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.
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.”