OPINION: Transit-oriented developments and sustainability go hand in hand

Train tracks to the right with a grey train platform on the left.
"File:Burg train station (Fehmarn).jpg" by Bukk is marked with CC0 1.0

I’m a big believer in working smarter, not harder.

One great example of a concept that does just that is transit-oriented developments. The Federal Transit Administration defines transit-oriented development, or TOD, as, “a mix of commercial, residential, office and entertainment centered around or located near a transit station.”

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The dense, mixed-use developments provide a number of benefits. They serve as destinations and foster economic development in our communities. They often involve public and private partnerships and provide a greater mix of housing types.

They also allow people to use their personal vehicles less or ditch them all together and instead opt for walking, biking or using public transit, which helps relieve traffic congestion, increases ridership for public transit systems, reduces harmful tailpipe emissions and improves air quality.

Our friends at One Region and the South Shore Commuter rail line are actively supporting transit-oriented developments with new South Shore stations and we at South Shore Clean Cities applaud their efforts.

Here’s how a transit oriented development might work: Imagine leaving your condominium or apartment building for the day and going to the ground floor street level, where there’s a dry cleaners where you can drop off your laundry. Maybe it’s next door to a coffee shop where can pick up a coffee and a muffin before you hop on commuter rail just steps away and head into the office for the day.

After work, you get off the train and meet friends for drinks or dinner at a pub or restaurant right in your building or next door before picking up the dry cleaning you dropped off earlier and heading up to your apartment or condo for the evening.

You’d rarely need to use your personal vehicle for an average work day, but what happens when it comes to personal errands that take you a little farther? Perhaps a bus stop outside your building could help with that and get you to doctor’s appointments or local destinations. Some developments also partner with shared mobility programs to provide bicycle or scooter sharing as well.

But what about weekly trips to the grocery store or other times when you may need to haul something back home? How do you manage that without a vehicle? Some transit-oriented developments also include electric vehicle car sharing, which reduces overall vehicle ownership costs by allowing users to “check out” the vehicles on an as-needed basis while still keeping their carbon footprint to a minimum.

Those living in multi-unit dwellings like condominiums or apartments in a transit-oriented developments, even with the best access to public transit and shared mobility, may still want to own a vehicle or even an electric vehicle. Most electric vehicle charging takes place overnight in residential garages, posing challenges to those in complexes without them.

South Shore Clean Cities is working to address those issues. We are partnering with The Center for Sustainable Energy, along with 12 other Clean Cities coalitions and a host of other project partners on the Vehicle Charging Innovations for Multi-Unit Dwelling project, a three-year project which began in 2019 with funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Vehicle Technologies Office.

Together, the project team is working to engage stakeholders to document barriers to multi-unit dwelling and residential curbside charging stations, demonstrate innovative technologies that address barriers, compile project findings in an easy-to-use toolkit and disseminate the toolkit across national, regional, state and local channels.

While the project isn’t directly tied to transit-oriented developments, the opportunity to link them and to exponentially expand their benefits is certainly there.

All of these collective efforts stand to help us all work smarter, not harder. Increased access to transit, shared mobility, walkable communities and businesses only stands to help our air quality, our economy and our overall health, for ourselves and future generations.

Remember, it’s never too late to begin your environmental legacy.

Carl Lisek is executive director of South Shore Clean Cities. This column originally appeared in The Times of Northwest Indiana.



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