Friday, August 7, 2009

Live Above the Train?

Picture above is from a Flickr site on transit-oriented design, which has finally hit California after years of implementation in Europe and other areas of the United States. California has a unique problem of being a famously sprawl-driven state, which now must reconcile its highway-autopian freedom with the realities of overcrowding and overbuilding. Here's a definition of Transit-Oriented Design (TOD), as it has been discussed for years in the planning profession.

This kind of urban planning is fundamentally about linking dense development with public transportation in some form in order to create non-auto dependent lifestyles. It's the polar opposite of suburbia, especially the Orange County type of long, winding cul-de-sac streets off of huge arterials that culminate in distant shopping centers. With no car, it's no food, no clothes, no exercise, no life, with Mom trapped in the driver's seat. I think that scenario has played itself out.

At the Federal level, there has been a recent formal adoption of TOD as public policy that has taken place at the Department of Transportation. However, many cities have used TOD for decades, mostly older cities on the East coast, and many have already implemented it in recent decades on the West coast.

Milwaukie, Oregon is beginning its implementation of light rail community development, but unlike the established model of Portland, which is much denser, this town wants to see much slower and smaller development.

The California challenge is interesting, and requires tremendous investigation and study to implement it appropriately. It's not a matter of just plopping down developments, there must be an integration with a city's General Plan, as well as coordination with regional transit development. Pasadena and South Pasadena have had both good and bad experiences with implementing this concept along the Gold Line route.

Here's an example of a transit study that precedes community development schemes which then become adopted in the General Plan after extensive public involvement.

By the way, Cleveland City Planning Commission has the best online visual glossary of planning terminology and buzzwords I've seen yet. Give it a go, it will clarify many ideas discussed in this blog.