Development Strategy Honed

The Gallery Place-Chinatown section of the District is cited as an example of successful transit-oriented development.
The Gallery Place-Chinatown section of the District is cited as an example of successful transit-oriented development. (By Ricky Carioti -- The Washington Post)
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By Eric M. Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 29, 2008

Metro's board of directors yesterday approved rules designed to spur quality development around Metrorail stations.

The vote followed a stinging report last year by a Metro-appointed task force that said the agency's hands-off approach was responsible for a "paucity" of interest from developers. The report also cited confusion in communities near stations because of "interminable reviews often at odds with community concerns" and a "frequent disconnect" between Metro and local governments.

Too often in the past, board members said yesterday, land around stations was sold mainly to raise cash. The new rules focus on increasing transit-oriented residential and commercial development to encourage Metro ridership and reduce automobile traffic. The Ballston corridor in Arlington and Columbia Heights and Gallery Place-Chinatown in the District are considered examples of successful transit-oriented development.

The rules would increase scrutiny of proposed projects and land sales and would streamline the development process for projects deemed worthy.

The proposal was strongly supported by Maryland officials, who say Metro has failed to take advantage of development opportunities around most Metro stations in the state's Washington suburbs. Existing transit-oriented development is concentrated in downtown Washington, Montgomery and Arlington counties and Alexandria.

"Transit-oriented development concentrates jobs, housing and retail around transit, reducing congestion, greenhouse gas emissions and sprawl,'' said Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) in a statement issued in response to Metro's action. "Over the next 20 years, population in Maryland is expected to grow by 1.1 million people. In theory, with effective [transit-oriented development], that growth could be accommodated within a [half-mile] radius of the state's 111 existing transit stations."

Maryland Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari said in an interview after the meeting that the changes could enable the region to better leverage its multibillion-dollar investment in the Metrorail system to promote sustainable development.

"This is common sense writ large," Porcari said. "In Prince George's County, we have 2,530 acres of undeveloped or underdeveloped land at or near Metro stations. That's crazy. These guidelines are an important framework for working with local governments and provide consistency and predictability for private-sector partners who are considering multi-million dollar investments."

Concentrating growth around Metro stations could increase ridership by 7.9 percent and decrease severe highway congestion by 4.6 percent, Porcari said, citing projections by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

Yesterday's board meeting was Chris Zimmerman's debut as chairman. Zimmerman (D) is a member of the Arlington County Board.

Zimmerman wasted little time laying out an ambitious plan to create a 100-mile high-capacity bus network that would run on the shoulders of existing highways, such as are found on a section of the Dulles Toll Road.

Zimmerman's proposal would establish exclusive or semi-exclusive lanes that would permit buses to speed past regular traffic during peak travel times.

"The local, arterial and interstate road network can be used to move more people more efficiently than it is today,'' Zimmerman said. "This undoubtedly sounds really hard, but the truth is we wouldn't even be pioneering. . . . It's already been done.''

Minneapolis has more than 200 miles of "busways," and in recent years, Los Angeles has deployed buses to provide high-capacity service, he said.

Zimmerman also called on the Metro board and administration to continue the transition from a construction agency to an organization focused on providing quality customer service in a mature system.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company