Local officials who have attended the first three transit-oriented development workshops organized as part of the Tappan Zee Bridge/I-287 corridor project tell MTR that the sessions are worthwhile and have influenced how their municipalities will respond to the massive transit and highway project. So far, the study team has held workshops in Tarrytown, Nyack, and White Plains which were facilitated by the Regional Plan Association, Project for Public Spaces, and Reconnecting America.
During each two-day workshop, local and county officials, business owners, and homeowners learned about successful TOD projects elsewhere in the country, and made field visits to and engaged in visioning exercises around sites that could benefit from TOD. The training covered issues like complete streets, parking, best practices of development near bus and rail stations, and financing. “There’s so much in the training content that every community is struggling with,” RPA’s David Kooris told MTR. “It’s about understanding how to transform regional transportation investment into local gains.”
Local officials praised both the content and the presentation, saying that they had been introduced to new tools and case studies, and that the quality of the presenters was high. Tarrytown Village Administrator Michael Blau cited the tools and concepts introduced as most useful, while others said that meeting with study team members had jump-started their response to the Tappan Zee project.
For example, White Plains Traffic Commissioner Thomas Soyk said that the workshop “provided a platform to push forward” the city’s plans to develop the northwest corner of its central business district as an “access point to downtown” and determine how that area would be served by transit. “For White Plains to have any potential for development going forward, we need to make the best use of our transit access,” Soyk said. Marie Lorenzini, the village of Nyack’s liaison to the Tappan Zee project, said that the Nyack session had prompted the village to form an intra-municipal task force with Clarkstown and South Nyack so that the three municipalities could coordinate their response to the project.
The study team will not finalize the location of new bus rapid transit and commuter rail stations until completion of a “Tier 2 transit analysis” at least 3 years from now, which proved frustrating to some participants. “It’s a good, well-founded program,” Lorenzini said. “But there are no major definitives with which [the presenters are] working in regards to sites.”
Michael Anderson, the project manager for the Tappan Zee/I-287 project, said in an e-mail that at this point, the purpose of the sessions was to build capacity by giving local officials “tools, resources and hands-on exposure to leading-edge land use and planning techniques.” He said he hoped the sessions would “encourage the municipalities to become proactive, and to be prepared to engage with the agencies” when more definite transit plans were in place.
So far, that seems to be happening, which is one reason Tri-State, local elected officials, and Hudson Valley groups had spent years calling for the study to include cooperative land use planning. But it is not clear whether this type of land use training will continue as part of the Tappan Zee project or expand to other state transportation projects. Earlier this year, the Paterson administration announced the release of several Hudson Valley planning grants through the state Smart Growth Cabinet, and NYSDOT Acting Commissioner Stan Gee has said that the agency is committed to a “smart growth and livable communities agenda.” Yet one of NYSDOT’s most promising smart growth efforts — a $25 million corridor planning program — was stripped from the agency’s capital plan because of budget constraints.
Each of the towns will receive a summary report from their session, as well as a final report that extracts lessons from all eight sessions. Five more transit-oriented development workshops are planned for the coming weeks. The Tappan Zee project team will also be holding public open houses on the project next week — June 28 in White Plains and June 30 in West Nyack.