Proposed Capital Program Bolsters Transit and Smart Growth in Suffolk County

The proposed 2015-2017 Suffolk County Capital Program includes funding that would help the Ronkonkoma Hub TOD project take another step forward. | Image: Newsday

The proposed 2015-2017 Suffolk County Capital Program includes funding that would help the Ronkonkoma Hub TOD project take another step forward. | Image: Newsday

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone proposed a three-year, $789 million capital program last week, which offers a blueprint of priorities for the second half of his first term in office. Although the bulk of the plan focuses on waste water management needs, advocates for sustainable transportation, smart growth and transit-oriented development have much to be happy about.

In a letter accompanying the 2015-2017 program’s release, County Executive Bellone highlights the need to diversify Suffolk County’s transportation system, saying “we need to make it easier and safer for people to travel around Suffolk County, but we cannot grow our economy by simply adding more cars to the road…creating a system which allows residents to move around without having to get in their automobiles.” Some projects that will help ensure Bellone’s rhetoric becomes reality include:

Transit Oriented Development/Smart Growth: In addition to doubling the Downtown Revitalization Program to $500,000, the Program also includes $2.5 million for infrastructure improvements that support workforce housing in downtowns throughout Suffolk County. The funding is available for sidewalks, sewage treatment plants, landscaping and other projects integral to the success of affordable housing projects. The plan also helps the Ronkonkoma Hub project move forward by including $25 million for sewers to support the 1,450-unit TOD project at the Ronkonkoma LIRR station. “Jumpstart Suffolk” also received $2.5 million to fund projects that support place-making, mixed-use housing development and environmental sustainability.

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Transportation Absent From Malloy’s State of the State, But Not His Budget

Governor Malloy didn't mention transportation in his State of the State address, but did propose a budget with new transportation initiatives. | Photo: Brian Pounds, Connecticut Post

Governor Malloy didn’t mention transportation in his State of the State address, but did propose a budget with new transportation initiatives. | Photo: Brian Pounds/Connecticut Post

Last week, Governor Dannel Malloy delivered a snow-delayed State of the State address focused on his plans for tax relief, education, and economic development. It was so focused on those plans, actually, that it did not include a single word on the topic of transportation. But the Governor’s proposed midyear budget, presented to the General Assembly that same day, tells a different story.

In fact, the Governor’s proposed budget includes several new transportation initiatives:

  • A $7 million predevelopment fund for transit-oriented development, to be administered by the Office of Policy and Management. The fund will likely first be used to assist communities that want to build around stations on the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield Line and CTfastrak bus rapid transit. The budget would also allow ConnDOT to hire employees to work on TOD.
  • 75 new engineers, as well as new ConnDOT positions focused on speeding up project delivery.
  • A $1.5 million “Safety and Maintenance Program” developed in response to the May derailment on the New Haven Line.

In a triple win for state taxpayers, the budget includes no new fare hikes, no cuts to rail and bus operations, and no transfers out of the Special Transportation Fund. The $7 million predevelopment fund is particularly welcome considering TSTC and other advocates have called for a formal TOD program for years. Responding to this component of the budget, Howard Rifkin of the Partnership for Strong Communities (an affordable housing advocacy group) praised the Governor for “ensuring that development in and around transit stops includes mixed-income housing for our workforce,” and called the fund “good news for the future of CTfastrak and the Springfield-to-New Haven commuter rail line.”

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Emissions from Car-Dependent Suburbs Underscore the Need for Compact, Transit-Oriented Development

GHG-rings

Major urban centers appear as green-yellow holes surrounded by rings of red suburbs. | Map:  Environmental Science & Technology

The findings of a recent University of California, Berkeley study serve as yet another stark reminder that the suburban sprawl model of development is unsustainable. The report and corresponding interactive map, compiled by the CoolClimate Network , a division of UC Berkeley’s Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory, calculate the carbon emissions for the average household in almost every United States zip code – with dark green indicating comparatively low emissions, moving up to light green, yellow, orange and then red indicating the highest concentration of emissions.

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State Funds Allocated to Support Transit Oriented Development Vision in Brookhaven, a Tri-State/One Region TOD Grantee

The Town of Brookhaven, New York has been working to support development and revitalize its Greater Bellport neighborhood, one of the most economically distressed communities on Long Island. Last year, Tri-State Transportation Campaign and the One Region Funders’ Group awarded $48,500 to the town to further these efforts, and the town is already seeing dividends. Last [...]

How Can Sustainable Transportation Practices Mitigate Climate Change?

The Fifth Assessment Report on Climate Change from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) makes it undeniably clear that climate change is real, and it’s our fault. Scientists are now 95 percent certain that human influence has been the dominant cause of global warming since the mid-20th century, up from 90 percent certainty in [...]

TOD Implementation a Crucial Next Step for Connecticut Transit Projects

With CTfastrak and the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield Rail projects set to open in 2015 and 2016, respectively, discussion about future development in the area is ramping up.  Recently, the Capitol Region Council of Governments, the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission and the Sustainable Knowledge Corridor Consortium commissioned a report detailing Transit Oriented Development (TOD) opportunities around these bus and train transit stations.

The report, titled Making it Happen: Opportunities and Strategies for Transit-Oriented Development in the Knowledge Corridor, analyzes which station areas on those future lines are most ready for development and what needs to be done to further encourage development at others.

The need for responsible strategies to deal with future development couldn’t be clearer. The area to be served by these future systems, also known as the “Knowledge Corridor”, is a large and long-interconnected area with a population of 1.8 million, more than 45,000 companies, a labor force of 1.1 million people, 32 colleges and universities and more than 120,000 students.

 Knowledge Corridor Image

[Source: New England’s Sustainable Knowledge Corridor]

This density of people and employers, especially schools and students, provides a great opportunity to utilize transit as rapid and reliable means of transportation to enhance the economy.

CRCOG TOD Image

[Source: Making it Happen: Opportunities and Strategies for Transit-Oriented Development in the Knowledge Corridor, Executive Summary, September 2013.]

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A Few Key Elements Missing from NYMTC’s Future Vision

NYMTCplan2040Public comment on the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council’s (NYMTC) latest regional transportation plan (RTP), Plan 2040:  A Shared Vision for a Sustainable Region, wrapped up last week and TSTC submitted extensive comments on NYMTC’s vision for the future. While the plan covers a lot of territory, there are a few areas where it’s lacking.

VMT Reduction

The most glaring problem with NYMTC’s Plan 2040 is that it does not include reducing vehicle miles traveled (VMT), and overestimates VMT growth in the next 25 years. The plan projects 12 percent increases in daily VMT by 2040, far too high an estimate given recent driving trends. A 2013 Victoria Policy Institute (VPI) report found not only that US car ownership per capita plateaued beginning in 2000 and has declined since 2005, but also that VMT growth leveled off in 2000, began to decline in 2007, and by 2010, remained significantly below the trend line.

At the same time, Plan 2040 underestimates the future growth of transit ridership in the region, which it predicts will grow by just 20 percent. VPI found that transit ridership in the United States grew by 34 percent from 1995 to 2011, roughly double the growth in population. With both millennials and baby boomers driving less and opting to live in walkable, transit-oriented communities, 20 percent growth seems far too low.

Transit-Oriented Development (TOD)

Plan 2040 recognizes that connecting smart land use policies to smart transportation investment is integral to the economic competitiveness, environmental health and quality of life of the region. Plan 2040 should go a step further and call for the creation of a Transit Village Planning and Capital program, similar to New Jersey’s successful program, that helps municipalities plan and build TOD.

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Wyandanch Rising Transit-Oriented Redevelopment Project Breaks Ground on Long Island

Photo: Ryan Lynch

Photo: Ryan Lynch

After a decade of planning, a groundbreaking ceremony was held yesterday for the Wyandanch Rising project, a public-private redevelopment project intended to transform one of Long Island’s most economically distressed communities into a “transit-oriented, pedestrian friendly, environmentally sustainable downtown.” Tri-State has long supported the project, and through funding from the One Region Funders’ Group, provided a $25,000 Transit Centered Development grant to help the project move forward in 2009.

While yesterday’s groundbreaking marks the beginning of the construction on the project’s most visible components — the buildings — work on the underlying infrastructure has been underway for nearly 18 months. The project, which Empire State Development President & CEO Kenneth Adams called “the number one priority for Regional Economic Development Councils in state,” has received additional state and federal funding to help bring it to fruition.

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CT Officials Head North to Learn More About Successful TOD

Interest in transit-oriented development (TOD) continues to grow in Connecticut as municipalities in the state plan to take full advantage of new transit lines like the CTfastrak bus rapid transit system and New Haven-Hartford-Springfield Rail Line. On June 4, local and state officials from Connecticut traveled north to Massachusetts to look at TOD in various settings, and learn about how it was implemented there. The trip was the second of two tours sponsored by Tri-State Transportation Campaign, the Partnership for Strong Communities, Regional Plan Association, and Connecticut Fund for the Environment with the support of the One Region Funders Group. The first took place in December 2012 in New Jersey.

Lowell’s Downtown Comeback

Attendees first stopped in Lowell, a diverse city of 107,000 residents that is about 25 miles northwest of Boston. Lowell was founded as a textile manufacturing center, but like other industrial cities, fell into decline as manufacturing jobs left the U.S. However, the city preserved its historic mill buildings, many of which have been converted into thousands of units of residential housing. Since the 1970s, the city has seen a remarkable turnaround.

Smart policies have helped. As a way to incentivize development and maintain the walkable environment, the city “basically take[s] parking out of the development equation,” Assistant City Manager Adam Baacke said. No parking is required for non-residential uses in downtown, but residential developers must identify 1 parking space per unit, though this space can be leased out of a public parking garage.

The revival of Lowell’s downtown helped pave the way for the redevelopment of the Hamilton Canal District, a 15-acre site roughly a half-mile from Lowell’s commuter rail station. The city found a unique model for this redevelopment that incorporates both community input and helped the developer more easily manage development requirements, Baacke said. When the developer was brought on board they were required to run a community visioning process that would result in a master plan for the site. Once the visioning process was completed, the city agreed to rezone the site so that the master plan could then be built largely as of right. Baacke said that this avoided two common outcomes of the redevelopment process: A developer concept that hasn’t received community input, leading to public opposition; and a community-supported vision plan that isn’t economically feasible to build.

Melrose Planning Director Denise Gaffey (facing camera).

Melrose Planning Director Denise Gaffey (facing camera).

TOD in Melrose

Attendees also stopped in Melrose, a wealthier, more suburban locale seven miles north of Boston. Planners there also thought parking requirements were holding back development around its three commuter rail stations. “We thought it was crazy to build 2 spaces per unit” for Oak Grove Village, a 550-unit mixed-use complex completed in 2009, said Denise Gaffey, the director of the city’s Office of Planning and Community Development. Instead, the city granted variances for that and other projects close to transit. Melrose later adopted a “smart growth” overlay zone that cut parking requirements: 1 space per studio or 1-bedroom, 1.5 spaces for a 2-bedroom unit, and 2 spaces for a 3-bedroom unit. Car-sharing is also available for the development’s residents, and the city adopted inclusionary zoning requiring that new developments set aside 10 percent of units for affordable housing.

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Connecticut Officials, TOD Advocates Tour New Jersey’s Transit Villages

Kathleen Prunty of the Cranford Downtown Management Corporation (far left) explained the township’s successful transit-oriented development projects on Monday. | Photo: TSTC.

Interest in transit-oriented development (TOD) within Connecticut has rarely been higher. After releasing TOD grants to several cities and towns last year, the state has also moved forward on a TOD [...]