Monday, May 22, 2006

Walking and Transit Oriented Development

I'm going to tie together two threads on separate blogs in this post:

The first, on Portland Transport, is this: How Far Will You Walk to Transit?

The second, on Blue Oregon, is this: What would it look like if, instead of paying unwarranted “compensation” to landowners who want to perpetuate the unsustainable post-World War II suburban sprawl model, we revised the land use laws to encourage more light rail oriented development so more people have the choice of living that way in the rapidly emerging era of high priced petroleum?

The first question has always intrigued me. It seems to have different anwers depending on how you ask it.

Is the question, how far away can you build really transit-dependent development? That is, buildings with no on-site parking requirements, where presumably the lions share of their occupants take transit, walk or bike to and fro? This might seem to be a third-of-a-mile radius.

Is the question, how far away can you build developments that are transit-oriented, but not perhaps 100% transit-dependent? This would seem to be more like a half-mile walking radius.

Is the question, how far might somebody conceivably walk from their house to transit, without beginning to think seriously of another alternative? If the scenery is interesting along the way, this would seem to be more of an average one-mile walking radius.

...but some people just like to walk. So, there are probably larger distances that will be reported, too.

As for the second question, there's two main tools that can be used to get at this issue.

1) The first is to supply the transit. There are only a few light rail lines so far in Oregon. Back in the 1920s, there used to be many more, as well as electric interurban lines and other commuter and passenger rail lines, but right now they're all in Portland. First off, right away, more need to be built, opened and operated. Central Oregon could use some service (in the Bend/Madras/etc. area). Southern Oregon could use a line or two or three (in the Grants Pass/Central Point/Medford/Ashland/Eagle Point/etc. area). Eugene is building a BRT (bus rapid transit, buses running in dedicated Right Of Way) system to connect it with Springfield, but I'd suggest that it could use more. As could Corvallis/Albany/Salem.

2) The second is to supply the land for development. How? Zoning. Most zoning laws are artificial restrictions on the maximum level of development and use allowable on any given parcel of land. Single-family neighborhoods are not built simply because it is "what the market demands." Rather, they are built because that is what the local governments zone the land for. So, if you want higher-density development near transit, oriented towards transit so that its occupants use transit, then you zone the land for such and include a design review overlay that has specifications pertaining to the provision of walking, bicycling and community amenities that allow for a transit-oriented development.

It's not rocket science. Most of the older towns and cities in Oregon were built according to these principles, from about the 1870s through the 1920s. It made sense then and it makes sense now. And not just in Oregon. Throughout the West Coast, throughout America, throughout the world.

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