Transportation helped shape this great nation. From the earliest days, the farm-to-market road sustained the agricultural economy. As the country grew, toll roads, canals, steamships and railroads opened up vast areas to settlement, creating communities at crossroads and where rivers met roads. Transportation helped lead the country’s transition from an agrarian to an industrial economy. In fact, towns created along the inter-continental railroad are the earliest “TODs.”
With industrialization came urbanization, and with urbanization came transit’s growing influence. Streetcars, subways and the “L” helped small and large cities realize their economic and social potential. Compact, walkable “transit-supportive” communities were actually the norm – just not so named. Community, economy and mobility truly were in balance.
The end of World War II marked the greatest economic expansion in United States history, and with it came a radical change in the balance between transportation infrastructure and community form. The highway system became dominant, streetcars were abandoned in favor of the bus, and suburbanization became the norm.
Now, we are entering a new era defined by international and global economies, rapid technological change, natural resource depletion, climate change, a return to cities and a desire to balance sustainability’s “triple bottom line” – environment, community and economy.
Transit and Sustainability
Transit directly corresponds to the triple bottom line. It is environmentally friendly; relieves traffic congestion; fosters compact, walkable mixed-use communities; offers mobility options for all socio-economic levels; and promotes economic development and access to employment.
The manner in which sustainability is incorporated varies from one transit project to the next, due to the diversity in scale and type among project options, as well as a community’s particular needs. Three principal areas where transit makes an impact are planning, design and construction, and operations.
Every successful transit project starts with a plan. Scale, and environmental and community impacts play crucial roles in the planning process. Sustainable transit solutions are developed through:
- Socio-economic Analysis – This identifies how a transit plan impacts job creation and household development.
- Public Involvement – The process is visible, accessible and credible, offering all stakeholders an equal voice in helping define the project.
- System Planning – Sustainable systems help shape regional settlement patterns, foster mobility and increase community interaction, and protect and enhance environmental assets.
- Environmental Documentation – Environmental responsibility includes proper documentation and permitting.
- Sustainable Urban Design – “Places where people want to be” result from sustainable planning and community design for transit corridors, districts and station areas.
Design and Construction
The design and construction phase manifests environmental and economic sustainability implications. For example, corridor and track development might include provisions for alternative delivery, recycling of construction waste, avoidance of negative environmental impacts and using recycled/composite materials. Site and facilities development should incorporate cost-effective, environmentally sensitive site work and construction. “Green”/LEED-certified stations, operations centers and administrative facilities are increasingly common. One such example is the Pentagon Metro station, which integrates Metro rail and bus terminals in a protected, pedestrian-friendly environment that meets security and accessibility goals and offers an inviting arrival experience.