By: Renee Espiau and Aurash Khawarzad
“Imagine whisking through towns at speeds over 100 miles an hour, walking only a few steps to public transportation, and ending up just blocks from your destination,” was a visionary statement made by President Obama during the April 17th announcement of America’s first national high-speed rail initiative. Obama calls for high-speed rail in 10 regions across the US that will become “a system that reduces travel times and increases mobility, a system that reduces congestion and boosts productivity, a system that reduces destructive emissions and creates jobs.”
What is missing from the President’s statements are the potential of rail to improve our communities, and to contribute to better places. In cities where quality transit exists, rates of car ownership tend to decline, which means less land is required for road space and parking, and more land can be devoted to residential and retail development, which combined with quality public spaces, creates great communities. When thoughtful land use, urban design, and public space management are coordinated with transit investment, transit stops can become corner stones of cultural activity and economic growth. An example is along the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor in Arlington, Virginia, where development has been focused around several transit stops since the early 1980s. As a result, 73% of riders in the corridor travel to and from Metro stations on foot. The corridor is now a regional destination that has a current assessed real estate value of over $10 billion, and accounts for over 32% of Arlington’s real estate revenue from only 7.7% of its land area.
Alternatively, communities that do not coordinate development with their transit systems do not experience the full benefits of transit. They often plan for cars and traffic rather than people and places. As the picture above illustrates, many transit stops are surrounded by fast moving highways, blank walls, and a sea of parking. The economic value of the land around transit facilities should not be underestimated. Portland, Washington, DC, NJ, Dallas, and many other cities, have realized this value and have developed transit villages that allow for a variety of travel options.
PPS, in partnership with Reconnecting America, has undertaken a major initiative called “Thinking Beyond the Station” that addresses the challenges of integrating transit and development into communities by promoting a philosophy of “community-supportive transit” to guide transportation and community planning decisions. This approach focuses on planning and designing transit facilities and station areas in order to create valuable public places, including opportunities for Placemaking and capturing the value of public transportation investments for local communities. In addition to building capacity in municipalities and transit agencies, PPS is also working to apply these principles in specific transit corridors and transit-oriented developments.
As we embark on a new era of American transit, we need to think beyond the station to the communities that host them. We have an unparalleled chance to improve mobility, but we must first focus on accessibility and connecting people with goods, services, and each other. President Obama has set the train in motion, but it’s up to all of us to hop on board and reap the full benefits of a 21st- century transportation system.
Click here to begin Thinking Beyond the Station.