Neal Pierce on Transit in the US
- LeeThis article seems relevant after our discussion about Washington DC and transit.Eric
> NEAL PEIRCE COLUMN
> For Release Sunday, December 3, 2006
> © 2006 Washington Post Writers Group
> TRANSIT: POPULAR AND EXPANDING
> BUT A HALF LOAF WITHOUT COMPACT GROWTH
> By Neal Peirce
> Where?s our mobility scenario? As the country adds its next 100
>million people by 2042, what?s to save us from massive roadway congestion,
>incredibly long commutes, and a degraded environment?
> Increasingly, we resist new gas taxes and vote down referendums
>for more roads; instead, many people insist, ?fix it first.? New
>privately-financed toll roads? Highway proponents are moving toward the
>option, but the public reacts skeptically.
> So how about public transit -- new streetcar lines, regional heavy
>and light rail, commuter lines? Polls show people strongly in favor, to
>get to work, to reach entertainment and stadiums, at least to ease other
>drivers off the roads. More than two-thirds of transit-related measures
>were approved by voters in last month?s elections. Kansas City suggested
>the shifting public sentiment -- after earlier rejections, voters approved
>a ballot measure authorizing a 3/8 cent sales tax for a 27-mile light-rail
> Just since June, St. Louis has opened a $678 million, eight-mile
>expansion of its existing, previously one-route MetroLink light rail
>transit line. Inaugural commuter rail lines have opened to serve Nashville
>and Albuquerque. Two weeks ago, Denver?s 14 miles of light rail suddenly
>expanded to 33 as a $879 million southeastern extension opened to much
>fanfare and boasts about the project?s on-time, under-budget completion.
> New highways have fueled the American economy by staggering sums
>since World War II. But the new Denver line suggests transit can be
>economically potent too: even before the extension opened, a stunning $4.25
>billion in new residential or commercial development was either underway or
>planned near the new line?s 13 station locations. And those breakthroughs
>don?t even count the immense impact likely from the 119-mile FasTracks
>system that Denverites voted for in 2004, expanding to all corners of their
>big region in the years ahead.
> Add in the highly successful regional rail lines being built in
>such regions as Charlotte, Salt Lake City, Phoenix, Dallas and Minneapolis,
>and a new American transit future emerges. Since 1995, public transit
>ridership has expanded 25 percent (to 9.7 billion trips in 2005). From 25
>in 2000, the country?s fixed-guideway (rail or bus) transit systems are
>likely to grow to 42 by 2030, adding 720 stations to today?s total of
> Yet as expensive as new and expanded transit may be, the ultimate
>question isn?t money (indeed the federal government?s ?New Starts? fund is
>swamped with 200 applications and shrinking dollars). Rather, it?s whether
>we have the will to reshape urban America in more compact, livable, energy-
>and climate-change conscious ways. That means organizing regionally --
>across our citistate regions -- on multiple fronts:
> + Champion transit-oriented development -- new or expanded town
>centers and housing near transit stops, aggressively planned and zoned for
>high densities. No more stations sitting alone in the midst of vast
>commuter parking lots. The Chicago-based Center for Neighborhood
>Technology (CNT) even recommends recycling existing station parking lots --
>23 million square feet in the Chicago area alone -- for more intense
>business/residential development, shifting parking to smaller scattered
>lots or multi-story garages.
> + Make transit stops beacons of living for America?s new millions.
>Already, the CNT reports, areas around stations support more race and
>income diversity, city and suburban, than the average neighborhood. But
>for new suburban stops, it?s critical to assure moderate-income housing
>opportunities (employing devices like inclusionary zoning).
> + Inventory our millions of acres of ?fallow? sites -- brownfields,
>abandoned railyards, failed shopping center sites, low grade commercial
>strips. Then create strong incentives for owners to combine, recycle,
>redevelop them. And work up the political courage to say ?no? to NIMBY
>groups trying to block reasonably denser housing and development in their
> + Do away with mandatory parking slots for new buildings-- let the
>market decide. Discover transit opportunities in all sorts of settings.
>Along with rail or bus rapid transit at development nodes, encourage linear
>development along streetcar lines -- an historic formula several cities are
>now reinventing. And work to convert auto-only, low-grade retail strips
>into tree-lined, transit-served boulevards.
> + Focus on reducing auto trips for errands -- they?re much more
>numerous than commute trips, studies show. To keep the cars parked, make
>?erranding? by foot or cycling much easier. Even older ?spread? suburbs
>without any transit, suggests Stewart Schwartz of the Washington area?s
>Coalition for Smarter Growth, could develop rezoned pockets of land for
>stores or service accessible by foot or bike. Plus, we can return to
>siting schools where kids can walk or bike, skipping the mommy chauffeurs
>and big yellow buses.
> + Encourage employers to broaden telecommuting and flexible hours
>-- a huge, but only lightly tapped, Internet-age appropriate resource.
> Finally, and critically, we need fresh vision to associate
>compactness with lively and resilient towns, combatting climate change, and
>making us less dependent on foreign oil. We owe it to ourselves and our
>children -- a new, highly relevant 21st century patriotism.