Getting the Land Use Right Around Bus Rapid Transit

ULI explores options for maximizing economic, environmental benefits to Seattle and the Puget Sound region

For more information, contact Trisha Riggs, 202-624-7086; priggs@uli.org

SEATTLE (March 22, 2011) — Development around bus rapid transit (BRT) stations that is designed to encourage use of the bus lines, and which is accessible to residents of a variety of incomes, can maximize the economic benefits of the transit systems to the entire community, according to several transit and land use experts at a meeting hosted today by the Urban Land Institute (ULI) and ULI Seattle.

The event opened a four-month BRT and Land Use Initiative designed to explore development in conjunction with King County’s new RapidRide BRT service. Specifically, the group is focusing on how to coordinate land use and development opportunities adjacent and near the BRT stations, examining issues such as the inclusion of affordable housing and and public-private partnerships to leverage the full potential of BRT as a community amenity, an economic growth catalyst and an aid to environmental conservation. The Seattle event occurred as the Puget Sound region is in the process of implementing ambitious plans for a high quality, regionally integrated transit system that includes BRT in addition to light rail, commuter rail, streetcars and traditional buses.

BRT, while relatively new in the United States, is gaining attention as a convenient, fast, and reliable transportation alternative, including areas that do not have subways or light rail. However, the interaction between BRT and land use is not yet well understood, explained ULI Seattle Executive Director Kelly Mann. “BRT is coming, so let’s get the land use right,” Mann said. “We’re trying to optimize the use of the transit investment and at the same time serve our region’s growth, sustainability, and economic development objectives by building communities accessible to transit.”

ULI is a global research and education institute, with nearly 30,000 members worldwide, dedicated to responsible land use and innovative community building; ULI Seattle serves the 800-plus ULI members in Washington state and Oregon. ULI Seattle’s BRT Initiative is part of the ULI/Curtis Regional Infrastructure Project, which seeks to improve the integration of infrastructure and land use and to develop national models of best practices. The project, created with the support of ULI trustee James Curtis, provides support to the ULI District Councils in Seattle, Chicago, Minnesota and Florida.

The event included presentations from Kevin Desmond, general manager, King County Metro Transit in Seattle; Daniel J. O’Connor, director of planning, Kansas City Area Transportation Authority, Kansas City, Mo.; and Salima O’Connell, AICP, senior transit specialist, Office of Transit, Dakota County, Minn. The overriding message from the speakers: optimal benefits will come from development that is truly oriented toward transit, rather than development that is merely built next to it and is not well-connected to the system.

Desmond provided an overview of RapidRide, which will use new technologies and specially branded buses to offer convenient and reliable transport to major destinations throughout the region and connections to the rest of the rail and bus transit network. With buses arriving every ten minutes during peak periods, customer satisfaction on the RapidRide A line – now operating on International Boulevard – continues to rise, he said. King County Metro Transit selected the corridors designated for RapidRide based on existing ridership of buses along the lines and the opportunity for transit-supportive land uses, including jobs and housing for a wide range of incomes, ages and households. “We welcome the opportunity to continue the dialogue with the business and development community,” Desmond said.

O’Connor provided an overview of the successful launch of BRT in Kansas City. Since the first line opened in 2005, ridership has increased by more than 50 percent. A second line opened earlier this year, reflecting the appeal of a reliable, user-friendly, quick alternative to driving, he said. The second BRT line, he noted, is contributing to Kansas City’s nationally recognized Green Impact Zone community development initiative, a revitalization effort to revive an aging neighborhood in the city using green development strategies aimed at curbing carbon emissions and saving energy.

In addition to convenient and reliable service, “BRT stations can become landmarks,” explained O’Connor. “When designed well, they can help identify a neighborhood, welcoming residents and visitors alike.”

O’Connell described the planning and development of the Cedar Avenue Transitway in the Twin Cities metro area. The system was designed to provide relief from congestion on a busy commercial avenue that connects Dakota County suburbs to downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul. The local business community, at first skeptical about the transitway, soon became one of its biggest champions, she said. “Working together was key,” O’Connor explained. “The county, the state, the cities, and the business community found success when they worked together, so that customer access and high quality transit service were both priorities.”

Denny Onslow, executive vice president/chief development officer of Harbor Properties, provided the developer’s perspective. “RapidRide and BRT can improve connectivity for neighborhoods, which is a good thing for both existing businesses and residences near the stations and for developers looking for opportunities to add to an area’s livability and economic vitality,” he said. “Transit officials need to help the business and development community understand how BRT works and what it provides.”

Today’s event is illustrative of the ability of ULI to gather land use experts from diverse markets and backgrounds to share information that leads to better decision-making, said Mann of ULI Seattle. “We heard resoundingly from the transit providers and local jurisdictions that ULI ‘s role as a convener was important to this initiative, so that we might benefit from the lessons learned from other regions that have successful BRT systems in their communities. Ultimately, ULI is about providing unvarnished, pragmatic, and visionary recommendations that are grounded in financial reality.”

About the Urban Land Institute
The Urban Land Institute (uli.org) is a nonprofit education and research institute supported by its members. Its mission is to provide leadership in the responsible use of land and in creating and sustaining thriving communities worldwide. Established in 1936, the Institute has nearly 30,000 members representing all aspects of land use and development disciplines.

About ULI Seattle
ULI Seattle was reestablished in 2004 and has grown from fewer than 200 to more than 800 members in the real estate, development, finance, legal and land use fields. For more information please visit www.Seattle.uli.org.