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Frequently Asked Questions



How do we explain livability?

Because the concept of livability is place-based and context sensitive, its definition can differ depending on region and whether the community is an urban, suburban, exurban, or rural setting. However, the overall understanding of livability can be conveyed by  five of the six principles of the Sustainable Communities Partnership listed below. A livable community:
  • Provides more transportation choices that are safe, reliable, and economical. In a rural area, this can be as simple as increasing walkability, to enable citizens to park their car once in a downtown area, and access their daily needs by foot from that location.   Providing transportation to critical social services for rural residents who can’t drive is another valuable livability option.
  • Promotes equitable, affordable housing options. This refers to an availability of location- and energy-efficient housing choices for people of all ages, incomes, races and ethnicities – like neighborhoods with mixed-use, mixed-income housing where a retired couple can live in the same community as a recent college graduate.
  • Enhances economic competitiveness. Through reliable and timely access to employment centers, educational opportunities, services and other basic needs, livable communities are those which have higher economic resilience and more economic opportunities. They provide expanded business access to markets – largely through increased accessibility and mobility choices.
  • Supports and targets funding toward existing communities. Instead of developing on new land – which can be a waste of funding and resources – livable communities target development toward such strategies as transit oriented, mixed-use development and land recycling – to increase community revitalization, improve the efficiency of public works investments, and safeguard rural landscapes.
  • Values communities and neighborhoods. The purpose of livability is to enhance the unique characteristics of all communities by investing in healthy, safe and walkable neighborhoods – rural, urban or suburban. The unique nature of each area will determine what livability looks like for that community.

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There is a lot said about Federal Highway Administration’s and Federal Transit Administration’s role in the Department’s livability initiative. What are the roles of other modes? What is Federal Railroad Administration doing in terms of Livability?

The “Vision of High-Speed Rail in America” Strategic Plan outlines the President’s vision that would transform the nation’s transportation system by rebuilding existing rail infrastructure while developing a comprehensive high-speed intercity passenger rail network through a long-term commitment at both the federal and state levels.  The FRA has prepared Interim Program Guidance that makes grant funds available for the High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program.  HSR will promote economic expansion (including new manufacturing jobs), create new choices for travelers in addition to flying or driving, reduce national dependence on oil, and foster urban and rural livable communities.

What are future steps for this initiative?

A number of high-speed rail corridors are being planned by States that range from upgrades to existing rail lines to entirely new rail lines exclusively devoted to 150 to 250 mph trains. More importantly, the FRA will be awarding approximately $8 billion in grants to kick-start the first rounds of implementation of HSR throughout the country and continue to do outreach to ensure its success.  In addition to overseeing the HSR development, FRA (with funds approved by congress) will continue to provide grant support year after year as long as there are available funds.

What is Federal Aviation Administration doing in terms of Livability?

The FAA is working on environmental projects, has capped operations in the New York area to control congestion, and continues to work with other transportation modes to make travel easier for the public.

What are future steps for this initiative?

The FAA is examining alternative fuel options, intermodal projects, and more comprehensive ways to manage congestion.

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What is Maritime Administration doing in terms of Livability?

The Maritime Administration is working closely with other modal administrations of the Department of Transportation to define the role of water transportation in meeting Livability objectives.  Most maritime activities involve the commercial movement of freight, which can significantly impact the ability of businesses to support communities and also affect the quality of life in communities through which freight moves.  MARAD will work with its customers and the Department to incorporate, to the extent practical, MARAD and water transportation programs into the Department’s livability objectives.

What are future steps for this initiative?

In addition to working with the Department, MARAD will engage in discussions with the industry to learn more about industry views on water transportation’s role in Livability.

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What is National Highway Traffic Safety Administration doing in terms of livability?

NHTSA works with State and National partners to develop and implement education and enforcement programs designed to reduce pedestrian and bicycle crashes and resulting injuries and fatalities. At the request of State Highway Safety Offices, NHTSA will organize and facilitate an assessment of the State pedestrian safety program to assist the State in strengthening their current programs

What are future steps for this initiative? 

NHTSA is ready to conduct Pedestrian Safety Program State Assessment at the request of a State Highway Safety Office. NHTSA and FHWA are investigating ways to link Road Safety Audits and Pedestrian Safety Program State Assessments to provide greater assistance to State’s working to improve pedestrian safety.

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How do you see the involvement in federal agency field staff in this partnership?

Because the Sustainable Communities Partnership is founded on a need for comprehensive regional planning and local efforts that support livability, field staff will play a vital role in this effort. We are looking to them to form partnerships for collaboration between DOT, HUD, and EPA regional offices. Rosters have been distributed among the field offices in order promote collaboration and coordination, which has now occurred in every single region. It is our hope that many regions will start to take after the three field agencies in Region 4, where DOT, HUD, and EPA in that region have begun to communicate with each other during planning processes, in order to truly integrate environmental, transportation, and housing decisions.

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Is there a local/state model for this type of collaboration that folks may use?

There is no official, nor singular, model for how local, state, and regional offices can work together. However, collaboration at the regional level between the agencies is beginning to take place in several locations. For example, Region 4 in the Southeast is taking steps to coordinate transportation, housing and environmental planning by bringing together field staff from DOT, HUD, and EPA. They can be looked to as an exemplary model for regional collaboration. However, as we collect best practices and case studies of livable communities from around the country, we are keeping in mind how to best communicate these stories of success. FHWA, in fact, is currently working on a Livability in Transportation Best Practice Guidebook which will provide other models for collaboration that can be used by folks at the regional, local, and state level.

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What role do you see for universities and research centers in this effort? Can you talk a little bit more about how the partnership will work with University Transportation Centers specifically, and the academic and research community more generally?

The University Transportation Centers (UTCs), administered by the Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA), have a role in the Department’s livability effort through their research, education and technology transfer programs that focus on “livability” as a topic, as well as on issues that are that are part and parcel of what livability is, such as: accessibility (not just mobility); environmental sustainability; complete streets; transit; collaboration with HUD and EPA on public health issues; affordability; metrics/modeling for what makes a community livable; etc.  UTCs require dollar-for-dollar match, so there is consistent collaboration and technology transfer with state DOTs, private industry, MPOs, and other researchers.

A significant effort regarding livability will occur Oct. 21-22, 2010, when RITA and the Transportation Research Board (TRB) will sponsor the fifth annual UTC Spotlight Conference in D.C., with the topic being Livability. The conference will include approximately 100 participants from UTCs, USDOT and other Federal agencies, state and local agencies and organizations, and industry. The conference will bring together representatives from USDOT-sponsored universities, representatives from USDOT and other government agencies as appropriate, as well as select industry and state and local representatives working with livability issues in transportation. The purpose of the conference is to promote synergies among USDOT, state and local organizations, the university community and the private sector in understanding and addressing the unique issues involved with livability issues and transportation.

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Can you give examples of how any or all of the three agencies have “been in the way” of livable communities?

Our federal agencies have identified many barriers that prevent the development of livable communities. One barrier that has already been addressed through this Partnership is revisions to Chapter 9 of the Multifamily Accelerated Processing (MAP) Guide - a set of national standards for approved Lenders for Federal Housing Administration (FHA) multifamily mortgage insurance –, which previously prevented redevelopment of brownfields. HUD’s revisions to allow certain technologies and methodologies for Brownfield remediation will allow these often well-located sites to be to be reclaimed and recycled to provide affordable housing in transit-oriented developments and in other urban revitalization contexts. Other major barriers that we are looking at is disconnect between the local authority to designate land use and the regional authority to create transportation plans as well as knowledge barriers, which include a lack of information and capacity on behalf of communities to access agency support.

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The State needs jobs and job creation is not the focus of the organizations in this initiative, so how will they work to leverage community-based job creation strategies?

Job creation and economic vitality is a critical component of any livable community.  In fact, many companies are finding that the best way to attract the most talented workers is to locate in livable communities, since vibrant, walkable neighborhoods are what they tend to favor.  Dubuque, Iowa, recently attracted 1400 new jobs from IBM who located in this community because the town was focused on placing homes close to the new IBM office and near restaurants, groceries and retail – things that attract the type of workers IBM needs.

DOT has administered grants under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that are putting Americans back to work and fixing critical infrastructure deficiencies.  Additionally, the Department has a $1.5B Tiger Discretionary Grant program that the Secretary has awarded that targets economic growth, livability and sustainability.  In the long-term, the aligning of transportation & land-use policies will have a great impact on new development and sustained economic growth through new housing, retail, and employment center creation in neighborhoods well served by transportation options.

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How do you increase the awareness of local community leadership on implementing these concepts?

Capacity building and outreach efforts are critical to increase awareness to local community leadership on implementing the concepts of livability.  Reaching out, building an awareness on livability, and starting the dialogue on benefits of livability are key to advance the principles and concepts of livability.

DOT is pursuing various outreach efforts to inform stakeholders of the livability/sustainable communities initiative.  In addition to the traditional transportation interest groups, we are also reaching out to state and local elected official constituencies, such as National League of Cities, National Conference of State Legislatures, and the Association of Metropolitan Planning Organizations.  Our Federal partners in this effort, HUD and EPA, are also reaching out to their constituencies, which should provide a comprehensive cross section of local practitioners to increase needed awareness.

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What was learned from the community visits on the Livability Tour in September?

The primary purpose of the Livability Tour was to visit livable communities that can inform how we shape our partnership and future programs. The two Secretaries and Administrator visited three excellent examples of livable communities that are making an impact in their region: Chicago, Illinois, Dubuque, Iowa, and Denver, Colorado.  In Chicago, West Garfield Park was struggling and slated to lose its lone transit rail stop due to low ridership. Through the leadership of Bethel New Life and the Chicago Transit Authority, transit service was maintained and upgraded. The heart of the redevelopment is the $4.5 million Bethel Center, a 23,000 sq. ft., two-story building built on a former brownfield. The building features green construction techniques and has applied for LEED Gold certification. In addition to the Center, Bethel also built 50 affordable homes within walking distance of the Center and the Green Line station.

In its Historic Millwork District, the city of Dubuque is redeveloping the old factories and mills to create new mixed income housing, workplaces and entertainment. Sustainable transportation options are important to this plan. The city’s trolley bus now connects the District to downtown. The District plan includes provisions for redesigning the roadways to support bikes and pedestrians. Many of the buildings are being redeveloped with green building techniques. This district contains many contaminated properties that will be remediated and is largely low-income.

Denver's La Alma / Lincoln Park is a predominantly Latino neighborhood, also one of Denver's oldest, with an estimated 7,000 residents. The 10th and Osage station adjoins an industrial area, a diverse existing housing stock, and an emerging cultural. The station is serving as a catalyst for Lincoln Park's redevelopment. The plan calls for mixed-use, mixed-income development within walking distance of the station. This will create a more dense and walkable community and create better connections from the La Alma/Lincoln Park neighborhood and the Arts District to the station.

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Where can we find information on training and educational opportunities for State DOT practitioners to implement livability strategies?

Training and educational opportunities for State DOT practitioners to implement livability strategies are offered through a variety of sources including the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) National Highway Institute (NHI) and the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) National Transit Institute (NTI).  NHI and NTI offer courses on transportation and land use and transit-oriented development.  The transportation and land use course is designed to help practitioners develop a multimodal transportation system that supports desired land uses and helps them shape land uses to support the transportation system.  The transit-oriented development course is designed to help participants explain the relationship between land development and the transit system and how it fits into the transportation planning requirements at the Federal, State, and local levels. 

Additional course information can be found at:

A Context Sensitive Solution (CSS) Webinar on the Partnership for Sustainable Communities and CSS is available online, as well as a presentation from their Complete Streets Webinar.  The following websites also offer educational materials on livability and related topics to State DOT practitioners:

FTA has collected and organized the following extensive collection of resource materials on planning for livable and sustainable communities for transit agencies, State and local planners and decision-makers responsible for land use, transportation, economic development, and environmental quality, aas well as stakeholders and community at large:

Additional information is available from:

FHWA Pedestrian Safety Resources for Communities

You can order the following publications at FHWA's website.

  • Pedestrian Safety Guide for Transit Agencies – FHWA-SA-07-017-Provides transit agency staff with an easy –to-use resource for improving pedestrian safety. Includes a variety of approaches to address pedestrian safety issues near transit stations, bus stops, and other places where transit is operated.
  • A Resident’s Guide for Creating Safety and Walkable Communities – FHWA-SA-07-016 - Includes information, ideas and resources to helpresidents learn about issues that affect walking conditions, ways to addess or prvent these problems and promote pedestrian safety.
  • How to Develop a Pedestrian Safety Action Plan – FHWA-SA-05-12- Helps state and local officials know where to bein to address pedestrian safety issues, identifying safety problems, analyzing data and selecting optimal solutions.

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Updated: Tuesday, March 3, 2015
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