Connecting the Dots to a Gold Star Picture

 

Emily Hultquist is the Principal Planner and Policy Analyst at CRCOG

After hearing the name of the February 23rd IForum, Connecting the Dots…to a Better Connecticut Transit System, I couldn’t help remembering as a child having workbooks full of “connect-the-dot” pictures that I’d be offered at a restaurant or on a long Saturday visit to a furniture store. Some were easier as consecutive numbers were placed in close proximity to one another. Some were challenging and you had to search high and low for your next connection point. Some offered a few fragments of the finished sketch so that you’d have a hint as to what you were about to create. Ever a perfectionist, whichever version I approached, my goal was to produce a gold-star sticker worthy result.

At the February 23rd IForum, Connecting the Dots…to a Better Connecticut Transit System, presentations from Chris Zimmerman of Smart Growth American and State Agency representatives from the Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD), the Department of Housing (DOH), the Department of Transportation (CTDOT)  and the Office of Policy and Management (OPM) revealed that leveraging transit as an asset in communities, regions and states is a lot like the experience of completing those connect-the-dot drawings. Each transit line and its surrounding corridor, each municipality and each station area offers a different scenario from which to start putting together the final picture. It’s always complicated, as Chris Zimmerman stated at a post-forum lunch gathering, but the good news is that Connecticut has developed some strong tools, practices, and guidance to aid in completing even its toughest puzzles.

Tools

Over the last several years, communities along transit corridors in Connecticut have begun to ready themselves for transit-oriented development. Towns like Enfield, Windsor and Hartford have adopted new zoning regulations in their station areas and many have taken advantage of grant opportunities to clean up brownfields on key parcels along corridors.

Not only have communities begun to prepare, but state and other agencies have worked to create tools for communities to utilize in their efforts. For example, just last year, a group of non-profit agencies including the Connecticut Main Street Center, Connecticut Chapter of the American Planning Association and the Connecticut Economic Development Association worked to pass legislation that allows for tax increment financing (TIF) at the district scale. Many other tools exist – development funds, grants, model regulations, etc. - and creating a database of those tools may be a good collaborative exercise moving forward.

Practices

In his presentation, Chris Zimmerman noted that while well-developed tools are essential, “the real trick is getting everyone on the same page.” Luckily in Connecticut, we have state agencies that have committed to collaborative coordination. During their remarks, Tim Sullivan of DECD, Nick Ludgren of DOH, Garrett Eucalitto of OPM and David Elder of CTDOT all stated the benefits of monthly working group meetings and a sense of teamwork which means any one of their offices can be the conduit through which information on transit-oriented development opportunities and station area planning can flow. All agencies had the chance to work together on a pilot project in the City of Meriden where a new transit station is currently underway along the CTrail Hartford Line.  Meriden City Manager, Lawrence Kendzior spoke from the audience at the IForum to compliment the state agency team on their success in working together on the project.

Guidance

To name just a couple of efforts that could provide great guidance as Connecticut moves forward on connecting the dots, the completed Capitol Region Council of Governments (CRCOG) report, Making it Happen: Opportunities and Strategies for Transit-Oriented Development in the Knowledge Corridor, and the soon-to-be complete CTDOT TOD Desire and Readiness Study offer knowledge on market readiness at stations along the CTfastrak bus rapid transit corridor and the CTrail Hartford Line.

Chris Zimmerman pointed out that in 2013 in the Washington D.C. area, 84% of office space (4.6 million sf) under construction was within ¼ mile of a transit station and that Marriott, currently headquartered in suburban Washington, is looking to move to a Metro-accessible location in the near future. CRCOG will soon be conducting a study on engaging Connecticut’s Anchor Institutions with the hope of directing their future growth toward transit corridors. The Anchor Institutions Study is made possible by a $50,000 grant from the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving.

While we may still be dealing with a series of numbers, dots and fragmented sketches, the IForum on the 23rd showed that we are setting ourselves up well to realize a gold-star sticker worthy picture for the future of the state’s transit system.

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