The Carter administration yesterday set out general guidelines under which cities can compete for $200 million in transit grants, provided the projects are planned to revitalize urban areas.

Transportation Secretary Brock Adams and Jack Watson, assistant to the president for intergovernmental affairs, hailed the program in a press conference as a step forward in Carter's urban policy.

The money for the program -- $200 million in both fiscal 1979 and fiscal 1980 -- was approved by the last Congress as part of the Surface Transportation Act. Some big-city transit leaders have expressed concern that the program is really nothing more than a raid on funds that otherwise would have gone for bus purchases or subway modernization.

Adams assured reporters yesterday that "this is new money" that was specifically authorized by Congress.

Under the rules outlined by Adams and Watson yesterday, cities will be eligible to compete for the funds on projects that:

Encourage joint development of public transit facilities with housing and commercial development.

Conveniently connect various forms of transportation within a city, such as a bus terminal and a commuter railroad station.

Improve streets for pedestrian use while maintaining roadways reserved for transit vehicles. Automobile access to such "transit malls" would be limited.

Those cities that develop the most innovative programs will be the ones that get the money, Adams said. Cities and towns of all sizes are elgible.

The program would be administered by the Urban Mass Transportation Administration, part of Adams' department, and would be coordinated with grant programs from other departments, such as Commerce, Housing and Urban Development and La.

Watson said that the program would encourage state and local governments to coordinate their efforts in urban redevelopment while at the same time give incentives to the private sector to participate.

Watson cited a HUD program, called Urban Development Action Grants, which he said had attracted about $3 billion in mostly private investment with $455 million in federal funds.

The program, Watson said, proves that Carter's urban policy "is alive and well, and getting implemented all over the government."

A New City reporter pointed out that that metropolis alone could find good use for $200 million. Adams replied that he would use his discretion to ensure that the money was passed around and not concentrated in one area.

The first grants should be awarded in March, Adams said.