptions about how the project will be designed and what features it will contain.  In addition, the other four topic areas deal primarily with the design of the project, or what is inside the project boundary, something we can’t know until a project is proposed.  We want to know just what locations are at minimum eligible, and that means focusing on prerequisites in SLL.

Read on for the details of Smart Location and Linkage and the results.

Continue reading

HUD to start scoring grant applications using LEED ND. So what does that mean?

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD recently announced that they would start scoring grant applications by their “location efficiency” and use LEED for Neighborhood Development as a tool to do so.  Location efficiency means new projects would have greater accessibility to surrounding jobs, commercial areas and transportation options.

HUD distributes over $3 billion in grants, so this policy change could potentially have a big impact on where and how new housing gets built.  HUD provides many affordable housing programs, builds public housing, oversees the FHA, and regulates Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

So what does it mean that they will begin scoring applications with LEED ND?  The details aren’t out yet, but the rating system certainly has a lot to say about location efficiency as well as what locations are appropriate for development based on environmental significance.  So, where might future HUD grantees be able to propose projects?  Well, location efficiency will likely make up only one of many scoring categories, and I would be surprised if projects could be rejected solely based on poor location.  However, we could start with the assumption that those locations that meet at least all the prerequisites for LEED ND would score highest.

In the next series of posts, I’ll look at what locations in the Twin Cities metro meet the prerequisites for LEED ND, as best as I can without having real project details.  This exercise isn’t just about HUD, the goals of LEED ND are to promote smarter growth, make more energy efficient communities, provide real transportation options and generally build stronger, more sustainable communities.  Thinking about the locations in the metro that are eligible for LEED ND is another way of thinking about where new growth should be planned that could provide the most sustainable outcome.  If anyone ever wanted to do true regional planning, perhaps this is a place to start.