transit oriented development

Courtesy of Smart Growth America comes a review of a new Transportation Research Board (TRB) report on the role of planning and transportation on carbon emissions.  The report is titled TRB Special Report 298: Driving and the Built Environment: Effects of Compact Development on Motorized Travel, Energy Use, and CO2 Emissions. While this blog focuses on transportation there is no doubt that transportation policy and land development, especially housing models, are deeply interconnected.  The history of American sprawl, suburban development and exurban expansion are deeply based on the fact that American policy for an entire century was based on building roads and making individual home ownership a priority.

Geoff Anderson of Smart Growth America summarized the conclusion succinctly:

Because the transportation sector accounts for nearly a third of greenhouse gas emissions and 70 percent of our oil use, we have to find a way to reduce the amount each of us has to drive each day, especially as population grows toward 400 million.

Market research shows that a majority of future housing demand lies in smaller homes and lots, townhouses, and condominiums in neighborhoods with nearby access to jobs, activities and public transportation. The researchers note that demographic changes, shrinking households, rising gas prices, lengthening commutes and cultural shifts all play a role in that demand.

While demand for such smart-growth development is growing, the authors note that government regulations, government spending, and transportation policies still favor sprawling, automobile-dependent development. Changing those policies should play a role in addressing climate and energy issues, the report concludes.

Developing or redeveloping community to feature new more dense housing and mixed use communities has a positive effect on transit.  It is hard and impracticable to develop public transportation in areas that are not dense.  Moreover, the report also points out that such development has also positive effects on land use in terms of environmental effects, construction of infrastructure like sewers and telecommunications, and prevention of sprawl.  In addition, denser communities could potentially have positive social effects as Jane Jacobs would observe.

There are hurdles to such construction, as the report points out, because American and state policies are not geared toward the development of such neighborhoods.  However, developing new mixed-use communities with multi-modal transit are two parts of the same solution.  Building dense communities is useless and building transit without a community is equally so.  America is waking up the insanity of its transportation and housing policies in light of climate change and the housing foreclosure crisis.  We cannot expect Phoenixes and Las Vegases to spring up again, it is time to build new communities that are focused on walkability, public transit, and places where people can still own their own houses, but do not necessarily have a huge back yard with it.