Transit-oriented development (TOD) creates spaces — neighborhoods where shops, work, schools and entertainment are within easy reach by foot or public transportation. Without these qualities, a place is not really a neighborhood, but just a location that we happen to be passing through. The articles that follow in this series will demonstrate the roles of various stakeholders, and consider how the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) can play a role in creating true neighborhoods through transit-oriented development.
FTA directly influences land use through its funding. It provides funding for major new “fixed guideway” (rail, ferry or bus) projects. As part of the review process for these projects, it requires the project sponsor to consider current and future land uses around the stations that will be served by the new project. Projects with transit-supportive land uses planned or in place may receive a higher rating for eventual Federal funding than projects that do not plan to change land-use policies. This review process directly influences transit-oriented development. As stewards of the federal purse, we have to ensure that projects we support will serve the greatest possible number of passengers. By linking the new investment to land use, we take a significant step in the right direction.
FTA funding also indirectly influences land use and transit-oriented development. The funding provided acts as a cue to local development and real estate professionals, who facilitate new development around transit service for their own reasons. For example, by the time the Westside MAX had been built in Portland, Ore. — at a cost of more than $1.2 billion — local developers had invested an additional $980 million along the new light rail. That is an indirect influence of undetermined strength, but one that cannot be ignored. Whether intended or not, the government investment in infrastructure affects land use.
In these direct and indirect ways, FTA can influence land use, but it cannot dictate it. Ultimately, land-use decisions are made at the local level. In some instances, the decision may even come down to a single landowner. While most states, cities and counties control land use through local plans and zoning codes, some states have no zoning at all. They assume that landowners know best what should be built on their land, and that government should think carefully before interfering in that decision. Thus, FTA depends upon the local planning and public outreach process to determine what actual land uses will be around a major new transit investment. The FTA can develop a process at the federal level to rate new projects based on transit-supportive land use criteria, but local communities decide whether, and how, they will change land uses to create more transit-supportive corridors or station areas.
To encourage transit-oriented land use, we invited several experts from metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) around the country to provide their perspectives on land use and transportation planning at the state, regional and local level. Do they encourage integrated planning? Do they provide incentives or restrictions on particular land uses or infrastructure projects? Does their transportation planning benefit from current or long-range land use and infrastructure plans? What kinds of programs exist to influence land use at the state, regional, or municipal level?
Statewide Initiatives Promote TOD
Whether they involve local governments, a county, a public transit agency or a developer, partnerships create the formal and informal linkages that enable (and facilitate) TOD to occur. In the absence of such partnerships, successful TOD becomes difficult if not impossible. A key facilitator of TOD partnerships, as well as a potential funding resource for local activities, is state government. Through policy initiatives, formal programs and financing, state agencies can provide leadership, technical assistance and implementation support for TOD. Summaries of two such examples, in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, are presented here.