We Need New Growth Catalysts

7 01 2010

Jay Walljasper: “Public transportation use is at the highest level in decades. Buses and trains are overflowing, even after the steep fall of gasoline prices since last summer. Voters last November approved billions of dollars for new transit project across the country. This is all wonderful news for anyone who cares about curbing the global climate crisis, cleaning up the environment and revitalizing our communities. But, unfortunately, transit systems all over the country are cutting back service and raising fares. The New York Times reports that Denver is considering axing one of its light rail lines and several bus routes. St. Louis is planning to cut bus service in half. Even New York, a city where less than half the residents own cars, is looking at eliminating two subway lines and 24 bus routes as well as a whopping 23 percent fare increase. How can this be happening at a time when public transportation is more popular than ever? When it is proving to be a practical solution to pressing economic, ecological and energy problems?”

Zach Rosenberg: “Increasingly, infrastructure investment and mass transportation are framed by the liberal-conservative divide, turning relatively straightforward municipal issues into cultural and ideological battles. With our transportation infrastructure literally falling apart — the American Society of Civil Engineers puts the repair bill at $2.2 trillion — the United States faces an interesting dilemma. A thriving economy is desperately needed to increase wealth, decrease unemployment and wean people off federal entitlement programs fiscal conservatives hate. A dependable and indirect method of stimulating the economy is driving down the cost and energy required to move goods and services by investing in our roads, railways, bridges and other infrastructure. That by definition requires massive amounts of public money.”

Dave Demerjian: “You know the economy’s in great shape when our elected leaders start handing over our highways, airports, bridges and tunnels over to the highest bidder. That might be a bit simplistic, but on some level it’s accurate. States and cities, struggling with gargantuan budget deficits, are increasingly selling or leasing vital transportation infrastructure to private companies. Yes, it helps fill state coffers, but it’s a scary development nonetheless. One of the biggest proposed deals is a plan to lease the 537-mile Pennsylvania Turnpike, the nation’s oldest major toll road, to a private investment group that includes Citigroup and the Spanish firm Abertis. The legislature votes on the deal next month; if it goes through, Abertis will pay $12.8 billion to run the turnpike for 75 years. That’s a big chunk of change.”

Samuel Staley: “For the most part, property values increase around transit stations. Often, the range of the increases is between 25 to 30 percent higher than the growth non-transit neighborhoods. Unfortunately, these same studies about property values have not examined the underlying causes of these price increases. Despite that, many observers simply assume proximity to transit is the most important factor. Lots of factors influence private investment, including public safety, access to jobs, quality housing, tax rates, financing, and zoning. Access to transit is likely far down the list compared to these other factors. A closer look at the numbers suggests that actual transit ridership has little relationship to the private investment around transit stations.”

Jarrett Walker (international consultant in public transit network design and policy): “Different cities may have different patterns of density, so in your city the highest-ridership area may not be the historic core.  On the other hand, even substantially neglected cores trigger strong ridership because even if density is lower than it could be, it’s often still higher than in the suburbs…If you rank any transit agency’s services by productivity (passengers per unit of service cost), the high-frequency lines in the densest part of the city always come out on top…The principle is the same in any network: If your goal is ridership, follow patterns of dense development with intense service.”

Staley: “The rising property values around transit-oriented developments are likely less about providing access to transit than accommodating demand for higher-density and more urban lifestyles that local zoning codes and development regulations impede. To compete against low-density subdivisions, transit-oriented developments must offer significant non-transportation benefits—walkability, mixed uses, public safety, quality housing, urban parks, etc.—to offset the inherent mobility limits of transit. Pharmacies, grocery stores, hair salons, and other neighborhood residential services need to be provided within walking distance.”

Walker: “This is also an example where “design” comes in. If you press on the “follow patterns of dense development” rule, what’s under it is principle of a radius of demand. A transit stop’s market is the area that’s within a fixed walk distance radius. Since it’s a fixed radius, it’s a fixed area, so the number of people and jobs and activities there is determined by density. However, some people may be within the fixed radius but not able to walk to the stop because of barriers in the street network, and such barriers are much more common in newer suburbs than in old core cities. The fully connected grid street networks of old urban cores generally minimize walking distances and thus maximize the real radius of demand.”

Staley: “Understanding the proper role of transit in promoting urban development is important for public policy. Whether we build great urban places or emphasize higher transit use is not a “chicken and egg” choice. Great urban places come first because their benefits offset the individual and social costs of greater dependence on a less flexible, restricted mode of transportation. In the end, higher transit use is an outcome, not an input, in economic development and urban redevelopment. Federal and state policies should emphasize transit in the sense that it becomes a service that local residents and businesses demand. Planners and elected officials should not lose sight of the broader need to meet the demand for more dense and varied land uses.”

Amy Cortese: “In April, the Carrollton City Council approved a $38 million mixed-use development next to a commuter rail station being erected downtown…City officials hope the railway and new development…will breathe life into a city center that empties after dark…The project in Carrollton is among many nationwide to be planned around new and existing light rail lines. These so-called transit-oriented developments, along with downtown revitalization plans, tap into a move toward more pedestrian-friendly, urban-style living. While the credit crisis has halted many housing developments — notably subdivisions and stand-alone condominium buildings — some projects that are going forward are linked to broader revitalization or transit-related efforts.”

Yonah Freemark (The Transport Politic): “Detroit has a terrible history of transit investment – since the 1950s, it has repeatedly rejected efforts to spruce up its public transportation systems in favor of expanding highways, often to the detriment of the city’s core. There is no concrete evidence that the city’s lack of rapid transit has contributed directly to its giant population exodus – from 1.85 million in 1950 to around 900,000 today – but it is clear that the region’s steadfast devotion to the automobile hasn’t helped matters much either, especially considering the recent implosion of the Big Three. Now there’s news from the Detroit Free Press that the light rail program – now called M1-RAIL – has received $9 million from the city’s private Downtown Development Authority and $35 million from the Kresge Foundation. The Overhead Wire points out that this is probably the first-ever example of a foundation contributing to the construction of a transit line.”

Neal Pierce: “The World Bank is becoming more pro-city. The strategy seems a major departure for an institution that long leaned toward rural areas, many of its governing officials and affiliated governments subscribing to the view that aid to the countryside would somehow stem the massive tide of people moving to cities in search of jobs and opportunity. The new policy, officially announced by World Bank president Robert Zoellick at a November meeting in Singapore, boldly defines urbanization as the 21st century’s defining phenomenon. Manage the growth of developing world cities well, he said, and the challenges of climate change, jobs, poverty reduction and health can be dealt with proactively, and more effectively.”



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: