rail vs. car (aka people will never give up their cars)

I ran across this interesting article today. This article from a very unlikely source goes to demonstrate what we in the transit community have known for a long time, Americans can and do want an alternative to their cars.

This is from Commercial Property Online, hardly an environmental or transit-oriented publication. In their article, Commuter and Light Rail Driving Development in California :

The development and expansion of commuter rail systems in California has spurred a great deal of commercial development, a cross-sector expansion that most in the industry agree is only in its early stages.

The projects, which range from the proposed $40 billion high-speed rail connection spanning the 700 miles between San Francisco and San Diego to the more modest $200 million Sonoma Marin rail transit line (SMART) stretching 75 miles from Cloverdale to San Rafael, have been a boon for commercial developers, who have seen increased demand for development–especially near rail stations–as a result of the expanding lines.

“You’re seeing a lot of development at these stations, all generated by proximity to rail, and these would not have happened without the rail,” said [Transwestern Commercial Services west region president George] Garfield. “If our cities are to grow in a compelling way, rail will be a meaningful component of that.”

This demonstrates that being pro-transit, pro-environment can also be good business.

Personally, I am so glad that my wife and I brought a house within walking distance of both a light-rail line and Caltrain. Also I know that The Crossings development in Mountain View California is very popular and has a strong sense of community. (link to google map). People within that development, even when they are looking to move up, try to find a larger townhouse still in The Crossings.
The Crossings has a density of about 21 units/acre and is located at Caltrain‘s San Antonio train station. On the other side of the train tracks, the 27-acre Mayfield Mall development will have 578 units for a similiar density of 21.4 units/acre.

This is what the EPA says about The Crossings:

The Crossings, located in the city of Mountain View, 30 miles south of San Francisco, transformed a failing 1960s auto-oriented mall into a vibrant neighborhood that offers a variety of transportation choices. The 18-acre infill project, developed by TPG Development, demolished the original shopping mall and replaced it with homes, retail shops, and a daycare center, all oriented toward the new San Antonio Avenue Caltrain commuter rail station. San Mateo Transit busses meet each train and connect to nearby communities. Narrow tree-lined streets and sidewalks and small pocket parks all combine to create a walkable and bikeable neighborhood. It takes residents less than five minutes to walk from any of the houses to the stores or to the commuter rail station, and two minutes or less to walk to a park.

The Crossings project was built starting in 1994 and as the EPA notes:

Citizens asked for low densities with open space.

Twelve years later, Mountain View residents came out saying that for The Mayfield Mall project … they wanted …(drumroll) a big park and that the proposed housing development would result in high traffic volumes.

But has that happened with The Crossings? Remember according to the EPA, The Crossings is “a vibrant neighborhood that offers a variety of transportation choices”. In other words, people aren’t driving!

Furthermore considering the prices in the area as blogged by burbed.com, the EPA’s comment about cost seems appropriate:

Using on-street parking places to meet minimum parking requirements allowed more land to be used for homes, increasing overall density [when compared to the overall city density of 7-20 units/acre].

Although priced at market rates, the compact design makes the units relatively affordable in the high-cost Silicon Valley real estate market.

So here is hoping for more rail development for more affordable homes!

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