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Report: Mass transit can change lives

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and the state’s transportation secretary, Beverly Swaim-Staley, discuss proposed light rail projects while riding a Maryland Area Regional Commuter train Aug. 4 near New Carrollton, Md. A new report says projects planned and built with access to public transportation can change the way people get from home to work and around the region. AP Photo by Brian Witte

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and the state’s transportation secretary, Beverly Swaim-Staley, discuss proposed light rail projects while riding a Maryland Area Regional Commuter train Aug. 4 near New Carrollton, Md. A new report says projects planned and built with access to public transportation can change the way people get from home to work and around the region. AP Photo by Brian Witte

Andy Rosen
Dolan Media Newswires

Baltimore — In the same way the interstate highway system drove development over the past half-century, mass transit could be a defining force in shaping the future of Central Maryland, according to a report by the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance.

Projects planned and built with access to public transportation — such as the $1.5 billion State Center project planned northwest of downtown Baltimore and the already built Clipper Mill development in Woodberry — can change the way people get from home to work and around the region, decreasing the importance of car travel, the report says.

The report outlines short- and long-term goals and development opportunities for the region, from projects centered around existing transit lines to development centered around lines that have only been conceived on paper.

The report warns that transit-oriented development must be part of a comprehensive strategy if it is to work effectively. It is not simply a matter of guiding development along existing public transportation facilities.

Many people interviewed recently said a better-connected, larger public transportation system in the region will be crucial if the region is to reach its potential for transit-oriented development, starting with the planned Red Line in Baltimore.

According to the report, “It is clear from examples within Baltimore and around the United States that merely placing transit in compact neighborhoods or fostering development around transit is not sufficient to generate the full range of (transit-oriented development) benefits.

“A transit system must connect enough employment, entertainment and community destinations that it offers a level of access that it can compete with automobile ownership and uses.”

Otis Rolley III, president and CEO of the transportation alliance, said he wants public officials to buy into the strategy.

“A plan is just a plan unless the elected officials buy into it and say ‘OK, we’re going to use this as some of our guiding principles going forward,’” he said.

At the local and state levels, officials have pushed to boost transit-oriented development in Central Maryland. During the past two years, Gov. Martin O’Malley has supported bills to help local governments encourage development around public transportation.

“We’re looking at communities where … you don’t have to own a car,” said David Whitaker, deputy director of infrastructure planning at the Maryland Department of Planning, “where you’re immediately into the transit grid to the region by basically walking to your transportation components.”

Thomas J. Stosur, director of the Baltimore City Department of Planning, said he expects the report to provide a good set of guidelines for transit-oriented development.

“Any stakeholder who’s involved, from community to government to foundations to nonprofits can sort of rally around this, and this gives us the strategy and the confidence to know we really have to go out and do it,” he said.

Stosur said Baltimore plans to include areas focused on transit-oriented development when it completes a rewrite of the city’s zoning code, a version of which is expected to be released this fall.

Still, he said a big factor in effective development around transit will be improvements to the system.

Though projects can move forward around the Maryland Area Regional Commuter train, light rail and Metro subway stations, he said any station would have greater development opportunity if there was a more comprehensive transit system in the Baltimore area.

At the center of most discussions about the interconnectivity of the transit system is the Red Line, a proposed east-west light rail link that would run between Woodlawn and Bayview, and would connect the light rail and Metro systems.

Stosur said the Red Line “will add value to every station that we have.”

The state plans to apply for federal money for the line next year, but how much money it will get from Washington is uncertain, as is the state’s plan for paying for the rest of the line.

Bill Struever, president and CEO of Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse, which built the Clipper Mill project and is advising developers at State Center, said he has long believed that transit would be a driving force in development. It cuts two ways, he said. A developer can locate a project near an existing line, or build in a place that is well-suited for future connections.

He said one of the biggest obstacles to transit-oriented development is transit spending, not just on building infrastructure, but also on operating what is now in place to make it run reliably.

Clipper Mill, which contains 97,500 square feet of office space and 200 residential units, was built near a light rail station. Tide Point, a 400,000-square-foot office complex in the Locust Point area and another Struever project, recently gained a transportation link via Baltimore’s new Water Taxi service.

“We’re big believers that transit-oriented development is going to increasingly become a major driver in real estate value creation,” Struever said.

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