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January 2014

Detroit, get ready for transit-oriented development

Nina Ignaczak | Model D Media

All around the Motor City, people are starting to talk transit.

In 2013, M-1 Rail broke ground along Woodward in Detroit, work commenced to speed up the Pontiac-to-Chicago Amtrak line, talk of an Ann-Arbor to Detroit commuter line moved incrementally closer to reality, AirRide expanded bus service between Ann Arbor and DTW, Bus Rapid Transit emerged as the preferred alternative for regional mass transit, and after 40 years of failed attempts, a Regional Transit Authority was finally established for metropolitan Detroit.

Now, public officials and developers across the region are readying themselves to reap the economic potential of functional transit — something many cities across the country have already done.

Take Atlanta, for example.

“Atlanta was the poster child for sprawl,” says Chris Leinberger, Research Professor at George Washington University School of Business. “The metro area grew from 50 miles north to south in 1970 to over 120 miles today, sprawling farther and faster than any city in human history.” {….}

Embracing density – Keeping urban sprawl in check beneficial to everyone

Brent Bellamy | Winnipeg Free Press

It has been a difficult time for Winnipeg’s infrastructure. Our water periodically looks, but certainly doesn’t taste, like a fine Canadian whiskey. A combination of the polar vortex and daily water-main breaks has entombed cars from Charleswood to Transcona in knee-deep ice. Recent snow-clearing efforts left most of us wanting to trade in our car for a late-model Mars Rover, and of course in the not-too-distant future, the annual pothole invasion will begin.

The rising cost of maintaining this infrastructure and other civic services have left the City of Winnipeg scrambling to balance its budget, resulting in a third straight property-tax hike for 2014. This increase will be accompanied by a rise in sewer and water rates and likely, education taxes. A few months ago, a KPMG report recommended a ‘winter surcharge’ be added to property taxes in years when snow-removal costs exceed the city budget.

These reactionary solutions to infrastructure deficits leave governments trying to catch up by spending greater amounts of money fixing problems, without addressing their root cause. Over the last 50 years, Canadians have built sprawling, car-oriented cities that have resulted in a sharp reduction in population density. This has left civic governments responsible for a larger stock of infrastructure with fewer taxpayers to pay for its construction and long-term maintenance. {….}

Rail alone can’t reinvent L.A.

Ethan N. Elkind | LA Times

With the Crenshaw/LAX light-rail line groundbreaking last week, Los Angeles now has three rail transit projects under construction — an example of how the city is leading the country in a rail renaissance. The “city that destroyed cities,” as GQ recently described L.A. for pioneering auto-oriented development, has been planning and building a multibillion-dollar rail network, thanks in part to up to $13 billion in local sales tax funds from a successful 2008 measure.

But these billions risk being wasted if city leaders do not promote, and residents do not allow, new growth around rail stations and corridors. Why? Rail is expensive to build, operate and maintain compared with other forms of transit. It only becomes cost-effective with high ridership. And the best way to boost ridership is to locate new jobs, housing and retail near stations.

Focusing development around rail provides multiple benefits. It allows the region to accommodate new residents and natural population growth without building endless subdivisions on open space and worsening traffic and air pollution. It can reduce the high cost of housing by boosting in-town supply, making it easier for businesses to attract and retain talented employees. Finally, rail-accessible development can create convenient, walkable neighborhoods that meet the growing demand among millennials, childless professionals and empty nesters to move “back to the city” — as many recent urban success stories attest.

But the modern history of rail and land development patterns shows that politics and economics conspire to prevent new growth around rail. Decision-makers typically locate rail lines in less dense or develop-able areas to save costs and accommodate powerful interest groups around the region, running lines through blighted areas or along freeways to save land-acquisition and construction costs and to minimize neighborhood objections. {….}

Expo Line
A Metro train passes by the groundbreaking ceremony Tuesday for the new Crenshaw/LAX line at the Expo/Crenshaw stop. The new line will connect the Expo and Green lines. (Los Angeles Times)

Families and Transit-Oriented Development

AARP Livable Communities

A best practices guidebook for creating complete communities for all ages and life stages

Overview

Historically, the best population segments for transit-oriented development have been young professionals and empty nest adults. The Center for Transit-Oriented Development (CTOD), working in partnership with the Center for Cities & Schools, has prepared this best practices guidebook to help communities attract families with school-age children to transit-oriented developments, thus creating what it calls “complete communities.”

The CTOD believes the future of development is across all generations and that future livable communities will include a mix of housing, amenities, retail businesses and commercial development in a walkable neighborhood that features high-quality public transportation.

Key Points

Transit-oriented Development (TOD) must be planned as part of a “complete community,” a place where all households have convenient access to quality housing, education, employment opportunities, retail, health care, places of worship, open space, recreation and transportation.

Building complete communities around transit typically requires new investment approaches and implementation partnerships, and special attention must be paid to ensure that the community remains affordable to families of various incomes.

The CTOD shares 10 core connections every transit-oriented development should have with families and provides seven detailed action steps for community planners and developers to take to in order to appeal to households with children.

While families are the focus, a recurring theme in the report revolves around the importance of encouraging cross-generational engagement opportunities so the development works for people of all ages and life stages.

How to Use

This manual provides community planners and local government officials with a thorough and convincing resource about the value of encouraging robust transit-oriented development. Rather than focus on traditional residents for TOD, the manual provides key action steps for attracting families and creating a more diverse and complete age-friendly community. {….}

What is ‘Bus Rapid Transit’?

Richard Whittaker | The Austin Chronicle 

Capital Metro calls the new MetroRapid service a bus rapid transit system (BRT), but that term is about more than just fast buses. In fact, there’s no international or even national consensus on exactly what is and isn’t BRT, nor are all BRT systems created equal: The Institute for Transportation & Development Policy grades systems according to its BRT standard from “Gold” to “Bronze.” Here’s how the Federal Transit Authority defines BRT, and how MetroRapid measures up:

Improved Vehicle Design: MetroRapid vehicles are more spacious than traditional buses, while the 330-horsepower engines are surprisingly quiet. They’re also wi-fi equipped.

Reduced Fare Collection Time: MetroRapid accommodates mobile ticketing, and allows card swipe and mobile passes to be used at all three doors.

Improved and Distinctive Stops and Shelters: MetroRapid features new stations, many standing clear of the sidewalk, reducing any holdups for other road users and pedestrians. Also, some will have raised platforms for easier loading and unloading.

Dedicated Bus Lanes, Busways or Expressways: Initially there will be express bus-only lanes on the Guadalupe/Lavaca corridor, but these may be extended, and future routes could use the high occupancy vehicle lanes on MoPac.

Signal Priority: MetroRapid vehicles communicate with traffic lights, keeping them green slightly longer without overly impacting other traffic.

Automatic Vehicle Location: MetroRapid vehicles use cell-phone systems to send real-time arrival information to station displays.

Land Use: The FTA proposes that BRT be sited to both serve high-demand populations, such as apartment complexes and big employers (which MetroRapid backers argue it does), and to encourage desirable transit-oriented development over time.

City of Leander seeks specialized TOD marketing

Stephen Burnett | Community Impact

Leander weighs new ideas for walkable, urban center

On Jan. 13, a marketing firm held its first community meeting about promoting Leander’s transit-oriented development district directly to commercial developers.

Leander City Council approved a contract with M. Arthur Gensler Jr. & Associates Inc. on Dec. 5 for the marketing of the 2,300-acre TOD district surrounding the Capital Metro train station. City leaders want the area to be reserved for urban mixed-use development, City Manager Kent Cagle said.

“We’re trying to build an urban, walkable environment in a [non-urban] green field,” Cagle said. “That is a very difficult task.”

Construction would tend to be vertical, with buildings that include first-floor retail or offices, with apartments above. Development would also include higher-density residential condos, townhouses and office space, all accessed by walking.

In the January meeting, City Council and other representatives spent hours discussing marketing goals with Gensler.

The firm’s one-year contract is for $54,000 plus reimbursable costs such as travel. The contract says the firm will meet with the city and stakeholders seven or eight times, producing cohesive TOD district branding that includes a logo, marketing materials and a website, Cagle said.

At the end of 2014, City Council will review Gensler’s progress and consider whether to renew the contract, he said.

Meanwhile, city officials hope to revise the Smart Code, a unified land development code used specifically for the TOD district. Leander’s earlier code version was more academic and often perplexed developers, said Tom Yantis, city director of development services.

“Now that the economy has recovered, I think we’re really trying to get ourselves into a position to take advantage of it,” Yantis said.

The city can subsidize some construction and infrastructure within the TOD district, but developers must first commit to the mixed-use project centered on the rail station, he said.

Only a few communities throughout the U.S. have built such a successful development, Cagle said.

But because Leander has spent years investing in Capital Metro, city leaders still want to build that kind of neighborhood in the city, Yantis said.

“We’ve got to insist that this happen in that location,” Yantis said. “Otherwise, all that we’re going to be is a Park & Ride [city].”

If Central Texas cities only emphasize car-centric development, gridlock will persist, Cagle said.

“If rail is to be successful in the Austin area, we have to change development patterns, or we will have wasted our money,” Cagle said.

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