Third session of Commonwealth Communities engages expert speakers and audience on planning for the future of transit and TOD in Commonwealth Communities

Image from George Leventhal's (Kaiser Permenente) presentation.

Speakers from left to right: George Leventhal, Doug Landry, Jair Lynch, and Heather Hume. Picture depicts the average level of income along each metro line in Washington, DC.

Throughout this session, speakers agreed that there needs to be a renewed focus on sustainability and resiliency in urban transportation systems in order to respond to the changing needs of riders and development as we approach a post-COVID world. In order to integrate all of these issues, there needs to be cooperation on all levels: federal, state, and local.

In opening the third session of Commonwealth Communities: Smart Growth Strategies for Our Emergent Future, expert speakers gave their descriptions of the interaction between transit-oriented development (TOD) and COVID-19. Heather Hume, Director of Transportation for the MBTA, noted that focusing on rider experience is key, and that “COVID has stripped away daily commuters and given us information on where our riders need us the most.” George Leventhal, Director of Community Health at Kaiser Permanente, stated that “coming from a care and health perspective, a commitment to equity and social justice is needed, especially one that is focused on the social determinants of health.” Jair Lynch, President & CEO of Jair Lynch Real Estate Partners and President of LOCUS, said that places need to be thought about as a whole in order to create places of opportunity, and that “mobility and accessibility connect people with these opportunities.”

To open Commonwealth Communities, Heather Hume described how the MBTA is moving toward all-door boarding and a cash off-board system that encourages equitable and streamlined public transportation. She also mentioned new fare pilots that were created in response to COVID, creating a single card that can be used across all transit options and can be refilled at stations, street vending machines, and small businesses.

George Leventhal provided a detailed description of the Purple Line project in Maryland and how the challenges this project has presented can be addressed. Mr. Leventhal noted that there are historic patterns of redlining in DC, making the District divided by race and income, and separating those with lower incomes and more needs from the places of high opportunity. He reminded us that new development flourishes at current metro stations, where the purple line would co-locate, and that social justice and equity are the main goals of this line. Construction on the Purple Line has been stalled for years, Mr. Leventhal mentioned, through multiple lawsuits, political tensions, and worries about gentrification and negative environmental impacts. Overall, it was agreed that projects like the Purple Line need to plan for the long-term and that the mere presence of a transit station does not guarantee development.

In response to these presentations, Jair Lynch noted that there needs to be an integration of business and economic considerations along with equity and development. Especially in the current COVID environment, businesses are concerned about losing customers, Mr. Lynch said, and that as people return to transit, we need to think about the urbanization of suburban hubs where people are still working from home, but want to interact with their community. He also stated that in order to advance equity, more real estate capital is needed at the base of community development around transit stations.

If topics like equitable transit and TOD interest you, please join us for the next session of Commonwealth Communities: Incorporating Equity in Your Municipal Budget and Practice on Wednesday, November 17th, from 10am-12pm EDT. Register here.