Transit Generates Development? Yes it Does!

Portland Streetcar Credit: Flickr user Orclimber
Urban Planning has been a popular topic amongst commoners for the past few years now, and tossing transportation into the mix is not so new either.  These topics seem to be popping up more and more everyday with the recent influx of young adults and middle agers moving to the city over the past decade.  These new city dwellers desire to live closer to jobs, culture, leisure, and accessibility.  Some may think the major incentive is affordable living, by certain individuals standards of affordable living.  This may be, but another key incentive to living in the city is affordable and accessible public transportation.  Although many major cities in the U.S. have public transportation, most lack heavily in accessibility and efficiency to its residents.  Public transportation is an area that many cities have been re-evaluating because transit is a key component to generate development.

Seattle streetcar, Credit: Flickr user johnzebedee

Many planners have argued that the link between transportation and land use is unbreakable.  The kind of communities we live in directly affect the way we get around, and vice-versa.  Yet this has been ignored by government policy-makers over the years.  However, the Obama Administration has followed a different tact, promoting links between agencies that once operated completely independently.  This policy was solidified with last years announcement of the smart growth partnership to address the common goals of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Transportation, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.  But this intense new focus may be getting in the way of the mobility-oriented principals formerly prioritized in the DOT’s grant distribution. In the past, when it came to public transportation projects, the federal government encouraged cities to build train and bus corridors that shuttled people over long distances as quickly as possible. That’s just about the opposite of the goals of this new program, which emphasizes the creation of dense neighborhoods where people perform most of their daily tasks within a tight radius.

Philadelphia Streetcar, Credit Flickr user Jean Tarkastad
Earlier this month the DOT announced that it would allocate almost 300 million in small grants to cities across the country for urban transit improvement projects in the form of streetcar lines and bus rapid transit. These investments would promote not simply the transport of people around town, but also alterations in the physical environment, lining up with the housing and environmental efforts of others in the federal government.  Journalist Michael Lindenberger for the Dallas News explained that when it comes to these grants, federal policy is now explicitly aimed towards changing land use and developing "livable communities". Peter Rogoff, head of the Federal Transit Administration, told Lindenberger that “When we look at these grants we are going to look not just at ridership but at the economic development successes.” The agency has reduced its emphasis on the “cost-effectiveness” principle grounded in high ridership that used to guide its investments.

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