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Build Stuff Near Train Stations

Matthew Yglesias  |

Stamford, Conn. is home to a commuter rail station heading in to New York City. Currently, land near the station is largely allocated to be used as parking lots or parking garages. But the Connecticut Department of Transportation is considering the possibility that the land is sufficiently valuable that it would be better-used as a location for buildings—homes, offices, shops. “Transit-oriented development,” to use the term of art. Naturally nobody is going to build a bunch of homes, offices, and shops in 21st-century Connecticut without building any parking spaces, but obviously if commuter parking needs to compete with other uses prices will go up. Naturally, folks are upset:

“One of the reasons that the Stamford rail station is so heavily used is that parking is abundant and adjacent to the station, steps away by covered bridges,” Jim Cameron, chairman of the Rail Commuter Council, said. “To allow developers to use the old garage site for shopping or offices and force commuters to walk a quarter mile is not fair, would discourage ridership, and would be a sell-out to private interests.”
What I think’s fascinating about this is the use of the language of coercion. If we “allow” developers to use the old garage site for nongarage purposes, we will “force” commuters to walk a quarter of a mile and this will be a “sell-out to private interests.” The parkers themselves, however, are a private interest. They’re an interest that wants to forbid the land from being used for any nonparking purpose in order to ensure themselves access to valuable land at sub-market prices. Will replacing garages with transit-oriented development reduce ridership on the train? {…}

Los Angeles and the Case for Transit Oriented Development: Building and Funding TOD

Joel Epstein  |

In an ideal world, Metro would go out and buy all the land it needs to build lines along the routes where urban density is the greatest. But L.A. long ago ceased to be a city where there is ample undeveloped land and little opposition from residents, business owners and drivers to needed transit improvements.

A case in point is traffic-snarled Santa Monica Boulevard through West Hollywood, Beverly Hills and West L.A. Looking at it today, the reconstructed trunk road, along which a Pacific Electric Railway streetcar once ran, appears to be a sorely missed opportunity to build transit and TODs along the boulevard. But the idea of asking West Hollywood to give up its tree-lined median or Beverly Hills, its parking lots serving South Santa Monica Blvd merchants, underscores the challenge Metro faces in L.A.’s built environment.

TOD planning grants

One initiative Metro is pursuing to improve transit’s chances is its Local Planning Grant Program. The new effort is a competitive grant program designed to promote TOD development by encouraging communities to enact TOD-friendly building codes and regulations. The grants provide the winning communities with funds to go out and look at parking codes, last mile connections (how people get from the rail station or bus stop to their home), greater density around transit and better bike and pedestrian linkages to the rail and bus system.

There are also new requirements in the Federal Transportation Administration’s (FTA) New Starts program that require transit agency applicants for federal funding to look at the impact of their projects on development and make changes that promote TOD. {…}


The Growing Popularity of Bus Rapid Transit

Mark Byrnes  |

In an era where financial resources are sparse, public transportation projects are difficult to put together. Though less popular than subway and light rail, bus rapid transit lines can be a successful and much cheaper alternative.

A major limitation to BRTs is the stigma that comes with being a bus. That can be addressed through design. Elevated and well-designed station platforms can create a sense of exclusivity. Sleek-looking and comfortable buses help craft that image as well. Most importantly, the bus-specific traffic lane makes users feel like it is worth keeping the car in the garage.

Cleveland is a good example of an American city, adopting BRT the right way. The Health Line was settled on after the projected costs of a hypothetical subway or light rail line were deemed to high. Since its debut, it has become an important link between downtown and University Circle. One might think a rapid bus line would be a hard sell in car-dependent Cleveland but it has been a success, with increasing ridership and a regenerated demand for residential and commercial activity along Euclid Street. {…}

Revenge of the (Urban) Nerds


Kevin Lynch was an urban planner and MIT professor who wrote the landmark book, Image of the City, which was published in 1960. The book influenced a generation of urban planners, urban designers and other design professionals. Lynch published the book as a critique of the poorly planned post-war cities (with their urban renewal and urban highways) that tried to compete with the rapidly suburbanizing American landscape. In so doing, he offered a new way of thinking about the psychology of cities. Lynch’s lectures and writings explained how people used mental maps to perceive and navigate through places like cities.
Lynch’s “mental maps” were based on five core elements: paths, edges, districts, nodes and landmarks. You can see those elements in today’s comprehensive plans, master plans and redevelopment plans. Rather than having cities mimic the development patterns of the suburbs, Lynch established a new identity for cities called “imageability”; the term refers to the fact that well-formed objects—and urban elements—leave a strong visual imprint on us. They have imageability. Lynch saw cities as authentic and organic, and argued that they relied more on the pedestrian experience than the driving experience.
Since the 1990s, cities have been making a comeback. Lynch influenced a generation of planners and designers at a time when cities were not fashionable or the preferred places to live. While some may not disagree, I believe New Urbanism, contemporary master planning and placemaking were shaped in part by Lynch. He elevated the role of urban design, city planning and introduced a new consciousness about “sense of place.” Twenty-first century cities owe Kevin Lynch a debt of gratitude for the resurgence of placemaking and good urban design—a resurgence that has been 50 years in the making. {…}

Transit-Oriented Development – Avenir Parcel 1A, Boston, MA

Air rights lease for mixed-use commercial, residential and retail development

Project Description: 10-Floor mixed-use, transit oriented development that includes retail, a 121 space parking garage and 241 residential units, including 17 affordable units.

TRA’s Role:
•Identified the development opportunity
•Generated developer interest in the site
•Designed an appropriate public offering format based on extensive community and governmental outreach
•Managed the public bid and selection process
•Navigated a variety of complex operational, environmental, public policy and title issues
•Negotiated the final business deal structure and documents

Client Benefits:
The MBTA received $9.86 million in revenue. Upon sale of residential units, the MBTA will receive an additional $9.86 million.

Status: A 99 year air rights lease between Trinity Financial and the MBTA was signed in June 2005. Construction was completed and occupancy commenced in 2008.

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