The Transit Solution: Why Traffic Engineers Care about Transit-Oriented Development

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It may sound counter intuitive that “traffic” engineers would care about and play a role in “transit” oriented development or TOD.  There’s a misconception that the goal of traffic engineers is to build more roadways to make it easier for cars to drive. 

The reality is that traffic engineers strive to move as many people as possible on roads that connect point A and Point B in the most efficient manner possible. And sometimes, transit is one of the ways to do that. I’ll explain …

The Traffic Jam Problem:

Throughout the country where economies are vibrant and generate a lot of demand to move between points within the region, there are often more people seeking to move between those locations at the same time than the roadway infrastructure that carries them can handle.  Most typically we experience that imbalance of transportation roadway supply and demand in the form of automobile traffic congestion. 

Our real estate clients understand that if they build their communities in locations that are auto-oriented in nature where there are high levels of traffic congestion, they are only adding to the traffic congestion and making the problem worse.  This is not just unsustainable from the perspective of social/quality of life and environmental impacts.  More traffic with no alternative to sitting in it makes a community less desirable and commands a lower premium.  This makes continued development in auto-oriented communities less financially sustainable as well.

The Transit Solution:

More forward-thinking developers understand that when they can focus their real estate investments in transit-oriented communities (those that are within one mile of a transit station), they offer more transportation choices to efficiently move between Point A and Point B.  This reduces the demand on congested roadways and thereby helps move the maximum number of people on it in the most efficient manner possible. 

As you can see, TOD becomes a critical tool in the traffic engineer’s toolbox to solve traffic problems.

Lessons from Tysons: Making TOD Work for Commuters, Residents, and Shoppers

There are dozens of examples throughout the Washington, DC region where our traffic engineers have worked with our real estate clients to develop transit-oriented communities that allow the region to grow sustainably and enable people to move more efficiently between the places they want and need to go. 

The most notable recent example is Tysons, VA, which has developed as an auto-oriented Edge City about 13 miles outside of the Nation’s Capital. When funding was approved to extend DC’s Metrorail system to Tysons and open four stations there in 2014, it created an opportunity to transform how people get to, from, and around Tysons. Since these stations opened:

  • over 8 million square feet of development have been completed to date,
  • another 2+ million square feet of TOD projects are in progress, and
  • the vast majority of that development is within a ½ mile of one of the four metro stations in Tysons

The result has been a relatively rapid transformation into four distinct neighborhoods where you increasingly see people walking and biking in numbers that were never seen in Tysons before.

That said, as Tysons goes through its awkward adolescence transitioning from an auto-dominated Edge City to a more walkable and transit-oriented community, we have worked closely with our real estate clients to make the transition as smooth as possible. The solutions have come from our team of traffic engineers and transportation planners as well as communications and marketing specialists. We are excited to share the lessons those team members learned with other communities around the nation that either have transit stations or are planning for new ones and have the prospect of TOD. 

KOP Rail Coalition: Bringing the TOD Model of Success to King of Prussia

One of those communities includes King of Prussia, PA where a high-speed rail line extension is being proposed. Similar to Tysons, King of Prussia has traditionally been developed as an auto-oriented Edge City at the intersection of three major highways about 15 miles outside of Philadelphia. But proposed plans to extend rail to King of Prussia would allow for more transit-oriented development that could change that. 

King of Prussia TOD Webinar Series

Interested in learning more? W+A is co-hosting a webinar series in partnership with the King of Prussia Rail Coalition to share those lessons learned from Tysons and ensure the best outcomes possible for King of Prussia should the rail extension be approved. For information about recent milestones and the steps being taken to make the KOP Rail project happen, the Route 422 Business Advisor publication features a concise summary of these efforts on page 27 of their November 2018 issue - an excerpt of which appears below.