Transportation planning historically has followed the Rational Planning model of Defining Goals and Objectives, Identifying Problems, Generating Alternatives, Evaluating Alternatives, and Developing the Plan. Other models for planning include Rational actor, Satisficing, Incremental planning, Organizational process, and Political bargaining. However, planners are increasingly expected to adopt a multi-disciplinary approach, especially due to the rising importance of environmentalism. For example, the use of behavioral psychology to persuade drivers to abandon their automobiles and use public transport instead. The role of the transport planner is shifting from technical analysis to promoting sustainability through integrated transport policies.
In the United Kingdom transport planning has traditionally been a branch of civil engineering. In the 1950s and 1960s it was generally believed that the motor car was the future of transport with public transport playing only a marginal role. The role of the transport planner was to "predict and provide" - to predict future transport demand and provide the network for it, which usually involved building more roads.
The publication of Planning Policy Guidance 13 in 1994 (revised in 2001), followed by A New Deal for Transport in 1998 and the white paper Transport Ten Year Plan 2000 indicated an increasing belief that unrestrained growth in road traffic was neither desirable nor feasible. The worries are threefold: concerns about congestion, concerns about the effect of road traffic on the environment (both natural and built) and concerns that an emphasis on road transport discriminates against vulnerable groups in society such as the poor, the elderly and the disabled.
These documents signalled a new approach based on integration:
- integration within and between different types of transport
- integration with the environment
- integration with land use planning
- integration with policies for education, health and wealth creation.
This attempt to reverse decades of underinvestment in the transport system has resulted in a severe shortage of transport planners. It was estimated in 2003 that 2,000 new planners would be required by 2010 to avoid jeopardising the success of the Transport Ten Year Plan.
During 2006 the Transport Planning Society defined the key purpose of transport planning as to plan, design, deliver, manage and review transport, balancing the needs of society, the economy and the environment.
The following key roles must be performed by transport planners:
- take account of the social, economic and environmental context of their work
- understand the legal, regulatory policy and resource framework within which they work
- understand and create transport policies, strategies and plans that contribute to meeting social, economic and environmental needs
- design the necessary transport projects, systems and services
- understand the commercial aspects of operating transport systems and services
- know about and apply the relevant tools and techniques
- must be competent in all aspects of management, in particular communications, personal skills and project management.
Transportation planning in the United States is in the midst of a shift similar to that taking place in the United Kingdom, away from the singular goal of moving vehicular traffic and towards an approach that takes into consideration the communities and lands which streets, roads, and highways pass through ("the context"). This new approach, known as Context Sensitive Solutions (CSS), seeks to balance the need to move vehicles efficiently and safely with other desirable outcomes, including historic preservation, environmental sustainability, and the creation of vital public spaces.
The initial guiding principles of CSS came out of the 1998 "Thinking Beyond the Pavement" conference as a means to describe and foster transportation projects that preserve and enhance the natural and built environments, as well as the economic and social assets of the neighborhoods they pass through. CSS principles have since been adopted as guidelines for highway design in federal legislation. And in 2003, the Federal Highway Administration announced that under one of its three Vital Few Objectives (Environmental Stewardship and Streamlining) they set the target of achieving CSS integration within all state Departments of Transportations by September of 2007. The recent pushes for advancing transportation planning has led to the development of a professional certification program, the Professional Transportation Planner, to be launched in 2007.
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