By guest blogger, Paula Reeves, AICP and Co-chair of APA Washington’s Community Planning Assistance Program
We don’t cut the ribbon on a community planning document in the same way we celebrate the opening of a new bridge or highway. However, as a Certified Planner working for WSDOT, I have seen proof that these community planning processes make a significant difference in transportation and in our cities, towns and communities. This month we are joining the American Planning Association in recognizing October as Community Planning Month.
So what exactly is community planning? Community transportation plans help to identify affordable short-term improvements like signal timing adjustments, new crosswalks, and better signage. These plans also help by creating long-term visions and action plans for some of our most congested corridors. They tie all the different parts and pieces of our system together like county roads, city streets, rail, highways, ferries, buses, sidewalks and trails.
During a recent community planning process I held with Washington APA in Cle Elum, residents envisioned a more walkable downtown by re-designing State Route 903. Working together with other planners, architects and engineers, we generate a concept based on their ideas. Our work produced a common vision and identified steps to construct it.
I think of community planning as being a lot like mediating family disagreements – only with more people, more disagreements, and a short timeline. During these planning workshops, I work with groups of neighbors, elected officials, business owners and others to find common ground and build an action plan for making it happen.
Community planning saves money by uncovering efficiencies and bringing to light information that may not have otherwise been considered – things like freight patterns, school traffic, planned developments, local preferences, and the list goes on. Another example comes from Woodland, WA. During development of a community plan, residents found that roundabouts at the intersection of a local street and highway off-ramp would reduce traffic congestion, while at the same time create the entrance they wanted for their downtown. This improvement could save millions by eliminating the need for a much larger intersection improvement they originally thought was needed.
At whatever scale and whichever agency leads the process, community planning helps jump start short term projects, support sustainable economic development, uncover efficiencies, and even identify funding partnerships.
Help us out during Community Planning Month by sending your recommendations or vision for transportation in your community to WSDOT Community Design at Reevesp@wsdot.wa.gov or by calling 360-705-7258.
You can also participate in your local community planning processes by contacting your local elected officials or your city or county administrator’s office.
Find out more about our nationally recognized Community Transportation Planning and Design by visiting these websites: FHWA Livability in Transportation Guidebook (pdf) - (posted on the AASHTO website)