Incorporating Transportation Topics into the Land Use Curriculum
42 Pages Posted: 8 Jun 2021 Last revised: 12 Aug 2021
Date Written: June 7, 2021
Land use and transportation are intricately linked. Transportation intersects with some of the most important issues covered in the land use law curriculum, including among others the wisdom of “Euclidean” zoning ordinances that mandate the segregation of uses, the advantages and disadvantages of ad hoc land use decision-making processes in which local officials have enormous discretion and leverage over landowners, the political economy of land use decisions, the interaction between land use and climate change policy, and questions about racial segregation, gentrification and displacement.
Strangely, however, transportation issues are largely neglected in the existing land use curriculum. While concerns about parking and traffic are ever-present in land use disputes, land use casebooks generally treat these concerns as straightforward issues that require little analysis. After all, everyone understands how frustrating it is to get stuck in traffic. But considering how predominant traffic and parking concerns have become in land use practice, teachers may find it useful to probe a bit more deeply into transportation questions in the land use course. Land use lawyers often find to their chagrin that they spend relatively little time dealing with juicy constitutional issues like the takings clause and far more time addressing hyperbolic, fact-free predictions of impending traffic nightmares from new development.
This symposium contribution offers three ideas about how transportation may be incorporated into the land use curriculum. First, teachers should consider introducing an analysis of “traffic impact studies” into the existing coverage of discretionary land use controls such as subdivision review. Traffic impact studies are among the most important tools used in land use planning today, and although they are often treated as inscrutable and given enormous deference by courts, they are actually incredibly simplistic documents filled with dubious assumptions that reflect an ideological preference for the automobile. Students will find “going under the hood” of a traffic study to be highly illuminating. Second, teachers may find it useful to discuss California’s potentially epochal recent shift in measuring traffic impacts from “level of service” to “vehicle miles traveled.” This discussion will help students see the disconnect between good policy and good politics when it comes to addressing issues like climate change and housing affordability. Third, I suggest a new approach toward teaching the “new urbanism,” a planning movement that seeks to re-imagine the relationship between urban planning and transportation. This approach relies less on the conventional “case method” of law teaching and more on studying critical texts that raise doubts about traditional land use planning practices while also introducing difficult questions of race and inequality that surround efforts to reform those practices.
Integrating transportation into the land use curriculum in the manner I describe will hopefully have several beneficial outcomes: first, it will better prepare students to deal with transportation issues in practice; second, it will enrich and deepen the coverage of some of the more arid parts of the land use curriculum, such as the standard of judicial review applied to “quasi-judicial” land use decisions; and third, it will permit the course to branch out into areas that are often neglected in the conventional land use curriculum, such as the debate over gentrification.
Keywords: land use, transportation, new urbanism, subdivision review, quasi-judicial, traffic study, traffic impact analysis, level of service, vehicle miles traveled, CEQA
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