What Comes First: Land Use or Transportation?

An age-old debate for planners: does transportation investment pave the way for new growth and changing land uses, or does new development spur the need for additional transportation infrastructure and options? While the interrelatedness of land use and transportation is often apparent, our ability to plan simultaneously for both—particularly in larger cities and expansive areas—is much more complex with separate plans, separate departments, and separate (often uncoordinated) regulatory and implementation responsibilities. 

Recently, DeKalb County—in partnership with the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC)—saw an opportunity to better coordinate and align its comprehensive transportation plan with its comprehensive land use plan and other quality of life priorities to create a more holistic view and coordinated plan for the County’s future: the DeKalb 2050 Unified Plan

Kimley-Horn’s transportation and land use planners regularly collaborate on interdisciplinary plans and projects. Although coordinated land use and transportation plans are not unusual for smaller areas, the magnitude and complexity of an interdisciplinary plan for a large, populous county is a new endeavor. The DeKalb effort combines ARC’s traditional Comprehensive Transportation Plan (CTP) process with a major update to the County’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan, allowing land use priorities to shape the form and funding of transportation investments and transportation priorities to reshape activity center and transit-oriented development strategies.


Central to the planning process has been a robust stakeholder and community engagement effort. Capturing the attention of busy residents and employees for planning processes is challenging, particularly for a countywide effort with a 30-year horizon. Our goal has been to provide a variety of opportunities for engagement, including outdoor festivals to meet people where they are, focus groups with topic-knowledgeable stakeholders, and gatherings with the County’s diverse, multicultural, and English-learning communities. 

Technical analyses, community input, and County priorities have all shaped the direction of the plan. Transportation projects and activity center modifications as well as next steps on transit expansion and policy recommendations on sustainability, health/wellness, and arts & culture are all integrated into the DeKalb Unified Plan. While the effort has required significant coordination, we are finding greater opportunities to identify shared spaces and priorities where planning can inform strategic decision-making, align budget priorities, and improve quality of life for the County’s residents, visitors, and employees.

Shameless Plug: if you live, work, or play in DeKalb County, we would love to get your input on our draft land use and transportation recommendations! Our survey is open for just a few more days.

The DeKalb 2050 Unified Plan is funded by DeKalb County and the Atlanta Regional Commission. Kimley-Horn is grateful for support from DeKalb and ARC staff as well as from our exceptional consultant partners: VHB, The Collaborative Firm, Perez Planning + Design, Sycamore Consulting, RDG Planning & Design, and the Center for Pan Asian Community Services. 

This month’s feature article is provided by GPA Annual Sponsor, Kimley-Horn, a full-service planning, engineering, and environmental consulting firm with more than 6,000 employees from 95+ offices nationwide. Our multidisciplinary experience covers a wide range of services within transportation planning and engineering, landscape architecture and urban design/planning, land development services, parking analysis and design, environmental planning and design, public policy, and water/wastewater planning and engineering. Kimley-Horn’s planners, urban designers, environmental scientists, and engineers have a history of partnering with communities to develop progressive and context-sensitive plans. In each community we serve, we strive to understand the values of that community and transform them into a vision that guides the planning process.