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U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

Land Use Policy

Transit benefits from maintaining and extending the pre-automobile design of American cities; that is, a mixture of land uses within compact corridors easily served by transit lines. Many cities have zoning ordinances and subdivision regulations that do not permit such development to be constructed, not even in areas that already are transit-oriented. Modifying land use policies to permit growth that is concentrated around transit nodes and corridors will help to maintain and increase transit's base of riders in the future.

At the metropolitan scale, policies which eliminate barriers to in-fill development and concentrated growth in central areas well-served by transit can increase transit use. When major investments such as rail lines or busways are planned, careful attention to station-area land uses can have long-term payback. At a finer scale, transit-oriented development consists of land uses which are pedestrian-friendly.

Station-area Development

There is a tendency to site rail or busway stops in areas that do not have much commercial activity. Former rail rights-of-way are frequently located in industrial areas (since industries wanted to have railroad access). However, it is much easier to increase development where there is already a solid base. Therefore, selecting an appropriate stop location is important.

The OC Transpo (Ottawa) has had success in siting Transitway stations in shopping malls. Over time, as more passengers arrive by transit, land can be converted from parking use to increased development. Developers can create direct connections from the station to the mall. Even without a busway, shopping malls can be ideal focal points for transit stations. The mall is a relatively large concentration of both employment and shopping trip attractions. Transit riders can conveniently stop to do shopping on their way to work, or between transfers. The transit operator can negotiate use of under-utilized mall parking spaces for transit park and ride.

  [Superstop at an Orlando shopping mall.]

Orlando's Lynx system has created Superstops at major shopping malls. Buses stop at loading areas close to the mall entrance. Amenities include shelters, system information, bike racks, and a guide to mall stores.

Although Park and Ride lots can be an important method of providing access to transit stations, they sometimes conflict with transit-oriented development. Parking structures are expensive. Large surface parking lots can make walking to transit unpleasant.

Design Details

An environment which is pedestrian-friendly is also transit friendly. Narrow sidewalks next to high-speed travel lanes are not pleasant for walking. Walkers prefer slower traffic, on-street parking or street trees, wide and shaded sidewalks, sidewalk furniture such as benches, and shops at the ground level. Zoning regulations can be changed to require these amenities in transit corridors. For example, Portland, OR requires shops with windows on the ground floor in its downtown area, even if the structure is a parking garage.

Parking regulations can be modified to encourage location behind buildings and to reduce the total number of spaces required. Minimum parking requirements discourage intensification of development and discourage public transit use. Shared parking agreements can help reduce the number of vacant lots, which provide barriers for pedestrians and create a less secure environment.

Street design which not only provides transit priority but is also friendly to pedestrians is important. Traffic calming techniques can be designed into new roads or retrofitted into existing ones.

Residential Area Design

Many new housing districts are difficult to serve by public transportation. Land use regulations could be changed to require the provision of cut-throughs linking cul-de-sacs so that bicyclists and walkers could have direct access to transit routes. Such areas can also be designed so that transit can penetrate within while preventing undesirable cut-through traffic.