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Posts from the "Transit-Oriented Development" Category

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Talking Headways Podcast: Good Riddance, “Level of Service”

All the buzz right now is about Arlington, Virginia — the DC suburb has seen its population rise and its car traffic drop since the 1980s. How did they do it? It could be a lesson for Palo Alto, California, which is considering various growth proposals, including one that would invite greater density as long as it comes with no additional driving, carbon emissions, or water use.

Denser, more transit-oriented development would be a big win for Palo Alto, but ironically, California’s environmental law has long penalized projects like that for diminishing “level of service” for vehicle traffic. A new basketball stadium came to the rescue, however, and the state is poised to dump level of service as a metric to evaluate transportation and development projects. That change could potentially slow down highways like “level of service” used to slow down smart growth and transit projects. It’s a whole new world.

Check it all out on Talking Headways. Talk at us in the comments, subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher, or sign up for our RSS feed.

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How the Federal TIGER Program Revived a Cleveland Neighborhood

The "Uptown" development in Cleveland is part a way of construction that a TIGER grant helped catalyze in Cleveland. Photo: MRN

The “Uptown” development in Cleveland was catalyzed by a TIGER grant that helped relocate a rail station. Photo: MRN

Cleveland doesn’t look like a dying Rust Belt city these days in the Little Italy and University Circle neighborhoods. In fact, it looks like it’s thriving.

At the corner of Euclid and Mayfield, a new mixed-use development — MRN’s “Uptown” — is filling out, hosting a bookstore, a bakery, bars, and new apartments. Just across the street, the new home of the Museum of Contemporary Art sits gleaming, in the words of the New York Times, “like a lustrous black gem.” Another major office, retail, and residential project is planned a stone’s throw away.

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Vice President Joe Biden was in Cleveland Wednesday urging action to invest in infrastructure and preserve the TIGER program. Photo: Angie Schmitt

It’s hard to understate how remarkable this type of investment is in this area. Cleveland’s decades-long population decline has helped make it one of the weakest urban real estate markets in the country.

But this is a sweet spot in Cleveland. The Cleveland Clinic — Ohio’s largest employer — is less than a mile away. So are many of the city’s renowned cultural institutions — the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Cleveland Orchestra, and Case Western Reserve University. About 50,000 people work in the area.

Even so, the new developments in Little Italy might never have happened if not for the U.S. DOT’s TIGER program. Greater Cleveland’s Regional Transit Authority received a grant from the third round of TIGER funding in 2011, which provided about $12.5 million to rebuild and move a rail station from a dark, isolated location under a bridge about a third of a mile away to the middle of the neighborhood.

Local leaders in Cleveland had for years hoped to move the station to help build on the nearby assets. When the RTA applied for funding through TIGER, it was one of 828 projects seeking $517 million in funding. Just 46 of those applicants were awarded grants.

Despite the enormous demand for TIGER, it has been under the constant threat of elimination by the House GOP since the program was launched in 2009. A recent proposal put forward by House Republicans would turn TIGER from a multi-modal program that helps cities and metro areas directly access federal funds into a roads program. Meanwhile, the Senate has proposed a new transportation bill that fails to fund TIGER.

And that’s why Joe Biden was in Cleveland on Wednesday stumping for a new transportation bill that would preserve TIGER. ”This is what we should be doing all over the nation,” said Biden.

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New Federal Bill Would Help Orient Communities Toward Transit

The federal government has a long history of supporting transit, but it’s never played much of a role in promoting the kind of development that helps make those investments successful.

Transit oriented development could soon be eligible for federal loans. Photo: Eric Fredricks via Flickr

Transit oriented development could soon be eligible for federal loans. Photo: Eric Fredericks/Flickr

That’s why David Goldberg at Transportation for America is so excited about a new bill that would help encourage transit-oriented development:

Senators Brian Schatz (D-HI), Ed Markey (D-MA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) have introduced an important bill to make it easier for communities to support economic development around transit stations.

For any community with a high-capacity transit line —  subway, light rail, bus rapid transit — encouraging walkable development around the stations is a no-brainer. By attracting more potential riders, it makes the best use of the transit investment and helps to build the tax base.

Even more importantly, it helps to meet growing demand for homes and workplaces in neighborhoods with easy access to transit. And who is driving that demand? To a large degree it is the talented young workforce that every area is looking to recruit and retain.

The Transit Oriented Development Infrastructure Financing Act would help provide low-cost financing in the form of loans or loan guarantees under the highly successful TIFIA program, which was expanded under MAP-21. Eligible borrowers, whether a state or local government or public-private partnership, would have to demonstrate a reliable, dedicated revenue source to repay the loan needed for public infrastructure.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Human Transit wonders whether there might be some synergy between urbanists and the Tea Party. Streets.mn lists seven kinds of sites that make great options for urban redevelopment. And Transit Miami explains how local advocates were able to convince authorities to install flashing lights for pedestrian safety, calling it a “drama in three acts.”

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Arlington Strikes Walking Gold in a River of Highways and Pentagon Sprawl

Urbanists have long told tales of the success story of Arlington, Virginia. Named a gold-level walk-friendly community by the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center, this Washington, DC suburb made the smart decision in the 70s to develop along the metrorail line. Because of that, Arlington workers drive alone at a rate 25 percent lower than the region as a whole and take transit more than twice as much. With 11 Metro stations in its jurisdiction, Arlington has more transit ridership than the rest of Virginia combined. Five percent walk or bike to work and carpooling is at three times the regional rate [PDF].

Wikipedia uses this picture of Ballston to illustrate its entry on transit-oriented development. But the Pentagon City neighborhood presents more challenges to walkability.

But it wasn’t written on the clouds that Arlington would develop this way. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine a community with more obstacles to overcome on its way to smart growth — and yet, it’s doing it.

Arlington County, at just 26 square miles, is the smallest and densest county in the nation. But it’s far from homogenous. The main-street-style Arlington with wide brick sidewalks, cute cafes and indie bars — the part people are usually thinking of when they’re lauding the city for its smart development — exists along the orange line in the dense, mixed-use neighborhoods of Rosslyn, Clarendon, and Ballston. These neighborhoods have taller apartment and office buildings than are allowed in DC, creating a lot of density and a semi-urban feel — even though those tall buildings line wide arterial streets with lots of fast-moving traffic.

The parts of Arlington just south of the Pentagon, on the blue and yellow Metro lines, don’t get as much “walking-gold” spotlight. The Pentagon is the country’s largest office building, and it’s a fortress, disconnected from the community by a mess of highways. The “community” on the other side of those highways is a constellation of shopping malls on either side of a wide arterial road. Still, Arlington’s Director of Transportation Dennis Leach said this area has the best mode split in the county, with 20 percent car-free households, and is making more major infrastructure changes than any other part of the county — against all odds.

I was there last week on a walking tour as part of the National Walking Summit. Several Arlington planners were on hand to tell us about the streetcars, green bike lanes and café seating we’d soon be seeing along Hayes Street, but for now, it’s a car-centric hellscape. We stood outside a metro station with covered bike parking, yelling over the engine noise of an idling charter bus sitting outside the Fashion Centre shopping mall. Planner Kate Youngbluth admitted the multimodal project in Pentagon City is still in its “ugly duckling phase.”

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How to Sell Developers and Employers on Transit-Oriented Development

Developers and employers think transit access is great. But if the hurdles are too high, they’ll forgo it — choosing locations that shackle people to car dependence. That’s the finding of a recent report by University of Minnesota researchers Yingling Fan and Andrew Guthrie.

Transit-oriented development is the same as pedestrian-oriented development. Photo: NJSLOM

Fan and Guthrie propose a number of policy changes for the Twin Cities region to promote transit-oriented development. After all, they write, the region is planning to build a network of 14 transitways by 2030, and the success of these transitways hinges on attracting jobs and housing near the stations.

The success of these lines is crucial to the Twin Cities’ regional growth plan, which envisions people making a greater share of their trips on transit. “In addition to attracting increased ridership,” Fan and Guthrie write, “the regional transitway system is expected to serve as the anchor of a more sustainable future regional growth pattern of walkable residential communities and employment centers oriented to transit connections.” These are no small goals, and guiding future development toward transit is critical for meeting them.

The region has its work cut out to halt the destructive development patterns it’s seen recently, with the rise of major suburban employment centers in far-flung areas without transit access. And a study by the Center for Housing Policy in 2011 found that Minneapolis wasn’t as successful as the other cities profiled at raising the value of transit-adjacent properties.

Fan and Guthrie conducted group discussions, online surveys, and in-depth interviews with Twin Cities developers and business leaders to learn their attitudes about transit-oriented development.

“Multifamily residential developers, redevelopment specialists, and large corporate office tenants already show strong interest in transit-accessible sites,” Fan and Guthrie write, but they often get thwarted by high land costs and needlessly complex regulations.

Those points are at the top of Fan and Guthrie’s very useful list of ways the Twin Cities can encourage TOD. The recommendations below are aimed at the Twin Cities but would undoubtedly be useful pointers for other cities and towns with similar goals.

Subsidize it: The higher costs of transit-accessible locations are a testament to the desirability of those sites, but they can also be prohibitive. Subsidies like TOD promotion grants or station-area tax abatement could help. But even better would be to…

Educate developers about the full costs of automobile dependency: Sure, a transit-accessible location might cost more per square foot. But developers need to think of the savings in other areas. Fan and Guthrie recommend using a “site-plus-transportation cost index” (like the Center for Housing Technology’s housing-plus-transportation, or H+T, index) to give developers and employers a more realistic overview of costs, including “parking, employee productivity impacts, and health insurance for a sedentary workforce.”

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ITDP Debuts a LEED-Type Rating System for Transit-Oriented Development

A new TOD scoring system rewards projects that minimize space for moving and storing cars. Image: Institute for Transportation & Development Policy. Click to enlarge.

“Transit-oriented development” is probably one of the more abused terms in all of urban planning. Listen carefully in some cities, and you’ll hear urban development professionals calling parking garages ”transit-oriented development” without a hint of irony.

Last week, the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy released the first draft of a new scoring system that should help identify what really deserves to be called transit-oriented development and what is merely car-centric development pretending to be TOD.  ITDP hopes the system will function as an international standard for transit-oriented development — a LEED for TOD, if you will  — much like the organization’s standard for bus rapid transit.

If a development is more than 800 meters from transit, ITDP does not consider it transit-oriented development. Image: ITDP

The “TOD Standard” rates development projects based on factors like residential density and the length of blocks. A project can garner up to 100 points for characteristics that support transit use, while up to 50 points can be subtracted for characteristics that induce driving.

ITDP’s scoring criteria are divided into eight categories. The category with the greatest weight is “mode shift,” and it rewards projects that minimize space for parking and automobile traffic. The less space for cars, the greater transit’s mode-share will be.

At the Transport Politic, Yonah Freemark set out to see how some American TOD projects measure up according to the ITDP standard. He scored the Lindbergh Town Center project in Atlanta, the NorthPoint project in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Vienna MetroWest in suburban DC.

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In Cities With Extensive Transit, Areas Near Rail Are Growing Faster

In the U.S. cities with the biggest transit systems, only Chicago saw more growth outside one-half mile of a transit station than within it. Image: Center for Neighborhood Technology

Is the city center of your metro area shrinking or growing? The answer could be related to the strength of the local transit system, according to a study released this spring by the Center for Neighborhood Technology.

CNT’s “Transit-Oriented Development in the Chicago Region” [PDF] focused on Chicago’s progress with TOD compared to similar metros. Of the five metropolitan American regions with “extensive transit systems” that CNT examined, the areas within one half mile of rail stations — the “transit-shed” — grew more quickly than the areas outside the transit-shed in four regions, Chicago being the exception. CNT defined cities with “extensive transit systems” as those with between 325 and 981 stations.

CNT’s underlying conclusion was that Chicago is not performing as well as its peer cities on transit-oriented development. The Chicago region grew 5.8 percent, while the transit shed grew only 2.1 percent.

“Urban sprawl has continued to be the dominant development pattern in the Chicago region,” report authors found.

This may be largely due to a Chicago Housing Authority plan that eliminated more than 18,000 units in the city of Chicago, many of them within the transit-shed, according to CNT. Another factor could be that Chicago’s transit-shed attracted smaller families, perhaps because of a lack of child-friendly housing by transit.

Around the country, the organization found, incomes for people living in transit-sheds increased more quickly than for the general population of the region. The report also found that combined housing and transit costs are lower within transit-sheds, but are increasing more quickly than outside of them.

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Can Phoenix Reinvent Itself as a Transit City?

Perhaps no other city in the country has the reputation for sprawl that Phoenix does, and it is well deserved. This is a city built around the car — until 2008, sprawling suburban housing in Maricopa County was the driving force of the regional economy.

Phoenix has light rail, now there's the matter of having the right kind of development around it. Image: Treehugger

Phoenix got a rude awakening in 2008, when the housing crash came. That same year, however, two fateful events occurred: The city’s light rail system opened and Arizona State University started its School of Sustainability. And out of that symbiosis, Reinvent Phoenix was born.

Reinvent Phoenix is a planning process for five walkable, urban “districts” around the light rail system. Each district will have a plan oriented around form-based code and other incentives for walkable, infill development that is well served by transit.

The concept grew out of a partnership between the city of Phoenix, ASU’s School of Sustainability and St. Luke’s Medical Center Health Initiatives. In 2011, they received a $3 million grant from the federal Partnership for Sustainable Communities, via the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Curt Upton, a planner with the city of Phoenix, said the city wanted to demonstrate that urbanism was a viable option in the region. They hope these districts will help motivate additional private investment in compact development elsewhere in Phoenix.

“We already know Phoenix can provide me the big house and the swimming pool, but it can also provide me a walkable urban neighborhood,” he said.

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There’s No Doubt: Traffic Enforcement Cameras Save Lives

A 2011 study by Insurance Institute for Highway Safety comparing cities with red light cameras to those without them found that in the 14 largest U.S. cities, the cameras reduced fatal red-light-running collisions by 24 percent. Click to enlarge. Image: IIHS

Gawker dished out some richly-deserved ridicule to Tennessee State Senator Jon Lundberg yesterday, following reports that he is co-sponsoring legislation to outlaw the specific speeding camera that nabbed him doing 60 in a 45 zone last October. Lundberg denied that the incident had any impact on his decision to sponsor in the legislation, and contested the violation to boot.

But the case is a telling one. State governments around the country have demonstrated hostility to automated enforcement programs. Twelve states specifically forbid the use of speed enforcement cameras, except in very limited circumstances, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. Nine states prohibit red light cameras. Others, like New York, have yet to enact legislation that would enable cities to use these traffic enforcement tools.

A proposed ban in Iowa failed narrowly in the Senate last year and one is currently under consideration in Ohio.

The Ohio legislation, framed as a defense of due process and privacy, has received mostly favorable coverage in the press and has enjoyed the support of groups like the Ohio ACLU and Ohio PIRG. One Ohio PIRG official characterized speed cameras as “cash cows designed to rip off drivers.” Ohio Lawmaker Ron Hood went so far as to assert that red light cameras are themselves a safety hazard.

Adrian Lund, president of the Insurance Institute on Highway Safety, told the Washington Post last year that these kind of debates tend to get distorted: “Somehow, the people who get tickets because they have broken the law have been cast as the victims.”

Lost in these debates is the fact that automated enforcement saves lives. A 2011 study by IIHS comparing cities with red light cameras to those without them found that in the 14 largest U.S. cities, the cameras reduced fatal red-light-running collisions by 24 percent. Even more impressive, they seemed to promote safe driver behavior more generally. The researchers found that cities with red light cameras saw 17 percent fewer fatal crashes at signalized intersections, per capita, than cities without cameras.

Between 2004 and 2008, that added up to 159 lives saved in those 14 cities alone. If automated enforcement had been installed in all 99 of the U.S. cities with populations over 200,000, some 815 lives would have been saved over those four years, the report found.

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Hawaii: Say “Aloha” To Transit-Oriented Development

Craig Chester is a fellow at Smart Growth America.

Not all transportation in Honolulu, Hawaii is a walk on the beach.

Honolulu, one of the most congested cities in the country, could benefit from more transit-oriented development. Photo: ShowBus

Known for its breathtaking natural beauty and warm temperatures, Honolulu is also plagued by heavy traffic congestion and delays. High energy costs and a lack of transportation choices compound the challenges of getting around Hawaii’s state capital and most populous city.

To put it in perspective, Honolulu recently surpassed Los Angeles to become the city with the worst traffic in the nation. And on average, households in the City and County of Honolulu spent a whopping $13,598 each year on transportation alone, wasting an average of 58 hours in traffic during that time.

The good news, though, is that things don’t have to stay this way. Hawaii can and should put a renewed emphasis on expanding access to residents’ transportation options. Business owners and visitors would benefit almost immediately, as new economic development happens and older communities attract reinvestment.

That’s the verdict of a new collaborative report, “Leveraging State Agency Involvement in Transit-Oriented Development to Strengthen Hawaii’s Economy,” from Hawaii’s Office of Planning and Smart Growth America. Right now, Hawaii and its congested cities have a prime opportunity to implement plans for TOD, drive economic development, and restore the quality of life many expect from island living.

Best of all, Governor Neil Abercrombie has already set the wheels in motion, with the 2010 announcement of the New Day Plan, which envisions “livable communities that encourage walking, bicycling, carpooling, and using mass transit.” TOD can be key to meeting the plan’s economic, social and environmental goals.

Well-executed TOD reduces dependence on fossil fuels, protects open space and cultural resources through sustainable land use, helps advance education by better connecting students to educational facilities, and can allow retirees and elders to remain in their communities and “age in place.”

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