RTD Needs to Raise Its Game on Transit-Oriented Development

Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 1.53.52 PM
Alameda Station and the parking crater to its right are an example of how not to build around transit. Image: Google Maps

If you build good transit, it will serve a lot more people if you also build walkable places around the stations. Without that development, your transit system won’t ever reach its potential.

When it comes to making effective use of the land by its stations, RTD has some catching up to do, according to initial results from an audit commissioned by the agency [PDF].

The report authors says that RTD’s efforts to encourage transit-oriented development (TOD) are hampered by inefficiencies inside the agency. RTD’s transit-oriented development team needs a clearer mandate and more resources, and the agency’s protocols for handling development need to be streamlined in order to build projects effectively.

RTD plays a crucial role in shaping development because it owns parcels around its stations. But internally, the agency’s decision-making process is a bit of mess, with a tangle of different departments wielding authority over TOD projects and policy, according to the report. When there’s conflict between, say, rail operations people and development people inside RTD about whether a parcel should be sold to developers and built on, it can take a long time to resolve.

Delays cause uncertainty, and uncertainty may cause developers to balk at building walkable places near transit. At an RTD board meeting Tuesday, Director Kent Bagley said that won’t cut it.

“Time kills real estate deals,” said Bagley, an urban planner who runs a real estate consultancy. “Those of us that are in the real estate arena, or have been, understand that. So time is a big, big issue, and anything that we can do to facilitate not taking vast amounts of extra time is critical.”

The issue of how RTD handles its land will gain urgency as the agency prepares to open four new rail lines next year. “We are building out FasTracks and all of us could be changing the very face of the Denver metro area,” said Director Judy Lubow. “It is gonna change, the question is can we help it along.”

Bagley and Lubow seem to get it, but Director Tina Francone, who along with colleague Natalie Menten doesn’t want transit to change her rural community, was not in favor of reorienting RTD to make better use of its land. “We’re not in the business of land development,” Francone said. “We’re in the business of moving people from point A to point B.”

But there’s not as much daylight between transportation and land use policy as Francone seems to think. Making the areas around transit stations walkable and bikeable makes rail a more attractive option, reduces dependence on cars, and will increase RTD ridership.

There’s an opportunity now to take advantage of the hot real estate market, but it won’t last forever. “I would challenge the staff to be maybe more aggressive to some extent,” Bagley said. “Because this whole issue of TOD — this market can change on a dime… so my suggestion is don’t be timid.”

  • The Overhead Wire

    So tired of that old trope “We’re not in the land business”. Moving people between places is a job you have because the places exist. And if you want more people to ride the train and want to provide less subsidy, you need to make those places at the ends of the trip better. Government agencies aren’t just this and they aren’t just that. Everything is interconnected.

    • Véronique Bellamy

      Yeah, I call B.S. on that too, especially since they used eminent domain to the nth degree to acquire land for the parking structures. Hell, I remember the big to do about getting that land on Wadsworth.

  • garbanzito

    Alameda Station may not be the best example — yes the current layout is messy, but most of the relevant land RTD owns is already transferred (the Denizen development) or under option (both a strip connecting to Broadway Station and the bus barn property across the tracks); the state of the other adjacent properties are not RTD’s fault; a GDP and a station area plan have a good future laid out (if you ignore the permanently-industrial Upsher-Smith, Tools-for-Bending and electric substation), but it’s the economy and long term leases held by big box retail that are holding things back

    i think we would have seen much quicker development if Alameda Station had been located at 1st & Santa Fe instead; as the first light rail routes were planned, commercial interests lobbied hard for the current location

    • mckillio

      I completely agree about the Alameda station being improperly located, it is way too close to the Broadway station and too far from the 10th and Osage station. Though I think having it just North of Alameda (where the newer apartments are) would have been fine. Unfortunately that’s probably never going to change.

      I would love to see a bike/ped connection along the tracks that goes to the Broadway station and North to Bayaud. Along with this, the underpass of the tracks along Alameda really needs to be redone to have sidewalks on both sides of Alameda.

      It will be interesting to see what happens with the adjacent area of the Alameda station. Personally I would like to see the Kmart close and have that area completely redeveloped and lose some of the huge parking lots. But I could also see the Kmart picking up business due to the new apartments in the area. We’ll have to wait and see what happens.

  • JerryG

    Somewhat echoing what ‘garbanzito’ said, that shopping center was built long before the Alameda Station was there and the owner of the property have long term plans. I believe I even saw a filing for plans for additional, multistory buildings on the property.

  • Arthur Hicks

    It’s not that they aren’t in land business because they most certainly are. The problem is they don’t own that strip mall. How are you supposed to change something you don’t own and have no control over?

    • Véronique Bellamy

      … The same way they changed that auto body shop on Wadsworth into a parking structure?

  • gojoblogo

    Adding to what a few people have discussed, Alameda Station actually may be a really good place to have located a station and the parking lots to the east may be a great thing. I think that it is a strong transit planning tactic to put stations at strong existing nodes as well as those that COULD be strong future nodes. Alameda is a good case of the latter.

    As JerryG pointed out, there is (mostly) a single land owner for much of that land and that is a much easier development proposition than a place like 1st and Santa Fe where there are presumably quite a few. That single land owner is in fact planning for several phases of future development. That is kind of ideal isn’t it?

    Look at the placement of the Gold Line Stations. They seem in some cases like they are in the middle of nowhere, but I think that that is an opportunity for certain stations to be sorta tabula rasa locations for development. You need to balance existing drivers with future potential for these types of lines.

    That having been said, I totally agree with David that RTD should be at the front of the discussion in the development of their properties and quit making excuses. They are bureaucratic and know how to do one thing comfortably. They need to be more progressive and modernize their approach.

    • Véronique Bellamy

      Agree. If I win my RTD Director’s election, I hope we can make RTD more agile and competent than it is.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Today’s Headlines

|
DenPo Editor Under Impression That, Unlike Other Agencies, RTD Fares Should Cover Operation Costs Rail~Volution Attendees Take a G Line Tour — On a Bus (9News) RTD to Aurora Mayor: Do Your Part to Boost R Line Ridership (9News) Good Thing City Leaders Didn’t Plow This Highway Through Lower Downtown in the 70s (Denverite) Light […]

Today’s Headlines

|
Denverites File Injunction to Stop CDOT from Widening I-70 Through Low-Income, Minority Neighborhoods (Denverite) National Rail~Volution Conference “Puts RTD’s System — and Shortcomings — On Display” (DenPo) RTD Asks Feds to Okay A and B Lines Once and For All So It Can Finally Open G Line (CBS4) Hit-and-Runs On the Rise, and Baker Bears […]