Transport should be at the heart of new developments – and here’s how

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What is transit oriented development?

You might not instantly recognise this American term, but if you’ve been to the new development north of London’s King’s Cross station, then you’ll know what one looks like. Although still not fully completed, this once unused industrial site represents a flagship transit oriented development – the principle of putting public transport front and centre in residential and commercial developments, with the aim of maximising access by public transport, encouraging walking and cycling, and minimising the need to own and use private cars. With its shops, restaurants, offices (Google is located here), public sector organisations (Camden Council has offices here) and excellent public realm – all located within striking distance of plentiful transport options such as rail, tube, buses and active travel infrastructure like cycle superhighways, it certainly fits the bill.

Transit oriented development is not only found in large world cities. Northstowe, in Cambridgeshire, is part of the NHS Healthy New Towns programme, which aims to encourage active lifestyles and incorporate healthcare facilities into new town developments. Good public transport options are available here via the Cambridgeshire Guided Busway and the nearby Cambridge North Railway Station. And in West Yorkshire, a new railway station at Kirkstall Forge outside of Leeds, is part of a new transit oriented development which, on completion, will provide over 1,000 new homes, 300,000 square feet of office space and 100,000 square feet of retail, leisure and community facilities, including a school – all just a six minute ride train journey from the city centre.

Our new report – The place to be: How transit oriented development can support good growth in the city regions – looks at how ‘Transit oriented development’ can help meet housing demand and reduce car-based urban sprawl, and provides examples like these, and many more.

For instance, Vauban in Freiburg, Germany, is a transit oriented development which prioritises walking and cycling by having low speed limits. The area is served by a high frequency tram and all homes are within 400 meters of a tram stop. This integration of sustainable transport means that car ownership is low, at 150 cars per 1,000 residents, compared to 270 for Freiburg as a whole.

So, integrating public transport into new developments, along with providing urban realm that encourages walking and cycling, can help us move away from a car based sprawl approach to delivering new housing, one which locks residents into car-based lifestyles and exacerbates the challenges of congestion and poor air quality in our cities. We’ve identified seven key success factors for transit oriented development schemes in our new report, including: integration of public transport, support for walking and cycling and discouraging car ownership and use, high density development on brownfield sites, integration of services and the involvement of the public sector. You can see these in our new infographic below (which can be downloaded here).

ugt tod info-graphic

But how exactly do we go about achieving such developments, and overcome some of the barriers?

Our members – city region transport authorities – have an important role to play, as they are often some of the biggest land and property owners in the cities they serve. In order for them to make transit oriented developments happen, they need:

  • a national planning framework that favours transit oriented development rather than car-based low density sprawl
  • a national funding framework with more options for ensuring that value uplift from new developments can be used to improve transport connectivity – like we have seen with Crossrail in London and in places like San Francisco’s Bay Area. In particular, we need a joint programme of work between city regions and national Government to examine the issues, and develop the options, on land value capture mechanisms.
  • more influence over land held by agencies of national Government which would be prime sites for transit oriented development schemes. We’d like city region authorities in England to have the same veto powers over Network Rail land sales that the Scottish Government currently enjoys.
  • more devolution of powers over stations where a city region transport authority has the ambition and capacity to take on those responsibilities.
  • measures to improve the planning capacity of local authorities in order to respond effectively, rapidly and imaginatively to opportunities for high quality transit oriented development.

As our Chair Tobyn Hughes notes, transit oriented developments are “an idea whose time has truly come”… but if we are to embark on a new era of transit oriented developments, and realise the benefits they can bring, we must overcome these obstacles. We hope that by following these recommendations, we can usher in this new era.

Clare Linton is Researcher at Urban Transport Group

(Picture top: R~P~M via Flickr)

Six things I learned on a works outing to Hitachi’s Train Building Factory in County Durham

1.We live in a world of mysterious blank big sheds inside which much of the economy happens. So good on Hitachi on being so open to visitors in letting people like us have a look at what goes on in their factory and to see some new trains being born. People love to see what goes behind the scenes and there is lots of scope for more of the transport industry to do more of it – Hitachi certainty do as another group was ready to do a tour as we left. And very high tech the trains are too (currently the factory is churning out the new IEP high speed trains for the East Coast Main Line and electric trains for the Scottish central belt) loaded with sensors and threaded through with kilometres of cabling.

2. I like a new train, I like it if it gets me there a bit quicker. It’s nice if it has a racy nose cone. But really what I’m interested in (and would swap a longer journey time for) is are the seats going to be comfortable and will I be able to move my elbows sufficiently to do a bit of work on it. Frustrating therefore how boring, uncomfortable and cramped most interiors for modern trains are – especially when gazillions are spent on their engineering aspects. Symptom of a railway run by engineers and financial engineers – and overseen by an absentee landlord at DfT. None of which is Hitachi’s doing as seat spec is down to the DfT and the franchisee. Word is IEP East Coast trains are going to have more comfortable seating given recent backlashes against ironing-board seats elsewhere. We shall see.

3. The factory employs a lot of people to put parts together and assemble and test the trains. They are also seeking to involve the local supply chain in supplying more of those parts (70% of parts in the IEP come from the UK they say). All good but the question remains how much of the clever parts of new trains could be procured from the UK in new UK trains (for now the body shells, with a fair amount of kit already built in, comes from Japan) and the traction packages, air conditioning, diesel power packs and universal access toilets are all imported. I’m in no way singling out Hitachi on this issue as it’s a Government specification issue. Roger Ford, in his informed sources, column has argued that there should be a minimum spec for high value components from the UK for the UK. The focus we currently have on train and bus building plants (and the outcry if they come under threat) needs to be balanced with attention to how they relate to the supply chain (particularly the advanced manufacturing end of the supply chain).

4. Hitachi are doing some close working with a nearby college to attract young people into the industry (though young peoples’ primary engineering aspirations are aerospace or Formula One not trains they say). You can never start too early therefore and thus they are working with primary schools to give kids some fun in a location they are unlikely to forget soon and to sow some seeds as to what their future might hold before they start to copy the views of their peers as to what’s for them and what is not.

5. How few people who build new public transport vehicles use public transport to get there. We got there on the Darlington to Bishop Auckland branch line (alighting at Heighington) with its less than high tech Pacer trains and hourly service. But at shift change at Hitachi there was a whirlwind of activity in the car park but none of the workforce joined us on the rather grim walk back to the station. There were a couple of bus stops on the road back as well (with shelters) but with no maps and no timetable information – the signage to the station was also poor. Efforts are being made to improve things (with a new earlier service to the station for the start of the early shift) however overall very reminiscent of the ignored and underwhelming public transport access to the Optare bus building factory east of Leeds – which everyone also drives to.

6. The Bishop Auckland branch line may feel like a backwater today but part of it is the route of the original Stockton and Darlington railway. You can define what was the first railway in a lot of ways. But this was the world’s first public railway which used steam locomotives for freight alongside a horse drawn (at first) passenger service. A boarded up pub next to Heighington station can claim to be the oldest extant station building at a working railway station in the world. It’s also where George Stephenson’s Locomotion Number One took to the rails for the first time. And if that wasn’t enough it’s also home to one of the oldest working signal boxes in the country. With the railway museum at Darlington North Road and the NRM base at Shildon further down the line here’s hoping even more can be made of this railway’s historical interest and credentials in the run up to 2025 (the bicentennial of the opening of the Stockton and Darlington).

Jonathan Bray

Debating with data

Data Hub computer image

What is Data? A character from Star Trek? Or is it factual information or numbers that can be used to help inform decision making?

Both are correct, of course. But in an era where disinformation and ‘fake news’ are playing an increasingly key role in driving geopolitical crises, it’s more important than ever that we all strive for higher standards of data and the presentation of that data. This is particularly key for the world of transport.

That’s why in July 2017, the Urban Transport Group launched the Data Hub – an online, interactive tool allowing users to create bespoke visualisations of key transport data. This unique tool has proved very popular, with thousands of people visiting the hub to explore data and produce their own visualisations to help support the work that they’re doing on transport.

Back in July 2017 whilst I was at Nexus, I was working on the early stages of developing a new Bus Strategy for the region. Seeking the data to support statements in the draft, the Data Hub was able to instantly present to me the trends of bus patronage and bus trips per head for Tyne and Wear. Previously, such a task would have required trawling though spreadsheets for hours on end to get the data I wanted. The Urban Transport Group has recognised that transport planners and policy makers from across its membership were likely doing the same tasks and so the Data Hub was born, turning long spreadsheets into usable data for everyone.

When I joined Urban Transport Group on secondment earlier this year, it was clear to me that the organisation did not want to rest on its laurels. Driven by the positive experiences and constructive feedback from users, overseeing an upgrade to the Data Hub became one of my main jobs.

Select, visualise and share

The upgrade has involved two key elements. The first was working with engineers AECOM to carry out upgrades, including the introduction of Geocharts (or maps) to allow data to be paired with maps and the ability for users to add their own data to charts. The Data Hub, once loaded, should also now be faster too when creating new visualisations.

The second key upgrade was the significant expansion of data that was on offer. From station entry and exit data to road safety statistics, I have spent the last few months trawling through some of the Department for Transport’s and Office of Rail and Road’s largest and greatest datasets, bringing them together in a more presentable and useable format.

Ultimately, we believe that this work has expanded the ability to ‘select’ the transport data you’re interested in, ‘visualise’ that data in graphs, charts and maps, and to ‘share’ it on websites, social media or in presentations.

Data Hub infographic 2018

This isn’t the end though, and there are lots more exciting developments in the pipeline as we continue to evolve the tool – including even more data sets (from beyond just the UK city regions) and the ability for our members to capitalise on the software behind the Data Hub.

This has been a thoroughly enlightening project to work on. I never knew there was so much excellent data on city region transport out there and I’m pleased the Data Hub will be able to raise the profile of this data.

All that is left to say, is to ask you to head over to the refreshed Data Hub and to get stuck into the new data that is available and explore the new functions we’ve added. Visualising this data and presenting it to others will help you sell your message and continue to make the case for investment in transport with accurate, informed analysis. Go on, give your work the integrity and substance that is so often lacking in today’s key debates and discussion. Debate with data!

Stephen Bellamy is Business Development Officer – Policy at Nexus, and oversaw the upgrade work to the Data Hub whilst on secondment to Urban Transport Group