Global Transit Innovations book on transit development in the works

Yingling Fan

Yingling Fan

As part of the Global Transit Innovations (GTI) program, Humphrey School Associate Professor Yingling Fan is writing a new book that will share lessons learned from her study of transit development in 20 U.S. metropolitan regions.

GTI was established last year by CTS in partnership with Fan, who also serves as GTI director. Fan shares highlights of her recent work below.

Tell us about your book.
There is momentum for rail and bus rapid transit corridors across U.S. metropolitan regions, but little data on how they succeeded despite long-standing fiscal, political, and sociocultural barriers for transit development in the car-centric U.S. The book will tell the story of how those infrastructure projects were built and offer original analyses on the societal impacts of existing and proposed corridors. Ultimately, the book will offer practical solutions on how to capitalize on emerging transit investments and maximize their positive impacts—i.e., get more bang for the buck.

Who is the intended audience?
The book is intended for planning practitioners and policymakers interested in creating more transportation options for metropolitan residents. Across the globe, excessive automobile use has threatened the sustainability and livability of many urban and suburban communities. Transit corridor development has a strong potential to make metropolitan regions more sustainable, livable, and equitable. Further, by integrating storytelling with rigorous empirical work, the book will be an interesting read for college students to learn about the challenges and opportunities of transit development in the car-dependent U.S.

What are some highlights from your site visits?
To gather information for the book, I’m visiting cities and meeting with transit development leaders throughout the country. The field work and expert interviews have been extremely enlightening. I have learned about the large unmet demand for cross-town transit in the San Francisco Bay Area and how transit fragmentation in the region hurts ridership. I have learned about how Dallas pioneered the use of abandoned railways for transit development and urban regeneration. I have also learned how Detroit and New York City initiated transit corridor projects largely on land development promises and without transit agencies playing a primary role—in essence, “development-oriented transit.” These unique case studies merit national and international attention.

How are transit and urban development linked?
Most U.S. transit projects are mainly justified around mobility needs. This is not surprising because the role of transit as a mobility tool is more intuitive to the public. A transit planner once told me that promoting transit projects as a development tool in a community would be like promoting fast food restaurants near highways. For people like me who study the relationship between land use and transportation, this analogy is borderline ridiculous. The connection between transportation and land use is a fundamental concept in transportation. Every land-use action has transportation implications and every transportation action affects land use. Without embracing both the development and transportation roles and becoming an active agent in regional place-making, the future of U.S. transit is lukewarm at best.

Say more about development-oriented transit.
I have written about how transit development in the U.S. has entered a vicious cycle with too much emphasis on “transportation-oriented transit” and too little emphasis on “development-oriented transit.” In the early 20th century when American transit was mostly built and operated by private companies with real estate interests, development-oriented transit was the rule instead of the exception. Back then, many transit companies held real estate interests along the urban fringe. Streetcar service was used to spur development, even if the service itself was unprofitable. More recently—although rare—transit projects have been built for development purposes: New York City’s 7 Subway extension and Detroit’s QLINE streetcar are recent examples of “development-oriented transit.” These two examples provide insights into how initiating transit projects based on the promise of land development can be done in contemporary America.

What’s needed for a transit revival?
The future of transit will largely be shaped by our ability to create a regional collection of places connected by transit. These places must have quality public spaces with various economic, leisure, and socializing activity opportunities. Of course, public transit needs to provide mobility—but it also desperately needs a regional collection of transit-connected places to bump up demand. A transit revival requires regional and systematic integration of transit planning and place-making initiatives.

To read more about Fan’s GTI-related work, visit the GTI blog.

Posted in Land use, Planning, Public transit, Transportation research, Urban transportation

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