Fall 2014 Issue

Research News at NJIT

A New NJIT Guide Provides Practical Solutions for Redevelopment Challenges

Transit-centered communities that are dense, service-rich, and walkable are one of the pillars of 21st century sustainable development policy. But the challenge is figuring out how to actually create them.

NJIT has risen to the challenge with the publication of “Planning for Transit Supportive Development, A Practitioner’s Guide,” a 600-page toolkit of best practices, techniques, and transferrable “lessons learned” that highlights successes in integrating transit planning with local land-use planning.

“We present methods for identifying project champions, engaging the community, and ultimately, undertaking meaningful planning to realize economically and environmentally sustainable communities around transit,” said Colette Santasieri, director of strategic initiatives for NJIT and the guide’s principal author. “We stress the importance of taking a regional view in integrating transit and local land-use planning, with the understanding that transit investments, housing, and environmental policies must be coordinated more closely at the regional level in order to achieve the goals of sustainability on the local level.”

A key feature of successful transit-supportive development is higher densities within a compact area, generally a quarter- to half-mile radius around a transit station. But when some suburban residents hear “higher densities,” they picture Manhattan, Santasieri said, when in fact rezoning around transit stations in the suburbs does not lead to city-scale development. That is why, she added, community engagement activities are so important.

A major hurdle, she noted, is that historically the various levels of government, regional planning organizations, transit agencies, and developers often function as operational silos, leading to single-focus criteria and decisions. Additionally, communities often lack a local plan for transit-centered development and the zoning ordinances to support it, including regulations that promote mixed uses and higher densities.

Timing is also a challenge, as transit-project design starts years and even decades before the system becomes operational. Real estate developers, however, are market-driven and generally start to plan development projects two to three years before the system becomes operational, so there is a lack of coordination that is essential for the integration of transit planning with local land use planning.

Sean Vroom, an NJIT researcher on Santasieri’s project team, pointed to several success stories that serve in the guide as examples for other regions and municipalities to emulate. He cited the Portland Streetcar in Oregon and the LYNX Light Rail Transit System in Charlotte, North Carolina.

“Portland Streetcar is a great example of a grassroots effort to stimulate the economy and development using a transit mode, which was then supported by effective land use planning,” Vroom said. “The LYNX Light Rail System was a great example of the incorporation of land use considerations simultaneously with the design of a new transit system—something that is not usually done.”

Santasieri added, “Another underlying theme of the guide is that there are no one-size-fits-all or prescriptive methods for this type of integrated planning. That is why we chose to research successful transit-supportive developments and provide many well-rounded, detailed case studies. Each ends with a list of transferrable ‘lessons learned.’”

The guide, funded by a $2.2 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), is designed as a resource document for planners on every level. It addresses planning in the urban setting, as well as in the suburbs, where the existing grid often includes large lots, cul-de-sacs, low densities and car-dependent shopping that make redevelopment more complicated.

The FTA has posted NJIT’s “Planning for Transit Supportive Development, A Practitioner’s Guide” on its website at www.fta.dot.gov/16046_16042.html.