It’s been a given for several years that transit planners should always focus on the link between land use and transportation when conducting transit corridor projects. The Federal Transit Administration started emphasizing the transit-land use connection in its New Starts program more than a decade ago, and that emphasis is even stronger today with the requirement that New Starts applicants complete a detailed land-use template. Project applicants can get ‘bonus points’ for transit-supportive development plans near proposed rail stations; that ‘extra credit’ often can help boost a project’s New Starts rating.
Recent events, however, have made the transit-land use linkage even stronger. The spike in gasoline prices and the increased cost of commuting have made individuals and whole communities re-think their attitudes toward transit and land use. An additional factor is the bursting of the housing bubble; some recent studies have shown that homes located near transit stations have held their value much better than those located in non-transit areas. Those factors, coupled with an emphasis on climate change and reducing carbon footprints, have created a ‘critical mass’ that has made transit-oriented or transit-supportive development a major focus of local planning efforts as local citizens look for opportunities to live and work closer to transit stations.
Many mature transit communities are playing catch-up; they have had major transit investments in place for several years and are only now trying to retrofit many station areas to accommodate the increased demand for development near transit stations. However, some communities are planning for the future by comprehensively combining their corridor planning efforts with a sincere commitment to encouraging development near future stations.
One good example of the latter is occurring in Fort Worth, Texas. The Fort Worth Transportation Authority (The T) has operated the Trinity Railway Express (TRE) as a joint project with Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) for several years. That commuter rail system links downtown Fort Worth with downtown Dallas, with several intermediate stops in adjoining suburbs.
In 2005, The T’s board of directors completed its strategic plan. One of that plan’s major tenets was the proposal to have Tarrant County’s second commuter rail system in operation within four to 10 years. Soon after, The T undertook the Southwest-to-Northeast Rail Corridor project (also known by the catchy name SW2NE Rail) to help move that vision forward. The T completed an alternatives analysis in 2006, with the agency’s board approving a preliminary Locally Preferred Alternative focused on a 37-mile-long rail corridor.
The corridor links southwest Fort Worth with downtown (and a transfer to the TRE line if needed), the rapidly growing northeastern side of Tarrant County, downtown Grapevine and Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. It would provide access to major activity and employment centers along the corridor, including the Texas Christian University neighborhood, the city’s medical district, the historic Stockyards and DFW Airport (with direct access to the airport’s terminals and a cross-platform transfer to a future DART light rail line). The project is currently in the middle of its Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) process, with a Final EIS anticipated in 2009.
With a project of this length and scope comes major new station opportunities. The 37-mile system includes 13 new stations (along with service to two existing TRE stations downtown), each of which has various levels of development potential. The T could have chosen to focus entirely on its rail project without significant concern for station area planning (as many transit agencies around the country do). However, The T chose a different path in that it is proactively encouraging transit-oriented development planning around its proposed station sites and is using the DEIS consulting contract as a means to assist local governments in their initial TOD planning efforts. This process has been strongly encouraged by The T’s staff involved in the project: Executive Director Dick Ruddell, Deputy Executive Director Nancy Amos and Planning Director (and SW2NE Project Manager) Curvie Hawkins.