Policy and Successful Transit Development

September 27, 2011 7 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

In the early years of the 20th century, transit dominated travel in cities - and, by necessity, development was clustered near transit. In fact, transit and land use were so closely connected that private transit operators often developed real estate and used the profits to subsidize transit operations. By the close of the 20th century, however, the automobile had become the dominant means of travel in urban centers, cities with extensive transit networks were in decline, and proximity to transit was most often an afterthought in development. Once the norm in urban settings, development around transit became the exception. And, as accessibility for automobiles became the focus of development, with no regard for the location of transit, the basic principles for developing around transit fell into disuse, and were eventually lost.

Recently, however, new trends have emerged that favor cities, transit, and development around transit.  These principles can serve as a checklist for the development of pedestrian-scale communities that will be suitable for public transportation, either now or in the future. The principles will also be useful for transit agencies and others engaged in new transit projects, to ensure that nearby development will generate sufficient numbers of riders to support transit, and that transit will indeed enhance the community.

10 Principles for Successful Development Around Transit

by Robert Dunphy, Deborah Myerson and Michael Pawlukiewicz of the Urban Land Institute (ULI)

1. Make It Better with a Vision

City of Jacksonville Southeast District Vision Plan.

Shaping a vision means imagining a development future that recognizes both the community’s potential and the operative economic, political, and environmental constraints.  To succeed, a vision should: be oriented toward the future but based in reality, stakeholder centered, collaborative and educational, focused on implementation, and flexible.

2. Apply the Power of Partnerships

In 2007, this 527-unit apartment complex was constructed at the Trolley's Grossmont Station in the suburb of La Mesa.  It gives the transit agency a projected $635 million revenue stream over a 99-year lease on its property at the trolley station, which would have drawn a little more than $7 million had it been sold.

A successful partnership relies on the strengths of each partner.  The public sector has the power to resolve land-assembly problems, ensure that the site is development ready, ease the entitlement process, and contribute land, infrastructure costs, or both.  Private developers bring the real estate savvy, the contracts with end users, and the understanding of financial resources.

3. Think Development When Thinking about Transit

Real estate opportunities should always take priority over low-cost transit.  Opportunities for creating higher densities, and for mixing product types to market to a broader spectrum of incomes, should be sought out during transit project development.  Higher densities strengthen the demand for transit.  Good design and a high level of amenities are vital, and can make a high-density urban setting seem much less dense.

4. Get the Parking Right

Dadeland Station was constructed on a former Miami-Dade Metrorail park & ride surface lot in 1996. Developed by the Berkowitz Development Group, the 350,000 square foot lifestyle center is home to structured parking, Target, Best Buy, Sports Authority and Bed, Bath & Beyond.

Too much parking makes the area less pedestrian friendly and wastes space that could be used for the types of development that increase ridership.  Too little parking - or the perception that there is too little parking - can undermine the economic viability of projects built to take advantage of transit, making leasing or sales difficult.  Insufficient parking at the station itself can force transit patrons to park in the surrounding neighborhoods, creating problems for nearby residents and businesses.  Flexible parking standards provide some latitude in providing the optimal number of parking spaces.

5. Build a Place, Not a Project

Hollywood & Highland complex is located at LA Metro Red Line's Hollywood & Highland Station.

Although transit agencies often feel that their responsibility ends at the fare gates, the creation of a genuinely transit-centered community requires attention to scale and design.  In addition, consider the following principles:

 Locate the transit stop at the center of the neighborhood rather than on its periphery. The new station will connect an entire regional transit system to the surrounding community, and its location should reflect the centrality of its role.

 Design and position the station to foster the creation of an activity center that surrounds the station on all sides.

 Ensure that the design of the station is of high quality and reflects the character of the surrounding community.

 Include engaging public spaces, attractive street furniture, and public art. Public space is important in the creation of place; among other things, it allows for events such as concerts, markets, exhibits, and celebrations—events that bring people and vitality to the area and stimulate economic activity.

 Promote pedestrian connections by creating compact blocks, pleasant walkways, and comfortable, well-marked, and continuous streetfront experiences. The appeal of the pedestrian environment strengthens the sense of place and supports retail spending.

 Create attractive landmarks and gateways to the development.

 To ensure round-the-clock activity, incorporate a variety of residential uses.

6. Make Retail Development Market Driven, Not Transit Driven

Trolley Square at Santee Town Center - Santee, CA.

The most important considerations for retail development are location, market, and design; proximity to transit is not a prime consideration in most markets. Transit access can strengthen the retail market, but the market must be viable without the transit component.  Retail does not drive development around transit; it "follows rooftops."

7. Mix Uses, but Not Necessarily in the Same Place

San Diego Trolley's Green Line corridor includes stops at shopping malls, suburban office parks, multifamily housing complexes, a medical center, university, and industrial park.

A good mix of uses generates a vibrant assortment of people going about their business at many hours of the day. But the creation of an attractive community does not require that uses be mixed on the same site, or even at each station. A transit corridor that offers an advantageous mix of uses, however, can be used to integrate a number of separate activity nodes, particularly when the various uses are close together, easily accessible, and support each other.

8. Make Buses a Great Idea

Cleveland's Health Line BRT.

Rail is often associated with white-collar commuters; buses, in contrast, are viewed as the mode of travel for the poor, for students, and for others with few transportation choices. If buses are to generate development in transit corridors, they need to serve a strong cross-section of the community—including middle-class riders. Successfully attracting middle-class riders will improve service for all, and will also provide a diverse market to encourage developers to build around bus stops. To encourage ridership, buses need to be attractive, clean, fast, and fun, as well as be simple to use and offer regular, reliable service.

Developers do not typically regard bus stops as hubs for development. In many transit corridors, however, bus service supports downtown businesses and higher-density residential neighborhoods. Enlightened zoning, which allows higher densities and requires less parking along well-served bus corridors, will create opportunities for development that supports transit, even if developers do not consider such development “transit oriented.”

9. Encourage Every Price Point to Live around Transit

Downtown Dadeland - Miami Metrorail.

Just as people from every part of the economic spectrum ride transit, people from every part of the economic spectrum like to live near transit. Intown transit development offers the opportunity to put forward a mix of upscale, market, and assisted housing.

10.Engage Corporate Attention

St. Louis Metrolink at Central West End.

Corporations can play an influential role in stimulating development around transit. If corporations see transit as a slow and unreliable means of getting to work, executives in charge of location decisions will pay scant attention to transit access. If transit is viewed, however, as a valuable tool for recruiting scarce talent, companies will include “good transit access” on their checklist of considerations for site selection.

St. Louis Metrolink Central West End Station.

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