Saturday, March 20, 2010

Riverside and Parking, Pt II

Yesterday, I argued that the MBTA's current use of the Riverside Station lot as a park-and-ride lot is incompatible with the development vision of a mixed-use, transit-oriented community. While there are some compelling arguments against development in Newton (at least right now), any development ought to be mixed-use and transit-oriented. Let me expand a bit on why.

Residential density is economically and ecologically sustainable. Dense residential near commercial districts creates a starter group of customers that don't need to be accommodated with expensive and ecologically unsound parking. This means that the stores can be closer together -- denser -- which in turn makes for a more pleasant shopping experience.

If you're thinking Newton Centre or Coolidge Corner, you're on the right track.

Transit is a tremendous enabler of residential and commercial density. To the extent that residences can be provided with a minimum of parking, the denser the residences can be. Providing for cars takes space. And, to the extent that shops can be provided with customers and employees with a minimum of parking, the denser the shops can be.

Transit near housing means that residents can use transit for a large percentage of trips, reducing car trips and parking demand. Transit near a commercial district means that some portion of customers and employees can arrive by transit, reducing car trips and parking demand. And, mixed-use development means that the denser residences provide stores and restaurants with customers who arrive by foot.

The result of reducing the parking demand and designing to suit nearby residents and those who arrive by transit is an attractive, walkable community.

Even a walkable community, however, generates car trips. Not everybody walks to shop in Newton Centre. Lots of people who live in Coolidge Corner drive to work. Dense residential development around transit doesn't eliminate car trips, it just creates far fewer than traditional, car-centric development.

Thinking globally and regionally, the benefits of and the need for creating transit-oriented development are clear. But, it's not so clear that Newton should be bearing the burden of the traffic new development creates*, even if it's relatively smaller than comes with traditional models. The choices at Riverside are not between suburban development and transit-oriented development. They are between no development and substantial development.

Fortunately, there is a trade-off to be made. If the T eliminated its requirement for park-and-ride spaces, the reduction in traffic volume would substantially offset the traffic generated by the site. And, just as importantly, eliminating the park-and-ride spaces would free up significant space on the site and developer dollars, which would lead to a richer, more walkable, more connected development.

Again, the city's position needs to be no deal if it includes park-and-ride.

* Development creates other burdens on the city, not the least of which is increase school enrollment. Those burdens are every bit as significant as traffic, but traffic is the scope of this blog.

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