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October 26, 2009

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MORE FROM THE 2009 APTA ANNUAL MEETING

Federal Partnerships Aimed to Help Foster More Sustainable Communities
BY KATHY GOLDEN, Editor

Representatives from three federal agencies shared their perspectives on how their partnerships are helping to foster livability and sustainability in rural, suburban, and urban communities throughout the nation at an Oct. 6 session titled “Partnerships for Sustainable Communities."

Diana C. Mendes AICP, chair, APTA Policy & Planning Committee, and senior vice president, AECOM, Arlington, VA, moderated the session, stressing the importance of partnerships “as we try to promote more integrated planning.”

Mendes referred to a recent APTA survey that asked: “What ways could federal partnerships support the livability efforts that your agency or community is pursuing?” The most common responses were to better align the funding process to support livability principles and to promote more integrated planning at the metropolitan level among transportation, economic development, housing, and land use. Many communities, she added, are used to working with U.S. DOT, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, or the Environmental Protection Agency, so the purpose of the session was to help understand how partnerships among all three entities are invaluable.

Robert J. Tuccillo, Federal Transit Administration associate administrator for budget and policy, said it is “an exciting time for those of us working at DOT and HUD and EPA because this administration has decided to take on a major initiative, which is the livability—or sustainability—communities initiative.” He said communities nationwide are facing the challenges of growing congestion, increased energy use, and—citing a recent Texas Transportation Institute report on congestion—a nation dependent on foreign oil, and that “we need to change this.” The transportation sector alone, he added, is the second highest contributor of all emissions, next to power generation, but “public transit can be a part of the solution.”

Tuccillo, in noting the growing and aging population (more than 65 million Americans will be over age 65 by the year 2030), stressed the need to address the necessity of sustainable communities and why people must realize the benefits of transit-oriented development (TOD). Not only does TOD improve property values, he said, it also encourages a healthy lifestyle by encourage biking and walking “for those of us here now and for future generations.” He urged the three agencies to continue joint research, training, and technical assistance efforts.

This partnership, he added, is based on six guiding principles the agencies negotiated:
* Provide more transportation choices;
* Promote equitable, affordable housing;
* Enhance economic competitiveness;
* Support existing communities;
* Coordinate policies and leverage investment; and
* Value communities and neighborhoods.

Brett Van Akkeren, director, Development, Community, and Environment Division, for EPA’s Smart Growth Program, spoke about the partnership among HUD, U.S. DOT, and EPA, which has three working groups examining such issues as:
* Why can’t we spend federal transportation dollars to support TOD and bike and pedestrian access?
* What are the federal administrative, regulatory and legislative barriers—and solutions?
* How do we refine what affordable housing means and implement it throughout the federal policies, investments, and actions?
* How will we measure success?

He commented that this administration wants to make sure that “what we’re doing has results. We want to know if it’s working. If it’s not, we will change it.”

Yvette Taylor, FTA’s regional administrator for Region IV (Atlanta), reported extensive conversation and collaboration at the regional level. She added that FTA has “reached out to EPA, have a representative from HUD, EPA, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and have talked about our goal to facilitate a national initiative of sustainability and livability.”

Taylor emphasized the need to improve public transportation for America’s communities by administering federal funding and providing technical assistance to support a variety of locally planned, constructed, and operated public transportation systems throughout the Southeastern Region. But the biggest challenge, she maintained, is still funding.

The session was sponsored by GJB Consulting LLC.

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