Economically, walkable cities are like Germany, driver-centric cities are like Latvia - Mobility Lab

This is part one of a two-part series on the importance of “transit oriented development” in building economically vibrant places for people.

Land use is the flip side of transit. They have a longer history together than peanut butter and chocolate, or even peanut butter and jelly.

Transportation technology determines how land will be used, but land use also determines how extensively and effectively transportation can be used. For this reason, to get the most out of transit, it is crucial to get land use right, and the best way to do this is through “transit oriented development” (TOD).

TOD is “not just intense land use,” said Tracy Hadden Loh of the Center for Real Estate and Urban Analysis at George Washington University. It is “creating a walkable urban place that is dense and has a mix of uses.”

Loh was speaking at the recent Transit-oriented Development Forum: Catalyzing Development at Metropolitan Washington’s Metro Stations, presented by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG). The forum’s many participants represented local governments from all over the D.C. region, which includes parts of Maryland and Virginia.

Done properly, TOD reduces sprawl, decreases traffic, improves the quality of life for significant numbers of people, and has huge economic benefits. In places where the population is growing (which is in most urban areas on most of the globe), TOD is the only way to prevent massive traffic jams resulting in endless, untenable investments in new and wider roads.

For instance, in Virginia, Interstate 66 is undergoing a $3 billion expansion project. The area will “gain about five or six years of traffic improvement, then we’ll be right back” where we were, predicted Terry Clower, a public-policy professor at director of the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University.

Sprawl has additional hidden costs, such as longer water and sewer lines, Clower noted. And more fire stations, for instance, are needed in sprawling regions.

“I fully appreciate” that a fire truck designed for high rises “is a lot more expensive,” said Clower, “but nowhere near five or six additional fire stations.” Money saved can then be used on a variety of other programs, such as education or improved infrastructure. “We have to think differently for an economically and environmentally sustainable future.”

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