Making the most of the Washington region's existing transit system by promoting development near underutilized rail transit stations only makes sense, especially at a time when future funding for transportation is uncertain and significant expansions of the transit network are unlikely anytime soon.
That's why the Transportation Planning Board in January applied for a federal grant to identify strategic multimodal transportation improvements needed near rail stations with untapped development potential in order to attract and support housing and job growth there and make transit a more convenient option for more people.
Promoting development near underutilized stations, especially those outside the regional core, can help make the most of the existing transit system by filling empty seats in reverse-commute directions on trains that are currently operating with plenty of available capacity.
Near stations closer to the regional core, a greater balance of housing and job growth can provide opportunities to "sell the same seat twice" -- first to workers commuting to a mixed-use housing and jobs center, and second to people living in the center and boarding the train to commute further along the line.
In August, the Federal Highway Administration announced that it would award the TPB a $200,000 grant to carry out its proposed study, "High Impact Complete Streets Access Improvements for Rail Station Areas in the Washington Region."
The grant will be funded under the highway agency's Transportation, Community, and System Preservation discretionary grant program, or TCSP.
The TCSP program was created in 1999 to support state, local, and regional efforts to plan and implement strategies which improve the efficiency of transportation systems, reduce environmental impacts of transportation, reduce the need for costly future public infrastructure investments, and ensure efficient access to jobs, services, and centers of trade.
TCSP grants are also intended to support efforts to examine development patterns and identify strategies to encourage private sector development patterns which achieve these goals.
Eighty-two other projects in 48 states around the country were awarded grants under the TCSP program this year. The TPB last received a TCSP grant in 1999, the program's first year, to study improvements to local circulation systems in activity centers and to integrate green space into a regional greenways system.
The first phase of this year's TCSP-funded study will include an analysis of existing employment and housing opportunities around all 126 Metrorail and commuter rail stations in the Washington region.
The second phase will identify where there is unused capacity on Metrorail and commuter rail trains during peak commute times, and that information will be used along with the employment and housing analysis to identify, in the third phase of the study, up to 25 station areas that present the greatest opportunities to support new development.
The study's fourth phase will, for each of the 25 selected areas, identify challenges that commuters face in walking or bicycling from rail stations to their jobs or from their homes to rail stations, and it will identify near-term improvements that could make those trips safer and easier.
Finally, in the fifth phase of the study, an inventory of near-term improvements will be compiled to provide planners, local and state departments of transportation, and developers with a "go-to" list of low-cost, high-impact improvements that can be implemented quickly to make it easier to access stations and to make underutilized station areas more attractive for and supportive of development.
This year's TCSP grant complements more than a decade of work at the TPB emphasizing the importance of promoting development closer to transit stations, locating jobs and housing closer together, and improving multimodal transportation options.
In 2006, the TPB established the Transportation/Land-Use Connections (TLC) program to help individual jurisdictions plan small-scale improvements to work toward those objectives. This year's TCSP grant will build on that work by carrying out a comprehensive study of all of the region's rail station areas. It will also build on recent work by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority to identify physical infrastructure improvements and policies and programs to encourage travelers to access Metrorail stations by modes other than private vehicles.
Given the uncertainty of future funding for transportation, making the most of the region's existing transit system by promoting development near underutilized rail stations only makes sense. The "go-to" list of low-cost, high-impact bicycle and pedestrian improvements near underutilized rail transit stations that will be developed by the Transportation Planning Board in the coming year will help developers and state and local transportation agencies implement improvements that will attract and support new development near rail stations and encourage ridership on routes and in directions with unused capacity.