Skip to content

Posts from the Transit-Oriented Development Category

Streetsblog Chicago
View Comments

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.”

Read more…

5 Comments

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.

No Comments

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.

Read more…

No Comments

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.

No Comments

Why It Can Be More Affordable to Live in an “Expensive” City

So, how did Washington, D.C. — widely perceived as one of the most expensive cities in the country — end up topping a “most affordable” housing list?

First and most importantly, adjust for average income levels. Then, factor in transportation costs. Using that formula, the D.C. region is tops among 25 American metro areas in a new study from the Center for Housing Policy and the Center for Neighborhood Technology that looks at the ability of moderate-income households to shoulder the burden of housing and transportation costs [PDF]. The notoriously pricey Boston and San Francisco also make it into the top six.

The joint study came up with some other surprising findings. For example, it turns out it’s more affordable to live in New York City than it is to live in Cincinnati, based on the metrics used. And in general, renters fare better than homeowners in covering their costs of living.

In all 25 cities, middle-class households spent more than half of their incomes on combined housing and transportation costs between 2000 and 2010. Miami had it worst, with housing and transportation eating up 72 percent of the average income.

The study, titled “Losing Ground,” focuses on the disparity between income levels and steadily rising housing and transportation costs. Over the decade, researchers found, for every $1 in income gains, combined housing and transportation costs rose $1.75.

“Losing Ground” follows a 2006 study from the same organizations that took the novel approach of factoring in transportation costs to gauge the affordability of different metro areas. Measuring affordable living by looking strictly at housing costs, without including transportation, “tends to mislead people,” said Scott Bernstein, president of the Center for Neighborhood Technology, in a teleconference yesterday. Gathering this information comprehensively, he said, “has profound implications for a set of policy choices.”

Read more…

No Comments

Federal Housing Administration Clears Way for More Walkable Development

Over the last five years America has seen an historic housing downturn, but the prevailing trend hasn’t sapped demand for walkable, urban development, especially in many larger metros.

This walkable development in Atlanta was denied FHA funding, under antiquated restrictions, because plans contained too much retail. Photo: Congress for the New Urbanism

Until recently, however, Federal Housing Administration regulations made it difficult for developers to provide the kind of housing consumers are demanding. Now, thanks in large part to the efforts of groups like Congress for the New Urbanism and the National Association of Realtors, the feds are revising outdated regulations that have hampered the growth of mixed-use housing.

Last month, FHA loosened a restriction that forbade government-backed loans from supporting condominium projects that contained more than 25 percent commercial space. New rules will allow credit to flow to projects with up to 35 percent commercial space — or 50 percent in certain cases where the developer applies for an exemption.

“This is one indication that FHA is making big strides,” said CNU spokesperson Benjamin Schulman. “We view this as the first step in this long process to reform the regulation.”

Next CNU would like to see the commercial share threshold raised for multi-family housing projects administered by HUD, he said.

Better Cities and Towns reports that the restrictions on commercial space were grandfathered in from the 1930s, when mixed-use buildings were placed in a higher-risk category. Since then, a “form follows finance” phenomenon, led by federal agencies like FHA, helped turn America into a nation of  suburban, single-family-housing dwellers.

According to the LA Times, the new rules could be a big boost for the nation’s condo market, which has been performing well below expectations.

7 Comments

Midtown Rezoning Would Let Developers Buy Height With Ped Improvements

The Midtown skyline could look very different, with new buildings (an example is shown in white) reaching taller than the Chrysler Building. Such height would only be allowed in return for funding pedestrian improvements in the area. Image: DCP via the Observer

Transit-oriented development is a virtuous circle. New transit infrastructure makes it easier and faster to get to a place, and then that place grows. New development in turn leads to demand to justify better infrastructure, and more tax dollars to pay for it. That, in a nutshell, is the story of how Manhattan grew into what it is today, first around streetcars, then els, and eventually the subways.

In its new proposal for a major rezoning of Midtown East, the commercial capital of the country, the Bloomberg administration is embracing this virtuous circle. Due in part to the billions of dollars being invested in the Second Avenue Subway and the East Side Access project linking the LIRR to Grand Central Terminal, the administration wants to allow a crop of new skyscrapers, some nearly as big as the Empire State Building. To build tall, though, developers will have to kick in funds to improve Midtown’s cramped pedestrian environment, above ground and below.

For a detailed look at how the zoning proposal will work, check out Matt Chaban’s write-up in the New York Observer. In short, though, the city plans to allow developers in the area — roughly from Madison Avenue to Third, and from 39th Street to 57th Street — to proceed with fewer procedural hurdles and to build bigger.

Along Park Avenue, new projects could be as large as Goldman Sachs’ new downtown headquarters, which is 43 stories tall. Around Grand Central, the transportation heart of the area, buildings could be roughly as big as the 51-story 1 Bryant Park. And if developers come up with something near Grand Central that exhibits “superior design relative to the sidewalk and the skyline,” said Frank Ruchala, the project manager for the Department of City Planning, it could reach taller than the Chrysler Building. The goal is to spark development in an area that only saw two new office buildings constructed in the last decade.

More office space around Grand Central would, on its own, promote a more sustainable regional transportation system. Almost every new Midtown commuter will take transit or walk to work. According to a separate DCP study, 86 percent of commuters entering the central business district during rush hour took transit in 2009.

DCP has structured the upzoning to improve the quality of those trips on train and on foot as well. To build taller than current zoning allows, developers will have to contribute to a new “District Improvement Fund” dedicated to public space and pedestrian improvements.

Read more…

No Comments

Study Predicts “Resilient Walkable” Places Will Lead the Housing Recovery

This morning, a Minnesota Public Radio host asked me if the exurbs, whose growth rate flattened when the recession hit, are going to come back. Lots of people from far-distant suburbs like Blaine and Farmington called in, saying they like the way of life out there – they like having acres of trees buffering them from their nearest neighbor — and people won’t want to stop living in communities like that.

The data suggests otherwise, though. Earlier this week, the Demand Institute (a think tank created by the Conference Board — “a global, independent business membership and research association” — and Nielsen — yeah, the TV ratings people) released a report on the housing recovery. They say the worst of the housing crash is over and glimmers of recovery are on the horizon. But hope isn’t spread out uniformly across these United States. Those exurbs like Blaine and Farmington, Minnesota? They’re not coming back so fast.

Urban areas didn’t lose as much value during the recession. Home prices didn’t crash so hard. Not so many people found themselves under water, owing more on their mortgages than their homes are worth. And urban areas are bouncing back faster. The Demand Institute calls these places “Resilient Walkables.” Only 15 percent of the U.S. population lives there.

The report bases its prognosis for recovery on seven factors: population size, walkability, severity of the crash, current affordability, unemployment, foreclosure inventory, and foreclosure policy. The Institute found what Angie noted earlier: Walk Score is positively correlated with strong housing prices. The Institute’s analysis of almost 1,700 U.S. cities showed that walkable cities had more positive price growth.

And it found that these “Resilient Walkables” were resilient indeed, with house prices projected to rise three percent next year and five percent a year for the four years after that.

Compare that to the places the Institute calls “Slow and Steady” – where more than a third of Americans live and where double-digit housing declines destabilized the market. Economic indicators are gloomy for these areas, but the authors find the planning solid, so the future is relatively bright. These are places like Charlotte, NC, Dallas and semi-urban D.C. suburbs like Gaithersburg, MD, and the study forecasts three percent growth starting in two years.

Then there are the “Damaged But Hopeful” areas – a category that encompasses big but depressed cities like Chicago and smaller ones like Stamford, CT. Thirty percent of Americans live in these places, too many of them fighting foreclosure. It will take them a little longer to get to three percent growth but from 2017 onward, the Demand Institute predicts that they’ll beat the national average.

Read more…

StreetFilms
View Comments

Active Living For All Ages: Creating Neighborhoods Around Transit

Streetfilms teamed up with the Public Policy Institute at AARP to bring you a look at how Arlington, Virginia plans for its senior population using transit-oriented development (TOD).  Arlington has been practicing TOD since the late 1970s, when Washington’s Metrorail first began service there, and it’s proved very effective in accommodating the population growth of this inner suburb.

TOD helps older adults maintain their independence by providing good pedestrian access to a variety of public transit options, entertainment and recreation, and basic services such as shopping and health care.  As Rodney Harrell, senior strategic policy advisor at AARP’s Public Policy Institute points out, “When you plan for older adults, you plan for the entire community.”

Learn more about the Public Policy Institute’s Livable Communities initiatives.

7 Comments

Can Staten Island’s North Shore Become NYC’s Next Great Neighborhood?

Corridors and intersections slated for mixed-use development by DCP and EDC.

Staten Island’s North Shore is one of the city’s great sites of opportunity. The neighborhoods along the Kill Van Kull are twice as dense as the rest of Staten Island, but lack any transit option beyond the bus. There are historic town centers at St. George and Port Richmond, but car-centric planning deadens street life. The waterfront, much of which still hosts a vibrant maritime industry, is only accessible to the public at three locations in six miles.

The opportunities aren’t lost on the city. With the release of North Shore 2030, a plan put out in December by the New York City Economic Development Corporation and the Department of City Planning, the stage has been set for opening up the waterfront, fostering mixed-use development, and making streets safe and friendly for pedestrians and cyclists. Realizing the full extent of that vision, however, largely hinges on the success of plans to restore rapid transit to the North Shore.

To learn more about the plan, this Wednesday I headed over to the North Shore, where Staten Islanders Meredith Sladek and Nick Rozak took me on a half-day bike tour of the area. North Shore 2030 is a broad planning effort, looking at everything from transportation to bolstering the North Shore’s significant maritime industry. At the center of the plan is a proposal to encourage traditional mixed-use developments, with residences on top of retail, along certain corridors, including Richmond Terrace, Castleton Avenue, and Victory Boulevard.

The economically depressed intersection of Richmond Terrace and Port Richmond Avenue. Photo: Noah Kazis

Pedestrian-oriented housing and commerce would be clustered in four “neighborhood centers.” Along the North Shore, there are a number of older neighborhoods with walkable bones, especially where rail and ferry stations existed prior to the opening of the Verrazano Bridge. As Staten Island has shifted toward the automobile, however, those areas have fallen on harder times, with commercial activity moving into malls and shopping centers. At the corner of Port Richmond Avenue and Richmond Terrace, for example, one block from a former rail station and ferry terminal, older pedestrian-oriented buildings have shuttered windows and “for rent” signs. North Shore 2030 reimagines the intersection full of pedestrians walking between the waterfront, shops, and their apartments.

The city imagines the intersection of Port Richmond Ave. and Richmond Terrace as a bustling pedestrian center.

Read more…