Planning for Movement Chokes Urban Health

In his latest entry in KCET's "Laws That Shaped LA" Series, Jeremy Rosenberg looks at the impact that the Functional Classification system has had on the urban form of Los Angeles and cities throughout the country since its adoption in 1973.
December 18, 2012, 1pm PST | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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With the help of John Norquist, President and CEO of The Congress for the New Urbanism, who nominated the "Functional Classification Guidelines" for inclusion in Rosenberg's series, the reporter looks at how the "deceptively innocuous-sounding" guidelines helped advance sprawl and destroy urban landscapes by single-mindedly focusing the functionality of streets around accommodating auto movement. 

"A successful street, Norquist says, must serve as: a path on which people travel, a place that facilitates the buying and selling of goods and services, and a public gathering spot." However, the Functional Classification system, which was "spelled out in a 1968 Department of Transportation study manual and then adopted into law as part of the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1973," led public agencies to "focus on -- and fund accordingly -- street projects that put movement first..."

The result? "Sprawl happened. Interstates went right through cities, not around them. Significantly wider surface streets were constructed. Historic and other older buildings were sacrificed for more asphalt lanes. Urban cores split and sputtered. Commerce stalled. Tax receipts declined. People's daily lives intersected less. Suburban big box retail replaced mixed-use Main Streets. Life in less sustainable suburbia started to make sense. Populations fled."

So what is the antidote to movement? Congestion, as Norquist argued in a recent op-ed for Planetizen. "[E]ven at its worst, moving slower on a narrower road through a happening and engaged city far outweighs the alternative that the Functional Classification has for so long promoted."

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Published on Monday, December 17, 2012 in KCET Departures
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