David King writes at the Transportationist blog about the strength of the transportation and land use connection. This is important for those of us contemplating transit value capture because a strong connection means more value creation!
Overall, the contemporary debates about infrastructure tend to revolve around “how much” change to the built environment will be caused by new investment. This assumes a strong and measurable relationship between transportation and land use. Better questions may be: 1) whether the relationship is strong enough to affect change at all, and 2) are the connections between transportation and land use strengthening or weakening?
King suggests that there are two trends in transportation. The public sector is building major transit and roadway investments in hopes of shaping future growth. The private sector is focused on technology enabled personal mobility services that require modest investment and generate numerous transport alternatives.
The public model of large investment in a limited space stands in contrast to the private model of many alternatives working to customize transit to maximize accessibility across regions. The public clearly believes that the transportation and land use connections are strengthening, and the private firms are indifferent or they see a weak connection moving forward[.]
I don't view the public and private solutions to be so dichotomous. For one, the private sector business models benefit from the major public investments in infrastructure, particularly new roadway access. To consider these two distinct bets seems incorrect.
Instead of King's framing, let's answer the questions by considering the macro trends in the transportation and land use connection. In essence, we want to understand whether or not the transit and land use connection is still strong or is getting weaker, whether there will be more or less value to capture as time goes on. (To clarify, when I discuss the connection, I'm considering the empirical economic relationships. I am not focused on the policy connections as written/desired, which falls into the theoretical realm.)
Looking back, the connection between transit and land use was quite high during the streetcar era. While transit offered considerable accessibility and comfort advantages prior to the great depression, since then it has become a less and less attractive transport option. It has been a vicious cycle of land use dispersion and service cuts. Related to the transit decline, the connection between highways and land use was quite high during the highway boom.
Today, the connection between any transportation investment and a corresponding land use response appears less pronounced. Ubiquitous automobility and ultra-dispersed land uses have rendered many new investments impotent in most contexts. It's not just transit. Consider also the inability of new circumferential or intercity toll roads to meet forecasted demand. There appears to be less transportation investment-related influence on property values than in the past.
So the key question then becomes, have we seen or do we anticipate to see an inflection point where transit's attractiveness begins to improve relative to other transport options? Many people (and many transit advocacy organizations) have argued that the transit tide is coming back in. More people are riding than ever (though not on a per-capita basis) and younger generations are showing a greater willingness and desire to ride transit. Yet, it isn't clear that transit has a stronger impact on land use this year than last (an upward trend).
But that's an unfounded assessment and, more importantly, an aggregate view. Some places have seen transit take hold as a important transportation mode. In terms of more transit-oriented regions, Washington DC is perhaps the best example. Other regions have seen transit's attractiveness hold steady. San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, and New York City might fall into that category. Still, other parts of other regions have seen transit hold steady or turn the corner. Few would suggest that transit is not a factor in the real estate market of downtown Portland or the multifamily market of Atlanta.
In some regions and some places within other regions, transit does seem to still have an influence on property values. Some transit investments in those places could yield property value swings. In the process there would still be value to be captured. So, to King's questions, I would suggest that the connection does seem to still matter in some places and it's getting stronger in a few of them.
Ian Carlton is a transportation and land use expert specializing in transit-oriented development (TOD). He helps clients - including transit agencies, planning departments, and landowners - optimize real estate development around transit.
Special thanks to Burt Gregory at Mithun for permission to use the Portland Streetcar image above.