Toadish TODs

Toadish TODs

There’s so much wrong with the Port Authority of Allegheny County’s takeaways from a new study about “transit-oriented development” (TOD) that we don’t know where to begin. But begin we must.

The mass-transit agency long has pushed for development around its bus and light-rail stations. In fact, it’s often billed not only as a grand way to spur development that produces economic benefits for as far as the eye can see but also that it’s a great way to boost public transit ridership.

To that end, the Port Authority self-commissioned a study of its TOD efforts for the 2013 to 2018 period. As the Post-Gazette reports it:

“Under the TOD program, the authority works internally and with local communities to encourage development not only on extra property the agency may own around stations but also in the half-mile radius around stations.

“One of the main goals is to increase population density around transportation stations with affordable housing so that those most likely to use transit have easy access, which would improve the quality of life for residents and ridership on public transit.”

The study “clearly shows” development growth over that five-year period around the East Liberty bus station (on the East Busway) and around Downtown light-rail stations, the P-G says.

But, and in a most perverted dichotomy, it’s apparently not the kind of growth the Port Authority wants. And, in the process, an oft-stated mass-transit shibboleth that has been repeated so often that its claimants have pushed it as an article of faith has been slain.

For you see, it appears that the development being touted around these stations is attracting higher-incomes residents who don’t necessarily use public transit, the P-G reports.

“Gentrification,” the study bemoans. Future development must be viewed through “an equity lens,” the report urges. That, to ensure change is being promoted for the people who need it most, the P-G adds.

The Port Authority appears to be saying that, though it welcomes the growth, there must be even more wealth transfers to make its claim of what TODs deliver a reality.

Good grief.

Again, from the P-G reportage:

“Along the East Busway, the number of black residents declined around all five stations in Pittsburgh’s East End, with the largest decline 34.4 percent around East Liberty Station” in the studied years.

“Meanwhile, income in the areas around the busway stations increased 23.9 percent, about nine percentage points above the Allegheny County average; median home values increased 27.3 percent (20.7 percent is the county average) and median rents increased 19.3 percent (15.1 percent average).”

Furthermore, the Port Authority study shows that residents paying 30 percent or more of their income for housing increased by nearly 50 percent.

But, all the while, transit ridership has shown minimal changes.

And the Port Authority’s “equity lens” solution?

More “affordable,” i.e. low-income, housing and all manner of other strictures — from tougher zoning requirements (apparently to force density in development and perhaps even to keep the higher-income folks at bay), to, incredibly, limiting parking spaces (to force patrons onto mass transit), among other things — in an attempt to command the marketplace to do what transit-oriented development aficionados claim TOD will do and, at least in this case, has not.

The end result, of course, will be more regulatory hoops to jump through; less convenience for patrons who find mass transit inconvenient and inefficient; pushing “green building” strictures (that in too many cases, are but an oak veneer on particle board); less economic growth; less freedom and more state-sanctioned perversion of the marketplace.

And when all that does not deliver the desired TOD results? Why, even more government interventions to cover up the lies of each prior government intervention.

Such execution of TODs should be considered nothing more than toadish.

Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).