IV. Land Use Considerations in Transportation Planning


“The metropolitan transportation planning process shall include the development of a transportation plan addressing at least a twenty year planning horizon.  The plan shall include both long-range and short –range strategies/actions that lead to the development of an integrated intermodal transportation system that facilitates the efficient movement of people and goods.”

23 CFR section 450.322


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ederal planning requirements place considerable importance on the link between transportation planning and land use planning, though there are no federal laws mandating specific regulatory actions.  Historically, the CDTC assesses the likely effects of transportation policy decisions on land use and development patterns.  Many MPOs approach the issue of transportation and land use from the standpoint that the transportation system must react to land use decisions that are often uncoordinated and haphazard.  This region has chosen to develop a vision of what development patterns it wants, and then use the transportation system in ways that support this vision. 


Almost everyone agrees that, for the overall benefit to a region, municipalities need to view development patterns from the regional perspective.  Agreeing to work cooperatively, however, remains a local decision.  Even the Congress, when it was creating the federal transportation planning regulations, considered - but rejected - requiring land use planning as part of the transportation planning process per se.  Instead, the regulatory language mandates consideration and “consistency” with the local land use and development decisions, thereby allowing the MPO to decide whether, or to what extent, it should consider land use in the planning process.

   CDTC has embraced several innovative and proactive approaches to fostering the coordination of land use and transportation decisions, in particular at the local level. 



 Land Use Planning in the Capital District

Figure 8:  Upstate NY

The New Visions plan is an effort to help guide the region toward achieving the region’s desired future conditions – what the region wanted to be in 20 years.  New York, however, is a AHome Rule@ State, which means that the power to establish land use control is delegated local government[1]. Local governments, who are not required to plan in any prescribed manner or coordinate with any other local government, decide on the nature and form of those land use development controls.  This can, and usually does, lead to urban sprawl and local communities working at crossed purposes with each other and the State. Furthermore, sprawl can mean different things to different people, and rural communities may desire the new shopping mall or housing development, even if it is a migration from other parts of the Region.  Because of Home Rule, municipalities, counties and regional planning bodies throughout New York State have taken various approaches to encouraging regional land use planning.


The Capital Region does have a regional planning body – the Capital District Regional Planning Commission (CDRPC).   The CDRPC, with its six person staff, is governed by a Board composed of 20 members (Commissioners), five from each of the four Capital District counties, appointed by their respective County Legislative Bodies.  Its original purpose was “…to perform and support comprehensive planning work, including surveys, planning services, technical services, and the formulation of plans and policies to promote sound and coordinated development of the entire Region.”[2]  Since its establishment in 1967, CDRPC’s role has expanded into aviation planning, crime control coordinator, Economic Development District, Foreign-Trade Zone administrator, and data and information center.


CDRPC is a voting member of the CDTC and has been a very valuable partner in CDTC’s transportation planning process. For example, CDTC and CDRPC have a longstanding contractual commitment whereby CDRPC provides demographic, population and employment data to CDTC. Additionally, CDTC’s Quality Region Task Force, a vital component of the upcoming New Visions 2030 planning effort, is jointly staffed by the two agencies.  In the 2004-2005 UPWP, CDRPC activities amount to $112,000.


CDRPC would seem to be the logical regional organization to actively pursue regional coordinated land use planning efforts, but that has not occurred to date.  CDRPC has been reluctant to weigh in on land use issues, especially controversial ones.  This often results in local municipalities, especially village and town planners, having to face controversial issues without the backup support of a regional planning body. This is not a criticism of the CDRPC, as many pressures come into play and CDRPC has not been empowered to take on an ombudsman role.


The MPO, however, has not been hesitant to weigh in on land use.  Organizationally speaking, the CDTC Policy Board is somewhat analogous to a regional council of governments, composed of the chief elected officials (or appointees thereof) of the major local governmental entities in the Capital Region.  Since CDTC Policy Board operates by consensus, it is a “safer” environment in which to operate when important – perhaps potentially controversial - decisions are needed.


CDTC’s active encouragement of local land use planning can be seen both in its investment and planning principles and in two specific best-practice planning efforts.  Regarding investment, the CDTC adopted planning and investment principles to guide its decisions; principle #9 states (paraphrase) that the CDTC will only fund capital projects designed to provide significant highway capacity expansion only under “compelling conditions”.   One of the compelling conditions prior to CDTC’s investment of transportation dollars is that a local land use development plan has been completed. Thus, CDTC usually insists that the local governmental has evaluated and set conditions on land use development. Furthermore, there are five other investment and planning principles specifically concerning land use and transportation.


            The following sections describe three insightful CDTC planning efforts regarding the integration of land use in transportation decisions:  the Linkage Program and the implementation of the Albany County Airport Area Generic Environmental Impact Statement activity.  These are cited as “best practice” examples.



Community and Transportation Linkage Planning Program

            The most commonly cited obstacle to achieving the vision and goals put forth in the New Visions plan was getting local governments to work together as a region.[3]  New Visions plan specifically stated that, even the full implementation of CDTC’s desired capital investments in the plan, the region would still fall short of the quality of life if there is no dampening of growth. “Innovative, intelligent and coordinated local planning and private investment is as important – if not more important – than regional transportation investment in meeting the goals.” [4]  CDTC thus recognizes its need for a proactive and coordinated local planning effort.  In response to this realization, CDTC initiated its Community and Transportation Linkage Planning Program (Linkage) in 2000.


Figure 9:  Route 470 Corridor Study, Town of Cohoes’ Linkage Study

The Linkage program is a land use/transportation planning assistance program to support local planning initiatives.  These studies, funded by federal funds through the UPWP, are locally initiated and carried out by either CDTC staff or by private consultants under CDTC’s overall management.  The planning studies are joint-funded and chosen on a competitive basis, with a local match requirement of 25% cash minimum up-front.  Local sponsors can add extra cash or in-kind services in their application.  If a selected study will be done by consultant, CDTC staff manage the project, work with project sponsors to develop requests for proposal, evaluate proposals, select consultants, develop contracts, participate in study advisory committees, monitor work progress and solicit and evaluate proposals for future Linkage Program projects.  Linkage procedures require that study advisory committees be established, with members appointed by the project sponsor (a CDTC staff person is a required member).  A CDTC staff person generally attends all workshops/public meetings and often helps the consultant facilitate those discussions.


Over the past four years, CDTC has jointly funded a total of 36 of these local land use and transportation planning studies.  The studies have amounted to approximately $1.6 million in funding commitment, including $400,000 in local cash.  Planning efforts include bike and pedestrian planning, urban neighborhood revitalization, suburban town center retrofitting, pre-development master planning for a major suburban area, urban truck/neighborhood compatibility planning, waterfront revitalization and intermodal center exploration.


Study sponsors have been diverse, representing 23 separate urban, suburban and rural municipalities and non-profit organizations.  The CDTC entertains study proposals from a wider group than just the regular members.  Several proposals from non-profit groups have been funded (e.g., Albany Housing Authority).  These non-profit groups do not physically receive federal funds because CDTC holds the consultant contract, but they are intimately involved in coming up with solutions; the affected municipality, of course, has to concur in the eventual project recommendation.


If the cost of a study is less that $50,000, CDTC solicits for potential consultants, helps the local sponsor in evaluation of received materials, hires the consultants (in order to cut down on paperwork), and then manages the study for the local sponsor.  CDTC developed a "Request for Expressions of Interest” (REI) procedure that minimizes consultants' preparation work and reviewers' work in selecting consultants; this procedure also maximizes the extent of potential consultants' participation.  The CDTC staff follows a “fair access” policy in consultant selection.  For consultants, this means that there are no predetermined favorite based on previous contracts.  The consultants realize this, and competition for award of contract is lively - as many as 17 consultants have bid on some of the less than $50,000 studies.  On the studies, especially on those having small budgets, the CDTC staff involvement has had a great “value added” results in terms of overall study quality.  CDTC’s oversight and management has been so popular with the local municipalities that the staff’s support budget in the UPWP had to be increased to $100,000 in the latest UPWP.  


Most of these studies have not been expensive (less that $50,000), but they are very meaningful to the local sponsors.  Embracing the New Visions approach of “what do we want to happen”, CDTC acts in a way that fosters local community ownership of the final product.  CDTC strives to empower the locals during the development of land use and transportation recommendations and eventual decisions thereon.  A high level of local ownership is achieved. This approach is largely analogous to advanced community planning at the local level.  The effort, especially for those local sponsors who are not directly represented on CDTC committees, helps to bring them into the process.  There has also been a high level of coordination between the recommendations from completed studies and new proposals to the TIP.


We note that CDTA, the MPO’s host agency, ultimately holds these Linkage consultant contracts, and we congratulate the CDTA for its willingness to take the risk on this new concept. 


We again note that when PL funding resources increased, CDTC consciously chose not to proportionally expand its central staff; rather, CDTC close to support the Linkage program.  The CDTC member agencies are noticeably perceptive.  This decision has greatly benefited local land use and transportation planning efforts significantly.



Implementation of the Airport GEIS

            The 8,500-acre area in the vicinity of the Albany County Airport is a choice business location.  It is land in close proximity to the Northway (I-87), the most heavily traveled road in the Capital District, and also close to several highly developed commercial areas and business parks.  Recognizing the inevitable pressure to develop this land, and wary of that development’s impacts on the transportation infrastructure, the Town of Colonie, and the County of Albany prepared a Generic Environmental Impact Study (1990) to address the impact of expected increased airport activity and continued land use development.  The GEIS evaluated the future development growth possibilities (20-year period) and associated impacts, and it came up with appropriate mitigation strategies.  A critical component of the impact assessment was transportation infrastructure’s ability to accommodate additional development in this area.  


The GEIS recommended more than a dozen different transportation improvements in the area over a 20-year period.  These infrastructure improvements are now being funded through a public/private partnership, with the private share of project costs calculated through mitigation fees.  Transportation improvements and land development proceed in tandem.  Infrastructure improvements keep pace with anticipated levels of development, and conversely, the pace of the land development approvals is limited to reflect reasonable expectations for infrastructure improvements.  CDTC, NYSDOT, Albany County and the Town of Colonie have agreed on a set of principles on how and when these transportation projects are moved onto the CDTC TIP.[5]


The implementation stage of the Airport GEIS effort has been underway for approximately 13 years.  CDTC staff has participated in the assessment of over 200 site reviews under contract with the Town of Colonie.  Mitigation fees are assessed on a direct impact basis, not on a $/square foot basis.  The direct impact basis uses trip generation estimates and traffic assignment to develop the percentage of peak-hour capacity consumed by the proposed development. This ensures that the development pays for the traffic it generates; in this way, developers have an incentive for implementing TDM measures.  The MPO staff is serving as a bridge between planning and development. 


Figure 10:  Albany-Shaker Road Improvement

By 2010, the mitigation fees are expected to total $15 million, covering roughly 30% of all improvement costs.  These fees have helped advance the Albany Shaker Road project, CDTA’s shuttle bus service to the airport, and service road construction.  Land use development was scaled back to ensure that traffic levels would not exceed the capacity of the 2010 transportation system.  CDTC, in collaboration with the town and the county, continues to monitor traffic and land use changes.


The GEIS effort followed CDTC’s Wolf Road and Airport Area Transportation Studies of the 1980’s.  While CDTC did not initiate the GEIS itself, the Central Staff continues to be an integral part in allowing the entire concept to succeed.



NY 5 Land Use and Transportation Concepts Study

The NY5 Corridor Land Use & Transportation Study is a 2001 study of 16.5 miles of Route 5 between the Village of Colonie (Albany County) and the City of Schenectady.[6] Once the Capital District's "main street," the Route 5 Corridor's vitality has been eroded over the last 50 years due to a combination of land use, transportation, social and market shifts in the Capital Region.  The CDTC), CDTA, NYSDOT and the five jurisdictions along the route precipitated in the study effort to evaluate land use and transportation issues along Route 5.


This NY 5 Study has received national recognition for the integration of community visioning, economic forecasting, use of visualization and public involvement.  It has led to a $200 million strategy for land use restructuring, streetscaping, transit development and pedestrian, bicyclist and safety improvements in all five municipalities in the corridor.  A follow-up to this study is the NY 5 Bus Rapid Transit Conceptual Design Study, whose purpose is to finalize the BRT system design and begin incremental implementation. The Capital District is among national leaders in pursuit of Bus Rapid Transit (see page 58), focusing on the NY 5 corridor as a prototype for other applications.


[1] Article 9 of the NYS Constitution, plus the Municipal Home Rule Law and the Statute of Local Governments.

[3]  CDTC 1998, “System Goals”, New Visions for Capital District Transportation, page 25.


[4]  Ibid.


[5]  Described on page 24 of the 2003-2008 TIP.


[6]  http://ny5.org