The news coming out of Washington last week jacked up expectations for national transportation policy to new heights. Cabinet members Ray LaHood and Shaun Donovan announced a partnership to connect transportation and housing policy, branded as the "Sustainable Communities Initiative." The second-in-command at DOT, Vice Admiral Thomas Barrett, told a New York audience that "building communities" is a top priority at his agency.
At the moment, however, the scene on the ground shows how far we have to go before the reality catches up to the rhetoric: State DOTs flush with federal stimulus cash are plowing ahead with wasteful, sprawl-inducing highway projects. Ultimately, you can't end car dependence or create livable places without enlisting the very people building those roads -- the metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs), state DOTs, and other entities that shape local policy. How can the feds affect their decisions?
The Congress for the New Urbanism has some intriguing answers. During the stimulus debate, CNU proposed a new type of federal road funding that would help to build connected grids -- the kind of streets that livable communities are made of. The proposal didn't make it into the stimulus package before the bill got rushed out the door, but the upcoming federal transportation bill will provide another chance. CNU President John Norquist -- a four-term mayor of Milwaukee who first got into politics as an anti-freeway advocate -- was down in DC last Thursday to share his ideas with Congress. Streetsblog spoke to him afterward about what's broken with national transportation policy and how to fix it.