New City Living

Transit agencies are at the center of an urban renaissance. In just the past month, several conference presentations, a project tour and an MT-hosted webinar all underscored that agencies are playing an essential role in shaping development and configuring operations to accommodate ridership growth.

Last week, at the latest US High Speed Rail Conference in Washington, D.C., I toured the 35-block area just north of Union Station known as NoMa, an acronym created by the Business Improvement District (BID) for North of Massachusetts Avenue. The BID created a public-private partnership to fund a Metro station — considered to be a key component of the master plan, along with access to bus service and a bike path. Marketing materials for residential units cite these transportation options at the top of amenities.

NoMa is now the city’s fastest-growing area. With $6 billion invested in recent years, the area has experienced an influx in the last year of more than 6,000 residents, primarily millennials and boomers who are relocating to apartments and condominiums.

The quality of life in walkable communities is fueling this type of urban growth. The U.S. population is expected to grow by 50 million in the next 15 years, and the need to accommodate more transit riders is becoming acute. Nearly half of NoMa residents do not own a car, and Metro trains were filled to capacity during our visit.

That doesn’t mean that ridership can’t be increased to attract more funding.

Our recent webinar addressed open payment fare systems, and, in part, showed how they can lead to more ridership. Offering benefits to agencies and customers over proprietary farecards or cash, open payment fare systems allow customers to board faster with fewer complications. Making transit just a little easier to use — for the first time or on a daily basis — again fuels the move to communities oriented to transit.

Multiple presentations at recent conferences are showing intercity passenger rail projects well underway and completed. Both the Denver Union Station and the Normal Illinois Uptown Station, for example, are new multimodal centers designed to foster transit-oriented developments around the stations. Regional agencies are adding interconnectivity with bus, light rail and trolley service.

It’s an exciting time to be in transit as developers shift from car-centric projects to public transportation options for 21st century designs. This shift is only accelerating as the successes of transit-oriented projects proliferate. As I shovel my driveway in Madison yet again and head east for a slow and dangerous drive on ice-covered roads, a move closer to one of these new projects is looking very inviting.