The Third Mode: Towards a New Transportation Policy

Excerpts from Jeff Olson's book about creating better connections among people, nature, and the built environment.


Jeff Olson, a partner with Alta Planning + Design, has just written a new book called The Third Mode: Towards a Green Society. His goal is to clarify ways that our society can create better connections among people, nature, and the built environment. Some excerpts from The Third Mode:

“U.S. federal transportation policy needs a reset, and that change has to come from a new vision of sustainable mobility as the core infrastructure to create livable communities. Without this kind of change, we are destined to keep making decisions that maintain the highways vs. transit paradox and leave the third mode out of the solution.”

“In New York, the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) requires that a project receive a “Negative Declaration” to prove that it has no adverse environmental impacts. There is no process under SEQRA for giving projects a “Positive Declaration of Environmental Benefits.” Taken to an extreme, this inability to see certain types of infrastructure projects as being good for the environment is being used in unintended ways. In San Francisco, the Transportation Department was sued for developing the city’s innovative network of bike lanes without submitting a full environmental impact statement. The bike network program was significantly delayed for several years while the lawsuit was being resolved.”

“This isn’t how we should be thinking if we are trying to quickly implement the kind of green, sustainable solutions that will solve major environmental problems. It is a constant challenge to get leaders to believe that third mode solutions such as bike, pedestrian and trail infrastructure projects are of significant value.”

“A complete green infrastructure for sustainable mobility is based on four layers of facilities: 1) greenways, 2) on-street bicycle facilities, 3) pedestrian sidewalks and crossings and 4) intermodal connections. When each of these individual layers is complete, and when all four layers are interconnected, is it possible to shift mobility into the third mode.”

Related Training

webinar: The Third Mode: Connecting Greenways, Trails and Active Mobility

This webinar covers the latest issues and policies in planning and designing urban mobility networks, and how to integrate transportation with greenways and trails to create seamless metro-wide systems.