COVID-19: The Recovery will Happen in Public Space

Placemaking in Transit

Dec 31, 2008
Sep 4, 2019
Public art at a bus transfer station in Corpus Christ, TX
Public art at a bus transfer station in Corpus Christ, TX

Transit facilities, from simple bus stops to major train stations, can be natural focal points for communities, becoming a gravity point for activity and revitalizing adjacent neighborhoods. But for transit stations to play a truly effective role in improving the livability of communities, they must be an integral part of community life, a Place that people come to a part of their every day life.

For a transit station to become a gravity point for the community, it must be located in a convenient location downtowns rather than on the outskirts of town. It should also look inviting, be easily accessible on foot, provide amenities, and encourage local businesses to supply on-premise services, or to take part in local activities. It should be combined with other community uses that spur improvements to surrounding areas and create centers of activity.

The Role of Transit in Creating Places for Community Life

(adapted from "The Role of Transit in Creating Livable Metropolitan Communities")

Transit can enhance destinations, helping to create community places by supporting existing spaces, as well as providing a place for new activities and services. A transit facility need not be just a place for transportation but can also become a setting for community interaction and a place that accommodates a diversity of people.

Linking transit to existing public places is the simplest, and probably the most obvious and common strategy. Transit agencies usually plan their stops so that they correspond to destinations like a main square or a public library or school. For a station to become a lively community center, however, it should not only be located at a public place, but the station should be truly integral to it. Pioneer Square in Portland, Oregon, is one of the premier examples in the country where transit is integrated into a public square known as "Portland's Living Room." Indeed, the two were designed at the same time.

By creating places where people come together, transit centers can create focal points for a variety of activities and service establishments, such as open-air fresh produce markets (see Chapter 6), coffee shops, newsstands, video store rentals, branch bank offices, heath clinics, and day care centers (Staples Street Station in Corpus Christi is designed to accommodate future small-scale retail). These types of uses need not be permanent. In Tucson, the downtown transit center is used twice a month as the center stage for "Downtown Saturday Night." In Portland, the Portland Saturday Market, which is served by a Metropolitan Area Express (MAX) light rail line stop in the center of the market, is a vibrant weekend attraction and a parking lot during the week.

Transit centers, finally, can be links to the larger regional transit system. It is possible, for example, that a bus transfer center could include a staging area for employee commuter vans, a terminal for a local neighborhood circulator, and a taxi stand. Such centers are planned for LINC in Seattle.

Transit as a Catalyst for Downtown and Neighborhood Renewal

(adapted from "The Role of Transit in Creating Livable Metropolitan Communities")

Much of transit's impact comes from its drawing pedestrians to an area, which helps enliven adjacent uses and support business. By alleviating traffic pressure on streets, transit can help make an area more attractive and pedestrian friendly - a major goal in most downtown revitalization programs. In many cases, transit has acted as the primary catalyst for community participation in downtown and neighborhood renewal programs and for the coordination and cooperation among public and private sectors, city agencies, transit authorities, and the community.

Davis Square, in Somerville, Massachusetts, and the Green Line in Chicago illustrate the impact that new and renovated subway stations can have on the development of entire downtown revitalization programs. In addition to transit stations, some cities have experimented with transit malls, that is, streets transformed to give priority access to buses and enhanced waiting areas for bus patrons. Unfortunately, while some transit malls have been successful (Portland, Oregon and Denver's Sixteenth Street Mall), others have not, and are being removed (Chicago).

Downtown circulators and shuttles are another strategy used to enable shoppers, visitors, and office workers to move more freely about the central business district, thereby contributing to downtown economic vitality and reducing traffic congestion. These circulators and shuttles are often sponsored by local chambers of commerce, downtown business organizations, and merchants associations as a promotional program. In a number of cities, trolley service link redeveloping urban areas with tourist attractions such as sports stadiums, convention halls, restaurant districts, shopping centers and bus terminals (Tucson's Old Pueblo Trolley, Corpus Christi''s trolleys).

What is a Transit Friendly Community?

It is a community that ......

- Makes the Station a Place in Itself. At the heart of a transit-friendly community is a station facility that is comfortable and convenient for transit riders and is surrounded by uses that create a sense of place or commuters and visitors alike. Retail uses help animate and make a station more secure, while outdoor public spaces - such as a station plaza - can make the rail station a visible focal point in the community, while creating a venue for community activities and events which reinforce the central role of the station in community life.

- Links the Rail Station to Key Districts in the Community. Opportunities to link commercial, cultural, and mixed-use districts to the station often exist. For example, a rail station can provide a welcoming presence and act as a focal point for information and activities that are community-wide in focus. Improving the pedestrian environment around a station also creates an opportunity to revitalize a surrounding business district, by connecting businesses to commuters/customers, and attracting new businesses who may also serve the needs of commuters.

- Supports the District Around the Station and Encourages New Development. Station areas characterized by extensive pedestrian/vehicle conflicts and auto-oriented development, as well as extensive vacant or underutilized parcels of land within a quarter to half mile of a rail station discourage walking and shopping, as well as consideration of a station area as a desirable location for new development. With increasing ridership, an enhanced station setting, and a healthy local economy, however, development pressures around rail stations often increase, and selecting the right kinds of transit-oriented development becomes paramount. Where the local economy is less robust, community development programs can take positive steps to encourage new development in these areas.

- Community Provides Convenient Station Access for Pedestrians and Bicyclists. Rail stations are centers of communities, with thousands of people passing through on a daily basis - creating conflicting demands among rail passengers arriving by car, by bus, on foot, or by bicycle. In the past, decisions about improving access to the station have been largely focused on improving auto access - adding parking and widening roads, for example - to the point where it becomes difficult for people on foot or on bikes to enter or leave the station safely. While auto access plays a key role in most rail stations, other modes of access should be made equally convenient; making the streets and sidewalks around a station more pedestrian and bicycle friendly is part of a balanced approach that will encourage walking, often up to a half mile from the station.

- Balances Parking with Other Means of Access. While accommodating improved pedestrian and bicycle access, and serving as a setting for new development, accommodating commuter parking is still a necessity at most stations, even though the correct amount of parking may vary from station to station. No matter the amount of parking provided, however, it need not completely aesthetically and physically dominate the station setting. If commuter parking facilities can be used evenings and weekends for other purposes, the costs of construction and operation of the parking facility can also be shared. Sheltered and secured facilities for bicycles also should be included.

- Provides Feeder Local Transit Service, Reducing the Need for Auto Access. Very often, community bus services are not geared to commuters going to or from a rail station, and local routes may not serve rail stations at all. This forces many people to drive to the station who might be willing to take a bus as long as the schedule does not involve long waits and there are bus stops conveniently located near their home. Re-routing buses to serve rail stations, and instituting jitney services can reinforce rail stations as community transit hubs.

- Maintains an Ongoing Partnership between Transit and the Surrounding Community. This not only affords an opportunity to pool limited resources, but also encourages the coordination and collaboration necessary for all of the pieces of a station district to fit together and to adapt to changes and new challenges over time.

For more information:

Read PPS's report, The Role of Transit in Creating Livable Metropolitan Communities.

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