For those who have never read contributions by Chuck Wolfe at the Seattle P-I’s City Brights blog, you’re missing out. Chuck co-authored the Barriers Report (PDF) on TOD (transit-oriented development) and is a land-use attorney who knows his stuff about transit’s role in planning the urban environment. Last week, we had a few big stories about the City of Seattle’s initial cease-and-desist order of a private parking lot in the Rainier Valley and then McGinn’s subsequent moratorium on that policy. Chuck has a piece out weighing in on the issue’s relevance to distinguishing between ‘nodes‘ and ‘places‘ in planning a transit-oriented community.
More below the jump.
The distinction is important because successfully fostering TOD requires having light rail stations adopt dual roles of not just being nodes, but places as well:
The role of transit in linking individual places with the broader region means that development around light rail stations performs a dual function as both a “node” within the regional transit system and a “place” in its own right. “Place” refers to the neighborhood function of residences, businesses, entertainment destinations and other synergistic uses that combine to make station areas vibrant, pleasant, livable places. “Node” refers to the role of stations as an access point for commuters arriving and departing by train, bus, car, bicycle, and foot.
Chuck makes a point that a “synergistic transit system” fosters transport access and ability to nodes while the places help accommodate residents, patrons, visitors, etc. In theory, the balance between the two is a major component of making a livable transit-oriented community. For those who’ve opposed multi-space parking lots, like Sara Nikolic, the balance is even more significant, because those accessing light rail stations as nodes are also primarily patrons of the places that serve the stations. On the other hand, those who’ve supported the availability of parking have emphasized the stations’ roles as merely access nodes for commuters, where most riders would come from outside the station walkshed instead of being the place patrons.
This tension played out along Seattle’s Link light rail alignment, with many people displeased by the lack of parking at stations, and reflected in the recent mayoral move to relax parking enforcement. In other regions, a common complaint is most transit agencies have little interest in stations as anything but “nodes” and parking centers because they want to maximize ridership from park and ride facilities. Sound Transit and the City of Seattle intentionally avoided accommodation of large quantities of parking at stations because they wanted to encourage stations to develop as “places” – synergistic communities of people, jobs, retail and other amenities. Tukwila Station is the lone exception, where a 600-space parking lot surrounds the station site to serve park-and-ride users.
Chuck goes on to implicitly reason that not all light rail stations can possibly attract dense smart growth-type development, which is why park and rides can “help reduce pressure for other, place-oriented stations to function primarily as ‘nodes’.” For low-density areas outside city centers where transit service is shoddy, the node-dominant stations have a more prominent role in attracting people who are more inclined to drive or bike to a station first. Progressively, stations closer to the city center are more balanced towards fostering the places that provide amenities, housing, offices, restaurants, etc.– ultimately the destinations of rail riders.
In Southeast Seattle, the parking debacle is proof that there’s a lot of contention over what this proper balance should be as Link travels further out from the downtown core. However, as Chuck says, there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach that can be warranted for application. As we’ve said once before and again, the current situation is fairly ideal as the existing lots in the Valley are non-public ones that could disappear without much political effort to salvage them. Temporally speaking, however, the long-term goal is to ensure that the TOD that is prospected for light rail stations is maintaining that balance between ‘nodes and places.’ There’s much more on Chuck’s take here.