NEW YORK – Only about half of towns along the Metro-North corridor in Connecticut have adopted plans that foster economic development around rail station areas, a new Regional Plan Association study has found. And many towns that seek to take advantage of rail service are being thwarted in their goals by outmoded parking and land-use guidelines.
The RPA study found that at 54% of Connecticut’s Metro-North stations, community visions exist for station-area development that capitalizes on transit assets to drive investment and attract residents and businesses. Some towns have put those plans into action, promoting neighborhood revitalization through walkable, mixed-use communities and helping to connect residents and employers through transit.
But 46% of Connecticut’s Metro-North communities don’t have a plan in place, limiting their ability to take advantage of the region’s robust transit network. Even among the communities that have undertaken steps to support transit-oriented development, outmoded policies, especially those involving parking requirements, undermine their efforts. Too often, regulations force developers to build more parking than needed, adding costs that make projects financially unfeasible or creating surface parking lots that go unused. Only 20% of Metro-North station neighborhoods had parking requirements that reflect neighborhood walkability and transit access. The findings are published in the study “Halfway There: How to Create Land Use Policy That Makes the Most of Connecticut’s Transit Network.”
Similarly, only half of station areas allow densities that encourage a mix of homes, shops and services within walking distance of transit. Other stations are surrounded by large-lot, single-family houses, discouraging transit use, contributing to longer commutes and traffic congestion and reducing open space.
“Compact development close to transit stations fosters vibrant, successful communities,” said Amanda Kennedy, RPA’s Connecticut director and the lead author of the study. “Companies in transit-friendly locations near housing and stores are able to attract more highly skilled employees, and both younger workers and retirees increasingly want to live close to businesses, transit and stores. Southwestern Connecticut, with one of the most extensive commuter and regional rail networks in the country, is in an ideal position to take advantage of these trends.”
Karen Brown, vice president of programs at Fairfield County Community Foundation, said: “Connecticut is the seventh-oldest state in the nation and is also home to more than one million baby boomers. Transit-oriented housing development will help our state and the Fairfield County region respond to this major demographic change. In addition, younger people perceive TOD communities as much more desirable places to live—making TOD a win for both age groups.”
The report offers detailed recommendations for municipalities to help them understand the barriers to transit-oriented development in their neighborhoods and how they can update their land use, density and parking guidelines.
“This research shows what municipalities can do to maximize their fortunate proximity to transit, and how they can go about it,” said David Fink, policy director, Partnership for Strong Communities. “What we have learned is that when we encourage housing affordable to a range of residents, along with commercial development, walkable streets and desirable station areas, it enhances property values, tax revenues and quality of life.”
The full report can be viewed here. For additional information, please contact Amanda Kennedy at [email protected].