Seminar on Zoning and Transportation

We’ve discussed before the idea that zoning may be a cause of sprawl.

This Friday the weekly PSU transportation seminar will focus in on the connections between zoning and transportation:

Portland State University
Center for Transportation Studies
Spring 2006 Transportation Seminar Series

Topic: Zoned Out: Regulation, Markets, and Choices in Transportation and Metropolitan Land Use
Speaker: Jonathan Levine, Chair and Associate Professor of Urban + Regional Planning, University of Michigan
When: Friday, April 21, 2006, 12:00-1:30 pm
Where: 204 Urban Center (


The search for solutions to urban sprawl, congestion, and pollution has inspired a wealth of alternatives, including smart growth, New Urbanism, and transit-oriented development. Since 1970, researchers have sought to assess such alternatives by evaluating their transportation benefits. Implicit in research efforts, however, has been the
presumption that, for these options to be given serious consideration as part of policy reform, science has to prove they will reduce auto use and increase transit, walking, or other physical activity. Zoned Out argues that the debate about transportation and land use planning in the United States has been distorted by a myth – the myth that urban
sprawl is the result of a free market. According to this myth, low-density, auto-dependent development dominates U.S. metropolitan areas simply because that is what Americans prefer.

This seminar confronts the free market myth by pointing out that land development is already one of the most regulated sectors of the U.S. economy. Noting that local governments use their regulatory powers to lower densities, segregate different types of land uses, and mandate large roadways and parking lots, it argues that the design template for urban sprawl is written into the land-use regulations of thousands of municipalities nationwide. These regulations and the skewed thinking that underlies current debate mean that policy innovation, market forces, and the compact-development alternatives they might produce are often “zoned out” of metropolitan areas. When people believe that current land-use development is governed by a free market, any proposal for policy reform is seen as a market intervention and a limitation on consumer choice, and any proposal carries a high burden of scientific proof that it will be effective. By contrast, a recognition of the role of regulation in constraining current options should change this burden of proof and the way in which transportation and land-use innovations are debated.

3 responses to “Seminar on Zoning and Transportation”

  1. I heard a version of this talk today (Thursday) at the University of Oregon in Eugene. Among other things, Prof. Levine talks about Oregon’s Transportation Planning Rule (TPR) not as a heavy-handed regulation from the state that restricts choice, but actually as an antidote to local zoning regulations that require single-family housing and exclude other patterns of development more supportive of transportation options. In short, he talks about the TPR as an agent for increaed choice. I encourage folks in Portland to attend on Friday — or at least to get the talk via streaming video.

  2. You may not be aware, but the City of Portland Bureau of Planning is only just now beginning an 18 month process to rezone property along the MAX Yellow Line in N. Portland. Why wasn’t this begun in 1999 when Council approved the alignment?Current zoning does not reflect the lightrail investment, TOD goals, etc., and is a disincentive to investment. It’s a real shame to be starting this so late.

  3. “Current zoning does not reflect the lightrail investment, TOD goals, etc.,”

    It did at Cascade Station and nothing showed up till zoning adjustments allowed the big box stores city officials and planners said would NEVER be allowed ther.

    Now Ikea and Costco Home are on the way.

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