Drawing from the recent publication “Transforming Cities with Transit”, the director of the Institute of Urban and Regional Development and professor of City and Regional Planning at UC Berkeley, Robert Cervero, calls for elevating the role of public transit in creating sustainable urban futures. Concentrating pedestrian friendly, mixed-use development near transit stops, supplemented by congestion pricing, is one promising strategy. Given that a large share of future urban growth will be in small to medium size cities, opportunities for integrating Bus Rapid Transit investments and urban development, Professor Cervero argues, should be exploited to the maximum degree possible.
Robert Cervero is the Freisen Chair of Urban Studies and Professor of City and Regional Planning at the University of California, Berkeley, where he also directs the Institute of Urban and Regional Development (IURD) and the University of California Transportation Center (UCTC). Professor Cervero’s research centers on the nexus between urban transportation and land-use systems. He has authored or co-authored six books, more than 50 research monographs, and over 200 journal articles in these areas, including the just released book, Transforming Cities with Transit (2013, World Bank). Professor Cervero currently chairs the International Association of Urban Environments and the National Advisory Committee of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Active Living Research Program. He also serves on the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and is a contributing author to the 5th IPCC assessment. He is a contributing author to UN-Habitat’s 2013 Global Report on Sustainable Mobility.
In rapidly urbanizing and motorizing cities of the world, massive investments are being made in high-capacity transit systems to fend off worsening traffic congestion. Most investments have been guided by engineering principles, focused on improving mobility but failing to capitalize on opportunities to reshape the growth of cities in more sustainable urban formats. Cervero in this lecture argues that transit stations can become viable hubs of compact, mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly development, however a number of prerequisites are essential for this occur, such as distinguishing roles of stations as logistical versus place-making nodes.
A mixed-methods approach is used to underscore these points, focusing on case experiences. Statistical relationships between urban densities, vehicle-kilometers per capita, and public-transport ridership per person are examined for cities worldwide using intrametropolitan data from Seoul and intermetropolitan data from UITP and other sources. Experiences in Seoul, Portland, Bogotá and Ahmedabad are explored.
Cervero argues that a fundamental change in conceptualizing large-scale transportation investments is needed that frames them as both mobility-enhancing and city-shaping opportunities, providing a backbone for guiding growth in a more compact, mixed-use and sustainable urban format. Case experiences provide valuable policy insights in this regard:
1. Often, long-range strategic planning and urban development objectives are usurped by near-term engineering and cost-minimization objectives, resulting in Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and metro lines being routed and stations sited in areas with minimal development potential.
2. Transit-oriented redevelopment requires the public sector to share development risks through pro-active policies such as helping with land assemblage, financial and tax incentives, targeted supportive infrastructure investments, and regulatory reforms that incentivize compact, mixed-use development.
3. Auto-restraint policies are often need to be introduced in parallel with Transit Oriented Development (TOD) to off-set the hidden subsidies that promote automobility.
4. TOD presents tremendous value-capture opportunities that generate revenues needed not only to fund high-quality transit investments but also the station-area armature and related improvements. However, Cervero states there must be the institutional capacity and political will to capitalize on land-price benefits.