Defining Clear Standards for Transit-Oriented Development

Vienna Town Center Plan

» A new report attempts to quantify the relative merits of development near transit. What value can this tool bring for planners?

Transportation and land use are inextricably linked. Building a new rail line may expand development; new development may expand use of a rail line. The direct connection between the two makes differentiating between cause and effect difficult to measure. Transportation planners frequently make the argument that a new investment will produce new riders, for example, but whether those riders would have come anyway is not a simple question to answer. There is no counter-factual.

Nevertheless, planners have invested decades of considerable work in the pursuit of transit-oriented development (TOD), under the presumption that clustering new housing, offices, and retail will result in rising transit use and, in turn, reduce pollution, cut down on congestion, and improve quality of life. There remains some controversy about the effectiveness of TOD investments

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Facing Funding Shortfalls and Protest, Better Rail for Boston Region is Delayed

Existing and Proposed Transit in Cambridge and Somerville

» Opportunities for rerouting commuter rail via the Grand Junction in Cambridge are criticized by community members who fear increases in pollution. Meanwhile, the long-planned Green Line extension in Somerville is threatened by budget limitations.

Just northwest of Boston, Cambridge and Somerville are some of the nation’s exemplar cities when it comes to promoting transportation alternatives. In Somerville, 48% of the population rides transit, walks, or bikes to work; in Cambridge, 57% do. The explanation likely comes down to a strong commitment to livable streets in both cities, a large student population, high residential densities, community activism against limited-access highways, and big concentrations of jobs both in the traditional office center of Downtown Boston but also in the walkable Kendall Square-MIT and Harvard Square areas, both along the Red Line rapid transit corridor.

Yet, with the exception of the Red Line — extended north of Harvard Square in

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Fairmount Corridor Construction Promotes Better Use of Commuter Lines in Boston

South Station

» Capital investments will do part of the work in expanding use of the regional rail network, but operations is where the real benefits will come.

Boston has one of the nation’s most extensive and well-used commuter rail systems, with twelve lines splayed out from its terminal stations located downtown. But use of those services within the dense core communities of Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville is limited. Despite the fact that the commuter lines pass through those cities as they head out into the suburbs, few residents there choose commuter rail over the subway and bus network, likely because of few stops, limited frequencies of service, and inadequate connections with te rest of the transit network, both in terms of operations and fares.

As in other American cities, this represents a significant under-use of an asset that could play a significant role in upgrading Boston’s transportation network.

With the Fairmount Corridor

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Connecting Montréal to the American Rail Network

A New York-bound route would attract far more passengers than one heading for Boston.

Montréal is one of North America’s most appealing cities and it’s only a few dozen miles from the border. As a result, both American and Canadian politicians have been arguing for the expansion of rail service from the metropolis south into the United States. Yet, after decades of work, little of consequence has actually been completed. But with stimulus funds for high-speed rail soon to be distributed, it’s worth considering what routes would be most appropriate for possible service.

In 2000, at the request of the states of Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Hampshire, the Federal Railroad Administration designated the Northern New England route as an “official” high-speed corridor. This series of lines would include connections between Boston and Portland, Boston and Albany, Springfield and New Haven, and Boston and Montréal. The three states began studying a connection with

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MBTA Moves Forward With Blue Line Extension Planning

Long-planned link between Revere to Lynn, however, still lacks funding source.

Yesterday, the Government of Massachusetts announced that it would sponsor the completion of a planning report on a northeast extension of the MBTA Blue Line. The completion of the Draft Environmental Impact Study, which is a required step on the path to building a major infrastructure project in the United States, will demand about $300,000 in consulting fees. Yet this new guarantee of planning funds in no way ensures the eventual completion of the project, which would stretch from the Blue Line’s existing terminus at Wonderland to Lynn, several miles up the North Shore. Boston’s transit agency is mired in billions of dollars of debt and has a number of projects that are being prioritized over this extension.

The Blue Line opened in 1904 to streetcar operations and was converted to rapid transit technology in 1924. It

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The Site / The Fight

by Yonah Freemark

yfreemark (at) thetransportpolitic (dot) com

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