The arrival of transit service to a previously under-served neighborhood brings with it a number of environmental, economic, and social benefits. Cities have learned to steer investment attracted to the efficiencies of transit by creating strategic, actionable plans for station area neighborhoods. These plans are essential to maximize quality-of-life benefits for local residents and the business community through transit oriented development. Over the years, ten principles for successful station area planning have been developed as a best practice:
Local Plans, Local Input
The Somerville by Design planning philosophy focuses on utilizing the knowledge of local residents to create station area plans that reflect the needs and values of the community while supporting the regional transit system. The planning of each station area of the Green Line extension includes meaningful public outreach, education, and creative design in support of Somerville’s strong tradition of grass-roots community participation in civic affairs.
Get Walkability Right
Station area planning is rooted in the goal of making pedestrian trips to and from the stations of the Green Line Extension safe, convenient, and interesting. Accessible pedestrian infrastructure, mixed uses, and well designed facades will all build upon the foundation of small blocks and right-sized streets already existing in each station area to further promote walkability.
Plan for Complete Neighborhoods
A “Complete Neighborhood” is opportunity rich, with choices for housing and employment, as well as convenience retail, neighborhood schools, places of worship, health care providers, civic spaces, and public transportation. Although many of Somerville’s neighborhoods provide for residents daily needs, station area planning of the Green Line Extension corridor explores ways to fill in gaps that may exist.
Promote Appropriately Scaled Infill
Public transit brings with it private investment in new jobs, services, and housing opportunities. Station area plans identify potential sites and the appropriate scale for infill development to shape the changes that transit brings according to residents vision for the future. The form of infill development must reflect the changes in travel behavior that transit brings, while maintaining typical neighborhood patterns and respectful transitions between mixed-use and residential properties.
Design Complete Streets
With such a limited land area, Somerville requires a “Complete Streets” approach to planning thoroughfares that are designed to safely balance the needs of pedestrians, transit riders, bicyclists, and drivers – a reality even more important in neighborhoods with transit. The incorporation of well-designed intersections, crossings, and sidewalks that provide safe mobility for all users, including the young, old, and mobility impaired is paramount to ensure accessibility to the station.
Address Diverse Housing Needs
While transit offers a substantial reduction in household transportation costs, market pressures in neighborhoods with transit may have the unintended consequence of reducing diversity in a neighborhood’s housing stock. Station Area planning provides direction for City policies that help ensure that families with children, fixed-income retirees, persons with disabilities, and young professionals have access to safe, accessible, and affordable housing choices.
Capture the Value of Transit
The introduction of transit into a formerly under-served neighborhood creates a windfall of value due to proximity to the station and changing travel behaviors of local residents. Utilizing policy tools and public resources to capture some of that value for public benefit will help Somerville continue to provide excellent public services while spending the least amount of money per resident of any municipality in Massachusetts.
Prioritize Civic Space
Well-designed, publicly accessible civic spaces including parks and plazas, sidewalks and café seating, even multi-purpose lobby spaces will be critical to making the station areas of the Green Line Extension successful. Public spaces must be designed to be inviting and accessible for all users, reflect neighborhood identity, encourage social interaction, and add economic value for private property owners and the business community.
Get Smart about Parking Requirements
Parking requirements for properties near rapid transit stations should be based on actual demand, and be lower for neighborhoods with access to transit than in neighborhoods without. Similarly, stations within core neighborhoods should not be designed to serve regional “park and ride” commuters, a fact already recognized by the MBTA for new stations of the Green Line Extension within Somerville. In combination, these smart, transit-oriented parking strategies create value and improve quality-of-life for residents by encouraging transit use, walking, and bicycling.
Keep the Plan off the Shelf
Long-range plans are only as good as their implemented outcomes. Station area plans focus on diverse set of short-, medium-, and long-term actions that promote transit ridership, pedestrian activity, and economic self-sufficiency. Ambitious, but achievable, recommendations of the Green Line Extension station area plans will be evaluated periodically consistent with Somerville’s identity as a data-driven, results oriented municipality.