Over the last 20 years, light rail has become the most popular – and sought after – new transit mode. With a principal impact radius ranging from one-quarter to one-half mile around stations, it fosters compact, walkable mixed-use development. Light rail lines are typically 15 to 20 miles in length with stations located about one-half mile apart, closer in more dense urban locations. Stations are attractive with significant design amenities such as public art, theme lighting and architectural merit.
Attention to contextual details creates better community fit. Light rail has a high propensity for land-use effects due to its numerous stations and service frequency (10 to 15 minutes or less between trains). Like most transit modes, light rail is a new form of “access” to development. In fact, it helps stimulate transit-oriented development. While the principal focus is within one-quarter mile of the station (125 acres), it commonly reaches one-half mile (500 acres).
New light rail systems such as Dallas, Denver, Salt Lake City and Portland have multiple examples of sustainable development along their transit lines. This mode, too, supports the connecting bus system, increasing ridership system-wide. Perhaps most importantly, the development community has great confidence in this transit mode – it is predictable and permanent.
In addition to sustainable, walkable communities, light rail offers access for residents needing affordable “local” transportation to meet their daily needs.
An emerging example is Metro in Phoenix, set to open in late 2008. Impacts to the city’s land-use pattern in the form of sustainable, transit-oriented development are already apparent as a result of the light rail transit project. Major transit-oriented development projects are occurring along the project’s initial 20-mile route connecting Phoenix, Tempe and Mesa.
Direct results of the new transit mode include the emerging Arizona State University (ASU) campus in downtown Phoenix, designed to serve 15,000 students. This is in addition to the more than 50,000 students attending the Tempe campus less than 10 miles away along the light rail line. The growing ASU campus environment is enhanced by pricing and controlling parking and relying on increasing the use of transit for faculty, staff and students. Less reliance on the automobile means fewer greenhouse gas emissions, an emphasis on pedestrians and bicyclists, and more productive use of ASU’s valuable real estate assets.
Another potential role for transit is to enhance passenger service to Sky Harbor International Airport. Initially the connection between the 44th and Washington Street LRT station and the airport terminals will be made by an airport bus. However, Sky Harbor is developing an automated people mover to connect the LRT station to the airport terminals. When the people mover is open, passengers will have even more convenient access via transit from all areas of the region to the airport. The other large airport market is employees. Sky Harbor has more than 30,000 employees and these employees will have a more reliable and less expensive means of reaching their jobs at the airport. Such changes in travel patterns can help lessen congestion at the already busy terminal areas and reduce the need for airport parking for travelers and employees.
Bus Rapid Transit
This is a “new” mode developed to mirror light rail’s transportation benefits at a lower cost. Bus rapid transit (BRT) corridors generally run up to 20 miles, and advanced BRT design includes a separate fixed guideway, innovatively designed vehicles, the same stations as light rail and an emphasis on customer convenience. Unlike light rail, the vehicle can leave its fixed route to serve neighborhoods and return to the guideway. This flexibility is seen as a distinct advantage in some locations.
The history of BRT in the United States is limited, and the expectation is that BRT will bear similar positive land use effects as light rail - moderate to potentially high. For example, Canadian and Australian BRT systems are creating increased land values at stations, although not generally to the same magnitude as light rail. Research is ongoing as more BRT systems come on line. The frequency, type and scale of BRT service (10 to 15 minutes) are land-use supportive. Like light rail, BRT has the potential to create new development and, foster compact mixed land uses. BRT has a principal impact area ranging from a one-quarter to one-half mile radius around stations.