Professional Practice

Transportation: Regional

In the United States and many other countries, regional transportation is often defined high-speed, limited-access highways, which has led to congestion, sprawl, poor health, environmental degradation, and limited transportation alternatives. Well-designed regional transportation infrastructure is multi-modal, efficient, flexible, and affordable. It provides freedom and economic opportunity for travelers and businesses, fosters ecological health and biodiversity, minimizes negative environmental impacts, and contributes to the scenic quality of the landscape.

Regional travel should be easily accessible to all and should not require ownership of a car. Regional transportation systems should instead be designed around affordable transit such as buses and passenger rail. Airports and regional train and bus stations should in turn be linked to cities, towns, and residential areas by affordable and easily-accessible mass transit.

Regional transportation systems should include bicycle infrastructure. In the United States, the nonprofit Rails-to-Trails Conservancy has created more than 32,000 miles of multi-use trails, primarily by converting unused railway corridors. In the Netherlands, bicycle superhighways called fietssnelwegen connect cities to the countryside.

Rural Considerations

Small towns and rural communities face unique challenges and opportunities when it comes to transportation. However, the fundamental formula of transit, connectivity, and walkability still applies.

Rural populations tend to have higher percentages of elderly, disabled, and poor residents than urban areas, making access to transit options critically important. Furthermore, rural highways are 2.5 times more deadly than their urban counterparts, underscoring the need for safe, healthy, and accessible alternatives to the car.

While many communities may lack the density and population of cities, transit can work in rural areas with the right mix of service and deployment. Vanpool, local buses, ridesharing, and traditional taxi services are all viable options for rural communities.

Similarly, pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure need not be exclusive to urban areas. In fact, proximity to natural and scenic areas presents opportunities for communities to develop interconnected trail networks, amenities which can improve the health and quality of life for local populations as well as be a source of economic and cultural activity.

Regional bike networks that extend beyond city limits further encourage bike travel. However, care must be taken to ensure routes are safe and physically-separated from vehicles to avoid collisions and minimize exposure to harmful air pollution.

Transportation corridors can also double as ecological corridors. Highway roadsides, verges, and medians present opportunities for afforestation and ecological restoration. For example, in 2015 Congress passed the Highways Bettering the Economy and Environment (BEE) Pollinator Protection Act. The Highway BEE act instructs the Department of Transportation to carry out programs that encourage pollinator-friendly practices such as integrated vegetation management (IVM), reduced mowing, and planting of pollinator-friendly native plant species on highway roadsides.

A 2008 study by the Federal Highway Administration found the costs of vehicle collisions with wildlife exceed $8 billion annually. There is no reason why our transportation systems must be a source of conflict between humans and wildlife. With wildlife crossings and sensitive alignment of future roadways, we can minimize collisions, re-connect fragmented migration routes and mating territories, and support healthy wildlife populations and ecosystems.

New transportation facilities and infrastructure should never be sited in environmentally-sensitive or vulnerable areas and existing facilities should be retrofitted to mitigate negative environmental impacts and prepare them for the extreme weather events and sea level rise associated with climate change. Roadsides and medians can mitigate flooding and filter stormwater runoff through the use of green infrastructure such as bio-retention basins and bioswales.

Finally, emerging technologies such as Hyperloop, high-speed Maglev, and autonomous regional transit present exciting possibilities for the future of long distance travel. However, as with any other mode of transportation, they need to be developed and designed as part of an overall transportation system and with an eye towards sustainability, safety, equity, resilience, and beauty.


Institute for Transportation and Development Policy

The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy

Transportation for America

U.S. Federal Highway Administration Bicycle and Pedestrian Program

Western Transportation Institute


Better Crossing Design Can Reduce Collisions Between Wildlife and People, The Dirt blog, January 24, 2011

Commuters Pedal to Work on Their Very Own Superhighway, The New York Times, July 17, 2012

Ecological Roadsides, Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center

The Economic Case for Rail Subsidies, CityLab, March 18, 2013

How Can Louisiana Build Back Stronger?, The Dirt blog, August 23, 2016

How Wildlife Can Benefit from Highways, The Field blog, July 20, 2017

In Rural Georgia, Tomorrow's Smart, Sustainable Solar Highway is Being Built Today, Curbed, February 6, 2017

Interview with Dr. Robert Palmer, FASLA on Scenic Beauty, ASLA 

Interview with Nina-Marie Lister on Ecological Urbanism, ASLA 

Interview with Peter Calthorpe on Urbanism and Climate Change, ASLA

Planning for Better Health at the Regional Scale, The Dirt blog, May 23, 2017

Pollinators and Roadsides: Best Management Practices for Managers and Decision Makers, U.S. Federal Highway Administration, 2016

Small Town and Rural Design Guide

Small Town and Rural Multimodal Networks, U.S. Federal Highway Administration

When Did Scenic Quality Stop Mattering?, The Field Blog, September 13, 2016

Wildlife Crossings Toolkit, National Park Service


Assessing the Carbon Sequestration Potential of Roadsides and Roadside Revegetation, Western Transport Institute, December 2012

Slowing Climate Change One Highway at a Time, Doug Romig, Bill Dunn, Amy Estelle, and Greg Heitmann, U.S. Federal Highway Administration, March 2011

Technical Manual for Maintaining Roadsides for Pollinators, Mary Galea, Vicki Wojcik, Ph.D, Laurie Davies Adams, and Evan Cole, 2016

Wildlife-Vehicle Collision Reduction Study, U.S. Federal Highway Administration, 2008


Championing Connectivity: How an International Competition Captured Global Attention and Inspired Innovation in Wildlife Crossing Design, Bozeman, MT
ARC Solutions

Cycle Superhighways (Supercykelstier), Copenhagen, Denmark

The Great Allegheny Passage Trail

Memorial Park Master Plan 2015, Houston, TX
Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects

Northwest Arkansas Razorback Regional Greenway
Alta Planning + Design

Regional Transportation Plans

2045 Regional Active Transportation Plan, Austin, TX

The Fourth Regional Plan, New York, NY

Middle Tennessee Connected: 2016-2040 Regional Transportation Plan, Nashville, TN

Regional Transportation Plan, Portland, OR 

Twin Cities Regional Bicycle System Study, Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN






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