New Urbanism and transit

NOTE: This is cross-posted as a reply to this post at The Overhead Wire blog.

As a railfan who pines for the resurrection of the South Shore Line’s sister interurbans and Chicago’s once massive streetcar system, and someone who works at the Congress for the New Urbanism, I’ve got to say that CNU XVI in Austin didn’t disappoint where TOD (Transit-Oriented Discussions) were concerned.

The recently concluded congress featured several sessions highlighting the value of, and urgent need for transit to be incorporated into new urbanist projects in cities and suburbs with active transit systems. One in-depth session for advanced practitioners, titled Streetcars as a New Urbanist Tool, was devoted entirely to the importance of streetcars as both people movers and economic engines. Among the concurrent sessions open to all, one focused on the synergy of transit and New Urbanism; another examined how to achieve a balance between transit and design; a third focused on the proper amount of parking for Transit-Oriented Development so you don’t over-supply parking, which of course would dissuade people from taking transit.

There is a keen and growing awareness among CNU and its members that New Urbanism is and must be the “Convenient Remedy” to the inconvenient truth of global warming. It offers the best fully integrated solutions for reducing one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions: Vehicle Miles Traveled. That’s why new CNU Board Chairman Ray Gindroz set out the framework for CNU’s climate initiative at the Sunday Morning Plenary session. He was followed by Doug Farr, who proposed a “2030 Challenge” to reduce VMT 50 percent by 2030. Transit must and will be an integral part of meeting that challenge.

Finally, Seaside and Kentlands tend to get cited as the only examples of New Urbanism but that is deceptive. Those were pioneer projects, but hardly the only ones out there these days. A lot has happened since then. For example, Rockville Town Square in Rockville, MD, won a 2008 Charter Award because it created a compact, walkable urban space (on the site of a failed shopping mall) within walking distance of both Washington Metro and MARC/Amtrak stations.

The 2007 Charter Awards honored Reconnecting America’s book Street Smart: Streetcars and Cities in the Twenty-First Century, and the new Kedzie and Rockwell stations on the Chicago Transit Authority’s Brown (Ravenswood) Line.

Sure, new urbanists can always do more and learn more to incorporate transit into their projects. I think that’s exactly what was happening at the Congress. Now new urbanists and transit/rail advocates need to join forces and push to undo the Bush administration’s transportation policy.


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