The most recent elections saw the success of several transit funding measures around the nation, including ones in Los Angeles County and the Bay Area of California, as well as the Seattle/Tacoma, Washington area, Wake County, North Carolina and several suburban counties around Washington, DC. Yet even as numerous small towns and suburbs find themselves planning for transit, hundreds of additional towns are not on the radar of transit funders or planners. Perhaps their transit funding initiatives were not successful at the ballot box. These are the cities and towns with active or abandoned freight lines serving their downtowns for which train service may be only a twinkle in someone’s eye, if at all. Or they are the suburbs that are filling-in with higher density development. While the lack of imminent, or even planned, rail connections may seem to render transit-oriented development moot, nothing could be further from the truth. Since transit-oriented development is really about creating walkable, vibrant communities with a range of uses and diversity of people within close proximity, TOD is really about creating economically, socially and sustainable communities.
Working as planners on downtown revitalization and redevelopment plans for towns, inner suburbs and small cities we are often surprised by a seeming irony. Many communities, particularly those struggling to revive their relatively small downtowns decimated by the suburban sprawl within their own town limits, have a strong desire to attract transit. Yet we repeatedly encounter town leaders who have difficulty conceiving of that transit serving these very downtowns that they have hired us to help revive. They view it as too distant a possibility or ironically, as either a means to get employees to sprawling office parks built with ample municipal tax breaks or as a park-and-ride commuting option for residents. Even if transit is being considered as part of a larger regional plan, sites are sought that can provide highway visibility and acres of surface parking.