Land use development

Land use patterns affect transportation needs, and the availability of transportation options in turn affect land use development. Where people live, work, shop, and recreate affects how people travel.

Key characteristics





WSDOT regions

Other names

  • Smart growth
  • Transit oriented development
  • Growth management

Strategy description

This strategy maximizes transportation efficiency by encouraging development near existing transportation facilities and services; co-locating housing, worksites and medical, shopping and recreation facilities; and creating densities that make options like transit, walking and bicycling more effective. Automobile-centered transportation systems tend to improve access to urban-fringe locations and results in more dispersed land use development (sometimes referred to as sprawl). Multimodal transportation systems that incorporate walking, biking, and transit tend to have the opposite effect by supporting more compact, mixed development. Transportation efficient land use can also benefit historically disadvantaged populations like people with low incomes. Washington’s Growth Management Act is intended to protect green spaces and agricultural lands by requiring development to be mostly funneled into county-defined urban growth areas[1]

[1] RCW 36.70A.11- Comprehensive plans—Urban growth areas:

When to use this strategy

Use this strategy when:

  • local and/or regional plans include residential or job growth that exceeds roadway capacity
  • transit plans and human services transportation plans indicate opportunities to make existing or planned services more accessible to more people
  • transportation investments would spur new development in locations that offer promise for increased transportation efficiency

This strategy can be used in urban, suburban and rural environments. In urban environments, increased density and shifts to higher-efficiency transportation modes can support job and residential growth despite limited opportunities to expand roads and highways. In suburban environments, increased density, particularly at transit hubs like park and ride lots, can help address long commutes that result from high urban housing costs. In rural environments, increased density and transportation-efficient development can help reduce transportation costs for people from historically disadvantaged communities and encourage economic development.

An example of land use development that promotes transportation efficiency is occurring in the greater Portland, Oregon area, where a combination of new rail investments and land uses that fostered transit oriented developments has enhanced higher levels of roadway congestion than the proposed freeways this alternative replaced[1]. Decades later the transit oriented developments have matured into highly sought after places to live. This example illustrates that land use strategies along with transit investments can be successfully used for planning alternatives to roadway expansions. 

What you need in order to implement

Policy needs:

  • State, regional and/or local policies and plans that encourage increased density, mixed use development, active transportation, ridesharing and transit oriented development.

Planning needs:

  • Identify changes in density, existing or planned (e.g. zoning upgrades, transit oriented development, park and ride lots, developments, etc.)
  • Identify opportunities to maximize the use of existing infrastructure and services (e.g. underused transit routes and park and ride lots; sidewalk and bicycle network barriers and gaps; access to transit; etc.)
  • Planned enhancements to transit facilities and services, streets, sidewalks and bicycle facilities.
  • Origins and destinations of importance to historically disadvantaged communities.

Coordination needs:

  • Develop alignment among local, regional and state policies and plans.
  • Work with partners to establish educational messaging about new types of development.

Learn more about this strategy

Information on the Growth Management Act from the State’s Office of Financial Management.

Information on Smart Growth Principles from Smart Growth America.

Resources from the Congress on the New Urbanism.

Guidance on Transit-Oriented Development from the Federal Transit Administration

Further description of all these concepts and local examples in WA State through the Municipal Services Research Center.

 Victoria Transport Policy Institute: Land Use Impacts on Transport – How Land Use Factors Affect Travel Behavior -

About key characteristics

Location notes:

This strategy can be implemented in urban, suburban and rural areas.

Cost notes:

The cost for implementing land use policies consists mostly of developing guidance documents and staff time in research, public meetings, and potentially transportation modeling.

Technology notes:

No technology is required for land use development to encourage building communities that are transportation efficient.

Collaboration notes:

To be successful, land use policies and strategies must have support in the communities they are implemented. Legitimate efforts in community involvement must be included.

Need or issue this strategy addresses