Pittsburgh Bus Rapid Transit and Land Values

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I’m a little more bullish on the prospects for Bus Rapid Transit between downtown Pittsburgh and Oakland than Chris Briem, but it all depends on the details. My sense is that BRT can be mostly as good as a subway if done right – as in the case of Bogota, Colombia, which is the gold standard for this concept – but that many cities fall short for political reasons.

Either they skimp on the design of the buses and stations, or they get the boarding and payment issues wrong, or politicians wuss out of apportioning street share in an optimal way or allowing buses to change traffic lights as they approach. There are all kinds of thorny issues to work out, where popular politics is going to clash with what’s best for making the buses go as fast as they can.

This is looking like a pretty good road design for PGH, but it’s just one potential configuration:

This point from Chris is the most important. Public investment in transit is not just about moving people around – it’s also about boosting land values in the region and attracting development near transit stations:

Why does it matter part 2? So plenty of folks take issue with my position criticizing the abandonment of all future rapid transit development in the region. Rapid transit by most definitions means underground, subway, elevated railway, metro or metropolitan railway. By that definition “Bus Rapid Transit” is arguably an oxyomoron technically. I think some are exhausted by the North Shore Connector debate. I do appreciate the cost issues involved. Still at the end of the day there are some clear examples of how new rapid transit can impact communities in ways there are far fewer examples of similar impacts of bus routes (whether ‘BRT’ or not).

For example, see the latest research looking at what has happened in specific District of Columbia neighborhoods. and no, I appreciate the greater complexity of neighborhood development, but I just don’t see how you escape the impact of rapid transit lines. In DC and the Green Line example mentioned there is an extreme case. Long ago before the line was even begun I and some friends almost rented a house in DC that wound up being right next to where a new station was slated to go in. Let’s just say that the house next door from what we were looking at had a true growing up through the house. Not intentional either. Now the same real estate must cost a fortune.

Land increases in value near rail stations, and there is some evidence that this is also true of BRT stations.

I suspect that the reason many places aren’t seeing as much development around BRT stations has to do with allowable land use. What do city zoning rules actually allow people to build around transit stops? Are cities intent on turning the land around bus stations into Park and Rides, or are developers allowed to build mixed-use multi-family structures around the stations?

BRT could be a catalyst for denser transit-oriented development if city zoning rules don’t mandate low density auto-oriented development around the stations.

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