Leveraging transit

ONE OF THE nation's largest transit-oriented developments is taking shape along Baltimore's Howard Street, at the confluence of this region's transit lines. And at the Owings Mills Metro stop, the state plans to invest $14 million in a parking garage as part of a 46-acre mixed-use, transit-oriented project.

So it's somewhat surprising that the state Department of Transportation only now is aggressively seeking bids from developers interested in building on state land at 10 MARC, bus and subway stops. Nonetheless, the move by the Ehrlich administration is welcome.


At the same time, given this administration's enthusiasm for highways and skepticism toward mass transit, there's concern that the state's motives may be more financial -- generating revenues from land -- than to promote transit-oriented development.

State Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan says his agency wants to achieve both goals, that he's seeking projects that would increase transit ridership. But that seems at odds with plans, at certain stops, to sell off parts of parking lots. Put simply, commuters can't abandon their cars for transit if they have nowhere to park.


Also needed is a keen eye -- and perhaps state subsidies, as in Owings Mills -- to foster a mix of retail, offices, housing and transit. Such projects fight sprawl, advancing Smart Growth and revitalization goals. They're premised on the notion that working, shopping and living close to transit can be a high-value amenity, as at many Washington Metro stops.

That's why cities across the country -- Houston, Minneapolis, even Los Angeles -- are embracing transit-oriented developments. Locally, Anne Arundel and Howard counties have long aimed for mixed-use projects by MARC stops in Odenton and along the U.S. 1 corridor.

Even on the wide-open plains of North Texas, with plenty of room for suburban sprawl, two major studies of land values from 1994 through 2001 found that properties within a quarter-mile of many Dallas light-rail stops rose much more than those of comparable but more distant properties. The most favorable impact was on office and home values.

This newspaper has advocated that the state move forward with expanding Baltimore's light-rail and subway lines into a much more extensive and useful system. One of the main reasons for that is the vast potential to use transit lines as a redevelopment blueprint. But even before that expansion, smartly designed mixed-use projects at transit stops may be among the most effective strategies for leveraging the undertapped value of the present system.