Does Transit-Oriented Development Work Even Without Transit?

Yes, says urban planner Neil Payton. From his guest column today on Reconnecting America’s blog:

20081029__20081030_B05_BZ30TRANSIT_p2.JPGDenver’s light rail, in the background, ended up increasing the value of nearby homes. (Photo: Denver Post)

Either [local planners] view [transit access] as too distant a possibility to factor in or,
ironically, they view rail transit as a means to get employees to
sprawling office parks built with ample municipal tax breaks or as a
park-and-ride commuting option for residents. And so even if transit is
being considered as part of a larger regional plan, sites are sought
that can provide highway visibility and acres of surface parking.  

The reality is that planning for rail transit in these communities as
part of a larger strategy of transit-oriented development [TOD] makes sense,
whether or not the train ever arrives. Such planning ultimately
promotes the long-term economic viability and environmental
sustainability of these downtowns.

Payton’s
assessment tracks with on-the-ground data from cities such as Denver,
where property near the first local light-rail line grew more
valuable even as the broader housing market declined last year. Even
now, as Denver’s rail expansion slows down, the New York Times found nonprofit groups snapping up land near future transit sites to ensure working-class access to the lines.

Still, localities’ fondness for pairing transit with park-and-ride structures (often aided by
federal funding) is unlikely to abate in the short term, particularly
without Washington raising its voice in promoting best practices for
TOD.

But it’s easier to envision the Obama administration, perhaps through a much-needed reform to the New Starts
grant program, deciding to award transit money to cities and towns that
pursue mixed-use development very early on in the process.

When
local officials decide to pursue the downtown revitalization that
Payton discusses, their priorities often begin and end with economic
growth — those often-misguided municipal tax breaks, are often used to
lure new employers to a particular area. A federal system that rewards
localities for promoting density even in the absence of transit would
provide a powerful incentive to look beyond businesses promising that,
say, 1,000 new parking spaces are a prerequisite for job creation.

  • DJB

    “[T]ransit-oriented development is really about creating walkable, vibrant communities with a range of uses and diversity of people within close proximity”
    —–

    I agree completely. Dense, mixed-use development makes sense even when there isn’t a train running nearby (there’s usually at least a bus, does that not count for something?) Good transit is icing on the cake.

    We shouldn’t be waiting for trains to do common-sense things like putting apartments over stores, and zoning single-family residential land for smaller lots (like 10 per net acre instead of 4-7) duplexes and/or rowhouses.

    This kind of development also shortens driving distances on average, so it can work in many ways to reduce vehicle traffic even in the absence of a train.

  • I can’t even think of a single structure in Los Angeles built in the last 40 years that is mixed use, housing on top, commercial on bottom…someone please prove me wrong. I’m now on the hunt.

  • DJB

    @ramonchu

    Don’t worry, we’ve done some! Solair on the northeast corner of Wilshire and Western, the building on the NE corner of Olympic and Figueroa, a new building going up at the NW corner of Jefferson and Figueroa, Wilhsire/Vermont station, that new complex at Hollywood and Vine, NE corner of Wilshire and Hobart, and many more.

    Also, I would argue that mixing land uses effectively doesn’t have to happen in the same building (vertically). It can work well by placing appropriate buildings adjacent to each other (horizontally).

  • DJB

    Sorry, I meant to say NW corner of Wilshire and Hobart.

  • Sam

    @DJB

    You left off the ralph’s in Downtown LA with the grocery store and other groundfloor retail and Condos above.

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