The Land Use Should Come Before The Transit

Transit decisions are often used as a tool to inform land use. The extensions of transit into outlying areas, for example, are largely advocated for as a means to mitigate sprawl, by providing a fixed route service to an urban center. Yet in many cases, a fixation on transit modes over built environment leads to counterproductive outcomes.

For instance, in 2015, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) completed an “intermodal station” in Salem, Massachusetts – the focal point of which was a 690-space parking structure. In one estimate a year after completion, that parking structure was below capacity. Notably, the project did not include an increase in rail or bus service to the station, or better coordination amongst services, as the term “intermodal” would imply. Guess how effective this proved at stopping the northern sprawl out of Boston?

Cities need to be careful to not fixate on transit – whether commuter rail, BRT, or, for that matter, Hyperloop – as a means of motivating change in land use. Rather, the land use itself needs to transform in order for mass transit to be viable, and that typically means substantial upzoning prior to transit extensions even being proposed.

Ethan Finlan
Ethan Finlan is a writer and sketch comedian based in the Boston area.