BRT and positive developmental impact

By Cheryl Thole

One of the more interesting areas of research on Bus Rapid Transit that I’ve worked on relates to land use and the relationship between the two. At the National Bus Rapid Transit Institute (NBRTI), my colleague, Victoria Perk, and I have both spent time working on this area, yet we each focused on different aspects. Victoria has headed an effort that includes modeling to quantify the economic impact, specifically in Pittsburgh along the Busway, while I’ve investigated some of the local policies and practices that have the potential for impacting development along BRT corridors and the question of perceived permanence of the transit mode (which is often gives light rail the edge).

Since our results have been published as two separate reports we thought it best to “blog” it to you as such, and seeing as I’m the one writing this blog you can guess what part of the research you will be able to read about today.

Many of us in the industry have often heard about developmental impacts (think…$$$) resulting from the implementation of light rail systems. Given that BRT is somewhat similar to light rail in its ability to operate on its own dedicated right of way, provide fast service at competitive speeds, and offer high carrying capacities, we thought it only made sense to look at the different policies and practices that may impact developmental potential in cities where both light rail and BRT operate (or will be implemented) and if these practices include both modes. We took a close look at Los Angeles, Ottawa, Boston, New York, Baltimore and Pittsburgh.

The different types of local policies and practices we looked into included local land use plans, zoning, and capital improvement programs; financial and non‐financial incentives (e.g., density bonuses, tax incentives, streamlined development application process, loan support etc.); the structure of tax revenues for local jurisdictions; and, experiences of the transit agency and other local institutions.

Some question whether the significant development along the Boston Silver Line has occurred because of the BRT or because the surrounding area was slated for redevelopment. This line of thinking may be missing a more important point…that the city included BRT in their policies and plans and labeled it as a rapid transit mode capable of supporting both development and the resulting increased demand for transit.

It was also found that parking mitigation measures may have a positive impact on development. In cities such as Boston, Ottawa and New York, measures have been implemented in an effort to increase transit ridership and decrease congestion. Although these policies may not have been implemented in a direct effort to encourage transit-oriented development, they have the potential to result in increased transit demand and greater density development around transit stations.

When evaluating policies that encourage economic development and whether or not they are equally applied to both BRT and LRT, we found the following:

  • In Baltimore, the establishment of Maryland Base Realignment and Closing (BRAC) zones supports rail development. Bus Rapid Transit has not been included in any incentive programs or policies.
  • Along the Orange Line in Los Angeles, transit-oriented development has not been significant, yet a great deal of development has occurred at the North Hollywood station where both rail and BRT stations are located. There are many incentives available to developers, but public demand and developer appeal will determine which areas are developed in the future.
  • In New York City, there are no specific incentives for BRT or LRT – future plans and development seem to favor mass transit in general. Environmental impacts may become a deciding factor of which system utilizes the possible benefits.
  • There are no specific incentive programs or incentives for corridor‐based development in Pittsburgh, but the passage of the Transit Revitalization Investment District (TRID) Act laid the foundation for TODs to be implemented. The legislation has no specific qualifier that would exclude BRT or LRT.

Development along BRT corridors has often been encouraged through a variety of land use policies or practices that have been established and adopted by local governing agencies or by other contributing organizations. This means that a particular city’s approach to its transit culture has the ability to shape and determine whether or not development occurs and if it will be successful. These policies and the local climate may be as important of a factor as the issue of permanence of a transit system.

What do you think?

To read more about this report, please visit our website and click on the Research link. Feel free to browse all of the other resources and stay tuned for our next installment, Part II of Land Use.

Cheryl Thole is senior research associate of the National Bus Rapid Transit Institute, Tampa, FL.

One Response to “BRT and positive developmental impact”

  1. Intriguing article. I know I?m a little late in posting my comment but the article was to the point and just the information I was looking for. I can?t say that I agree with all you mentioned but it was emphatically fascinating! BTW?I found your site through a Google search. I?m a frequent visitor to your blog and will return again soon.