The federal government's recent decision to award funds to transportation projects that promote "livable" communities aims to develop transit that benefits the environment, encourages development and improves communities. The federal actions are helping promote interest in transit-oriented development (TOD) that has been percolating at the local level for many years.

In early July, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced the recipients of $293 million for transit projects, including streetcars, buses and transit facilities in several cities. St. Louis will receive nearly $25 million for a two-mile trolley line that will connect a neighborhood the city wants to revitalize with a college village and another regional destination. "[The funding] is the opportunity to make it real," says Thomas Shrout, executive director of Citizens for Modern Transit, a non-profit involved in the project. "A lot of people felt like this was a fantasy project."

The challenge for local governments is to create projects with long-term sustainability that include the variety of elements associated with livable transit, says Ken Ryan, head of Irvine, Calif.-based KTGY Group's community planning and urban design studio and a speaker at a recent workshop series on TOD held by Fresno, Calif., which has been developing TOD projects for the past few years. "It's not just about station or rail or reducing vehicle miles traveled," he says. "It's about using federal funding as a platform for real issues and sustainability and mobility, but doing it in a deeper, integrated way."

However, despite the interest from the federal government in promoting transit-based communities, the needs of each specific community will have a much larger influence on the development of future TODs, Ryan says. "TOD is really driven by other trends and challenges instead of the federal government," he says.

More for the money

"Our new policy for selecting major transit projects will work to promote livability rather than hinder it. We want to base our decisions on how much transit helps the environment, how much it improves development opportunities and how it makes our communities better places to live."

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, January 2010

Jennifer Grzeskowiak is a Laguna Beach, Calif.-based freelance writer.

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