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I. Background and Goals
The "Using Regional Transportation to Plan and Build Sustainable and Livable Communities" report documents the presentations and discussions of two conference sessions held in conjunction with the New Partners for Smart Growth Annual Conference in Seattle, Washington, on how to promote sustainable and livable communities through the metropolitan transportation planning process. The sessions were coordinated by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) as part of the Transportation Planning Capacity Building (TPCB) Program, which aims to advance the state of the practice in multimodal transportation planning nationwide.
The FTA organized a roundtable to discuss how the Sustainable Communities Partnership can inform integrated transportation planning at the regional and local scale. A three-hour panel took place on case studies in successful Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) planning and implementation across a range of geographic scales (e.g., station area, corridor, metropolitan region) and socio-economic contexts.
This report includes the following sections:
II. Federal Policy Context and Stakeholder Perspectives on Regional Transportation Planning for Sustainable and Livable Communities
"Transit Oriented Development is a key opportunity to promote livable, sustainable communities."
- FTA Deputy Administrator, Therese W. McMillan
In June 2009, the Department of Transportation (DOT), Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) formed a high-level inter-agency Sustainable Communities Partnership to better coordinate Federal transportation, housing, and environmental quality and help to make American communities into more "livable" and "sustainable" places.
The roundtable provided an opportunity to highlight the agency's current efforts to support the Partnership through Federal policy and funding programs, as well as its work with national stakeholder groups such as the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) and Reconnecting America to promote livable communities planning efforts at the local and regional level.
A. Federal Policy Context: Federal Transit Administration
Livability and sustainability are multi-faceted terms, with myriad forms and definitions to reflect the diversity of American communities and geographies. For this reason, national policies must be sensitive to the differences in resources and needs among urban, rural, suburban, and tribal communities. In her remarks Ms. McMillan stated that the most appropriate role for Federal agencies is to provide support to local and regional organizations as they implement locally-crafted visions that respond to local contexts and local needs. She cautioned participants not to be over-reliant on Federal funds and stressed the importance of matching Federal dollars with local commitments to supportive investments that "take Federal resources to the next level." One goal of the Sustainable Communities Partnership is to help communities leverage non-transportation funds (e.g., HUD, EPA funding).
The FTA views livability and sustainability as core principles of its mission. Ms. McMillan highlighted several of FTA's current initiatives to support the goals of the Sustainable Communities Partnership:
Source: FTA image
TOD represents a key opportunity to support livable, sustainable communities. The FTA will continue to invest in research, technical assistance, and policy development to promote TOD, particularly with regard to supporting mixed-income housing near transit stops and better understanding the link between employment location and transit corridor development. Ms. McMillan noted that the Center for Transit-Oriented Development (CTOD) is conducting research on both these issues and encouraged attendees to visit CTOD's website for resources and information.
Transit operating funds will be an important issue for debate during reauthorization of the Federal surface transportation bill. Currently, transit operating costs in large metropolitan areas are not eligible for Federal funding. Ms. McMillan explained how important this issue is given the dire funding constraints that many transit agencies now face. She touted a provision that allowed transit capital funds to be flexed for operations as one of the successes of the first Federal stimulus bill. She anticipates that there will be discussion of expanding the eligibility of Federal funds for transit operations during re-authorization, but noted that FTA will also explore opportunities to incentivize or enable states and localities to raise funds for transit operations.
It is FTA's desire to be a more effective partner with community-based organizations and to make resources and regulations more accessible and understandable for the public. The FTA recognizes that Federal rules and regulations may be intimidating for the general reader as currently written and is committed to finding new, more effective ways of communicating information so that people can understand and take advantage of the many resources that already exist to support local planning efforts. The FTA is also exploring opportunities to extend the reach of its capacity building programs help support the work of community-based organizations who work with planning agencies to implement projects and conduct planning on the ground.
B. Transit Industry Perspective: American Public Transportation Association (APTA)
The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) is a member-based association comprised of transit agencies and private companies in the transit industry, as well as Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) and State Departments of Transportation (State DOTs).
"We live in exciting and challenging times for the transit industry."
- Rich Weaver, APTA
Mr. Weaver noted that these are both exciting and challenging times for the transit industry. Transit ridership is at its highest levels in over 50 years and many regions are seeking to expand their transit networks to accommodate rising demand. At the same time, the economic downturn means that funding is shrinking, forcing transit agencies to maintain existing service with less funding or face difficult choices about service cuts.
Transit plays a key role in promoting livable, sustainable communities and APTA welcomes opportunities to work with FTA and the Sustainable Communities Partnership to promote smart growth and TOD in regional transportation planning and decision-making. One of APTA's recent efforts to support the Partnership was to work with Reconnecting America to conduct a survey of transit agencies' current capabilities and needs regarding livability promotion.
Key findings of the APTA survey included:
APTA member agencies are very interested in demonstrating the connection between transit investments and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions. APTA is currently working with FTA's standards program to identify practices and methodologies for measuring GHGs from a system wide perspective.
C. Stakeholder Perspective: Reconnecting America
Reconnecting America is a national non-profit that promotes sustainable and equitable TOD through research, publications/reports, leadership development, and technical assistance.
One of Reconnecting America's main projects is the Center for Transit Oriented Development (CTOD). CTOD provides research, technical assistance, tools, and strategic plans for local governments and non-profits to use to promote TOD in their regions.
"Diverse partnerships and coalitions are fundamental to realizing the vision of successful TOD."
- Catherine Cox-Blair, Reconnecting America
Ms. Cox Blair noted the importance of identifying dynamic leaders around the country to show examples of successful TOD promotion in the regional transportation planning process. Reconnecting America is currently working on a paper that will highlight best practices in promoting TOD at the MPO planning level that will be released in Spring 2010. She highlighted the Twin Cities region of Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota as a great example of innovation in promoting equitable TOD. The region's MPO, the Metro Council, serves as a convener and consensus builder region-wide. Metro Council works in partnership with the Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, the State Housing Finance Agency, and Hennepin and Ramsey Counties to conduct planning that integrates land use and transportation from the scale of a station area all the way up to the region as a whole. The Metro Council provides technical assistance to local municipalities on issues of smart growth and TOD and has run a Livable Communities Grant Program since 1996. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) in San Francisco and Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) also have livable communities programs in place to fund technical assistance to local municipalities, integrated station-area planning, and capital investments.
Reconnecting America believes that innovations in smart growth, TOD, and livability are led at the local level. Mr. Zimbabwe noted that the Federal government can play an important role in supporting the Sustainable Communities Partnership by supporting local innovation and leadership on these issues and sharing successful stories to promote best practices.
Reconnecting America believes that successful partnerships are fundamental to realizing the vision of successful TOD (e.g., Envision Utah, Sacramento Region Blueprint, Portland Metro's TOD Program). In order to be successful, Ms. Cox Blair explained that partnerships must be diverse and ongoing and they must be driven at the local level. Real "diversity" means including not only elected officials and decision-makers, but advocacy groups; not only urban community coalitions, but tribal, rural, and suburban communities; not only transit supporters but public health advocates and professionals. Ms. Cox Blair emphasized that new actors such as community-based organizations and foundations need to be brought in to make partnerships successful. She noted that foundations are a new stakeholder group that has played a leadership role in supporting smart growth coalitions in many communities. She highlighted the Great Communities Collaborative in San Francisco, which convenes local and national foundations and advocacy groups to support local planning and visioning efforts, as a great example of this trend.
Mr. Zimbabwe explained that the importance of effective partnerships will only grow, given the current financial climate, because there is much greater demand for TOD and livable communities projects currently than there is available funding to support them. For example, the Federal TIGER program received nearly $50 billion in applications for the $1.5 billion available to distribute. Limited funding also means that performance goals will also become an increasingly important factor in determining where and how to guide transportation investments. Mr. Zimbabwe noted that transit projects should score well when performance criteria are expanded beyond conventional criteria to address livability concerns because transit supports a wide range of benefits including community job creation and environmental sustainability.
III. Case Studies in Successful TOD Planning and Implementation
TOD comes in different forms and exists on different scales. Station areas are surrounded by mixed-use districts where visitors and residents can walk and bike to access a variety of goods, services, and amenities. Districts are connected to one another along corridors of transit service. At the regional scale, good TOD seeks to connect corridors to one another through networks of transit service and transit-supportive investments (e.g., good sidewalks and bike facilities, compact development, improved jobs-housing balance). FTA's afternoon TOD Roundtable reflected this diversity by highlighting case studies of successful TOD projects across a range of geographic scales and socio-economic contexts.
Source: Reconnecting America image
A. Transit Station Areas Shaping Vancouver, British Columbia
Vancouver, British Columbia region is home to about 2 million residents located about 2 hours north of Seattle, Washington. Vancouver is consistently ranked as one of the worlds most "livable cities" by business and travel magazines. It is interesting to study transit in Vancouver because it is one of the few places that chose not to bring freeways into the city in the 1950s and 1960s. As such, it did not experience suburban "sprawl" in the second half of the 20th century, as most North American cities did during that time. Instead, the city chose to invest in transit and focus on developing a complete network of advanced light-rail. Currently there are three major lines, one of which opened in 2009.
Investment in building Vancouver's transit network has been accompanied by redevelopment efforts to support TOD in recent years. Today, Vancouver is the third most densely populated city in North America. The result of transit network expansion and thoughtful redevelopment efforts has been a highly successful transit system. Some trains operate on 2-minute headways, ridership has grown 20 percent in the last decade, and the TransLink system currently carries about the same number of passengers per day as the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system, which serves a region more than 3 times its size.
Mr. Rowe shared background information on a number of TOD stations in Vancouver at various stages of development and implementation, and highlighted several important lessons learned:
B. San Francisco's Transit Center District Plan
San Francisco's recently released Transit Center District Plan builds on the city's 1985 Downtown Plan, which envisioned the area around the Transbay Terminal as the core for downtown redevelopment in San Francisco. Downtown San Francisco is very dense, but new opportunities for redevelopment arose when the Embarcadero Freeway was irreparably damaged in the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989 and subsequently removed. The land was transferred to the city with the agreement that housing and transit be developed to serve the area.
The Transit Center District Plan was developed with livability principles in mind, and devotes significant attention to public benefits and streetscape elements (e.g., access to sunlight, pedestrian accessibility, high quality open space, protecting historic resources). Sustainability principles were also an important focus of the plan. The City Planning Department ran models on energy consumption and built provisions into the plan that would allow proposed new developments to operate off the grid. The plan also looks at funding mechanisms to support new development and devotes 50 percent of revenue generation to affordable housing development.
With passage of California's high-speed rail bond, redevelopment of the Transbay Terminal to serve high-speed rail, CalTrain, and bus traffic became a viable component of the plan. A design competition for a new downtown building tower was issued via joint powers authority and the winning design makes a new transit center the visual focal point for San Francisco's skyline, surrounded by high-density residential development to attract new people to live downtown.
C. Planning for Transit-Oriented Communities in Seattle, Washington
"Our work represents an unprecedented level of engagement with those who have traditionally been left out of the planning process"
-Lyle Bicknell, Seattle Neighborhood Planning Manager
Seattle has been trying to build a rapid transit system since 1911. In 1996 voters approved a ballot measure to fund a network of regional express buses, commuter rail and light-rail and the state legislature created Sound Transit as the regional transit operator to oversee planning, construction, maintenance, and operations.
As efforts to build a regional transit network began, the city launched a neighborhood planning effort to engage communities at a grassroots level and gather input about how residents wanted the city and their neighborhoods to grow. It was an unprecedented level of effort, with nearly 30,000 volunteers and citizen planners engaged in the process. The result was 38 separate neighborhood plans that the city has been implementing since the late 1990s. The plans include sections on land use and housing, public safety, transportation, economic development, community image and appearance. Mr. Bicknell believes that these plans provide the city with good guidance on how to build walkable, livable, transit-supportive communities. The city recognizes that the neighborhood plans could be better integrated with regional transit expansion and regional transportation planning efforts, however, and launched an effort to update them in 2008.
Updating the plans was a major resource and time commitment by the city. Staff found that residents often felt a lot of pride and ownership in the original neighborhood plans and were resistant to updating the plans for a more regional focus.
Several lessons learned have emerged from the update process to inform future neighborhood planning work:
Source: City of Seattle image
Source: City of Seattle image
D. TOD Corridors in Chicago: A Framework for Sustainable Urbanism
The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) is the major force for regional transportation and land use planning in greater Chicago. Mr. Kindel noted that the Chicago region has come a long way towards transit supportive land use and transportation planning in recent decades. For example, transit and rail are not even mentioned in regional plans he looked at from the 1960s and 1970s. Yet today, promoting TOD is a major component of CMAP's long-range transportation plan, Go To 2040.
There are more than 400 different suburbs in the Chicago region, each with differing social, economic, and political contexts and needs. As such, a regional TOD vision plan needs to be supported by sub-area plans to examine the specific opportunities and challenges that exist around each particular station, as well as the design and service features that would be needed in order to make TOD work in those locations. Chicago already has an extensive baseline system of bus and rail to build from, which Mr. Kindel noted as a major asset for the region.
Mr. Houseal noted that successful TOD development requires at least three basic levels of capacity analysis:
"All potential TOD projects need a combination of market, site, and community capacity to be successful."
- John Houseal, Houseal Lavigne Associates
In order to be successful, Mr. Houseal argued that individual TOD developments must incorporate elements of all three types of TOD capacity. He noted that market capacity should be the starting point for TOD analysis and corridor planning. He also argued that projects cannot be successfully completed without community support and emphasized the importance of reaching out to help build community understanding and engagement for TOD when a project begins.
Panel speakers shared brief case studies on four different corridors/sites that are currently engaged in TOD planning in the Chicago region:
Source: Houseal Lavigne Associates image
Source: Sam Schwartz Engineering image
E. A Regional Strategy for Promoting TOD in Baltimore and Central Maryland
The Central Maryland Transportation Alliance (CMTA) was formed in 2007 to promote better transportation in Baltimore and the five surrounding counties. One of CMTA's initiatives has been to build a diverse coalition of state and local agencies (e.g., planning, transportation, housing, economic development), advocacy groups, and foundations to develop a regional strategy to promote TOD in Baltimore and central Maryland.
Transit service in Baltimore is provided by the Maryland Transit Administration, a state-run agency. Baltimore is currently served by regional bus service, one heavy rail subway line, and one light rail line. The CMTA is actively engaged in creating a vision for building Baltimore's current transit system out and then advocating for the policy and funding provisions that would be needed to realize that vision.
To do so, the CMTA created a TOD Steering Committee and partnered with Reconnecting America to conduct a strategic planning process and produce a report that would:
The final report, Central Maryland TOD Strategy: A Regional Action Plan for Transit-Centered Communities was released in July 2009. It identified five primary strategies to achieve TOD goals in the region:
Source: Reconnecting America image
The TOD Steering Committee has now transitioned into an implementation committee that will use the TOD Analysis and Action Plan to coordinate, monitor and advocate for TOD strategies in the region.
The members of the TOD Steering Committee advocate for policy reform, at both the state and regional level, to support TOD. For example, members of the TOD Steering Committee:
The CMTA has also worked on outreach and coalition building, particularly in support of the Red Line project, a new proposed 14.6 mile light rail line that it sees as a key step towards achieving Baltimore's regional transit vision. The CMTA sponsored a Regional Red Line Community summit and was a signatory of the Red Line Community Compact, which outlined 4 community goals:
The City of Baltimore works closely with the CMTA and is active in promoting TOD in the city, both through Red Line project planning as well as through broader efforts. In 2009, the city adopted a new form-based zoning code (its first update since 1971), known as TransForm Baltimore, which created TOD districts and a typology of seven different station types that reflects the diverse range of opportunities to develop TOD projects city-wide. Neighborhood revitalization is a major component of the city's TOD strategy, as demonstrated by its efforts to engage citizens in the Red Line Community Compact process, and Ms. Iyer noted that the city is currently looking at land-banking as a strategy to address the city's foreclosure crisis. Despite the city's many current efforts, Ms. Iyer noted that it can be challenging to do TOD successfully in a region where there is not a strong market for private development and investment.
Source: Central Maryland Transportation Alliance images
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