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Transportation Concurrency and Sprawl

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.

Eric Damian Kelly | April 6, 2009, 7am PDT
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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.

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