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Transit Oriented Development- Laying Down The Tracks of the Future

by Yvette on November 17, 2009 · 5 comments

in Philosophy

Yvette, as most of you know, is interning with us. This is post is part of her ongoing contribution to our blog conversation. Read it and grace her with some of your expertise and ideas in the comments.

From November 2nd to November11th Philadelphia’s highways, bridges, and local roads were unusually congested with frustrated commuters aggressively weaving through traffic while talking on the phone, drinking coffee, and screaming defamatory remarks at the rival commuter. Strange how quickly the dormant road rage monster within can rear its ugly head in the most seemingly passive and normal people. The city has been turned upside down with the SEPTA strike. The usually relatively calm commute on the city’s public transportation system has turned into a challenging obstacle course where only the most determined commuters successfully face off against hours of bumper to bumper traffic coupled with unpredictable acts road rage as the clock ticks and carbon rapidly emits into the air.

Thousands of people commute to work in Center City using the city’s public transportation system SEPTA. Among other things, this strike has shined light on Philadelphia’s dependence on public transportation. Transit oriented development has been a form of development in most older American cities such as our own Philadelphia, Boston and New York City. Younger cities such has Los Angeles have moved away from this form of development and as a result it struggle with carbon emission problems, smog and traffic. So what exactly is transit oriented development?

Transit oriented development focuses on walkable communities with the pedestrian as the highest priority. The train station is the focus of the town. There is mix and high-density development within a 10 minute walking distance from the train station. The public transportation system encompasses various forms of mass transit such as streetcars, buses, light rail, and trolley. This design also emphasizes non-motorized forms of transportation such as bicycles, rollerblades and scooters.

Transit oriented development is currently a developing trend throughout rapidly growing neighborhoods suffering from traffic congestion. There has been an increased demand for quality walkable neighborhoods alleviating the stress traffic congestion inevitably brings along with an increased interest in smart growth.

There are a number of benefits of transit oriented development. It increases quality of life by creating better places to work, live, and socialize. It affords people the opportunity to improve health by walking and reducing stress. It increases mobility at an affordable cost for everyone. It reduces traffic congestion, car accidents, and dependence on foreign oil. It greatly decreases pollution and sprawl allowing for more green open space.

There are many examples of transit oriented development in urban areas such as Denver and Hong Kong, among others, but it is not a form of development that is exclusive to cities. It is possible to integrate transit oriented development in the suburbs as well. For example, in The New Jersey Department of Transportation in conjunction with NJ TRANSIT have created a smart growth plan called The Transit Village Initiative. The Transit Village Initiative encourages municipalities to revitalize or redevelop using transit oriented development. These municipalities must meet the Transit Village Criteria and complete an application to be designated a Transit Village. There are a number of New Jersey towns that have been included in this transit oriented initiative including Morristown, Rahway, and New Brunswick.

So, what do you think of transit oriented development? Would you be willing to give up your car for public or non-motorized transportation? What factors contribute to your decision? Do you have other good examples of this type of development in your area?

Give your thoughts in the comments.

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1 Chris November 17, 2009 at 3:14 pm

Thank you for mentioning Denver in your article. We are striving to become a town that not only incorporates transit oriented delelopment, but also a town that focuses on locally produced goods and services. Our light rail system and RTD (Regional Transit-bus) System service all areas of the metro area in an efficient and uncomplicated way. Athough I only live 6 miles from the downtown, we do not even drive to events in the city any more, we take light rail. My shopping is restricted to grocery with in a mile and we have the ability to walk. Our future depends on local incorporation of tranportation and use of goods and services. I think the days are gone when I would drive 20 minutes to a mall and try to find parking just support the Big city mall developers. I enjoy the face to face communication with the stationary store owner, struggling to compete with Target or Walmart. At the local whole foods, I seek out the produce grown in the colorado area. Eat local, buy local and save the enviornment- now that is a good thought for today.

2 Pink Robe November 17, 2009 at 6:08 pm

I love the concept, and I hope it gets applied in urban planning as a rule rather than the exception. A friend of mine is living/working in London on a two-year assignment, and blogs about her exploits on a regular basis. She takes transit or walks most of the time and seems to only take cabs when absolutely necessary. She misses us here in Calgary, but doesn’t seem to miss her car. Things are very close together there, and the need for a personal vehicle diminishes significantly. Density is the key and the challenge.

Could I give up my car? For 90% of my in-town trips, yes. I ride my bicycle year-round to get to work, and I should do more of the grocery shopping with it [I have a trailer as well]. For trips to the hardware store [10 km] or recreational opportunities in the mountains I will typically take my car. Transit represents less than 1% of my trips. For me, it is slower than a bicycle or car, and much less convenient. To change this would require much higher density [currently 1 million people in 725 sqkm], with a much wider distribution of businesses around the city, and inter-modal transportation support. I don’t see that happening any time soon.

3 Niccolo Casewit AIA December 9, 2009 at 2:46 pm

These films maybe of great interest to TOD enthusiasts:

I am the co-producer subject matter expert for both of these films and practice architecture in Denver as Environmental Productions Niccolo Casewit Architect AIA

4 Kris December 10, 2010 at 12:55 am

Love this concept! Wish it would catch on here in MN. We purposely live close to our business which happens to be in a suburb, but I would love better transit options and more carefully planned business areas mixed with residential.

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