Transit-Oriented Communities: A Blueprint for Washington State
In October 2009, GGLO, in partnership with the non-profit advocacy organizations Futurewise and Transportation Choices Coalition, published a report called Transit-Oriented Communities: A Blueprint for Washington State. The Blueprint is a vision and action plan for promoting transit-oriented communities (TOC)—neighborhoods that give people greater access to housing, jobs, shopping, and recreation without relying on a personal vehicle—a land use pattern leads to lower cost of living and higher quality of life for people, and long-term sustainability for the planet. The purpose of the Blueprint to provide guidance and inspiration for community at large, and also to serve as an advocacy manual for new legislation that will promote exemplary TOC in cities throughout the Puget Sound Region.
To purchase a printed copy, please contact Futurewise.
Transit-Oriented Communities: A Blueprint for Washington State is comprised of five sections, each of which is summarized below.
The sustainability of our cities—as measured by both the quality of life they provide today, and the long-term environmental protection they promise to future generations—will determine the future of our planet. Considering the host of social and environmental challenges we currently face—including global warming, air quality concerns, water scarcity, food and energy security, poverty and declining social equity—the global trend toward urbanization demands that cities will need to be a part of the solution.
New transit investments offer more than a means of moving people from one point to another; they can also be an opportunity to support, and in some cases, create communities by opening up new opportunities for people to gain access to, from, and within the neighborhood. By integrating land use, transportation, and housing policies to foster vibrant and safe mixed-use communities where residents, employees, and visitors can walk, bicycle, or take transit to reach their destinations, cities can continue to grow in a manner that is healthy for both people and the planet. And perhaps most importantly, if done well, this growth is an opportunity not a sacrifice, because the end result will be great urban places for people. Such is the vision of transit-oriented communities (TOC).
There is an extensive and growing body of published research providing evidence that well-designed TOC can lead to a range of substantial social and environmental benefits. In brief, TOC have the potential to:
- Promote health by encouraging walking and bicycling, cutting air pollution, and reducing motor vehicle accidents;
- Lower household expenses for both transportation and housing;
- Reduce municipal infrastructure costs;
- Provide a high return on public investment in transit infrastructure;
- Help meet the growing demand for walkable neighborhoods;
- Curb land consumption and thereby help conserve working farms and forests, and protect natural ecosystems and water quality; and
- Cut energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions associated with both transportation and the built environment.
In order to successfully promote high-performing TOC that provide such benefits, we must first understand the opportunities within our existing and planned transit infrastructure. Every station area is unique. A half-mile station area may encompass several distinct neighborhoods, topographies, and a range of zoning and development patterns. Nevertheless, for the purposes of measuring the performance of individual station areas relative to policy goals, it is helpful to develop a comparative framework—a matrix of station area types. Using the expanded light rail system in the central Puget Sound region as an example, the following typology uses the attributes of existing infrastructure, the most common zoned land uses, and zoning capacity to classify five station area types, presented roughly in order of land use intensity: Core, Center, Village, Commuter, and Destination.
The overarching goal of high-performing TOC is to provide housing and transportation choices that give residents access to homes, jobs, recreation opportunities, stores, and community services to meet their daily needs, without having to rely on a motorized personal vehicle. This has the long-term result of increasing the quality of life and reducing the cost of living for residents, lessening the environmental impacts of development, and reducing transportation and energy-related greenhouse gas emissions. Plans, policies and regulations that meet the following seven performance goals would enable a high-capacity transit station area to become a high-performing TOC.
- Bicycle and Pedestrian Connectivity: High-performing station areas will provide a complete pedestrian and bicycle network to facilitate safe non-motorized vehicle transportation and promote easy access to transit.
- Housing affordability: High-performing TOC will provide housing affordable to a broad range of incomes to accommodate and encourage a diverse, mixedincome community.
- Residential and employment density: High-performing TOC will provide ample opportunities to accommodate future population and employment growth in order to support transit use, encourage economic development and social equity, promote a healthful urban environment, support businesses and amenities within the station area, and reduce the potential adverse environmental impacts of growth.
- Mix of Uses: High-performing TOC will include a range of uses to provide access and choices in housing, employment, stores and community services to meet daily needs, and recreational opportunities to create a complete and accessible community.
- Green infrastructure and Open space: High-performing TOC will provide ample park and open space, public areas, and recreational opportunities to meet the needs of a community with a moderate to high residential and employment density, and will provide for green spaces and strengthen the functioning of natural systems.
- Parking: High-performing TOC will include parking policies and requirements that encourage housing affordability, safe pedestrian streetscapes, and good urban design and form.
Urban design: High-performing TOC will feature welldesigned buildings, streetscapes and public spaces that support pedestrian safety and promote neighborhood character and values.
Effective planning for TOC will require changes in the land use and transportation regulatory and financing framework from the local through the federal level. In brief, public policies, regulations, and incentives in station areas should:
- Encourage optimal performance on all measures in all station areas;
- Provide support and incentives for high-performing TOC; and
- Plan for high-performing TOC along future high-capacity transit investments.
The following recommendations outline pivotal policy changes at the local, regional, state and federal level needed to foster more and higher-performing TOC throughout the state.
- Conduct sub-area planning for TOC.
- Encourage meaningful public engagement in TOC planning.
- Plan and fund for public facilities and services within TOC.
- Develop strong and innovative land use regulations in TOC.
- Reform parking requirements and programs.
- Encourage innovative housing types in TOC.
- Link affordable housing programs to TOC.
- Consider TOC as TDR receiving sites.
- Maximize the potential for high-performing TOC along future high-capacity transit alignments.
- Support local station area planning at the regional level.
- Incorporate the measures from this report into the regional transportation planning organization guidelines and principles.
- Prioritize funding for high-capacity transit and high-performing TOC in regional transportation plans.
- Define high-performing TOC in statute to assist in planning for high functioning communities.
- Reflect regional transportation priorities in state transportation funding decisions.
- Authorize fiscal home rule.
- Provide more tools for long-term infrastructure funding and greater state funding.
- Provide expanded taxing authority for transit funding.
- Adopt legislation to implement the Federal American Clean Energy and Security Act.
- Pass comprehensive federal clean energy and climate change legislation.
- Reauthorize the Federal Transportation Funding Act including improved federal transportation policies.
- Provide federal technical assistance for TOC planning and implementation.
To realize the benefits of TOC, we must all work together. There is no single policy solution that will bring about more vibrant and high-performing TOC across Washington State; rather, it will take many actions at all levels to create the regulatory and funding framework to allow more high-performing TOC to emerge. It will take understanding and support of these issues by a broad array of interests, including neighbors, businesses, planning staff, elected officials, and the advocacy community.