Thursday, May 17, 2007

Transit Oriented Development

I have to give Raleigh's planning dept credit - they have put on a great lecture series on topics related to growth. I attended the most recent one on Transit Oriented Development last week. The speakers were top notch and definitely had thought more about TOD than any of us ever could have. The first two speakers were excellent and got everyone excited about the possibilities. Imagine jumping on a train and going to town, having dinner, and taking the train home. No designated driver. Or take the train to work and instead of sitting behind the wheel and you could actually get something done.

By the time the third speaker was ready, everything had been said. There was nothing else to present. So he took the other side. Why wouldn't transit oriented development work in Raleigh? The key to understanding this is to actually understand the full concept of TOD. Park and ride is not TOD. Basically the concept is around mixed use - having offices, shopping and residential in clusters so that there isn't one main commute pattern. Ideally people are always going both ways instead of everyone going one way in the morning and the opposite way in the afternoon. That's my over-simplified explanation.

My calculus teacher in high school always used to complain about how they put in sidewalks. Around our campus the sidewalks were on the perimeter, but the people actually walked across the grass or in other cut-through areas. He would always say "watch where people walk and then pour the concrete." The same could be said of transit. Look at where people are going and try to make it more efficient with transit.

Now, RTP could actually be the best place to build up this type of transit since it is already a big destination and they are starting to develop more residential areas near the commercial stuff. Everything else is just so spread out. There are too many starting points and there really isn't one central destination. As soon as you put the word "transfer" in there, people aren't going to use the system.

I love to daydream about taking the train or even a bus if it were direct. But the cynical side of me says that people are too independent and married to their cars. Take Brier Creek, for example. That was built to be a walkable area. Do people walk? I doubt it. I was at Pier One the other day and a father and son were outside. The son wanted to walk down to another store about 100 yards away. The father said "I'm not walking all the way down there!"

So, after the third speaker had finished telling us why TOD wouldn't work in Raleigh, the reality of Raleigh's sprawl had hit me. There was a chance for redemption, however. During the Q&A they brought up the head honcho of TTA (Triangle Transit Authority). HE could tell us what was really going to happen for Raleigh in the future. I waited for him to speak up. When Director Silver finally asked him directly to comment, he rambled on about something. I don't even know what. But it wasn't anything about what the TTA actually does. I left very disappointed. I do hope that the actual people who do the work in the TTA know a lot more than their leader.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Live well. Be smart.

I was inspired this week by a presentation on downtown Raleigh's renaissance. It's a presentation that I've seen a few times, but one that you can't really see enough as far as I'm concerned. Things just move too fast to remember it all, but it talks about the goals for downtown and the concept of higher density living.

It got me thinking about smart growth. I mean, I agree with the concept as I define it, but what is it really? I'm not a planner and I've had zero instruction on managing growth. So I looked it up and found the Smart Growth Leadership Institute. Their 10 principles seem to cover just about everything I had in my definition and more.

I think I have been drawn to areas that manage growth well but wasn't concious of it at the time. I bought my first house in Chapel Hill. At the time I was 25 or somewhere near that age, and wanted an acre of land and big house. The reason I picked Chapel Hill was because you could get all of that and still be within 10 minutes of Franklin Street. Now, Chapel Hill is nowhere near the size of Raleigh, but to live in the country in Wake County you have to go far, far away to get the kind of privacy I had in Chapel Hill. Over the years I learned that I did not want a lot of land or a big house that I had to clean. And I didn't want to live near people who were my parent's age - something I didn't consider back then. Land! I wanted land! And it's so funny because I see young folks now who want the same thing I wanted then. It's all a process, I guess.

I'm on my 3rd house now and it's much smaller and in-town because I value time and don't want to drive everywhere. And that is why I love downtown Raleigh. I love the lifestyle it provides and will provide in the future as it continues to grow. And that is also why as an agent I am going to work my hardest to focus only in the downtown and surrounding areas. I can't force my beliefs on others, but I can choose to work in an area that is attractive to people who share those similar values.