Moving communities forward: Gauging the impact of transportation projects

Well-designed transportation projects demonstrate the potential to shape a community in ways that go far beyond the project’s original purposes. Anecdotal evidence demonstrates the benefits of such projects on communities.

Yet there is little organized quantifiable or qualitative data. Nor is there a comprehensive guide for communities to maximize or integrate the diverse benefits that well-designed transportation projects can bring.

Recognizing this lack of data about the role of design in transportation, Congress authorized a study in the 2005 Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient, Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users, to achieve two goals: (1) beginning to measure how well-designed transportation projects can bring multiple enhancements to communities in economic development, health and the environment, visual identity and design, public participation and public safety; and (2) providing communities, designers, transportation officials and policy makers a set of principles and practices to adapt to their unique situations and needs.

An AIA report, Moving Communities Forward,  measures the impact of well-designed transportation projects on communities. The Moving Communities Forward research team employed a case study-based approach, analyzing nearly 30 projects that represent a broad spectrum of regions, demographics and project types. Although a specific design feature or process works in one kind of transportation project, in one kind of community, it will not necessarily succeed somewhere else. But the broad principles and practices that designers employ can be repeated, in modified forms, across a wide array of projects. The research team identified key principles and practices that designers and others can use to realize multiple enhancements to their communities.

What Makes Good Design?

In the context of transportation projects, design is not simply a final product; it is also the process that lets the product take shape. What precisely is meant by “well-designed transportation projects” must be explored before measuring how they strengthen communities.

Design is a holistic process that involves many players: architects, landscape architects, planners, engineers, specialized transportation experts, contractors, government and elected officials, community leaders, the media and — most importantly — the public. Good design seeks to address the wide array of challenges a project will face and meet a community’s every goal. In recent years, the design community has embraced the concept of integrated design, which enlists a multi-disciplinary team to identify seemingly unrelated aspects of design and integrate them into a solution that achieves multiple benefits.

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