I’m a big fan of rail transit, but too often you see local governments squander the valuable land around train stops on Park-n-Rides instead of dense housing and commercial development.
When governments invest in rail, the land around the stations becomes more valuable. It becomes more valuable because a whole lot of people would like to live or do business within walking distance of the train. And a lot of people can live or do business on that land, if it’s zoned to allow tall buildings instead of a huge surface parking lot.
With that in mind, I just can’t get behind this idea from Kevin M. Creagh and Steve DiMiceli to spend a bunch of money building out light rail to the North Hills from the North Shore station in Pittsburgh, only to have the stops surrounded by parking lots:
For the North Hills, the spine of our proposed system is already in place — the vastly underused High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes of I-279’s northern branch. This version of light rail service would be more park-and-ride based, as there would be many fewer stops.
As you will see, most of the seven stops proposed are at exits along I-279 or I-79. The HOV lanes would cease to exist for cars and trucks. The rail beds would be placed right on top of the existing traffic lanes.
Something like this would only be worth doing if you zoned for transit-oriented development around the stops – if the point was to grow the population around the train stations, not just provide an additional mode of transportation to existing residents.
Ron Gaydos raises even more good points in his response Letter to the Editor:
As much as Kevin M. Creagh and Steve DiMiceli (“Go North, Light Rail,” The Next Page, Dec. 23) would like the business that a North Hills light-rail line might bring, light rail to the North Hills is not the logical next step in our region’s transportation infrastructure.
Maybe the logical third step. True, the North Shore Connector was designed with a west and north extension in mind. But doing this now is like the National Rifle Association saying that after a calamity we need more guns. The North Side was devastated to make way for a multilane highway because planners at the time saw the city as disposable. More giant sucking sounds to the North Hills?
Not without relieving the bottleneck of transit connections to Oakland and other East End neighborhoods. It will be expensive but the payoff in employment and property values would be far greater to build dedicated rail transit to Oakland, above or below ground. We’re on the cusp of a surface rail line to Oakland with the currently planned “Oak-to-Oak line” (Oakmont through Lawrenceville to Oakland, then even onward to Hazelwood and Carrie Furnace in Braddock) and that needs to come first!
After this is accomplished the North Hills line will serve to reduce auto traffic thus reducing carbon emissions, but not create another mass migration to an area already congested with inefficient sprawl development. The North Hills line should be built in the HOV lanes, by the way. Check out the BART along I-580 near San Francisco for a good model.
This is the 21st century; real estate sales and cultural preferences are swinging ever more steadily toward renewed urban development. Let’s make the infrastructure 21st century, too, but close the gaps to Oakland first.