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Ten Principles for Successful Development Around Transit


In the early years of the 20th century, transit dominated travel in cities—and, by necessity, development was clustered near transit. In fact, transit and land use were so closely connected that private transit operators often developed real estate and used the profits to subsidize transit operations. By the close of the 20th century, however, the automobile had become the dominant means of travel in urban centers, cities with extensive transit networks were in decline, and proximity to transit was most often an afterthought in development. Once the norm in urban settings, development around transit became the exception. And, as accessibility for automobiles became the focus of development, with no regard for the location of transit, the basic principles for developing around transit fell into disuse, and were eventually lost.

Recently, however, new trends have emerged that favor cities, transit, and development around transit. A number of major cities with extensive transit networks—including Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, and Seattle—are enjoying increases in overall population and even greater gains in downtown areas, where transit is most accessible. It is even possible in some cities to get by without a car on most days.

Chicago, one of the nation’s leading transit cities, has seen a reversal of its long-term population decline: between 1990 and 2000, the city experienced a 4 percent overall gain in population, and the downtown population jumped by 51 percent. Other older cities with rich transit traditions, such as Baltimore, Cleveland, and Philadelphia, gained population downtown, the center of their transit systems, while continuing to lose population overall. Older and newer suburbs—Palatine, out­side Chicago; Richardson, outside Dallas; and Englewood, outside Denver—have refocused their attention on developing, or redeveloping, around new or mature transit stations.

What does it take to make such developments work? The principles presented here can serve as reminders for communities, designers, and developers who may have forgotten them. For those in newer, automobile-oriented communities, who have experienced nothing else, these principles can serve as a checklist for the development of pedestrian-scale communities that will be suitable for public transportation, either now or in the future. The principles will also be useful for transit agencies and others engaged in new transit projects, to ensure that nearby development will generate sufficient numbers of riders to support transit, and that transit will indeed enhance the community.