Livable Transit Corridors

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Development along Los Angeles's Expo Line corridor. Source: Alan Weeks, Metro Library and Archive

Intro

Corridor planning is one of the most important jobs of large transit agencies. Transit corridors have long-lasting impacts on the communities they serve. The Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP) as written a handbook on how to best design transit corridors. It establishes six goals for livable transit corridors and outlines a five-step process for working towards these goals. The TCRP also created a Transit Corridor Livability Calculator to assist in quantifying the metrics used in the analyses.

Transit Corridor Livability

The handbook begins with a broad definition of livability: “People having good access to opportunities they can use in the pursuit of improvements to their quality of life.” From there it identifies six transit-specific livability characteristics<ref>These principles are adapted from the six livability principles developed by the Partnership for Sustainable Communities.</ref>:

  • High-quality transit, walking, and bicycling opportunities
  • Mixed-income housing near transit
  • Transit-accessible economic opportunities
  • Accessible social and government services
  • Vibrant and accessible community, cultural, and recreational opportunities
  • Healthy, safe, walkable transit corridor neighborhoods

The Five-Step Process

The following five-step process provides best practices for improving transit corridors.

Step 1: Initiate Project

Initiating a transit corridor project involves three substeps: organizing stakeholders, developing a transit corridor livability definition, and organizing focus groups.

  • Organizing stakeholders - A typical transit corridor project has a variety of stakeholders who all need to be brought together into one team. These teams are typically informal, but should be structured in a way that maximizes interjurisdictional cooperation and best utilizes the individual skills brought by each stakeholder. Creating a steering and oversight committee and analyst-staffed technical team early can give the project much-needed momentum.
  • Developing a transit corridor livability definition - While the handbook’s livability definition is designed to be universal, various stakeholders will likely come to a project with different goals that need to be addressed. Everyone needs to be on the same page in defining the corridor and establishing what they want to do with it. Keep in mind that while it may be appropriate to develop a different livability definition than the one in the handbook, that will make it more difficult to benchmark to the given metrics.
  • Organizing focus groups - It can be helpful to form stakeholder focus groups associated with each livability principle. Each group will then be responsible for shepherding their section through the entire process. Focus groups are a good way to ensure that the planning process reflects the diversity of the coalition behind it.

Step 2: Assess the Corridor

Once a group has defined their corridor and goals, they need to assess the current situation. Like initiation, assessment can also be broken down into three substeps, in this case selecting livability metrics, selecting study corridor, and applying the metrics to the corridor.

  • Selecting livability metrics - It is important to establish the metrics by which to measure the livability of the corridor in question. The metrics used will depend on the specific livability definition and what data are available, but examples include aggregate frequency of transit service per square mile, employees per acre, and pedestrian collisions per 100,000 daily pedestrians.
  • Selecting study corridor - Building on the work from step 1, the group must define a final study corridor. Clearly mapping the boundaries in a GIS program will make future calculations much easier.
  • Applying the metrics to the corridor - Once the metrics and corridor are selected, it is time to do the actual analysis. Start by gathering data at the most disaggregated level possible (e.g. census block group rather than tract). Then assemble the information into a single database and run the calculations. The handbook’s Transit Corridor Livability Calculator simplifies this process.
This land use diagram for Las Vegas's North Fifth Street Corridor Plan is an example of the type of document that can be developed during the visioning process. Source: [http://www.trb.org/Publications/Blurbs/174953.aspx Transit Cooperative Research Board

Step 3: Identify Goals

After performing an initial corridor assessment, stakeholders can begin to develop preliminary goals. This should be informed by an analysis of the existing strengths and weaknesses of the corridor. The handbook allows for corridor traits to be compared to baselines for three typologies of corridors: emerging, transitioning, and integrated. While the metrics strive for universality, it’s important to spot-check the results to make sure that they seem reasonable given current knowledge about the corridor.

Step 4: Develop a Vision

Once goals have been identified, the next step is to develop plans that will meet these goals. This is a three-step process of developing corridor improvement scenarios, analyzing those scenarios, and selecting a final vision.

  • Developing scenarios - Scenario planning is a “what if” process of imaging the results of various courses of actions. The most important thing to remember is the value of collaboration. Transportation is just one of many disciplines in planning, and successful scenarios require input from the worlds of housing, economic development, social service provision, and more. In addition, public participation should play a large role in this process from the start, before the planners have made up their minds about their desired scenario.
  • Analyzing scenarios - The first step in analyzing scenarios is to run their livability metrics scores. These metrics can then be presented to stakeholders along with the previously determined goals for the project.
  • Selecting a vision - Once analysis is complete, goals of each stakeholder can be used to select a scenario. Developing supporting materials like corridor maps can help communicate this vision during the next stage of the process.

Step 5: Implement Strategies

Developing goals for a transit corridor is great, but nothing will happen unless the goals are tied to concrete, comprehensive strategies. These strategies should assign responsibilities and address resourcing to ensure that a project can actually be put into action. The three steps to implementation are examining possible strategies, linking goals to strategies, and developing corridor recommendations.

  • Examining possible strategies - Members of the team should first familiarize themselves with possible strategies. These fall into two broad categories: government frameworks and livability strategies. Government frameworks outline the general ways projects can be implemented, while livability strategies are specific steps towards meeting livability principles. There are many livability strategies to consider, such as last-mile shuttles, inclusionary housing, joint development, and sense-of-place guidelines.
  • Linking goals to strategies - The handbook provides tables that connect both goals and corridor types to specific strategies. For instance, if your goal is to a walkable, mixed-use environment, possible strategies include form-based codes, TOD guidelines, and activity center master plans. Different corridor types will often require different strategies for the same goals. Protecting mixed-income housing in an emerging or transitioning corridor might first be a matter of location efficiency and housing assistance, while an integrated corridor could require inclusionary housing and more advancement anti-displacement strategies.
  • Developing corridor recommendations - At this point, a team can identify the strategies it wants to focus on and build them out with project-specific application and governance details. Certain strategies will likely emerge that match with multiple goals; these are good choices for prioritization. Strategies should also be prioritized based on stakeholder strengths and availability of resources. While thinking big is good, strategies need to be realistic to implement. Finally, strategies should be compiled into a comprehensive report that can guide the process of actually remaking the corridor.

Transit Corridor Livability Calculator

The Transit Corridor Livability Calculator's Livability Performance Graph compares user-selected characteristics against each of the corridor types. Source: Transit Cooperative Research Program

At the heart of the handbook's process is the spreadsheet-based Transit Corridor Livability Calculator. While not a predictive model, this tool can be used to identify strengths and weaknesses of a corridor. After analyzing the performance of a corridor, it can benchmark the area by comparing it to a survey of 250 corridors across the country. To use the tool, a planner starts by inputing basic data about the corridor: boundaries and census block groups. Then the user can decide which of the metrics to use in the analysis. 10 of the 12 metrics have data provided, while Transit Corridor Ridership Balance and Corridor Pedestrian Collisions per 100,000 Daily Pedestrians must be entered manually assuming the data exists for the specific study area. The tool can then visualize the corridor analysis in several ways:

  • Metric scores - This worksheet shows mean values for each metric and graphically compares them to mean scores for emerging, transitioning, and integrated corridors.
  • Livable performance - This worksheet uses a polygonal graph to show how the corridor's performance on each metric compares. This is particularly useful for identifying the area's strengths and needs.
  • Strategy selection - This worksheet allows users to quickly see how adopting various strategies could potentially help improve problem areas in the corridor.
  • Strategy summary - The final worksheet lists the goals and principles associated with selected strategy. In addition, the sheet provides a link to the page in the handbook where the user can find detailed information about the selected strategy.

Conclusion

Developing a transit corridor is a massive, multidisciplinary job. All but the largest transit agencies are going to engage in the process as just one stakeholder in a larger team. Even if an agency does not lead corridor planning directly, it needs to have a vision for its participation in these projects. This handbook provides a framework for transit agencies to think about how they can participate in the corridor planning process and develop projects that best serve their constituencies.

Livable Transit Corridors: Methods, Metrics, and Strategies

References

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Additional Reading

Rue, H., McNally, L., Rooney, K., Santalucia, P., Raulerson, M., Lim-Yap, J., ...Burden, D. Livability in Transportation Guidebook. U.S. Department of Transportation.

This guidebook provides an alternate walkthrough of the livable corridor development process. It goes deeper into the difference between various types of projects and the specifics of design, funding, and implementation.