Veronica Vanterpool, in her second year as the Executive Director of Tri-State Transportation Campaign (Tri-State), is making a powerful impression on transportation planning and policy in the New York Metropolitan region. For 20 years Tri-State, a non-profit organization dedicated to reducing car dependency through public awareness, has advocated for more sustainable transportation options, such as bus rapid transit (BRT), transit–oriented development (TOD) and pedestrian safety. Veronica’s strong professional and academic background in environmental science and policy makes her an effective and forceful advocate of Tri-State’s mission. As a student at SUNY Binghamton, where she double majored in Environmental and Political Sciences, she put her growing interest in sustainable transportation to work by driving a University bus and training new bus drivers to meet state commercial driving requirements. After earning an M.S. in Environmental Policy from the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark and working at the New York City Department of Environmental Protection and the Rainforest Alliance, Veronica joined Tri-State as a policy advocate in 2007. Just five years later, she became its Executive Director in June, 2012.
Veronica advocates that, smart growth transportation policy needs to be developed at both ends of the public spectrum—from the policy makers to the affected communities. Veronica and Tri-State work directly with senior members of government and non-profit partners at the community level to explain why TOD, community design, and transit are solid investments that can provide benefits to our environment, health and equity—the concept that all constituencies have access to, jobs, personal services or shopping or natural resources, even if they do not have access to a car.
Tri-State also meets this demand by providing the region with unique up-to-date analyis on transportation and development news and opinions on its blog “Mobilizing the Region” (available at http://blog.tstc.org/). In addition, Tri-State conducts research and analysis on federal and state transportation projects and produces reports on transportation issues.
As part of its emphasis to create safer streets, Tri-State has been working with legislators, officials, and residents to pass “Complete Streets” policies. These policies seek to safely and comfortably accommodate all users of roadways, including pedestrians, cyclists, and public transit riders. Tri-State advises on funding, design, and legal issues and worked with the Southern Westchester Energy Action Consortium on a toolkit of technical resources to support the adoption and implementation of “Complete Streets” policies.
To further Tri-State’s support of BRT, Veronica is currently one of 28 members (the majority of whom are elected officials) of Governor Cuomo’s Mass Transit Task Force associated with the Tappan Zee Bridge Project). Veronica described Tri-State’s strong and enthusiastic support of BRT, in substitution of rail, as the pragmatic choice for providing public transit on the new bridge. Although Tri-State has no objections to rail as a transit option, BRT provides a less costly and more flexible mode of transit that can be built in stages to accommodate changing growth patterns.
For the same reason, Veronica and Tri-State are supporters of the BRT project proposed for the Route 110 corridor in Suffolk County, Long Island. This project is part of Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone’s “Connect Long Island Plan” and aims to improve access to a key commercial and employment corridor while easing traffic congestion Veronica notes that such a project requires educating the public about the benefits of BRT to overcome the stigma of riding public buses. She believes that when the public is informed of the amenities associated with BRT—such as a physically separated bus lane, more modern, fuel efficient buses that can offer Wi-FI and comfort, raised station platforms and off-board fare collection,—people will be more receptive to it.
To encourage TOD efforts in the New York metropolitan region, Tri-State instituted, with the support of the One Region Funders’ Group, a Transit-Centered Development Grant Program in 2009. Eleven grants, totaling $335,000, were made to municipalities in NY, NJ, and CT. The purpose of the program is to provide municipalities with financial support to engage in the community planning for and amendment of comprehensive plans and zoning provisions to foster TOD. A recent grant recipient that Veronica highlights is Stratford, CT.
With the grant from Tri-State, the Town prepared a feasibility study that examined the challenges to amending its zoning code to allow TOD projects in the area surrounding its Metro-North Railroad station. Upon completing the study, the Town received a $250,000 grant from the State of Connecticut to further the project. These funds then assisted the Town in the planning for and adoption of a transit center development floating zone in December 2011. This floating zone provides density incentives to developers and requires property owners to seek inclusion provided their proposed project satisfies certain requirements, including a three-acre site minimum, location within a one-mile radius of the transit center, and demonstration that the proposed project will benefit from inclusion in the zone.
The first project rezoned under the transit center development floating zone, a 128-unit housing complex, being advanced by Forest City Residential Group, contains studios and one- and two-bedroom apartments and is under construction on a parcel at a prominent intersection that was previously occupied by an abandoned automobile dealership. The first 20 units of the apartment complex are completed and tenants are expected to move in by October 1, 2013. According to Forest City, the project’s proximity to key transportation facilities, such as the MetroNorth station, was a key amenity
With her forward thinking and passion for sustainable transportation, surely this is only the beginning of Veronica’s work at Tri-State in facilitating smart transportation policies in the New York metropolitan region. For more information on Tri-State’s involvement in transportation policy issues, and TOD in particular, please visit http://www.tstc.org.
Robert (Bob) Paley is Director of Transit-Oriented Development at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority where he manages development of MTA properties and works with regional and local entities to promote TOD and coordinate local land use policies and transit. Previously, Bob was Senior Development Director for AvalonBay Communities. At AvalonBay he coordinated a number of regional TOD projects, including the construction of residential buildings near the Metro North train stations in New Rochelle and White Plains, NY, and the mixed use projects known as Avalon Chrystie Place located on Houston Street in Manhattan adjacent to the Second Avenue station on the F line.
According to Bob, developers are adapting to changes in the residential real estate market that support more urban and transit-centered development. “We are ending a fifty year period of development based on the needs of automobiles where single use buildings are separated by parking lots. We understand that growth can no longer be based on this idea. Regional viability, not to mention the global environment, requires a model that puts communities at the center of design and which puts transit at the center of economic development.” To meet this need Bob explains that the real estate development industry is retooling itself to satisfy the growing demand for multi-use communities of housing, work places and shopping that are easily accessible to transit. He notes that this is a long-term trend based on demographics and changing consumer preferences. “As the real estate industry continues to strengthen and sources of financing come back, I think this will ultimately be reflected in a growing public desire to reshape land use regulations to accommodate this market demand.”
Bob’s private sector development experience brings an important perspective to his work at the MTA. As he notes, promoting better relationships between land uses and transportation throughout a system as large as the MTA’s requires different approaches and tools in differing settings. It also requires that agency get involved in a broad range of planning, zoning, real estate and investment issues. Consequently, Bob recognizes that developers provide the entrepreneurial push and the investment capital that are critical to TOD. He explains “Our office wants developers to know they can pick up the phone and have someone help with complications that arise when development and transit come together. We take a problem-solving approach whether it is a New York City zoning bonus project or a suburban development where we may have property included in a TOD project.”
During his time at MTA, Bob has overseen a number of critical projects for the transit agency, including developing the first plan to build over MTA’s West Side Rail Yard in Manhattan and establishing the retail mall and entrance pavilion for the Long Island Rail Road Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn. He also managed the negotiations with Vornado Realty Trust to develop 15 Penn Plaza, a proposed office tower that would replace the Hotel Pennsylvania on Seventh Avenue between 32nd and 33rd streets in Manhattan and would result in transit improvements, including reopening the Gimbels Passageway that connects Herald Square and Penn Station.
Because the transit system operated by the MTA is large with over 700 stations, there are many opportunities to undertake TOD projects around these areas. One example is Long Island Rail Road’s Wyandanch station located on the Ronkonkoma Branch, which serves 3,500 riders daily. The Town of Babylon recognized that the station’s excellent service – soon to be improved with investment in a second running track – will drive demand for their planned TOD, Wyandanch Rising. (See Jan Well’s article here for more information.) That project is a major community revitalization initiative led by Babylon that seeks to transform an economically distressed downtown are into a transit-oriented, pedestrian friendly, environmentally sustainable community.
Despite being a mature transit network, Bob notes that there are some limited but important opportunities to add stations. For example, MTA is studying the potential for new Metro North stations in the eastern Bronx and a new LIRR Republic Airport station. Should new stations be located in these areas, then substantial TOD opportunities may exist.
As part of his responsibilities at MTA, Bob also coordinates the agency’s involvement with the New York-Connecticut Sustainable Communities Consortium (SCC), a collaborative of municipal and county governments and planning entities seeking to promote development around MTA’s commuter rail and subway networks (see last issue’s article here). Bob explains that the studies being conducting by the SCC, while addressing unique local issues, will reinforce the potential for the MTA system to serve as the backbone for regional growth which will boost the already huge dividends the region earns from investment in its transportation system.
Outside of his work at the MTA, Bob is an adjunct assistant professor of real estate development at Columbia University, is a member of the TOD Council of the Urban Land Institute, and serves on the Ardsley, New York Planning Board. Fortunately for the TOD Line, Bob also serves as an editorial board member.
Bob believes that the TOD Line fills a void in the region. As he notes, “national perspectives on TOD are now readily available, particularly concerning development around new or significantly expanding systems such as that in Denver, Colorado or Salt Lake City, Utah. Yet, these national perspectives don’t really fit for a system as mature as the New York metro area’s.” To him, this region’s issues will require solutions uniquely tailored for its communities. “The TOD Line will play a vital role in providing information and resources to the many people and groups who will craft these solutions – elected officials, citizen volunteers, government employees, developers and advocates.”
Alex Twining has been involved in the construction of transit-oriented developments for more than 30 years, beginning with BF Saul and later working for companies such as AvalonBay. Currently, Alex is president and CEO of Twining Properties, a firm whose mission, not surprisingly, is to construct urban, mixed-use development at transit nodes along Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor from Washington, DC to Boston. Since the firm’s founding in 2002, Twining Properties has worked on more than four million square feet of TOD projects in Boston and New York City.
For Alex, a Yale-educated architect, developer and environmentalist, working with transit and urban growth is a family tradition. In the mid-19th Century, his great, great-grandfather and namesake, Alexander C. Twining (1801 to 1884), an inventor and professor of astronomy, mathematics, and law, laid out many rail lines throughout the Northeast. In the 1970s, Alex’s father served as one of the founders of Citizens Against I-95 Expansion, a group organized to stop a new eight-lane bridge across the Connecticut River and redirect the funds toward public rail. The tradition lives on in Twining Properties.
The firm’s first TOD project was Watermark Kendall, a 24-story, mixed-use tower with 321 apartments and 25,000 square feet of retail space in Cambridge, MA. The project site, near a high-tech employment cluster surrounding MIT, is one block from the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) Kendall/MIT Station on the system’s Red Line. Earlier this year, the firm started a second tower next door. When complete, the two phases of the project will include 465 apartments catering to the area’s high-tech clientele. Through his experience with Watermark Kendall, Alex has observed firsthand that fewer than 50 percent of residents in TODs located next to a transit station in a dense, mixed-use area, own a car.
Twining Properties is developing another apartment tower in Boston that is part of Seaport Square, a 6.5 million square foot master development on 25 acres along the Boston Harbor waterfront. The firm advised Morgan Stanley on the siting and configuration of the 2.8 million square feet of residential space at Seaport Square and, as a result, acquired one of the blocks when the master plan was approved in late 2010. Alex chose a site located adjacent to the Courthouse Station of MBTA’s new Silver Line, the system’s only bus rapid transit (BRT) service. From Courthouse Station, residents have direct access to Boston’s South Station with available Red Line and Amtrak services. The firm plans to break ground on a 300-apartment tower at the site in early 2013.
Alex’s firm also has worked on potential TOD projects in New York City, including a 56-story, one-million-square-foot apartment, hotel and retail development with theaters at 42nd Street and 10th Avenue in Manhattan. The project site, now known as MiMA (Middle of Manhattan), is located above the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) 7 Line Subway extension project, where a subway stop was to have been built under earlier plans. Twining acquired the site by settling a lawsuit between the City and the former owners and proactively worked with MTA to locate a future subway stop in the basement of the building. While other developers balked at the idea of having a subway station located under the project, it made perfect sense to Alex. The building is designed with knockout panels in the basement to facilitate a subway stop’s future construction. While Twining Properties eventually sold its interest in the project to the Related Companies, the project continues to highlight the firm’s TOD focus.
Outside of work, Alex is an active member of the Urban Land Institute (ULI); is a past chair of one of ULI’s Urban Mixed Use Development Councils; serves on the Dean’s Council at the Yale School of Architecture; and has lectured and taught at Columbia, MIT, NYU and Yale.
As a ULI member for more than 30 years, Alex notes that when he first joined the organization in early 1980s, urban, mixed-use development and transit were barely discussed. Now, however, TOD is the buzz at most meetings. He sees this as a good sign for the nation, even if it does mean new business competition. Alex believes the simple math that efficient transit systems connected to exciting, high density places where people can live, work, and play adds up to better land use, less harmful environmental impacts, more productive workplaces, and a more desirable lifestyle overall. As Alex explains, “these are not novel thoughts, but they are critical if, as a region and a nation, we are to ensure the sustainability of our country.”
Who knows, perhaps someday Alex’s legacy will be a string of successful, durable, path-finding TOD projects along the Northeast Corridor. For more information on Alex and Twining Properties, please visit http://www.twiningproperties.com/.