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04 May


Transit Oriented Healthy Communities

May 4, 2015 | By |

By Ida Ottesen, Principal

In our increasingly urbanizing world, public transportation is vital to allowing sustainable growth of our cities. Taking public transportation should be an attractive option to getting in a car, and urban design and landscape architecture play a vital role in making public transit, such as light rail, a success.

In working with a large team of engineers, architects, planners and environmental scientists, our role as landscape architects is partly to enable integration of the large transportation project into the social and environmental fabric of the surrounding communities. As landscape architects on the current Sound Transit East Link project, our ultimate client is the transit rider and our goal is to provide a safe and pleasant commuter experience for them.  As designers in dialogue with the communities that will be affected, we need to create outdoor environments that support the surrounding community.

Methods to integrate light rail into communities include:

  1. Provide safe and reliable ways for people to walk, bike or drive to the stations.
  2. Make light rail stations distinct places that reflect or improve the neighborhood in which they are in. This is done through context sensitive design that uses layout and materials selection to create places that are welcoming and accessible.
  3. Design spaces that are multi-functional with vegetation that cleans stormwater, reduces the heat island effect and improves air quality. Green infrastructure and other low impact development techniques are not only good for the environment but also improve human health as studies have shown that even just looking at nature can reduce stress.
  4. These stations are new community hubs and providing services beyond the actual transportation should be considered. In most of Europe, transit stations include a kiosk that sells magazines, drinks and snacks to passengers throughout the day.
  5. Mitigate the visual and circulatory impacts wherever possible by providing new sidewalks, pedestrian bridges where it makes sense and new trees and landscaping in affected corridors.

Two recent blog posts dive further into the importance of public transit systems for the social and economic wellbeing of a city. The ASLA blog defines a “transit desert” as an area where there is no or very distant access to public transportation.  Similar to the term “food desert” that describes the lack of grocery stores, this is affecting communities even within cities forcing people to walk or drive far distances for even basic services.

In addition to the environmental benefits of reducing carbon emissions by walking, biking and using public transit, the Gensler Architects blog brought up the importance of providing people with choices such as walking, biking and public transportation as a way to improve public health by making people move more and to halt the western world epidemics of obesity and diabetes.

The City of Seattle has relatively well functioning public transportation but as the city is becoming more expensive to live in, people who cannot afford the city are forced to move further out to the suburbs that tend to not be as well served by transit. This forces many low wage earners to spending even more of their income on providing their own transportation. For the Puget Sound a well-functioning public transportation system that is region wide, will be instrumental in continuing the quality of life that we all cherish.