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Posts from the "Transit-Oriented Development" Category

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Planning For Growth and Safer Streets at Bronx Metro-North Stations

Once the MTA’s East Side Access project is finally complete, a few additional upgrades will allow Metro-North’s New Haven Line trains to stop at new stations in the East Bronx and cross the Hell Gate Bridge before heading to Penn Station. The Bronx is also expected to grow faster than any other borough in the coming years. With both factors in mind, the Department of City Planning has released a new report on the potential for transit-oriented development at Metro-North stations in the Bronx.

The study examined the development opportunities and street safety needs aroudn eight existing and proposed Metro-North stations. Image: DCP

The study examined development opportunities and street safety needs around eight existing and proposed Metro-North stations. Image: DCP

The study examines not only potential development but also how to improve access to train stations in neighborhoods divided by highways, rail lines, hills, and superblocks.

The plan focuses on eight Metro-North stations: University Heights and Morris Heights on the Hudson Line; Williams Bridge, Fordham, Tremont, and Melrose on the Harlem Line; and Morris Park and Parkchester/Van Nest on the proposed Hell Gate Line.

“The reason we chose these stations is because they had the greatest capacity for growth,” DCP project manager Shawn Brede told the City Planning Commission during a presentation last week. The borough is projected to have the fastest growth rate in the city, with nearly 200,000 additional residents by 2040, a 14 percent increase over today.

DCP hopes to focus much of that growth in transit-accessible areas, and shifts already underway in the borough’s commuting patterns show why Metro-North stations could be especially important. “The Bronx has the largest reverse commute [population] in the nation, and likely the fastest-growing,” said Carol Samol, director of DCP’s Bronx office. Nearly one in ten working Bronx residents commutes north of the city, according to Census data cited by DCP, and the highest concentration of jobs is along the New Haven Line.

While many Bronxites are commuting to suburban jobs, making it from Metro-North to work often isn’t easy. “When people are going up to these job centers, they get off the train and they can’t make that last mile,” Brede said at last week’s presentation. Planners in Westchester and Connecticut are working on projects funded by the same federal planning grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to address these and other issues.

In addition to reverse commutes, the report looks at growing job centers within the Bronx that lack sufficient transit. The area around the proposed Metro-North station at Morris Park is a good example. “It doesn’t have a lot of transit access right now. The majority of people coming in are typically driving to this area,” Brede said.

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De Blasio Housing Plan Meekly Suggests Parking Reform

Parking policy is one area where the de Blasio housing plan doesn’t go all out to achieve greater affordability. Photo: Office of the Mayor

There’s a deep connection between parking policy and housing affordability. The more space New York devotes to car storage, the less space is available to house people. And yet, 50 year old laws mandating the construction of parking in new residential development persist in most of the city, driving up construction costs and hampering the supply of housing.

The housing plan released by the de Blasio administration Tuesday could have announced one simple but major step to align parking policy with the city’s affordability goals: the end of parking minimums. Instead, the plan is strangely passive about parking reform, even though it plainly states that parking mandates contribute to the high cost of housing in the city.

Aiming to add 80,000 subsidized units and 100,000 market rate units to the city’s housing supply in 10 years, de Blasio has laid out more ambitious housing targets than Michael Bloomberg did before him — though not by much. An across-the-board elimination of parking mandates is the kind of measure you’d want to see from an administration that has basically pledged to use every lever at its disposal to keep rent increases in check. It would lower the cost of construction, and it could be used as a tool to extract more subsidized housing units from developers when they build new projects.

But the plan released Tuesday only says City Hall will “re-examine parking requirements.” And the specific parking minimums the plan puts in play won’t touch all development.

The good news is that the plan calls for housing development to be coordinated with transit and street safety improvements, and it does put parking reforms on the table in three respects. It proposes lower parking mandates in subsidized housing near transit, in commercial development that can also support housing, and in housing for seniors.

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Restricting Housing Near Transit Won’t Make NYC More Affordable

Weeks into his first term on the City Council, Antonio Reynoso is beginning to negotiate the tricky politics of housing and development in the neighborhoods he represents. So far, it’s tough to decipher whether his office will support the construction of walkable, transit-accessible housing that New York needs in order to keep the cost of living from spiraling out of control.

Photo: Dennis A. Clark/NY Post

Council Member Antonio Reynoso. Photo: Dennis A. Clark/NY Post

Kevin Worthington, Reynoso’s Bushwick community liaison, recently told Community Board 4 that Reynoso is “looking at some downzoning” along Broadway, the transit spine of the neighborhood with direct subway service to Manhattan and Queens, according to the Times Newsweekly. But restricting the supply of housing would only make the neighborhood’s affordability problems worse, as people continue to move there. A downzoning would also preclude opportunities for “inclusionary housing,” which relies on letting developers build more apartments to create new residences affordable for lower-income households.

Reynoso seemed to take a more nuanced position, calling for new development rules in the neighborhood, but he took a hard line against any construction until those rules are in place. “We could protect ourselves and prevent the gentrification — the displacement of the members of Bushwick — if we do a rezoning,” he said. “Any new development that happens during my tenure is going to have a very hard time… I will make sure that no development happens until the rezoning is complete.”

A rezoning could include measures like the elimination of parking minimums and mandatory inclusionary zoning — a policy tool favored by Mayor de Blasio — but it could also take years to get through the planning department and the City Council. In the meantime, Reynoso seems to be saying he’ll make it tougher for new housing development near transit to move forward.

In a statement sent to Streetsblog on Friday, Reynoso implied that he is open to the construction of more housing (emphasis his):

The process of rezoning will be community based and is looking to empower Bushwick residents with in-depth knowledge and provide resources on zoning tools and designations. My office will organize workshops and forums in the following months with experts from city agencies and local organizations to bring crucial information to our constituents on how to preserve and foster a vibrant community without harming fair and necessary development.

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ITDP Study: “A Coming Out for Bus-Based Transit-Oriented Development”

Cleveland's HealthLine is widely considered the best bus rapid transit line in the United States, and it's busted some myths about BRT's power to stimulate transit-oriented development. Photo: ITDP

In a new report making the rounds this week, “More Development For Your Transit Dollar: An Analysis of 21 North American Transit Corridors,” the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy does two things.

First, authors Walter Hook, Stephanie Lotshaw, and Annie Weinstock evaluate which factors determine the impact of urban transit on development, coming up with some extremely useful and not necessarily intuitive results.

Second, they show that BRT projects — only a few of which exist in the U.S. — can in fact spur walkable development. Then the authors go a step further, asserting in no uncertain terms that good bus projects yield more development bang for the buck than equivalent rail projects.

What Makes TOD Successful?

ITDP examined 21 light rail, streetcar, and bus routes in 13 cities across the U.S. and Canada to determine how transit lines affect development. While the report does pick a side in the BRT-vs.-rail debate, ITDP found that three factors are much more powerful determinants than transit type in the outcome of transit-oriented development.

First, what ITDP calls “government intervention” is key. There is a direct correlation between robust TOD investment and robust public policy.

Everything from assembling the needed land to offering incentives for tenants falls under the umbrella of government intervention, but perhaps the most important aspect is to make sure the zoning near transit encourages mixed-use, walkable development.

One of the best things policy makers can do, said Weinstock, is to limit parking. She said that the city of Ottawa’s downtown parking restrictions were a huge boost to transit ridership on the Transitway, a bus rapid transit line which blew every other line ITDP studied out of the water with 244,000 weekday riders (four times more than the next runner-up, Denver’s Central Corridor light rail line).

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How to Sell Developers and Employers on Transit-Oriented Development

Developers and employers think transit access is great. But if the hurdles are too high, they’ll forgo it — choosing locations that shackle people to car dependence. That’s the finding of a recent report by University of Minnesota researchers Yingling Fan and Andrew Guthrie.

Transit-oriented development is the same as pedestrian-oriented development. Photo: NJSLOM

Fan and Guthrie propose a number of policy changes for the Twin Cities region to promote transit-oriented development. After all, they write, the region is planning to build a network of 14 transitways by 2030, and the success of these transitways hinges on attracting jobs and housing near the stations.

The success of these lines is crucial to the Twin Cities’ regional growth plan, which envisions people making a greater share of their trips on transit. “In addition to attracting increased ridership,” Fan and Guthrie write, “the regional transitway system is expected to serve as the anchor of a more sustainable future regional growth pattern of walkable residential communities and employment centers oriented to transit connections.” These are no small goals, and guiding future development toward transit is critical for meeting them.

The region has its work cut out to halt the destructive development patterns it’s seen recently, with the rise of major suburban employment centers in far-flung areas without transit access. And a study by the Center for Housing Policy in 2011 found that Minneapolis wasn’t as successful as the other cities profiled at raising the value of transit-adjacent properties.

Fan and Guthrie conducted group discussions, online surveys, and in-depth interviews with Twin Cities developers and business leaders to learn their attitudes about transit-oriented development.

“Multifamily residential developers, redevelopment specialists, and large corporate office tenants already show strong interest in transit-accessible sites,” Fan and Guthrie write, but they often get thwarted by high land costs and needlessly complex regulations.

Those points are at the top of Fan and Guthrie’s very useful list of ways the Twin Cities can encourage TOD. The recommendations below are aimed at the Twin Cities but would undoubtedly be useful pointers for other cities and towns with similar goals.

Subsidize it: The higher costs of transit-accessible locations are a testament to the desirability of those sites, but they can also be prohibitive. Subsidies like TOD promotion grants or station-area tax abatement could help. But even better would be to…

Educate developers about the full costs of automobile dependency: Sure, a transit-accessible location might cost more per square foot. But developers need to think of the savings in other areas. Fan and Guthrie recommend using a “site-plus-transportation cost index” (like the Center for Housing Technology’s housing-plus-transportation, or H+T, index) to give developers and employers a more realistic overview of costs, including “parking, employee productivity impacts, and health insurance for a sedentary workforce.”

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ITDP Debuts a LEED-Type Rating System for Transit-Oriented Development

A new TOD scoring system rewards projects that minimize space for moving and storing cars. Image: Institute for Transportation & Development Policy. Click to enlarge.

“Transit-oriented development” is probably one of the more abused terms in all of urban planning. Listen carefully in some cities, and you’ll hear urban development professionals calling parking garages ”transit-oriented development” without a hint of irony.

Last week, the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy released the first draft of a new scoring system that should help identify what really deserves to be called transit-oriented development and what is merely car-centric development pretending to be TOD.  ITDP hopes the system will function as an international standard for transit-oriented development — a LEED for TOD, if you will  — much like the organization’s standard for bus rapid transit.

If a development is more than 800 meters from transit, ITDP does not consider it transit-oriented development. Image: ITDP

The “TOD Standard” rates development projects based on factors like residential density and the length of blocks. A project can garner up to 100 points for characteristics that support transit use, while up to 50 points can be subtracted for characteristics that induce driving.

ITDP’s scoring criteria are divided into eight categories. The category with the greatest weight is “mode shift,” and it rewards projects that minimize space for parking and automobile traffic. The less space for cars, the greater transit’s mode-share will be.

At the Transport Politic, Yonah Freemark set out to see how some American TOD projects measure up according to the ITDP standard. He scored the Lindbergh Town Center project in Atlanta, the NorthPoint project in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Vienna MetroWest in suburban DC.

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How BRT Can Build Chicago’s Economy as Well as Improve Mobility

Ashland and 18th Street bus rapid transit

A rendering of a bus rapid transit station at 18th Street and Ashland Avenue in Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood. Image: Chicago Transit Authority/Kevin Pound

As planning advances for Chicago’s first full-fledged Bus Rapid Transit routes, public officials and advocates are starting to make the case that new, high-quality bus service is about more than getting people from point A to point B quickly and reliably. Those mobility benefits will be significant, but if BRT succeeds at improving transit trips for Chicagoans, it can also bring about a range of other benefits, spurring development and adding new housing choices where people can live without the financial burden of car ownership.

The non-profit Metropolitan Planning Council is undertaking a new study to determine the development opportunities along Ashland and Western Avenues, the two corridors currently under consideration by the Chicago Transit Authority for BRT routes.

The study will identify vacant land, underused parcels, and areas that lack essential amenities like grocery stores. “We want to find out where we can engage the community, neighbors, and developers, and inform them that a new rapid transit line could potentially create greater demand for this land,” said MPC Executive Vice President Peter Skosey, who noted that existing research on the link between BRT and development is scarce. “We found studies from Pittsburgh and Baltimore that showed a correlation between leasing costs and proximity to BRT, but nothing conclusive.”

MPC published a report in 2011, “Bus Rapid Transit: Chicago’s New Route to Opportunity” [PDF], which analyzed existing land uses to determine where new bus rapid transit routes could go. The report identified 10 new BRT routes based on 14 criteria, including “infill development potential.”

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A Smart Growth Wake-Up Call for NIMBY-Plagued Long Island

Last week, a report from the Long Island Index outlined how rail service can guide economic growth, and it also contained warnings about the slow pace of construction for transit-oriented development in the region. If transit stations are to become focal points for growth, the authors argued, Long Island’s governments need to start taking action.

Ridership growth on LIRR has lagged behind NJ Transit and Metro-North. Image: Long Island Index

While praising projects like East Side Access (which will connect LIRR trains to Grand Central) that are already underway, the report pointed to the need for two additional expansions — a second track from Farmingdale to Ronkonkoma and a third track on the LIRR Main Line between Floral Park and Hicksville — to keep the system from running up against capacity constraints that could lead to more driving.

Writing in the New York Times, Lawrence Downes picked up on the importance of moving beyond the NIMBYism that threatens to keep Long Island mired in cars-first suburbia. “It is an old suburb that ran out of places to sprawl,” he wrote. “It needs its vitality back.”

The Long Island Index report emphasized that, in order to jump-start its economy, Long Island must rebuild around its transit hubs. Initiatives are already planned for Ronkonkoma, Wyandanch, and a future station at Republic Airport, but there aren’t many shovels in the ground at this point.

This lethargy is also reflected in LIRR’s ridership numbers, which are growing more slowly than Metro-North and New Jersey Transit. On those systems, expansions such as Midtown Direct, Secaucus Junction, and a third track on the Harlem Line helped boost ridership and make the areas around stations more attractive for development.

The New York-Connecticut Sustainable Communities program is developing a blueprint for transit-oriented development in much of the region, and the report argues that local governance has to catch up. The parking lots and strip malls around Long Island’s train stations need more than viable transit service and continued planning. They also need local governments to move ahead with the zoning and infrastructure that enables walkable development.

Contrast the slow pace in the Long Island suburbs with what’s happening in Northern Virginia’s Tysons Corner, where planning and rezoning coupled with transit investment have primed a suburban hub for walkable growth. Long Island could undergo a similar evolution, if leaders don’t surrender the future to the NIMBY chorus.

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Today in Foreign Policy: American Interests Demand Walkable Communities

If you’ve had your head stuck inside street design manuals or engineering guides – if you’ve been thinking at the level of the bulb-out or the bollard – I’ve got a present for you.

A new day rises over the Capitol. Photo: Pablo Raw/Flickr

I wouldn’t have expected to find it in Foreign Policy magazine, but last week, Patrick Doherty of the New America Foundation published in its pages a big-picture, visionary manifesto calling for America to exert global leadership and help the planet “accommodate 3 billion additional middle­class aspirants in two short decades ­­without provoking resource wars, insurgencies, and the devastation of our planet’s ecosystem.” And Doherty sees walkable communities as a key to achieving America’s strategic goals in the years ahead. (Don’t tell Glenn Beck.)

Doherty names inequality, economic depression, resource depletion, and natural disasters as “the four horsemen of the coming decades.” A big contributor to those four horsemen was the suburban experiment of the post-war period and its ongoing perpetuation. Doherty asserts that today, “the country’s economic engine is misaligned to the threats and opportunities of the 21st century.” More highways and subdivisions, in other words, aren’t going to make America prosperous and secure.

So walkable communities should be at the center of a redefinition of American economic policy, Doherty writes:

Economists from Bernanke to New York Times columnist Paul Krugman agree that the predominant factor driving long-­term unemployment is weakness in aggregate demand. Fortunately, due to large-­scale demographic shifts over the past 20 years, the United States is sitting astride three vast pools of it. It is now imperative to design a new economic engine to exploit this demand while restoring America’s fiscal health.

The first pool of demand is homegrown. American tastes have changed from the splendid isolation of the suburb to what advocates are calling the “five­-minute lifestyle” ­­ work, school, transit, doctors, dining, playgrounds, entertainment all within a five­ minute walk of the front door. From 2014 to 2029, baby boomers and their children, the millennial generation, will converge in the housing marketplace ­­ seeking smaller homes in walkable, service-­rich, transit­-oriented communities. Already, 56 percent of Americans seek this lifestyle in their next housing purchase. That’s roughly three times the demand for such housing after World War II.

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Massachusetts’ Smart Plan to Promote Housing That Works for Young People

Eschewing the faddish steps local governments sometimes take to retain and attract young professionals, Massachusetts has cut to the chase with a common-sense plan. Governor Deval Patrick is catalyzing walkable residential development as an official state policy in hopes of retaining young people by appealing to their needs and preferences.

Massachusetts is hoping to jumpstart walkable, transit-accessible residential development with a new set of incentives. Photo: Boston.com

Yesterday, Patrick announced a program called Compact Neighborhoods, which will provide incentives for the development of multi-family housing near transit centers. The Boston Globe reported that state officials hope the program will spur the creation of 10,000 new housing units annually. To be eligible for the incentive, developers will need to plan on at least eight units per acre for multi-family homes and four units per acre for single-family homes.

The announcement came after researchers and housing experts publicly made the case for a shift in housing to reflect changing demographic realities.

Barry Bluestone, director of the Kitty and Michael Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern University, told the Globe that over the next eight years housing demand will be dominated by young families with significant debt and older people looking to downsize.

The new program is a step forward but may be just the beginning of what Massachusetts needs to meet demand for walkable neighborhoods. Harvard economist Ed Glaeser, an urbanist, said that he doubted 10,000 homes a year would be enough to meet demand.

“I think it is going to take stronger medicine,’’ he told the Globe.