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Tuesday, January 8, 2013

What is a Long Range Transportation Plan?

Have you ever been asked, “Where do you see yourself in 20 years?” Few of us can answer with a tremendous amount of certainty. Most of us are lucky to have a plan for the next few weeks, month, or year, let alone the next couple of decades.

Even though you and I can generally live our lives in a successful way by planning just a few days, weeks, or years ahead, cities are different. They need defined plans that set a course for a long period of time, for nearly everything—from water, to schools, to transportation. The complexities of the goals they are trying to achieve often requires significant investments of time and money. The length of time it takes to make policy; identify and secure funding for initiatives; plan, design, and build projects; and provide services, necessitates that cities have plans that anticipate needs, not simply react to current events.

A multimodal long range transportation plan, or multimodal LRTP, is a jurisdiction’s way of looking at its transportation needs over short-, mid-, and long-term horizons. In the context of an LRTP, short-term is generally defined as the 5-year time horizon, mid-term as the 10- to 15-year horizon, and long-term can be 25 or more years from today. LRTPs plan for all modes of transportation—vehicular and non-vehicular—in a coordinated and integrated manner. They look at how different travel modes can help solve transportation challenges and they look at how different travel modes can successfully interact with one another.

Long range transportation plans recognize the tension between the need for facilities and services and constraints—natural, physical, social, or financial. They also are called upon by leaders to help in decision-making processes related the needs of the transportation system. LRTPs are visionary, but realistic. They focus on creating and articulating an implementable vision. Jurisdictions have only so much money to spend on their transportation systems; therefore priorities must be established and compromise is inevitable. Good transportation plans include mechanisms for measuring progress. Many years after a plan is complete, everyone should be able to understand the effects that the plan has contributed to.

From a regulatory perspective, states and metropolitan areas are required by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to have an up-to-date long range transportation plan (LRTP). Although there are rules for preparing transportation plans, federal requirements provide significant latitude in the preparation of LRTPs. Plans may be broad and policy-oriented or they can be very specific and prescriptive. In either case, there are elements and considerations required of any LRTP including:
  • 20-year time horizon for planning
  • Multimodal approach to planning including consideration of pedestrians, bicycles, vehicles, freight, safety and security, and transit
  • System-based planning approach, rather than one that focuses on transportation modes and system elements individually
  • Consideration of land use, development, housing, natural environment, and employment
  • Consideration of costs of the recommendations and a funding and financing for operations, maintenance, and capital investments
  • Consideration of efficiency and system preservation

Much of the transportation funding in the United States is currently provided by the federal government. In July 2012, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, or MAP-21, was signed into law. MAP-21 funds surface transportation programs for Fiscal Years 2013 and 2014. MAP-21 also provides a policy and programmatic framework to guide state DOTs in developing a multimodal transportation system using performance-based project evaluation. Additional program details continue to emerge and further guidance on performance measures and planning are expected in the coming year.

In addition to needing to meet federal requirements, a long range transportation plan also needs to help the jurisdiction make informed decisions about transportation. For the District, the transportation plan’s job is to identify what the city wants its transportation system to do, what is needed to do it, and when it needs to do it.


  1. The provision of a low cost neighborhood bus system could be explored. These small buses(similar in size to MoCo's Ride On) could operate within neighborhoods providing transportation to Metro stations making access seamless from "front door to Metro" for those neighborhoods that are not within a quater mile of a metro station. It would reduce the need for owning a car since it would be reliable enough to plan your day around a local service with access to metro.

  2. The above is a good point. In addition, particular attention needs to continue to be paid to bike lanes and dedicated bike facilities. The city has made leaps and bounds in this area in the last couple years, and as a frequent user of these facilities I can say they have made a huge difference. DC has become one of the most bike-friendly cities in the country, and we need to continue setting the example.

  3. I agree to both the comments above. Even if we invested in giving a share ride within neighborhoods and create bike boulevards would be a new incentive for other to go by a multimodal lifestyle. It could be very interesting to also include something more affordable for those who do not have major alotted savings to use these share systems. Possibly a car service that drops of rental bikes sponsored by them to community centers so others have an opportunity to see what it is like to use the share system. Long range plans should now start looking at how to make the plan shorter and come to action within 5 years rather than ten. theough it is a developing process fo rthings to take longer as far as construction is concerned, but the population and "type" of peopl are changing all the time. in 20 years a new kind of young/old will be living in the city due to the popularity and avaiblility of jobs and activities. needs of roads and their capacity to hold these multiple modes could change to even being more set up for scooters rather than bikes, because maybe people will feel safer riding those than learning, or skillfully riding bikes through traffic. though Long range may be realistic to planners, it is not to the public when they make decisions and vote and dont see their wishes until they become grandparents, or they move, or even see a chang ein the plan and nothign what they even spoke about.i like the strides made to transfer people to options, but lets also find a way to make it accessible/affordable to other classes of people, find safe options for suspecting neighborhoods, and plan for needs that will last 20 years rather than be done in 20 years.

  4. We need to rethink about how we get to and from our Metro stations. For the last 40 years, WMATA has spent untold millions of dollars on automobile garages instead of maintaining the rail infrastructure, building new lines or working with jurisdictions to make it easier to walk or bike to its stations.

    The District is making progress in its alternative infrastructure development but we need to work more closely with WMATA. The District should make biking or walking to stations so attractive that people see it as the best alternative. This included wide sidewalks; ample, safe, and covered bike parking; and urban planning that places a priority on pedestrians instead of cars.