An Epic Transit-Oriented Development Fail

Let this be a lesson to all: TOD requires more than transit and development. It needs to be walkable.

Image
Victor Dover

Yikes. I literally do not know where to start with today’s article. But I’ll give it a shot: at the top, you’re looking at the view northward "from the turnstiles" at the Douglas Road transit station in Coral Gables, just outside of Miami. The photo was taken by my friend (and Miami resident) Victor Dover, who captioned it "Epic Fail" and a "sidewalk-free zone." Note the bus entering the image from the left. This is multi-modal, where different forms of transportation converge ... well, except for pedestrians.

On the Google Earth image, you can see that actually there’s lots of development around, just not near the station, unless you consider parking lots and garages to be development. The station is "oriented" to cars, not people. It brings to mind a short article I wrote three years ago, "'Transit-oriented development requires more than transit and development."

I suppose the station in Coral Gables is like other suburban metro stations around the country in that it was originally designed to be a sort of park-and-ride situation. Not much thought was given to real TOD when many of these stations were built, and now many of the surrounding parking areas are being retrofitted for people, such as in Oakland, California and Prince George’s County, Maryland.

Dadeland station in Miami. Image courtesy of Maria Zimmerman

But in Miami even the downtown station areas leave a lot to be desired. As it happens, my friend Mariia Zimmerman has also been taking photos of the Miami transit system. When I saw the one of the Brickell "neighborhood," below with Mariia’s quote, my first thought was "horrifying." And then there are her photos of the Dadeland station with captions, above.

Brickell Station area. Photo by Maria Zimmerman.



Note to Miami-Dade planners: we know you supposedly like form-based codes and all, but could you please buy some copies of Julie Campoli’s book about the things we need to make urban density work, like pronto? And, while you’re at it, take a look at Stephanos Polyzoides’s essay about how to make development around transit people-friendly (I reviewed it here).

Echoing Campoli’s central thesis, Mariia puts it this way:

Too little attention is paid to the smaller scale strategies that can help to make TOD a success. Included in this category would be things like attention to good design of both the building and the street – does the project fit with the neighborhood’s scale and aesthetics? Are there sidewalks, trees or other greenery and lighting that signal people are desired and that it’s a safe and comfortable place? . . .

“I do not mean to undercut the hard work that the city and region are doing. But rather, to remind us that while large scale infrastructure and development projects can grab attention of politicians and the media, density without design may fail to generate anticipated return on investment -- both in terms of creating new riders and in transforming neighborhoods.”  (Emphasis in original.)

Brickell is actually a nice, interesting city neighborhood in a lot of ways, so don’t screw it up, OK?

I know you’re trying, Miami-Dade. You’re actually trying harder than most places, and you have an amazing amount of home-grown talent who can help out.  So I suspect we’re on the same side here. But we sure aren’t yet where we need to be.

This post originally appeared on the NRDC's Switchboard blog.

About the Author

  • Kaid Benfield is the director of the Sustainable Communities and Smart Growth program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, co-founder of the LEED for Neighborhood Development rating system, and co-founder of Smart Growth America. More
    Kaid Benfield is the director of the Sustainable Communities and Smart Growth program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, co-founder of the LEED for Neighborhood Development rating system, and co-founder of Smart Growth America. He is the author or co-author of Once There Were Greenfields (NRDC 1999), Solving Sprawl (Island Press 2001), Smart Growth In a Changing World (APA Planners Press 2007), and Green Community (APA Planners Press 2009). In 2009, Kaid was voted one of the "top urban thinkers" on Planetizen.com, and he was named one of "the most influential people in sustainable planning and development" in 2010 by the Partnership for Sustainable Communities. He blogs at NRDC's Switchboard.