The design of our cities is influenced by what types of transportation are available, and how people choose to get around is, in turn, influenced by our cities’ design. This is why medieval streets are narrow and difficult to navigate by anything other than foot and why neighborhoods built since the advent of the automobile have been designed around them.

For decades, officials in the United States have attempted to develop public policies that leverage this deep connection, frequently with broader goals in mind. In 1966, then-president Lyndon B. Johnson noted, “We must continue to plan our highway system so that it will contribute to the rational use of urban space.” His successor, Richard Nixon, argued in 1973 that “good public transportation is essential not only to assure adequate transportation for all citizens, but to forward the common goal of less congested, cleaner, and safer communities.” More recently, President Joe Biden’s campaign platform emphasized that he would “work to make sure that new, fast-growing areas are designed and built with clean and resilient public transit in mind.”

Each agreed we need transportation options that induce effective land-use planning and land-use plans that enable transportation options. But administratively, these two issues are divided at the federal level. The US Department of Transportation (DOT) handles mobility policy and grants, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) handles housing and land-use policy.

History and evidence from abroad suggest better planning and collaboration across the federal government could improve how communities are built and ensure their residents have access to more equitable outcomes.

In new research, I investigate the roots of this administrative choice, which has had long-term consequences on American metropolitan area planning. This separation has also ultimately made it more difficult to develop urban environments that are easy to live in without having to rely on a car.

Read the full article about land use and transportation by Yonah Freemark at Urban Institute.