With leaders, business owners and residents in metropolitan areas across the country grappling with a litany of economic, social and pollution issues, a major weapon against these issues is getting more and more discussion — mass transit.
Transit lines were integral parts of the building of American cities in the 1800s and 1900s, however, many of them fell by the wayside as cars went into vogue and expressways were built in the 1950s. However, cities soon began to see their economic and population bases fall with urban sprawl to surrounding suburbs while commute times ballooned and air pollution rates soared due to high traffic counts.
And in the past 30 years obesity rates have also skyrocketed in the country due in part to citizens becoming more reliant on cars rather than mass transit and walking.
But the concept of transit-oriented development is gaining traction in cities across the country where areas are beginning to see new growth for the first time in decades while looking to tackle some of the social issues plaguing residents.
The concept of transit-oriented development has been around for the past 15 to 20 years, where planners began to think about a return to old concepts that forged metropolitan areas. People living in cities had transit options in order to get to work or to shop and the need to have a car was reduced. Areas like New York City have held the concept, which other communities now look to bring back.
Catherine Cox Blair, program director for Reconnecting America, which advocates for TOD projects, says the idea helps planners meet the needs of building communities where people can get around withouthaving to deal with the necessary infrastructure that goes along with heavy car traffic, such as large parking lots and parking garages, and a need for large amounts of gas stations in certain areas. She says the developments are also helping communities encourage their residents to lead a more active and healthier lifestyle.
“It doesn’t mean you’re making the cars obsolete,” she says. “You’re just lessening the dependence on them.”
Cox Blair says planning of transit-oriented developments are predominantly being done on a site-by-site basis, but designers are now looking at designs on a corridor and regional scale in order to take a broader look at the impact of the developments and how they can serve residents and businesses.
Developments are also looking at the other modes of transportation available along the lines, such as bike and pedestrian paths, along with syncing residential areas with commercial areas. “We find a large amount of them have been pulling back the lens and are starting to look beyond the jurisdictional boundaries and are thinking about the network and the types of places and making sure you’ve got the local jurisdictions and the transit working collaboratively,” she says.
Transit-oriented development is also not limited to existing lines or fixed line transit, with both having their own sets of challenges for planners looking to knit different stops together more cohesively. Cox Blair says one of the top factors in planning a TOD development along either an existing or planned route is getting all of the stakeholders together to make sure business and resident needs are being met along the line and to plan future economic development on the lines.
She cites the Twin Cities central corridor connecting downtown Minneapolis to downtown St. Paul as a successful engagement of the community, where some residents who didn’t have stops even petitioned at the federal level until three more were added.
And in Denver, residents along the proposed station at Broadway and I-25 petitioned planners because they were afraid of a lack of affordable housing and plans to allow large retailers in the area, such as Target or Walmart.
“It’s critical for a number of reasons,” she says. “You want to engage the residents and businesses and property owners because really they’re the ones getting impacted by the changes both negative and positive.”