Development and Transit Towns
March 31st, 2003 by Tim Evans
- South Orange and West Windsor both host commuter train stations, and have nearly identical percentages of residents who use public transit to get to work: 22.7 percent (1,865 residents) and 22.9 percent (2,317 residents), respectively.
- The South Orange station is surrounded by new and older housing, retail and commercial development, offering its commuters a variety of choices, including walking, at both ends of their commute. It serves more than 2,000 daily train riders with fewer than 400 parking spaces.
- West Windsor’s Princeton Junction train station serves more than 6,000 daily riders, but requires 4,000 parking spaces to do so, with demand for more spaces. Only a tiny fraction of local employment, and virtually no housing, is within walking distance of the station.
TRANSIT-FRIENDLY DEVELOPMENT KEY TO SMART GROWTH
In a few weeks, Governor James E. McGreevey is expected to unveil smart growth amendments to the state’s municipal land use laws governing development. One test of their success will be the amendments’ ability to promote the right development in the right places, and impede it in the wrong places, as defined by the State Development and Redevelopment Plan.
One of the best places to encourage growth and redevelopment is near train stations and transit hubs. Had West Windsor’s zoning encouraged employers to locate adjacent to its train station, it could have reduced traffic pressures along the massively trafficked Route 1 corridor. Had West Windsor’s zoning also encouraged supporting residential and retail development adjacent to the station, West Windsor residents as well as commuters could find their way to offices, shopping, homes and transit, without adding to traffic congestion.
Market demand for new housing near transit is clear, as shown by the rise in housing prices along rail lines served by the Midtown Direct service to New York City; for example, the popularity of places like Gaslight Commons, a new 200-unit luxury apartment building adjacent to the South Orange train station, and winner of a 2002 Smart Growth Award from New Jersey Future.
New Jerseyans may love their cars, but they hate traffic. Transit-friendly development restores travel options sprawling development has taken away, and is a hallmark of smart growth. The right kind of changes in the municipal land use law can encourage the right kind of development, in the right places.