Although the linkage between land use and transportation is well understood, the debate about what is cause and effect causes consternation in the land use and transportation agencies.
Therefore, a few thoughts on urban transit and what it takes to do Transit Oriented Development (TOD).
Even in cities one can find plenty of areas that are not transit supportive.Often brand-new transit stations preside over a hole in the doughnut, when sitting in an old railroad, streetcar, or highway right-of-way. Neighborhoods grow and shrink, shopping areas shift, attractions get added or abandoned, many reasons why transit supportive urban fabric is not necessarily located where transit is or is planned to be.
Development typically follows “the market”. No market and nothing will happen regardless how much somebody would like to fill a hole in the doughnut.
Baltimore has lost much of its industry and a third of its population. It has tried every transit technology: A subway line, a cheaper light rail line, commuter trains and a spaghetti bowl of bus lines. Now a new $2.6 billion cross-town Red Line light rail is planned, downtown in a tunnel, on the surface beyond. In short, transit stations galore, many of them in doughnut holes.
Seen from the development angle stations fall into two groups, those with a market and those in disinvested areas with no or little demand for new development. Given those fundamental differences it may feel illogical to call both areas “TOD challenged”. But neither absent development nor development without consideration for transit are TOD.
Nothing will change if transit agencies declare “we do transit and not land use” and city departments hide behind the walls of their core responsibilities like housing, parks, traffic, planning and economic development. To make TOD happen, it takes all these parties to interact with each other and bust out of their own comfort zones.
In Atlanta the Atlanta Beltline Inc. and the Beltline Partnership, both non profits, worked with a somewhat reversed priority: Trails and parks, have been created prior to transit creating value which spurred new development.
In Minneapolis/St. Paul the Central Corridor and the Green Line light rail projects received a HUD Sustainable Communities grant to leverage community benefits (article) resulting in the Corridors of Opportunity. (Video)
In the Washington suburbs a Purple Line Corridor Coalition pursues similar goals for the planned circumferential light rail line connecting various metro terminals.
One of the granddaddies of successful TOD is Arlington County, VA which has used Washington’s Metro for decades to concentrate growth around the county’s subway stations. (slide show). Which brought smart growth to the county and more riders to transit than surface parking ever could.
In Baltimore the state transit agency (MTA) and the city recognized the TOD challenge in a Red Line “Community Compact” for better communities. Land use improvements are required by the Federal Transit Administration for federal funding. In the spirit of these considerations the MTA conducted community based station area planning and the city created new TOD zoning. Yet, while bad regulations may prevent development, even the best regulations and visions will not make development happen. How to get from plans to actual TOD?
The Baltimore Community Compact names a few: Land banking, land disposition, public private partnerships and creative funding. Other steps would be development “freezes” (to prevent new non transit-supportive investments next to a station), facilitation with developers, and land owners to find out how they could be enticed to invest in high risk zones. This could mean scaling development so that several investors come out of the gate together instead of one early pioneer taking all the risk. It also means carefully leveraging public infrastructure investments. A mayoral TOD working group would not simply review developers submissions, but remove obstacles for investment.
Transit supportive land use is not only good transit, it also grows the tax base and creates equity within communities, many starved for services and access to jobs. An obvious catalytic element in “market challenged” station areas would be good affordable housing.
To make catalytic projects reality, suitable development lots need to be assembled, master developers found, public private partnerships created and public assets leveraged. Assets can be land, entitlements, tax increment financing or bonds.
A proactive interagency group that goes beyond policy and regulation and focuses on implementation is needed to coordinate these steps.
Uneven markets, fear, false perceptions about transit, sentiments against density and years of auto oriented policies must be overcome, investment in the wrong places be made less attractive. In short: Each city needs the “entire village” before TOD visions can become reality.
Read the full-lenght article on the subject at Klaus Philipsen’s blog Community Architect