It is the oldest subway in the United States and has more fame than its size and
efficiency would otherwise command thanks to the Kingston Trio's song about
Charley who got permanently stuck on Boston's MTA.
Today it is called the MBTA or the "T" and, in addition to its
small number of subway lines that radiate out from Boston to some of the close
in suburbs it has a number of high speed rail lines into the city from as far
away as Providence Rhode Island and a huge network of bus routes throughout
the metropolitan area
Boston is one of a number of cities participating in a variety
of development projects generally known as Transit Oriented Communities
or TOCs. The T along with smaller transportation agencies throughout the state
are, in fact, currently planning 50 TOCs with a total of 17,000 housing units.
The most recent large scale TOD in the area is located at the last stop on the
Green Line in Newton, a neighboring city to Boston, where one of the older parts
of the subway runs above ground. This new project will include 180 upscale residential
units, a parking garage, fitness center, swimming pool, and a Zip car that will
be available for resident use.
TOC is a catchall phrase. There does not appear to be any single TOC program
although there are a number of funding sources and a lot of academic and economic
research going on under the umbrella of the term. Basically TOC refers to residential
or commercial developments which are designed to maximize access to public transportation,
bringing housing, shopping, educational institutions, and working opportunities
within walking distance - usually defined as 1/4 to 1/2 mile
- of a transportation hub.
While the definition of a TOC can range from a day care center located at a
transit hub to a full scale neighborhood renovated or built from scratch to
be transit oriented, most have features that encourage the use of mass transportation
such as nearby availability of employment, shopping, and housing, and ease of
access for pedestrians and bikes (wide sidewalks, safe road crossings, narrow
streets, amenities such as benches and bike racks or lockers.)
Arlington, Virginia is part of the Washington, DC transit system which may
never be completed as it continues to crawl out into the suburbs in both Maryland
and Virginia and is augmented by Amtrak which provides commuter rail service
from as far away as Delaware. Arlington is widely regarded as one of the best
managed counties in the country and boasts at least two large and successful TODs.
One of these is the Ballston neighborhood which contains, within 1/2 mile of
the Ballston Metro Station a major although not terribly successful shopping
mall, a 20 story independent and assisted living residence for seniors operated
by the Marriott chain (and the availability of mass transit just steps away
is a major draw for its younger and more lively tenants) numerous condos and
rental units, mid-rise office buildings, a few stand-alone retail facilities
such as Staples and Harris Teeter, a multiple screen theater, and dozens of
restaurants of all types; there is a Ruby Tuesday at the entrance to the subway
station, an upscale Thai restaurant down the street, barbeque joints, fern bars,
a half dozen quick stop lunch places, and of course banks, dry cleaners, and
Ballston is a lively place with foot traffic from very early morning until
hate at night which also makes it a very safe neighborhood. New buildings are
still being completed in Ballston and whether or not the County thought in terms
of creating a TOD two decades ago, the area has certainly evolved into a large
and successful one.
The term TOC has been around for 20 years and there may be excellent examples
of these types of development within your own communities even if you have never
heard the name or really thought about the relationship between a development
and the nearby transit facility. However, if gas prices continue
to be $3 per gallon or more it may be inevitable that the transit oriented community
becomes the centerpiece of development, not only in the cities but in outlying
suburbs. Since trains run in both directions the availability of housing,
jobs, or recreational opportunities at either end of the line will encourage
We found examples of recent TOCs in dozens of cities from New York to San Francisco
to Orlando to Austin. While it has been metro areas with subways or other rapid
mass transit that have attracted the large scale developments they are now beginning
to pop up in places with well developed bus line hubs or at the end of high
speed rail lines in distant suburbs.
During the Clinton Administration the Federal Transit Administration did much
to encourage TOC using a program called the "Livable Communities Initiative"
which awarded grants to cities, counties, and public transit agencies to fund
projects. The project was never well-funded but it did have the capacity to
seed projects in order that they could put together a mix of other financing
sources. The successful projects have usually been joint efforts between cities
and private developers with substantial input from the public so the growth
of these communities will depend on the latter two groups seeing the value (in
terms of profit for the one and enhanced lifestyle for the other) and private
sector financing sources sensing an opportunity.
A number of cities with some form of mass transit have reported substantial
increases in ridership over the last few months as the cost of driving
a car has increased by 25 to 30 percent. This might be what it takes to encourage
not only the expansion of existing transportation systems and the creation of
new ones but the development of pedestrian and people friendly communities at
every stop along the line.