Transportation Concurrency and Sprawl

Eric Damian Kelly's picture

Transportation concurrency is the subject of a bill that has passed one house of the Florida legislature. "Concurrency" is the Florida term for "adequate public facilities controls," indicating that facilities need not necessarily be in place at the time of project approval but that they must be scheduled to become available "concurrently" with demand from proposed development.

The bill would significantly limit the effect of transportation concurrency in metropolitan areas, a concept that has been publicly supported by Tom Pelham, a long-time growth management advocate and once again Secretary of the state's Department of Community Affairs.

Why would a growth management advocate support a weakening of a growth management tool?  Concurrency requirements can have unintended consequences.  The goal of most growth management and smart growth programs is to encourage compact development that is contiguous to or part of an existing urbanized area. Those are precisely the areas that are most likely to be congested. Thus, to meet transportation concurrency requirements, developers often leapfrog out to rural areas with little congestion. The result, of course, is sprawl of the worst sort, triggering in most cases an increase in vehicle miles traveled.

Several years ago I was consulting with a prosperous, close-in suburb in the Middle Atlanctic states.  Most commuting in that part of the region occurred on state highways, several of which passed through the community.  Public officials were determined to impose adequate public facilities controls that would include standards related to congestion on those roads.  I pointed out to them that the net effect of denying development approval to a project in their community would be to push that development to a suburb further out, with residents of the new development still passing through the community on those same state highways but with the local government having no control over the quality of the development. They did not take my advice, which was certainly their privilege, but it appears that the Florida legislature -- with more experience of the unintended consequences -- got the message.

Are adequate public facilities controls or concurrency requirements a bad idea?  No.  It is irresponsible to approve a new development that manages to meet local subdivision standards but that will add 400 or 500 peak hour trips to a 1 1/2 lane gravel road that provides the only access to the subdivision. But as planners we need to work through the logical consequences of what we recommend.  One thing that we have learned is that congestion is a great tool for transportation demand management and that road congestion can encourage people to use rail transit where it is available.  We cannot foresee every consequence of every planning proposal, but we need to learn from the experiences of others and educate the local planning process.

Eric Damian Kelly is a professor of urban planning at Ball State University and a vice president of Duncan Associates.



garbage and utter nonsense

People like Professor Kelly and other "smart growth" advocates are completely out to lunch with some of their ideas such as encouraging traffic congestion in order to bring about their desired goal of increasing public transit being totally oblivious to the impact this has on people's quality of lives. One of the final goals of urban planning should be to improve people's quality of life and not diminish it. With people like Prof. Kelly putting such ideas into the minds of students, it is no wonder that the urban planning in most of our cities stinks.

Who Is Hurting The Quality Of Life?

This comment reminds me of the old Toles cartoon that shows a landscape completely filled with roads, freeways, and freeway interchanges, all of them completely filled with cars. Above one of the cars, a speech bubble shows that the driver is saying: "Those environmentalists just want to lower the quality of our lifestyle."

Anyone with his eyes open knows that the people who insist on driving everywhere and on low-density, auto-oriented development are the ones who are lowering the quality of life - lowering the quality of life for us by blighting our cities and countryside, and lowering the quality of life even more for our children and grandchildren, who will suffer from the consequences of global warming because of the people who insist that saving themselves a few minutes on the freeway is more important than anything else.

According to the Secretary General of the United Nations, global warming is one of the causes of the genocide in Darfur. Desertification and food shortages caused one group of people to start slaughtering another. It looks like some Americans think that hunger and death does not diminish their quality of life as much as traffic jams diminish our quality of life.

Charles Siegel

Regional thinking and due diligence

Eric Kelly writes, "I pointed out to them that the net effect of denying development approval to a project in their community would be to push that development to a suburb further out..."
The problem here doesn't seem to be concurrency, so much as tunnel vision. As long as each community in a region acts independently, with no thought to the impact of its decisions on the rest of the region, no amount of legislation will correct the problem.

Stuart Meck writes, "It always amazes me how legislators and many planners as well embrace 'innovation' without fully understanding its impact, good or bad." While caution is commendable, the degree of risk-aversion implied by Mr. Meck could easily lead to stagnation. We can never know the impact of a new invention or approach in the real world. We have lots of computer modelling tools, but none approaches the true social and environmental complexity of the world around us. This is where "due diligence" comes in. Keep innovating, but use due diligence to weigh the pros and cons.

Larry Krieg
Ypsilanti Township, Michigan
Founder, Wake Up Washtenaw

control growth to save our quality of life

Mr. Siegel, why do you assume that I am advocating building more roads as I never made that suggestion? I merely stated that creating traffic congestion in order to change people's transportation habits is an obtuse planning strategy. My preferred solution is controlling the growth of our cities and as a consequence fewer cars will be on the roadways. But to allow growth to continue unchecked as they a doing in Portland while their roadways become jammed and boasting about how enlightened such a policy is seems about as far from good urban planning as one can get. (

Population, Sprawl And Quality Of Life

Mr. Zeger: I see a post at the very top of your blog with this conclusion:
"growth by increasing densities ("smart growth") results in greater traffic congestion than does growth through land expansion."

The blog makes it very clear that you prefer controlling population growth in one's own community in order to make it easier to drive. But if population does grow, you prefer sprawl over smart growth to make it easier to drive. Of course, that "growth through land expansion" requires more road building, so this blog post supporting sprawl does, in fact, support more road building.

When the blog talks about population growth, it is thinking only about the population and "quality of life" in a given community (and by quality of life, it means primarily the ability to drive on uncongested freeways). There is no concern about future generations or about other parts of the world whose quality of life is threatened by your co2 emissions.

If you want to improve your quality of life, the best thing you can do is move to a neighborhood where you don't have to drive everywhere. Judging from your blog, the main thing degrading your quality of life is the fact that you spend so much time driving on congested freeways. If you moved to somewhere like Portland, you could get away from that constant frustration and start thinking about the people in the world who have much more urgent problems than traffic congestion.

Charles Siegel

making too many assumptions again

Once again, Charles, you are making too assumptions about my thinking by reading just bits and pieces of what I have written. The point of the post on "smart growth" and traffic congestions on my network site is to open people's eyes to the fact that densification is not the panacea that its advocates make it out to be. It is not, however, an endorsement of sprawl. Rather than make inferences of my thinking from a post here and a post there, why don't you just come out and ask what I think? If you had done that I would have said that I prefer compact communities over sprawl, but that does not extend to supporting high density, high-rise urban centres which just exacerbate traffic congestion while creating a host of other problems such as urban alienation and unsociable streets. When further growth is possible only by going beyond healty densities and building heights, growth should be strictly controlled like has been done in Boulder, CO or Santa Barbara, CA. Regarding controlling the size of families like they have done in China, I think that a limit of two children per couple should be promoted on a voluntary basis in North America. One final thing, Charles. I don't drive. I use public transit.

John Zeger

Smart Growth And Highrises

"I prefer compact communities over sprawl, but that does not extend to supporting high density, high-rise urban centres."

I am also against highrises, and I am currently working against highrises in downtown Berkeley, where I live. But I have long been an active supporter of human scale infill development - up to about six stories.

Maybe you can provide a link to a post on your blog that supports the sort of infill development that is needed to convert sprawl to more compact communities. If you show me one or two cases where you actively supported infill, I will be convinced that you really do "prefer compact communities over sprawl."

Note that the blog post I quoted above says "growth by increasing densities ("smart growth") results in greater traffic congestion than does growth through land expansion." Maybe 90% of smart growth projects do not involve highrises, so perhaps you can understand why this blanket statement against ""increasing densities"" led me to believe that you do not "prefer compact communities over sprawl.""

Charles Siegel

perhaps there is a gap

I've posted so many letters and opinions on various websites that I forget what I've posted where. I'm a community activist in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada, which is not too dissimilar to Santa Barbara in its natural setting, and I've been working my buns off here for the past five years trying to convince residents to preserve their community character by not going the route of other high density, high-rise cities like Vancouver or Portland where "smart growth" translates as high-rises. Locals know that I'm not opposed to compact neighbourhoods but perhaps that doesn't come across clearly enough from perusing some of my websites. On a local community activist website that I used to manage, but which is no longer up, I posted a link to an article by Nikos Salinagors with which I fully agree. Here is that article: Also, I'm aware of your opposition to high-rises, Charles, and commend you on that. As a result I never thought that I would clash with you so publicly. All the best.

Paris Model Of Smart Growth

CP and John: Maybe we can all agree on the Paris model of Smart Growth. The traditional neighborhoods of Paris have very high density without high rises. Smart Growth in this style (or the style of other traditional European cities) could avoid the high housing prices that CP dislikes and also avoid the highrises that John dislikes. I dislike both high housing prices and highrises, which is why I advocate for this model. Would you two both support this model?

John: I'm sorry that I misunderstood your point. Here in Berkeley, I have to spend equal time fighting against extreme smart growth advocates who want more highrises and against NIMBYs who oppose all infill development and want to preserve surface parking lots and gas stations. The NIMBY attacks on Smart Growth here are so constant that I am probably over sensitive to people who attack smart growth. I still have to disagree with your point about congestion that started this thread, since I think congestion is a fact of life in most cities, and attempts to avoid congestion usually lead to road widenings that generate more automobile use or to opposition to infill development that generates more sprawl.

Like you, I tend to agree with Nikos Salingaros, and he has said he likes my writing. Another site with a similar point of view is - which is a good place to find support for the traditional European model of Smart Growth combined with opposition to highrises.

Charles Siegel

Boulder and Santa Barbara

Those are certainly very nice, high quality of life places, but you also have to be fairly wealthy to really live decent in either of them. It's nice in theory if we could have 6,000 perfect little cities of 50,000 people for our population of 300MM, but those of modest means would be living in the cities in North Dakota, west Texas, Kansas, Indiana, and other spots with far fewer "natural amenities". The best small city spots would be dominated by the wealthy, somewhat like now but much more so. Plus, how would you get there from here? Agglomeration economics would appear to dictate that metropolitan areas increase in size at that stage. I don't think you can just stop it on a dime and when you try, you get these enormous real estate price increases.

I do agree with you that it would be great if we had fewer people and it would be nice if people would procreate less. But consider this paradox, increased wealth is typically associated with fewer offspring in the modern world. If we restrict development in this way, we might end up creating more people of modest means which might mean even more people. I think population growth is a bigger problem in areas outside of the US and I think the path to reducing the numbers are economic growth, fair elections, human rights, property rights, and wealth creation (my opinion).

I don't think this has much to do with concurrency, but it does have something to do with smart growth and sprawl. We can't effectively control growth, but we can hopefully guide it in a manner that improves quality of life, helps the environment, and doesn't have the unintended consequences of hurting society economically.

we can and must control growth

The statement "we can't effectively control growth" is false and dangerous. It is because of this type of fatalistic thinking that mankind has gotten itself into the mess that it's in on this planet where increasing population is pushing up against declining resources threatening the very survivability of our species. At the root of most environmental problems is overpopulation. There has been much attention paid to global warming but most people are not aware that global CO2 emissions have correlated almost perfectly with global human population growth. Solutions such as urban cramming otherwise known as "smart growth" that are offered by many spare valuable agricultural land but do nothing to conserve many of the other resources that people need to live while diminishing their quality of life. I invite you to get your head out of the sand and have a look at this website by my friend John Feeney.

Consumption Growth vs. Population Growth

Here, also, I must disagree: consumption growth is a far greater threat than population growth, because growth of population is leveling off and will peak and begin to decline about 2060, while growth of per capita consumption shows no signs of leveling off.

Projecting current trends, the world's population a century from now will be less than 50% greater than today and will be declining, but the world's per capita consumption will be 700% greater than it is today and will be increasing as rapidly as ever.

China is the most obvious example. They have the very strict population policies that you would like, but they are also increasing their consumption (including their car purchases) at record rates. The population growth is not as great a threat as the growth in per capita consumption.

American metropolitan areas that have no population growth still have urban sprawl, which causes increased consumption of gasoline, land, and so on. For example, the Cleveland metropolitan area has had no population growth for decades, but hundreds of thousands of people have moved from Cleveland proper to the surrounding suburban counties, drastically increasing the amount of land they consume, the amount they drive, and the amount of co2 they emit.

Don't be misled by the term "smart growth," and don't be put off by the common but false claim that growth is inevitable. Those denser neighborhoods that smart growth advocates call for actually involve less consumption - hence less economic growth and less ecological destruction. We would be better off if Cleveland had "smart growth" policies that had stopped this auto-dependent sprawl and preserved its older, walkable neighborhoods.

Charles Siegel

an outstanding article

Chew on this article for a while, Charles. I agree with it 100% and it spares me the time and trouble of answering your post.

Not True That Population Growth Is Main Cause Of Sprawl

There is extensive sprawl in metropolitan areas that have no population growth, such as Cleveland. In cities where population is growing, population growth contributes only a small part to sprawl.

Here are some numbers that I happen to have because they are in my book The End Of Economic Growth:

Population growth vs growth in developed land area from 1970-1990
Chicago: 4%, 46%
Los Angeles: 45%, 300%
New York: 8%, 65%
Cleveland: -6%, 31%
St. Louis: 35%, 355%

You can see that population growth accounts for one-eight to one-tenth of sprawl, with the rest caused by increased developed land per person.

The article you link to has a section named "MYTH: Sprawl is primarily a result of high consumption and/or poor land-use planning patterns" - but that section simply asserts that we cannot stop sprawl without stopping population growth, and it has no data at all showing whether sprawl is caused primarily by population growth or primarily by increased consumption of land.

It also has completely invalid arguments such as the following:
"even if the politically difficult task of voluntarily decreasing per capita consumption could be accomplished, it would only buy time to allow an increasing population to reach its limits."

Anyone who who has looked at the world's demographic trends knows that world population is expected to peak in the 2050s and not to keep increasing indefinitely.

As I said earlier, projecting current trends, world population a century from now will be 50% greater than now and will be declining. Per capita consumption will be 700% greater than now and will be increasing. They are just scape-goating population to avoid facing the much more important issue of per capita consumption. Here, too, the article just relies on unfounded assertions and has no data at all as the basis of its claims.

Notice also that they only talk about population trends in the United States, not about global population, and their main thrust is anti-immigration. That is a clear sign that they don't care about the global environment and are just trying to push the population away from their backyard.

Charles Siegel

A myopic solution

Sorry, but unless you want to adopt and enforce a Chinese-style family size limit, you can't "control" population growth - you can only displace it. Following your solution, growth will be displaced to distant areas with little public infrastructure, requiring more road building, higher dependence on automobiles, and ultimately more congestion. There will be more cars, albeit on other people's roadways. And perhaps that is your underlying intent - to make someone else deal with it. But then you should just say so without pretending that you offer a real solution. You'd do well to think through your own ideas before accusing others of spouting garbage and nonsense.

Myopic Indeed

Even if we had population control stricter than the Chinese and we stopped world population growth immediately, it would be impossible for everyone in the world to drive as much as the average American. The world's energy supply and the world's capacity to absorb co2 emissions are not great enough.

Population control or not, Americans need to reduce the amount we drive and the amount of energy we consume.

Charles Siegel

Transportation Concurrency in Florida--What Do We Really Know?

Professor Eric Damian Kelly has reminded us that adequate facilities controls or concurrency requirements have unanticipated consequences and we need to learn from them. In the case of Florida's transportation concurrency requirements, almost nothing quantitative is known about their spatial impact. Most of the evaluative literature is legal in nature and, to my knowledge, the central questions of whether transportation concurrency in fact pushes development out farther and the degree to which that occurs remain unclear. That is the "problem" that the new legislation in Florida is seeking to address.

Professor Tim Chapin of Florida State University, in a 2007 article in Urban Affairs Review, found substantial variations among 66 local governments in Florida in how they administer concurrency among the public facilities covered by the state rules (potable water, wastewater, solid waste, parks, stormwater, and transportation). Drawing on the Highway Capacity Manual published by the Transportation Research Board, Florida provides the most guidance in transportation, requiring that local governments use its level-of-service standards for roads in the Florida Intrastate Highway System, but gives them the discretion to depart from those standards for local roads.

It always amazes me how legislators and many planners as well embrace "innovation" without fully understanding its impact, good or bad. Each "innovation" seems to have its own group of uncritical cheerleaders, and we find them at conferences touting the innovation. To question them seems heretical and impolite. Many growth management techniques have not undergone a cold-eyed assessment, but they should. It always has seemed easier to declare victory and move on, or, as here, fiddle with new legislation whose outcomes are dimly perceived.

Stuart Meck, FAICP/PP
Faculty Fellow and Director
Center for Government Services
Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

Michael Lewyn's picture

And just to play off that point...

Do we know if concurrency really has any impact at all (either on infill development or on development generally)? My impression, based on admittedly slight knowledge, is that even without additional reforms concurrency is so chock full of loopholes that it doesn't do much to limit development anywhere.

Concurrency Or LOS

I think the real problem is not concurrency. The problem is that reduced Level of Service (LOS) on roads is considered an impact that should be mitigated by widening roads. Despite the claim below that we don't have adequate knowledge about this, it is clearly a fact that widening roads generates more automobile use; that is, it makes the problem worse rather than mitigating it.

For decades, California's guidelines for CEQA listed reduced LOS as an impact to be mitigated. Now that the state has a law requiring us to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it looks like this guideline will be eliminated, since the mitigation clearly increases greenhouse gas emissions.

One proposed alternative is to consider increased VMT as an impact, instead of reduced LOS. Then the mitigation would be measures to reduce VMT rather than road widenings to restore LOS.

See the three part series about this issue beginning at

Charles Siegel

LOS is the problem

I agree completely with you Charles. Our preoccupation with high LOS, high speed of travel and minimal traffic delay makes it so that free-flow freeways are the standard we aim for, even on neighbourhood collector roads! What it boils down to is, I think, the fact that we don't really believe that TDM techniques really work - whether to reduce the demand for inter-neighbourhood travel, spread out the peak, or shift travel to other modes.

population control instead of urban cramming

At the root of most of the world's problems is overpopulation. If the "smart growth" advocates would turn their energies from creating urban configurations in an attempt to accommodate this overpopulation to that of population control, then they they would achieve environmentally sound solutions while preserving our quality of life. But unfortunately, they are too preoccupied with finding clever new ways to cram people into existing urban areas while patting themselves on the back and calling themselves "smart".

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