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Phoenix's example and the lessons of Tempe and Mesa

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Phoenix's light rail line is proving to be a boon for advocates of improved transit opportunities and transit-oriented development in particular.

On Saturday, Sept. 19, the New York Times national section had a lengthy article (In Phoenix, Weekend Users Make Light Rail a Success) confirming what research at the Center for Transit-Oriented Development has predicted: Destinations matter.

"The rail was projected to attract 26,000 riders per day, but the number is closer to 33,000, boosted in large part by weekend riders," the article notes. "Only 27 percent use the train for work, according to its operator, compared with 60 percent of other public transit users on average nationwide."

Phoenix's light rail line runs 20 miles from central Phoenix to Mesa and Tempe. The Times found the line is used largely by people going to restaurants, bars, ball games and cultural events downtown.

In May, the Center for Transit-Oriented Development released its white paper, "Destinations Matter: Building Transit Success," which analyzed the performance of 19 transit lines to better understand the factors contributing to high ridership. The conclusion? Connecting destinations is key, and that the funding decision-making process needs to take into consideration a fuller range of factors that enhance ridership.

On Tuesday, Sept. 22, the Arizona State newspaper published "Study: Tempe land values increasing near light rail," a report on the findings of doctoral student Katherine Kittrell.

Kittrell's research confirmed that mixed-use buildings that incorporate residential, retail and office space are the type of transit-oriented developments that lead to increased land value.

Along Phoenix's light rail line, the greatest increase in land values was around stations in Tempe, where the city has adopted progressive standards that encourage transit-oriented development. Meanwhile, properties around stations in the city of Mesa actually declined in value. The reason? Mesa zoning prohibits the type of mixed-use projects that benefit most from being close to transit.

“It’s really obvious that what Tempe is doing is working,” Kittrell told the Arizona State newspaper.

Last November, the Center for Transit-Oriented Development released it report, "Capturing the Value of Transit," which includes a survey of studies evaluating  the impact of transit on surrounding real estate. Those studies found that transit can generate a significant amount of value for nearby property owners.

"Transit creates a rationale for where density should be allowed, which means that cities are more likely to establish higherdensity zoning near transit, and local residents and business owners are more likely to support more intensive infill development," the report notes. "Many cities are actively re-zoning land around transit to support higher density development, which can increase the value of development opportunities. The enhanced ability to obtain entitlements for more intensive development projects can also reduce the risk and cost for a developer, while simultaneously increasing the potential revenues from the project. New development near transit can take advantage of lower parking requirements, and consequently lower development costs."

Without those zoning changes, as Mesa demonstrates, the value of having property near transit is lost.