Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Successful transit oriented development requires successful, valued transit

The reason that it is such a struggle to create successful "transit oriented development" projects in the Baltimore region is that the transit system there isn't highly valued in the same way compared to the Washington region.

In the DC region you have a five line heavy rail system, complemented by local and regional bus transit, plus commuter rail service. The system will be extended by light rail and streetcar service, as plans in the various jurisdictions are realized.

In the Baltimore region, you have a light rail line and a subway line. They are inadequately linked, and even together, they fail to create a fixed rail transit system. These services are complemented by a bus system, and commuter rail service, primarily focused on delivering workers to Washington, DC, is also present.

There are many good resources on the TOD concept. I happen to like this one, produced by DC's Office of Planning about 8 years ago, Trans-Formation: Recreating Transit-Oriented Neighborhood Centers in Washington, DC . But there is the Center for TOD as well, which has many resources, etc.

I don't like to use the TOD term any more because I have found in arguments against either the creation of new transit lines such as the Purple Line in Montgomery and Prince George's Counties in Maryland, or the intensification of land use at transit stations such as in Brookland in DC, that TOD is used as an epithet, and is seen as code for "giveaways" to and extranormal profits for developers.

I prefer to think of TOD as extending the qualities that communities need in order to be successful and thrive. That comes across better in the DC planning document than it does in most of the other publications that I have seen.

It's true that the addition of light rail lines in some communities, such as in Minneapolis, is leading to land use intensification, even though they don't have a fixed rail transit system. Successful intensification is dependent on the perception of the transit service and the location of the line.

Lines serving depressed areas have big hurdles to overcome in order to foster land use intensification. If the transit service isn't seen as a service of choice, it's very difficult for land to become revalued as a result of having the service. Hence, little opportunity for land use intensification.

See the "With development plan approved, the future of White Flint begins‎" from the Washington Post, the White Flint Sector Plan and "Montgomery County OKs White Flint plan" from the Washington Business Journal.

Images from Greater Greater Washington's entry, With White Flint, Montgomery gets another Bethesda."

From the Post article:

Montgomery's plans for the 430 acres, now a jumble of strip shopping centers and car dealerships, are part of a national movement to re-engineer older neighborhoods built around America's love affair with the car. The White Flint project, which could span 20 years or more, would be among the largest redevelopments of post-World War II suburbia in the Washington region. It is aimed at bringing smarter growth to a county with little undeveloped land seeking ways to accommodate a growing population already nearing 1 million, larger than the District.

The White Flint plan is built on novel thinking. Planners and developers think they can persuade at least half of the estimated 50,000 people who eventually would work in White Flint to stop relying on cars. The area, in a section of suburban Montgomery that developers call North Bethesda, is already served by Metrorail and is slated for a new MARC rail station. Eventually, it is to have its own civic green, circulator bus system, bike paths and walkways connecting communities and commercial centers.

Right now, this kind of intensification of land use is practically impossible in Baltimore City or Baltimore County because the transit service quality is so much different compared to Montgomery County. And note that in the White Flint Plan, the area is still served by the same number of transit stations.

But when the overall transit system is robust, this is a workable scenario. That's the difference between White Flint in Montgomery County and Mondawmin Mall in Baltimore City or Security Square Mall in Baltimore County.

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