"Isolated transit-oriented developments in a sea of automobiles."

That's how Robert Cervero, one the country's foremost authorities on transportation and transit-oriented developments, described this country's approach when I spoke to him recently while working on a story about SB 375, AB 32 and other climate change policies for the February edition of Planning magazine. The chair of the University of California, Berkeley, Department of City and Regional Planning, Cervero says we're getting it wrong.

"We get it backwards. We do the transportation first, and then we respond to the sprawling auto-dependent growth patterns," he told me.

In his extensive research, Cervero has found that people who live in transit-oriented condo developments make four to five times as many trips by transit than people who live elsewhere. But even in urban areas, these condos account for only 1% to 2% of the housing stock. Until there's a critical mass of housing in close proximity to transit stations – as well as employment centers, schools, shopping, government offices and recreational opportunities near transit – we are not taking full advantage of a transit system's benefits, he argues.

"TOD can matter," he told me, "but we need to have true visionary planning."

Cervero's words ring louder in my ears every day as the pleadings for a huge package of federal public works spending grow more urgent. I'm not against putting money into our badly neglected infrastructure. But there seems to be a great rush simply to throw billions and billions of dollars at highways, bridges, and old school and government buildings. I don't see any true visionary planning. I'm not sure I've seen any planning at all.

We have an opportunity to make investments that could greatly benefit society 20 or even 50 years from now. We also have the opportunity to make the same old mistakes that have resulted in "isolated transit-oriented developments in a sea of automobiles."

– Paul Shigley