A transit toolbox


Courtesy morguefile


By Marilyn Skolnick

After more than five decades of urban sprawl, many communities are now completely dependent on the automobile. Many of us live in one community, but  work, shop, worship, and play elsewhere.

But a new vision of what constitutes a desirable community is emerging.

Communities that link their transportation investments to land use become compact, pedestrian-friendly areas. They feature open-spaces and other appealing private and public uses of the land, and they include easy access to public transportation. Air quality improves because of decreased reliance on automobiles—and everyone enjoys increased access to appealing regional destinations.

In well-planned communities, the cost of commuting and of basic infrastructure, such as sewer, water, roads, and schools goes down, while at the same time, property values, and building occupancy rates go up. And with the rising price of gas, there are now substantial economic incentives for transportation-friendly land development.

One organization in our state that is working for smart growth is Sustainable Pittsburgh, a public-policy advocacy group that promotes transit-oriented community development, which balances the need for transportation with the wise use of land. The group sponsored a conference that introduced A Toolbox for Transit-Oriented Communities in Southwestern Pennsylvania. This study and its recommendations for smart growth was based on three years of community input and research conducted by the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission and Port Authority of Allegheny County.

The Toolbox contains the following suggestions for transit-friendly design:

  • Street design should strike a balance between vehicle and pedestrian access. The network of interconnected streets should be configured to allow safe movement by pedestrians, as well as efficient movement by vehicles. Central streets must be able to accommodate various modes of transit, such as buses, trolleys, or commuter trains.
  • Frequency of transit service should be determined by population density. If a town has seven housing units per acre, bus service should be available at a frequency of one bus every half hour. A lower population density can support more infrequent service and park-and-ride service, while a higher one, of about 10 to 15 units per acre, would require stops every 10 minutes.
  • Retail space should be approximately 50 to 60 employees per acre for mass transit to be feasible.

To learn more, download a copy of the toolbox at www.spcregion.org/latest/TransitVision_Toolbox_FullReport.pdf.  


Marilyn Skolnick serves as co-chair of the Chapter's transportation and land use committe.