Planning and Public Input Key Factors For Transit-Oriented Development & Rail Projects

A May 20 Sustainable Cities Network article examined the factors that led to successful transit oriented development (TOD) and light rail projects in areas such as Denver, Atlanta, and Charlotte, and concluded that early planning are citizen input are critical components.  Excerpts from the article are presented below:

Denver, Colorado, West Colfax W Line Project

The W  Line connects Denver’s West Colfax neighborhood with the rail line’s mixed use Union Station hub.

Two major themes are echoed by transportation professionals working with communities on bringing mass transit to their neighborhoods: the need for 1) forethought and 2) cooperation. Scott Reed, Denver Regional Transportation District’s (RTD) assistant general manager of Communications, discussed both.

“One of the main things,” he said, “is a long lead time in the planning process. We found that having a more integrated approach where we dovetail our planning with municipalities and communities and in turn seek partnerships with the development community to take a look at and participate actively in planning and zoning processes can result in the best possible community centered around access to transit.”

Atlanta, Georgia, Atlanta BeltLine Project

The Atlanta BeltLine project will connect dozens of neighborhoods (some isolated and historically segregated) around a 22-mile transit, trail, and park corridor surrounding downtown Atlanta by 2030.  The corridor will replace an old rail system.

“We were mandated legislatively to have a community engagement framework,” Atlanta Beltline Inc. Communications and Media Relations Manager Jenny Odom said. “So what we did over the course of some years is broke the BeltLine into 10 sub-areas and went to each area and worked with each community, specifically about things they would like to see in their neighborhood. We developed 10 sub-area master plans, all adopted by city council. We’re now working on a unified plan to bring elements together.” …

“For the most part, the railroad was a dividing line between neighborhoods,” Odom said. “So to have this reunification of these different types of neighborhoods as [old rail] tracks come out, these neighborhoods all of a sudden coming together across socioeconomic lines, is really powerful.”

The BeltLine master plan also has an affordable housing component that requires more than 5,500 units of affordable housing in the vicinity of the project funded via tax allocation district bonds. While not quite 1,000 units have been developed, Odom said the city is working on a plan to pick up the pace.

Charlotte, North Carolina, Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS)

CATS oversees transit throughout the City of Charlotte, including bus and light rail systems.

According to CATS Public and Community Relations Manager Krystel Green, [the transit system’s 5-year bus service plan]includes “intensive community education and feedback that engages residents, neighborhoods, businesses and employers. … With each plan, we engage the community and get citizen feedback. It is important to CATS to work with citizens and understand how their lives will be impacted.”

The city of Charlotte extends similar principles to its work with the community on its light rail which is in the process of adding an extension that runs through several residential areas. “CATS does a great deal of work with citizens in the beginning stages … to collect their feedback,” Green said. The city even has an “Art-In-Transit” team that has partnered with neighborhood schools, with children providing pictures, poems and prose that will be incorporated in station designs.