Center for American Progress

RELEASE: Why Many Cities’ Smart Growth Transportation Strategies Don’t Work
Press Release

RELEASE: Why Many Cities’ Smart Growth Transportation Strategies Don’t Work

Washington, D.C. — Today, the Center for American Progress released a new issue brief that looks at how many cities’ all-of-the-above strategies ultimately increase dependence on automobiles.

In “Why an All-of-the-Above Transportation Strategy Doesn’t Work,” Kevin DeGood, director of Infrastructure Policy at CAP, examines why planning strategies that nominally prioritize multiple forms of transportation such as walking, biking, and driving ultimately end up fueling more driving and automobile dependence. The brief concludes that when regions adopt an all-of-the-above approach, they often embrace the language of smart growth without the concomitant substance.

The brief illustrates the failure of the all-of-the-above strategy by looking at a project in Austin, Texas. The Stassney Lane overpass includes both sidewalks and a bike lane for cyclists. By historical standards, the inclusion of these elements amounts to a multimodal win. Yet, a closer inspection reveals that the true purpose of the project is moving more cars and that cyclists and pedestrians are highly unlikely to use these elements with any meaningful frequency.

DeGood also looks includes some interesting new calculations that underscore the prevalence of driving in the United States:

  • If the U.S. light-duty vehicle fleet (i.e. cars, trucks, and SUVs) were a country, it would be the sixth-largest emitter on Earth ahead of Germany and behind Japan.
  • In 1956, when Congress passed the Federal Aid Highway Act, there were 2.3 residents for every vehicle. Today, the ratio has dropped to 1.2 residents per vehicle.

“For many planners, the idea of building a transportation system that actually reduces driving is untenable,” said DeGood. “And yet, certain investments are incompatible with others. For example, expanding highways and arterial roadways is antithetical to minimizing air pollution, reducing transportation-related injuries and fatalities, and reducing energy consumption from the transportation system.”

For more information or to speak to an expert, contact Julia Cusick at or 202.495.3682.