US Department of Transportation

FHWA PlanWorks: Better Planning, Better Projects

US Department of Transportation

FHWA Planworks: Better Planning, Better Projects

Land Use

Land Use and the Decision Guide

Why do transportation practitioners care about land use?

Land use and transportation directly impact one another. The location and density of development affects travel demand. The number and location of access points influences land development patterns and growth. Changes in land use patterns alter travel demand and, therefore, transportation infrastructure needs.

How can PlanWorks help transportation practitioners consider land use in decision-making?

Transportation practitioners do not make land use decisions. Collaborative participation of land use stakeholders in transportation decision making is necessary to ensure that land use and transportation decisions support each other.

PlanWorks offers three areas of information to support the integration of the transportation and land use planning processes:

  1. The Decision Guide (below) provides detailed information on the individual Key Decisions at which land use considerations can be integrated. Hover over the highlighted Key Decisions to see how a collaborative process supports integrating transportation and land use decision making. Click on any highlighted Key Decision for more information about questions, data, and relationships that support this interface. Key Decisions that are greyed-out have no specific relevance to the individual application or topic area but are still accessible from this graphic.
  2. Smart growth is a set of principles that optimize land use impacts on quality of life. Smart growth recognizes the connection among land use, economic development, transportation, and the natural environment. Go to Smart Growth for information about these considerations in transportation decision-making.
  3. Many transportation agencies are effectively integrating land use planning into transportation decisions. To see how they are doing it, go to Examples from Practice.


Identify land use stakeholders to participate in long-range planning. Create a scope that considers land use information, including partnerships, political context, and constraints to land use plan implementation.

Acquire/use information on the amount and type of growth in planning area, changes in land use plan and priorities, and integration of transportation and land use goals and smart growth principles.

Ensure evaluation criteria, measures, and analysis methods in transportation plans are consistent with land use goals and smart growth principles.
This Key Decision is not associated with application.
This Key Decision is not associated with application.

Attain consensus on acceptable range of land use strategies to be included in LRTP, based on land use assumptions and constraints.

Identify whether land use changes may be necessary to implement the plan scenarios.

Ensure consistency between land use and the preferred scenario in the long range transportation plan.
This Key Decision is not associated with application.
This Key Decision is not associated with application.
This Key Decision is not associated with application.

This Key Decision is not associated with application.
This Key Decision is not associated with application.
This Key Decision is not associated with application.

Identify potential land use impacts, support, and/or opposition for individual projects that may impact project prioritization or sequencing.
This Key Decision is not associated with application.
This Key Decision is not associated with application.
This Key Decision is not associated with application.
This Key Decision is not associated with application.
This Key Decision is not associated with application.


Agree with land use stakeholders to collaborate in corridor planning and to address land use as part of the scope. Obtain information on current land use plans and issues.

Analyze available information on land use context and smart growth principles when identifying problems and opportunities.

Identify land use and development goals, and consider how they should inform the corridor goals.

Consider land use data when scoping environmental review.

Ensure evaluation criteria, measures, and analysis methods are consistent with land use goals and smart growth principles.

Consider input from land use stakeholders about the solution sets and how they relate to land use plans.

Analyze potential solutions to ensure the preferred solution set is consistent with land use plans and smart growth principles, if applicable. Gain commitment from land use partners to support implementation of the preferred solution set.

Consider land use and smart growth-related criteria for sequencing individual solutions within the preferred solution set.

Evaluate how anticipated land use changes will impact project prioritization. Ensure that land use partners are supportive of the necessary land use changes.


Invite land use stakeholders to participate in the environmental review process. Obtain information from land use that should be incorporated into environmental review.
This Key Decision is not associated with application.

Provide information on land use context and goals for impact on the project purpose and need.

Consider land use physical data, forecasts, and plans when identifying the study area.

Ensure that sufficient data is provided from land use plans to use in the evaluation criteria.

Identify any land use alternatives that would contribute to meeting the project purpose and need and supporting goals.

Identify any major conflicts between adopted land use plans, smart growth principles, and alternatives being considered.

Ensure consistency by endorsing range of land use policy changes in support of Draft EIS alternatives and conceptual mitigation, as required.
This Key Decision is not associated with application.
This Key Decision is not associated with application.
This Key Decision is not associated with application.

Obtain agreement from land use stakeholders that any mitigation related to land use is acceptable.
This Key Decision is not associated with application.
This Key Decision is not associated with application.

Smart Growth

The Smart Growth Network defines smart growth in terms of ten principles:

  1. Mix land uses
  2. Take advantage of compact building design
  3. Create a range of housing opportunities and choices
  4. Create walkable neighborhoods
  5. Foster distinctive, attractive communities with a strong sense of place
  6. Preserve open space, farmland, natural beauty, and critical environmental areas
  7. Strengthen and direct development towards existing communities
  8. Provide a variety of transportation choices
  9. Make development decisions predictable, fair, and cost effective
  10. Encourage community and stakeholder collaboration in development decisions

According to the Smart Growth Network, for transportation, this means: better coordinating land use and transportation; increasing the availability of high-quality transit service; creating redundancy, resiliency and connectivity within road networks; and ensuring connectivity between pedestrian, bike, transit, and road facilities.

For smart growth strategies to be effective, goals among the land use planning and transportation planning agencies should align, and agencies need to cooperate on the means to achieve these goals.

Examples of smart growth considerations for transportation decision making are presented below:

To address smart growth while Consider
Defining the transportation planning region or study area
  • Impacts beyond the planning region or study area
  • Land use patterns and growth forecasts
Identifying transportation deficiencies, problems and opportunities, or purpose and need
  • Land use patterns and growth forecasts
  • Performance and safety of the whole system
  • Balancing mode choices
  • Mobility and accessibility
  • Impacts of smart growth on travel demand, congestion, and conformity
Establishing goals
  • Community visions and plans
  • Producing greater mobility without expanding the road network
  • Supporting growth management and economic development
  • Including environmental preservation, conservation, and restoration goals
  • Providing for the equitable distribution of impacts and benefits
  • Supporting improved quality of life
Determining the scope and methods of analysis
  • Induced development and induced travel
  • Modal balance, accessibility, and demand
  • Congestion
  • System performance and safety
  • Economic development and social equity impacts
  • Environmental sustainability
  • Federal and State funding criteria such as "livability"
Establishing the range of solutions, strategies, or alternatives
  • Land use strategies
  • Transportation strategies
  • Policy strategies
  • Integrated land use and transportation "blueprint" alternatives
Analyzing solutions, strategies, or alternatives
  • Integrated land use and transportation modeling
  • Travel model results in a sketch planning approach to account for smart growth
  • Interactive, quick-response tools for local factors and/or site specific evaluation
  • Validated/adjusted models to account for smart growth and to create consistency between local and regional analysis
Selecting or prioritizing solutions, strategies, or alternatives
  • If smart growth patterns will be encouraged
  • If congestion will be reduced
  • If smart growth goals will be met

Examples from Practice

Transportation agencies at the State and regional levels are integrating transportation and land use decisions. Explore the material on this page for some examples from practice.

Click on the arrows below for detailed information about each example.

  • The Maryland Department of Transportation's (MDOT's) Transportation Plan, Statewide Freight Plan, and Climate Action Plan include objectives and goals related to smart growth. Specific strategies used by MDOT to encourage smart growth include capital-specific program and project investments through MDOT's Consolidated Transportation Program (CTP). MDOT is also investing in smart growth related research and studies including Plan Maryland, the Carbon Neutral Corridor (CNC) study, and the Maryland Scenario Project. The purpose of the Scenario Project is to explore alternative futures for the State of Maryland and to identify policy interventions that would lead to more desirable transportation-related outcomes.

  • In Oregon, the Department of Land Conservation and Development oversees the statewide planning goals. As part of those goals, all transportation plans must address transportation and land use - both are included in the Oregon Transportation Plan. State law also requires inter-agency coordination across state government and consideration of local government and MPO plans. The State of Oregon uses GreenSTEP to help understand impacts of policy and planning decisions. GreenSTEP is a modeling tool that supports strategic planning at the state and metropolitan area levels. GreenSTEP was initially developed for the purpose of calculating greenhouse gas emissions, but is also used to calculate many other quantities such as household vehicle travel, household walk trips, bicycling potential, amounts of money households spend on vehicle travel, road tax revenues, and the estimated gap between road revenues and costs.

    • The Smart Growth and Public Infrastructure Priority Act (Chapter 433 of the Laws of 2010) requires state agencies responsible for infrastructure to evaluate public infrastructure projects they fund or undertake against ten Smart Growth Criteria. If projects are not consistent with these Smart Growth Criteria, the agency or state authority must document justification for why the infrastructure project should proceed. The law also requires these agencies to create smart growth advisory committees to ensure state sponsored infrastructure spending: advances sustainable development; does not result in sprawl development; and involves a consultation process with residents, environmental groups, local officials and other stakeholders.
    • For the Capital District Transportation Committee (CDTC), the Community and Transportation Linkage Program is an important tool for achieving objectives related to smart growth. CDTC's Linkage Program provides funding for cities, towns and villages to prepare community-based transportation and land use plans consistent with principles in the regional transportation plan, New Visions 2030.
    • New Visions 2030 calls for urban reinvestment, concentrated development patterns, and smart economic growth. The plan provides clear evidence for supporting efforts to address the mismatch between highway function and financial responsibility within the region's cities. The CDTC TIP, in the context of the New Visions Plan, has been very successful in programming significant funding for transportation projects in cities and local communities.
  • In the State of Washington, the Growth Management Act (GMA) has been in place since 1990. The Thurston Regional Planning Council (TRPC) was coordinating land use and transportation before 1990 as part of their planning process with local partners. TRPC plans have a vision for less driving which is achieved with land use policies. They use strategies like short blocks, street connectivity, and sidewalks, to encourage smart growth. Specific strategies used by TRPC to encourage smart growth are: urban growth boundaries; coordinated planning policies with cities, counties and the MPO; down-zoned rural areas; set aside agricultural and natural resource lands; established connected streets policies; set design details for sidewalks and bike lanes in street standards; impact fees to pay for bike and pedestrian improvements; and smart corridors. TRPC is undertaking a new initiative, Sustainable Thurston, which will include the use of CommunityViz to develop and compare scenarios using measures of sustainability.

  • For Sacramento, California, Senate Bill 375 (SB 375) is the most important law requiring the integration of land-use and transportation planning. The Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG) is undertaking a major effort, known as "Blueprint" to link transportation and land development more closely. The SACOG Board of Directors adopted the Preferred Blueprint Scenario in December 2004. This vision for growth promotes compact, mixed-use development and more transit choices as an alternative to low density development. The Preferred Blueprint Scenario is part of SACOG's Metropolitan Transportation Plan for 2035, the long-range transportation plan for the six-county region. It also serves as a framework to guide local government in growth and transportation planning through 2050. The Metropolitan Transportation Plan for 2035 links land use and transportation planning with $42 billion in transportation investments in the six-county Sacramento region over the next 28 years.