USC Price School of Public Policy

Is Transit-Oriented Development Moving in the Right Direction?

Knowledge in Action:

Is Transit-Oriented Development Moving in the Right Direction?

By Matthew Kredell

USC Price professor Marlon Boarnet USC Price professor Marlon Boarnet moderated and presented at a panel on what the Regional Transportation Plan and the Sustainable Communities Strategy mean to development.
Photo by Tom Queally

With the opening of the Metro Expo Line, Los Angeles’ ambitious program of rail transit construction has made USC transit accessible. Appropriately, USC hosted the Los Angeles Urban Land Institute’s third annual Transit-Oriented Development Summit — co-sponsored by the USC Price School of Public Policy — on June 7, bringing expertise from across the region and the campus to spotlight the opportunities and challenges involved in building transit developments in what was once the nation’s prototypical auto metropolis.

“Our school is very proud to be a sponsor of this event,” USC Price Dean Jack H. Knott said. “The summit addresses many of the same issues that we as a school teach our students, as well as the kind of research that our faculty conduct, from transportation to transit-oriented development, public finance, infrastructure and sustainability. Thus, we are very excited to partner with the Urban Land Institute to bring together academic experts, transportation officials and prominent practitioners to further the dialogue on these important issues.”

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who delivered a keynote address, came up with many of the plans his office is implementing to address urbanization and create a more livable city while serving as a distinguished visiting fellow at USC in 2002 and 2003. He told the story of coming to the university after losing his first bid for mayor in 2001.

USC Price professor Tridib Banerjee USC Price professor Tridib Banerjee speaks at a panel on transit-oriented design and the sustainable city.
Photo by Tom Queally

“It was actually at USC that we put together a thing called ‘After Sprawl’ that presented what cities should look like and what we need to do to address the urbanization across the land,” Villaraigosa said. “Some of the ideas — whether Measure R, transit-oriented development, Green L.A. or making L.A. safer and growing together more civic-minded — all those things came from thinkers here at USC who helped us draft a blueprint for what we wanted to do.”

Other speakers included Kristina Raspe, vice president of real estate development and asset management at USC; Art Leahy, CEO of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority; Brian Kelly, acting secretary for California’s Business, Transportation and Housing Agency; Frank Giblin, director of the Urban Development Program for the U.S. General Services Administration; and Ronald Altoon of the architectural consulting firm Altoon Partners. USC Price faculty members Marlon Boarnet, Tridib Banerjee, Vinayak Bharne and Richard Green participated in breakout panel discussions.

Villaraigosa co-authored the 2003 report “After Sprawl: Action Plans for Metropolitan Los Angeles” along with William Fulton, a senior fellow for USC Price, Susan Weaver, who earned her master’s degree in urban planning from USC Price in 1990, and Jennifer Wolch, founding director of the Center for Sustainable Cities housed within USC Price.

In his two terms in office, which are coming to an end next year, Villaraigosa successfully pushed for the passage of Measure R, which raised county sales tax by half a cent for the next 30 years to pay for transportation projects and improvements. Such projects included the Expo Line at USC.

Boarnet, director of USC Price’s graduate programs in urban planning, moderated and presented at a panel on what the Regional Transportation Plan and the Sustainable Communities Strategy mean to development.

“If you look at what’s happening in transportation in the Los Angeles region, it’s remarkable,” Boarnet said. “The metropolitan area that has long been regarded as the capital of auto-oriented development is transforming itself into a multimodal system.”

Boarnet said that evidence suggested a doubling of density in Los Angeles would lead to a 5- to 12-percent reduction in vehicle miles traveled, a strong determinant of greenhouse gas emissions. A doubling of accessibility to jobs in the region would produce a much more significant 20- to 25-percent reduction.

Yet the Public Policy Institute of California did a study last year that found California metropolitan areas are above the national average in population density but below the national average for employment density.

“The point of caution is that we have done an excellent job embarking on a transit investment, and we’ve done a pretty good job focusing on residential development around those stations,” Boarnet said. “The place where we need to get better as a region is now using those stations to also become destinations, better leveraging transit stations as employment nodes.”

Banerjee spoke at a panel on transit-oriented design and the sustainable city. He would like to see transit stations transformed into public squares with retail options, which is common in Europe. He pointed to Hollywood and Santa Monica as areas of Los Angeles where this is beginning to happen.

“We lack the verve and urbanism you see in European cities,” Banerjee said. “In American cities, we’re making progress. I think San Francisco is the one very good example of this kind of public transit-oriented development.”

Green moderated a panel on what debt and equity vehicles are available to finance transit-oriented development. Bharne moderated a panel on density.

“From a design standpoint, transit-oriented development is anticipatory planning,” Bharne said. “All development should be transit-oriented development, whether it’s designed for a train today or tomorrow.”