Streetsblog DC has had great coverage of the Rail~Volution conferencing going on this week in DC, with two posts that really jumped out at me (maybe I just love bulleted lists). The first post highlights some lessons learned by WMATA with regard to Metro station area design, and the second looks at nation-wide demographic and attitudinal changes that all favor transit.
… At Rail~Volution on Monday, Harriet Tregoning, director of DC’s Office of Planning, and Christopher Zimmerman, chairman of the Arlington County Board, explained some notable mistakes their cities made along the way.
Here are some of the top lessons learned:
- Don’t build above ground: “In the short term, under-grounding can be very expensive, but in the long term it saves a lot of money,” Zimmerman said. The development that occurs above the station easily pays for the tunnel, and there’s significant savings on maintenance when rails are protected from the elements. But perhaps more important, there’s little difference between a transit line and an Interstate when it comes to fracturing the fabric of the urban environment. “A railroad takes up a lot of space and creates a barrier — something you can’t get across, like a highway,” he said.
- Don’t do transit without housing: The lifeblood of any TOD includes not just retail and office space, but housing, too. One of the most heavily utilized Metro stations in the DC system is Gallery Place, a downtown stop that just 10 years ago was a ghost town. Bringing it back to life wasn’t just about breathing new business into the area. It was about creating an environment that boosted downtown from 1,000 residents to more than 10,000. “Retail doesn’t survive on the 9 to 5 and it creates a safety issue,” Tregoning said. “It doesn’t work to not mix the jobs and housing.”
More after the jump.
- Don’t ignore pedestrians: Transit agencies spend plenty of time making sure their facilities are inviting, but what happens when riders exit the station? “In many, many parts of our city, we didn’t just ignore the pedestrian; we punished the pedestrian,” Tregoning said, showing an image of a man walking a concrete tightrope in a median outside L’Enfant Plaza Metro. “In many ways planning for pedestrians should predate the planning for the transit system. If you ignore the pedestrian, you don’t get the ridership. You don’t get the impact.”
- Focus on the first floor: Creating a sense of place around a transit stop requires street-level activity — and that starts with the surrounding buildings. Funneling folks along the back side of an office complex strips the area of that vitality. “Blank walls are an act of civic vandalism,” Zimmerman said. “This kind of thing has no place in the city.”
- Avoid setbacks and embrace permeability: Permeability isn’t just for storm water engineers; it’s for transit officials, too. Encouraging ground-level retail isn’t productive if it’s hidden from public view behind a wall or separated from walkers by a parking lot or un-tapped open space. Think multiple entrances and easy access for passers-by. Even a bustling apartment building or successful office complex has no impact when it’s a lonely island surrounded by parking. “There’s no sense of place,” Tregoning said of setback buildings. “It’s alienated from its environment.”
- Don’t start too small: Small-scale pilots can be hugely helpful when experimenting with a new idea. But DC made a mistake when it only dipped its toes into bike sharing. The Smart Bike system debuted in 2008 with just 100 bikes at 10 stations. The size meant the initiative never took off. Luckily, with Arlington as a willing partner in bike-share 2.0, the district was able to roll out Capital Bikeshare on a much grander scale. It showed that, in some cases, you’ve got to “Go big, or go home,” Tregoning said. “Bike-share has been phenomenally successful but it was based on a solid failure.”
- Don’t start too big: … At least when it comes to parking. That was the lesson from the large-scale TOD project above the Columbia Heights Metro stop. “One of the big fights in making the transition from a car- to a transit-oriented place is people think you need more parking than you do,” Tregoning said. To serve the million square feet of retail, 1,000 parking spaces were created at a cost of more than $40 million. But even on the day after Thanksgiving, that capacity far exceeds the demand. “On a peak day, 500 spaces are used and 500 spaces are just sitting there,” Tregoning said.
… According to Martin, Millar is right: There is a large and growing audience for more and better public transit. Here are the top five reasons we could soon see a swell of transit advocates.
- Growing population: With the U.S. headed to 341 million residents by 2020 and 400 million by 2040, the population is growing. If the current trend continues, an overwhelming number of them are bound for the cities. “What ultimately will happen is we’ll have these urban villages everywhere,” Martin said. But more people means more cars, and tight budgets mean no new roads. “News flash: Congestion, access and mobility are really going to be challenged,” he added. In that context, public transit will be an obvious answer for new and long-time city dwellers.
- Demographic sea change: We’re facing a profound generational shift and, according to Martin: “The dynamic is aligning with transit big time.”
First, there’s the boomers. There are 76 million Americans in that cohort and nine out of 10 say they want to age in place. “The question isn’t going to be, ‘Are boomers ready for transit?’” Martin said. “The real question is ‘Is transit ready for boomers.’” Lucky for advocates, boomers aren’t a passive bunch. “If you look at boomers, when we were growing up it was a time of plenty,” Martin explained. ”Our values are being in control and changing things we thought should be changed… We transformed society as we passed through it and we’re going to transform transit. We’re going to demand the things we want it to do.”
Gen Y is inclined to transit, too. “Gen Y is much less car centric than other generations,” Martin pointed out. Compared to their elders, folks born between 1982 and 1994 are less eager to get a drivers license, less inclined to purchase a car and less likely to view automobile ownership as a right of passage to adulthood. Some would argue the trend is based on economic need, the result of student loan debt and a tough job market. “I think it’s deeper than that,” Martin said. “Gen Y is hyper connected. They are literally digital natives… Eighty-eight percent want to live in urban settings because they can be hyper-connected.” Gen Y isn’t looking for a dream home; they’re looking for a dream lifestyle and that includes walkable, bikeable, transit-oriented neighborhoods.
- Continued climb in poverty rates: The unfortunate reality is that 43 million Americans lived in poverty in 2009 and that number grew to 46 million in 2010, accounting for approximately 15 percent of the U.S. population. For low-income individuals, owning and operating a car is a disproportionate financial burden that can consume up to 40 percent of a family budget. Public transit provides a more affordable option. “And a major part of workforce competitiveness is that it’s hard to get people to jobs,” Martin said. “There are more jobs available than we have transportation to get people to those jobs. That’s going to be a huge issue moving forward.”
- Green going mainstream: According to SRI research, eight out of 10 people want to live green. (Their behavior, of course, may not meet that aspiration). Many report taking more eco-conscious actions now than they did three years ago. “Where this is headed is, 20 years from now, we’ll be in a post-carbon city stage,” Martin said. “We’re going to be designing cities around green transportation, and carbon units — auto units — will be phased out. We’re going to compete in economic development language against other cities in how green we are.” That’s evident in places like Arlington, Virginia, he said, where SRI’s surveys show access to sustainable transportation options already plays a role in attracting and retaining residents.
- A new consumer craze: Combine the shifting demographics and growing environmental ethic and the result is the “new frugality.” Call it responsible consumerism or just a determination to get the best bang for their buck, but Americans want more out of what they buy. In fact, in many cases, they don’t want to buy anything at all. “The manifestation of this is collaborative consumption,” Martin said. “We’re now more interested in getting access to materials or services, instead of owning them.” Look at the meteoric rise of car sharing. Look at the growing number of websites where people are sharing their homes and personal automobiles. Transit serves the same model, freeing consumers from stuff without cramping their lifestyle.