PUBLIC TRANSIT/Software, public help design land-use plans
From February 2001 until the summer of 2002, the Sacramento (Calif.) Regional Transit District held a series of public workshops to help determine the type of development that will surround light-rail stations in the region. During the workshops, residents and local officials used a GIS-based technology to test alternative land-use plans.
Although light rail has been in place in the Sacramento area for about 15 years, no substantial land-use planning had occurred for the areas around the stations. Local officials conducted the “Transit for Livable Communities” workshops to develop public support for concentrated development near the stations.
“As communities have come to understand the benefits of effective land-use planning around light-rail stations, they have sought greater [public] involvement in the process,” says Maureen Pascoe, former real estate administrator for the Sacramento Regional Transit District. “Early in the [Transit for Livable Communities] project, we identified three major components that needed to be addressed equally: community involvement and support, economic vitality of the communities around the stations and land-use plans that are grounded in sound planning principles.”
In the workshops, participants used a software program called Planning for Community Energy, Economic and Environmental Sustainability (PLACE3S) to evaluate potential land-use plans. PLACE3S is a GIS-based program that allows users to compare land-use plans in a number of ways, including their impact on jobs, environmental resources, access to transit and access to schools. Packaged as an extension to ArcView software from Redlands, Calif.-based ESRI, PLACE3S is non-proprietary software.
A team of consultants led by New York-based Parsons Brinckerhoff developed PLACE3S. Funding for the software development was provided by the California Energy Commission, the U.S. Department of Energy, the Association of Bay Area Governments, San Diego, Sacramento, the San Diego Association of Governments and the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority, along with other state and federal agencies.
A portion of the public workshops held in Sacramento focused on the land-use plan for the 60-acre area surrounding the 65th Street light-rail station. Before the workshops were held, the city and Parsons Brinckerhoff used PLACE3S to develop six potential land-use plans for the area. Three of the plans used the zoning present at the time, and the rest incorporated smart-growth initiatives.
Workshop participants were divided into groups, and the groups used PLACE3S to develop their own land-use plans and measure the effect of their plans and those proposed by the city. The participants examined such factors as the number of jobs and residences the plans would support, and they studied the projected energy use, air emissions and the vehicle miles traveled (VMT). In the end, the workshops produced a mixed-use, transit-oriented plan that projects a 50 percent increase in train boardings over existing conditions and about a 20 percent decrease in VMT. The plan calls for a mixture of residential construction — apartments, condominiums and student housing — and retail and office space in the half-mile surrounding the station. The city council approved the plan, and it is now being implemented.
“PLACE3S was a great help because it democratizes the planning process, and really puts it in the hands of stakeholders,” Pascoe says. “[The public] can immediately see and feel the consequences of land-use policy decisions.
“Community members gained a sense of ownership in the project and learned about the important connection between land-use and transit ridership,” she adds. “Planning professionals gained access to land-use plans that have gone through community review very early in the project’s life, which provided better guidance and better support for planning decisions.”