|Subway station Mont-Royal in Montréal, in an old streetcar suburb|
|Blainville station on a commuter rail line in Montréal, notice the parking next to the station, the lack of buildings around it and the housing around that are low-density single-family detached homes|
What is the problem?
The problem is that as we use highways to tie in cities together, development flows along on highways and other roads, the resulting development is then of course car-oriented because only cars are viable transport modes when areas develop. Later on, we try to add transit to it, but areas built for cars tend to have low density and to spread apart destinations rather than concentrating them, so car-oriented suburbs will not offer a lot of potential for transit.
So how can we convert our cities to make them transit-friendly? By changing them. When a rapid transit line comes in an area, there must be an understanding that the area within 800 - 1 000 meters (half a mile) of the stations WILL change and densify significantly. The area around must be replaced, what was adequate for car-dependent sprawl will not be adequate once there is a subway station. This is where euclidean zoning hurts the most as it is extremely hard to change, so does the idea that once an area is built, it should NEVER change, which is unfortunately too common both on the right and on the left.
The ridership gain potential from transit investment is mostly dependent on how much development transit can attract, not by convincing people who used to drive to take transit.
I spoke of streetcar suburbs recently, and the point that is most important to understand is that the transit line was built BEFORE the suburbs were built. That is why streetcar suburbs are such good TOD, it's because there was a transit line when the area was developed, so developments took the transit line in consideration. Just like right now industrial parks and malls are built around highway interchanges, at the time, industries and businesses flocked to the streetcar line, so as to be easy to access.
One thing that could be done is to simply build rapid transit prior to developments. People often think rapid transit is very expensive to build, but that's not really the case. Overall, rapid transit is less expensive than highways to build, laying tracks is no harder than building an highway. If subways are so expensive, it's largely because they are generally built underground (which is very expensive) and only in areas that are mostly all built-out already, which makes surface lines hard and expensive to build. You could theoretically use eminent domain to carve a narrow corridor through inhabited areas for the purpose of building rail through, but that would be quite hard to do politically, and still pretty expensive.
Example: Munich's S-bahnsMunich, like many other German cities, has an extremely well-developed transit network. One of the most interesting aspects of it is the S-bahn network. S-bahn are essentially light-rail lines that run on grade-separated tracks outside cities and on streets in the city. In France, they would be called "tram-trains".
|The spiderweb of red lines on this map of Munich are the S-bahn lines|
|The dark green line is the S-bahn, the S symbols are the stations|
How can Munich afford this? The S-bahn lines run on the surface in the suburbs, which makes them especially cheap to build, no more expensive than the highways and major roads on which North American suburbs depend. Their presence in growing suburbs attract developments near them, which feeds the system well.
Other example: Chigasaki
Anyway, here is what Chigasaki's train station looks like:
You can also notice plenty of tall buildings around the station, these are also stores and restaurants, and some offices, all concentrated around the station.
|Street that leads to Chigasaki station|
|Locations of stores in Chigasaki|
Here is an example of some of the streets leading to the station, the smaller ones in particular.
|Shopping street near Chigasaki station|
|South side of Chigasaki station, some tall residential towers with shops on the ground floor|
This is what TODs look like, proper TODs. Though not every station is built the same way, each 2 or 3 stations, you will come over something like this in Tokyo's suburbs. So when building transit stations in built out areas, it is important to allow developments that look a bit like this. And it's important to include not just proximity stores like corner stores, but to have specialized stores in malls or big shopping areas once in a while around stations, attracting big brands if possible. That way, people living near the line may be tempted to use it to go shopping rather than just going to work, they're no longer forced to go to big malls on the outskirts for their specialized shopping.
I think too often even people who are generally allies of urbanism shirk at allowing this kind of development, they seek to preserve "character" and "mom and pop stores" by keeping big stores away from neighborhoods. But this is counter-productive, because by keeping the big stores from settling near transit, they just move to the suburbs, and then a lot of people start taking cars to them.
In conclusionTransit is not merely about transport, it is about shaping cities and influencing their development, especially high-capacity, high-speed transit.
Rapid transit investments need to be accompanied by significant relaxation of zoning so as to allow development to flood the transit stations. A new transit station must not merely be an added bonus for current residents who happen to live near, it must herald major changes and increased density, else, the money is almost wasted. Increase in ridership will come when people and businesses move to the area, not when previous residents living in car-oriented development start to abandon their cars to take transit.
In fact, if you feel daring, using eminent domain to appropriate low-density areas before the line is built, then re-selling the land after to developers may well serve to pay part of the line's construction. This is called "value capture". There are other ways of doing it, like special local taxes on properties that see their values increase, but these taxes often have a counter-productive effect of discouraging development in areas subjected to this extra "value capture" tax.
It is best also to plan for transit BEFORE areas are built out and to extend rapid transit lines to the suburbs as quickly as possible, as building tracks in undeveloped areas is no more expensive than building roads there. It is easier to influence the built form of an area when it is being built than to transform a fully developed area, and the housing in greenfield developments tends to be cheaper than in infill developments.