Balancing Transit Mode of Access with Urban Design in Suburban Settings: A Comparative Assessment of Four European Transit Systems

May 27th, 2011

Metro’s early experience with promoting TOD took place at below-ground rail stations in established urban settings that did not require the provision of transit access facilities beyond connections from sidewalks to the stations below. More recently, WMATA’s opportunities to develop its land to support TOD have been predominantly in suburban rail stations that include extensive parking lots, bus bays, and facilities for taxis, bicycles, customer pick-up and drop-off, and ADA patrons.

The default agency policy in recent years has been to replace existing facilities with a like amount and kind of facilities on a reduced footprint, and to emphasize transit operational functionality over urban design issues.  For example, this approach has tended to favor placing parking structures and bus bays adjacent to the station in lieu of pedestrian facilities, public spaces and mixed-use development.  However, public feedback has prompted WMATA to reassess the appropriateness of this default approach, and there is a need for new thinking about how future patrons should arrive at suburban stations; how transit operations should function in TOD contexts; and how to better meet local development policy objectives.

Development plan for Twinbrook Metrorail station.

Development plan for Twinbrook Metrorail station. Click the image for more information.

Over the past five years, WMATA has made a number of significant policy and program changes to recognize the changing development environment at suburban rail stations. For example, in 2008 WMATA adopted a new set of real estate development guidelines (1.91 MB PDF), and the first real estate projects implementing those guidelines were initiated in the summer and fall of 2010. While the evolution of WMATA’s planning and land development practice is underway, it is far from complete. WMATA’s most recently-launched TOD projects confront the agency with the immediate challenge of replacing first-generation, auto-oriented transit access facilities with a new generation of facilities that supports transit access, transit operations, and TOD.

To meet the twin challenges of designing functional transit facilities and attractive urban places, Metro and its partners in the region will need to answer questions such as:

  1. What investment should be made in facilities for pedestrian, bicycle, ADA, bus, and automobile access;
  2. How far should such facilities be located from station entrances, and should they be on or off station property;
  3. What construction standards should be used and who should own, operate, and maintain these facilities; and
  4. How should private development and urban design features be integrated into the mix of public roads, and on-site transit station facilities?

Early this Fall, thanks to the Urban & Regional Policy program of the German Marshall Fund, I will be spending 3- 4 weeks in Europe to research how four cities there have planned and developed transit-oriented places, with a specific focus on how these cities have balanced urban design elements with transit system access needs for cars, buses, bicycles, pedestrians, etc.

Parilly Station, Lyon France

In Lyon, I’m planning to focus on la Ligne D, which offers a number of examples of station designs that support multimodal access in both urban and suburban design contexts, from la Gare de Vénissieux (aerial, streetview)—with its car parking, bus access, and mixed industrial and low-density residential character—to Parilly (aerial, streetview)—with its park plaza and on-road bus stops—to Gorge de Loup (aerial, streetview), with its below-grade, bus transit mall in a setting close to the center city.

In Brussels, I’ll be concentrating on La Ligne 5, which extends from the Station Erasme (aerial) in the west, with its campus and car-park setting, to Eddy Merckx (aerial), with its high-residential and bike access emphasis, to La Station Delta (aerial), with its more suburban mix of bus access and car parking.

DR Byen Station seen from Ørestads Boulevard, ©

In Copenhagen, I’m interested in the Metro M1 line to Ørestad, where station access ranges from an emphasis on bus and bicycle access (aerial, streetview)at the western extremity of the line, to a blend of bicycle, bus, auto, and pedestrian access along Ørestad Boulevard (aerial, streetview)– with its campus / industrial uses on the west side of the boulevard to its single-family residential neighborhoods to the east.

Finally, in Munich I’m hoping to visit the stations at either extremity of the U2, and the stations of the recently opened Olympia Zentrum extension on the U6. Stations in these settings include a variety of suburban station typologies, including various combinations of off-street bus terminals, bike parking, and S-Bahn connections, and a variety of land use settings.

Through this research, I’m hoping to learn how Metro’s European counterparts:

  • Establish the mix of transit access facilities provided at different locations in different systems;
  • Set the access policies, land use plans, and policy and pricing frameworks that complement these facilities;
  • Identify “lead agencies”; and
  • Coordinate transit, highway, and land use policy objectives and resolve policy differences among agencies and stakeholders.

I am working with German Marshall Fund and transit agency contacts in each of these cities now to arrange interviews with officials and to begin gathering materials that will be relevant to this research. I would be grateful to learn of any contacts that PlanItMetro’s readership would recommend, published materials that relate to the transportation – land use planning contexts in these regions, and – perhaps most importantly – questions to ask and ideas to pursue during the course of my site visits and interviews.

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  1. Chris
    July 20th, 2011 at 22:56 | #1

    Nat- make sure you survey the “central corridor” in Munich.

    This is a new corridor-based TOD initiative that involves excellent planning and provision for sustainable modes like walking and cycling, in addition to the mass transit component itself (s-bahn). The central corridor should be about 85% complete by now…

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