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“Carrots are nothing but big sticks painted orange””

James Corless, Director Transportation for America

This was just one of many insights passed along by James Corless in his remarks at the morning plenary session at Tuesday’s Partners in Innovation Policy Forum in Denver. The forum was sponsored by NHC and the MacArthur Foundation and focused on the preservation of affordable rental housing around transit. Corless, Director of Transportation for America, spoke to his experiences in his previous role as senior planner for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), the transportation planning, coordinating and financing agency for the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area.

Attendees at the Forum have been encouraged to think of themselves not as housers or representatives from the transportation industry, but rather as part of an integrated system. And Corless laid out several ways that MTC used its transportation money and authority to promote affordable, inclusive transit-oriented development:

Planning grants: By issuing planning grants in amounts up to $750,000, MTC gave communities the capacity to plan for and undertake the land use changes and outreach necessary to enable and build acceptance for development around transit stations.

Capital and infrastructure improvements: MTC funding for walkways, parking, and other necessary improvements in some cases made the difference in allowing proposed TODs to pencil out.

Data and research: Through ridership data, MTC was able to demonstrate that if you build it, they will ride, making the case for transit-oriented development in communities throughout the region.

Corless concluded with key lessons from the 15-year evolution of MTC’s transit-oriented development approach, including the notion that money talks.”He cited the recent Race to the Top competition as an indication that states and localities will adopt preferred policies just to get in the door and qualify to access federal funds. This may be a principle that can be applied to the transit-oriented development world: As we continue to raise the bar, activities that today earn points on funding applications may someday be prerequisites to get in the game.

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