Better Ways to Better Places: Interview with Constance Beaumont

Constance Beaumont is the Education and Outreach Coordinator at The Transportation and Growth Management Program (TGM), a partnership between the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) and the Department for Land Conservation and Development (DLCD). In this interview she speaks for TGM but also provides her own valuable insight into the many ways we can make cities healthier and more livable for everyone.

1. What is the mandate of the Transportation and Growth Management Program and what is your role within it?

The TGM program was started in 1993 as a partnership between ODOT and Department of Land Conservation and Development. The partnership between these two agencies itself reflects one of the program’s core principles:  that transportation and land use are related and need to be considered at the same time. Land use decisions open up (or foreclose) transportation options, and transportation projects can affect key goals in a community’s local  comprehensive plan. In addition to promoting the integration of transportation and land use, the TGM mission statement calls for us to work with local governments to promote livable, economically vibrant  communities. Our motto is “Better Ways to Better Places”. The idea is to make it safer, more practical, and more pleasant for people to get where they need to go.

TGM works with local governments all the time and the program makes planning grants to local governments. The grants typically range from $80,000 to $200,000 dollars. We work with cities all over the state of Oregon -- from the smaller cities in Eastern Oregon  to Portland, Corvallis, you name it.

2. Is there a vision of a livable/healthy city that guides the organization?

The mission statement says it all and guides all that TGM does. It states “Oregon's Transportation and Growth Management Program supports community efforts to expand transportation choices for people. By linking land use and transportation planning, TGM works in partnership with local governments to create vibrant, livable places in which people can walk, bike, take transit or drive where they want to go.”

3. What are the central priorities for your work?

TGM helps communities plan better transportation systems. Good transportation planning is especially important now given the financial constraints on state and local governments, many of which are cash-strapped. There's not as much money for projects as there was in the past. We help communities do more with less. Another thing that the TGM program from the beginning has emphasized is alternative modes of transportation - walking, bicycling, and transit, so that everyone doesn't have to drive everywhere. Only about 20% of trips are commuties to work; the majority of trips are non-commutes  – e.g., trips to school, church, stores, and so on. Through the application of good land use and community design concepts, we could  reduce the overall distance of many trips. 

In addition to the economic situation, there is an emphasis on reducing our carbon footprint. We need to reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT) to cut down on transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions.  

A third issue of great interest is active transportation. At the recent Livable Cities conference in Portland, Dr. Richard J. Jackson, author of Designing Healthy Communities, emphasized the connection between walkable (and bikable) communities and the ability of people to work physical activity into their daily lives.  TGM is very supportive of active transportation and has awarded several grants to communities to support active transportation. We've also made a number of grants to support bicycle and pedestrian plans. Safe Routes to School is another major TGM interest.

One point to make clear, we do not provide construction money. All our grants are planning grants. But it is normally easier for communities to get construction grants if they can demonstrate that they’ve thought through their goals and strategies carefully. The TGM grants help them do that. June 14th was the latest deadline for TGM grant applications, so we are reviewing these applications right now.

4. What do you think are the most important barriers to achieving healthy livable cities?

One huge barrier is bad locations, or bad siting decisions. Take the example of schools. In the past, and for a long time, many school districts thought they had to comply with standards calling for  huge sites with many acres for schools. Often the only place school districts could find such large sites at an affordable price was in outlying, middle-of-nowhere locations. But in selecting such sites, school districts have made it harder for students to walk or bike to school because the sites are too distant from the neighborhoods served by the schools. (Distance is the number one barrier to walking and biking to school.) One reason these school sites have become so large is that, because the remote sites inevitably require more students to drive (or be driven or bused) to school, there needs to be more parking, which takes up still more land. It’s kind  of a chicken and egg situation!

Another big barrier is outdated parking standards. Many cities have used generic national parking standards that are based on flawed methodologies and drawn from suburban development. They are not really applicable to mixed-use areas that communities want to be walkable. These outdated and excessive parking requirements often put pressure on property owners to provide acres of surface parking that degrade the walkability of a city. For example, one city found that its parking standards called for three square feet of parking for every one square foot of building. Such standards often lead to situations where the footprint of the building is much smaller than that of the parking lot! In a new TGM publication, just released, we’ve recommended better ways for communities to evaluate their parking standards. This is due to the standards which are based on flawed methodologies.  

Another big issue today is the idea of multi-modalism. A growing number of communities are more interested in this concept. To move toward multi-modalism, one thing cities are doing is re-evaluating performance standards for transportation systems. In the past these standards have focused on how the system is working for cars but not for pedestrians, bicyclists, or transit users. There is therefore growing interest in looking at the standards to ensure that they provide better support for a multi-modal transportation system. 

Multi-modalism is especially important now given such major  issues as climate change, the obesity epidemic, and financial pressures on households. Some families spend as much as 20% of their budget on transportation. The TGM-funded Bike and Walk Salem plan states: "With the annual average cost of owning and operating a car now estimated at more than $8,500, bicycling and walking offer residents more affordable options for meeting their daily travel needs." An entire generation has grown up without much exposure to walkable environments. There are great swaths of the country and here in Oregon where people are never exposed to walkable communities, and so they don't even know what they're missing.

5. Do you think the trend towards Livable Cities is the future?

There are compelling financial, public health, and environmental reasons for promoting livable cities. Let's take today’s interest in active transportation due to the obesity epidemic. Public awareness of the connections between the built environment, physical activity, and health is increasing, thanks in part to the good work done by Dr. Richard Jackson and others. We need more awareness, but clearly there is a growing recognition that the way our communities are laid out either encourages or forecloses opportunities for physical activity

6. Are there particular projects that you think best exemplify the principles that guide TGM?

Yes. In Roseburg, for example, a planning grant made for the city’s Transportation System Plan has led to several concrete improvements, including a safer underpass that bicyclists can now use to avoid traveling along a busy and dangerous arterial. One of the big issues in bicycle/pedestrian planning is the creation of comprehensive networks and the filling-in of gaps in the networks that people travel along. Another good project: Ash Creek Trail in Monmouth and Independence, which is intended in part to make it easier for students to walk and bike to school. (It's not yet completed but they have completed parts of it.) In Marion County they’ve built some sidewalks to make the routes to school safer. The list goes on…

7. Do you have any final thoughts on livable cities?

The IMCL conference was great. I enjoyed particularly Mayor Brainard from Carmel, Indiana. His was an outstanding presentation. Forums such as this conference, which brought together people from other parts of the country – and even from other countries – help to strengthen the livable-city movement. I would commend IMCL for its work in this area.

For more information on TGM, visit www.oregon.gov/LCD/TGM, or follow the links below:
- The "Cool Planning Handbook" can be found here.
- Examples of presentations made at TGM workshops can be found here.
- The TGM Outreach page, which describes the kinds of workshops and forums we support.