ARC Hosts Livability Program Peer Exchange

 The Atlanta Regional Commission recently hosted a Peer Exchange. The event was sponsored by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) through their Transportation Planning Capacity Building program (TPCB). The Peer Exchange, which was requested by ARC, focused on “Best Practices in MPO Livability Programs”.

The Atlanta Regional Commission established the Livable Centers Initiative (LCI) program in 1999. Over the past 10 years, the LCI program has spurred cities, counties and communities of all sizes to undertake planning and create transportation-efficient land use strategies for activity centers, town centers and corridors.  The LCI program has been the primary regional program and resource during the past decade in the Atlanta region to spur redevelopment and foster new sustainable development forms.

However, after ten years of existence, ARC is considering what the next step for the program is. LCI has provided a great model to diversify the region’s development patterns, but how can more implementation occur to better link land use changes to transportation investments?  ARC is also seeking to further the success of the LCI program with the next update of the long range land use and transportation plan, Plan 2040. These considerations, along with the fact that other regions across the country have also implemented similar LCI programs that encourage efficient land use and transportation strategies, are what initially stemmed the idea for the Peer Exchange.

Learning and engaging peer regions with similar programs allowed ARC to explore strategies that have been tested and proven throughout the country. The following six peer regions attended the Exchange, which lasted two days and was held at ARC’s offices:

  • Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), serving the San Francisco Bay area
  • Portland Metro, serving the Portland Oregon area
  • Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC), serving the Greater Philadelphia area
  • North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG), serving the Dallas-Fort Worth area
  • Albany Capitol District Transportation Committee (CDTC), serving the Albany New York area
  • Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG), serving the Denver area

Many innovative and thought provoking ideas were heard throughout the exchange.

One very interesting takeaway was the notion of a fund swap. ARC learned that many regions were executing funding swaps in order to expedite project implementation.  Because LCI is funded with federal transportation funds (specifically, L230/STP-Urban), similar to the other regions, the stipulations accompanying the federal funds can sometimes slow down project implementation. Particularly for smaller projects that would not be subjected to the federal process otherwise, the implementation timeline can seem painfully slow. Also, the peer regions suggested that swapping the funds allows greater flexibility in how they can be spent.

For example, Portland Metro swaps their funds with TriMet, their transit agency, and uses the money to directly help fund Transit Oriented Development (TOD) projects around existing transit stations. Developers building TOD projects according to Metro’s stipulations (such as affordable housing, open space, etc) can qualify to receive a grant based on the number of new riders their project would bring to the transit system, over the base case of what the market would currently allow, without any subsidy.

Similarly, MTC in San Francisco has executed funding swaps directly with some of their cities, and have subsequently been able to award grants for things such as land banking for affordable housing, and sewer upgrades necessary for enabling some of the higher density projects to move forward.  

ARC also learned from MTC that the MPO has recently partnered with a consortium of key players in the San Francisco region to establish an affordable TOD fund. Once fully established, the fund will be targeted specifically at buying land near transit stations to secure sites for affordable housing.

To establish this fund, MTC, as the MPO, put up $10 million of their transportation funds. As discussed previously, in order to use transportation funds for this purpose, MTC utilized a fund swap with the City of San Francisco. This affordable TOD fund will be an essential enabling tool for non-profit developers looking to secure available land around transit stations, without their having to get into a bidding war with for-profit investors.

For more information on the peer exchange, keep an eye on the TPCB Peer Program website, where a best practices report based on key findings from the event will be posted.

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