January 20, 2008

‘Surround rail stations with pedestrian-friendly, green development’

So urges Massachusetts Transportation Secretary Bernard Cohen in an op-ed piece about the restoration of passenger rail service between Boston and Fall River and New Bedford.

While fully funding the $17.2 million planning for the rail project, the state in return is asking 31 surrounding communities to develop a land-use corridor plan that would "guide new development of home and jobs to places that make sense while helping communities preserve precious environmentally sensitive areas." Cohen says communities need to be open to zoning changes to help the South Coast Rail project spark smart growth, not become "a veiled invitation for more [sub]urban sprawl" by prompting new homes on large lots in rural areas that "is eating up farms, fields and forests and eroding the historic villages and cities that help make the SouthCoast so special. . . .

"Clustering people and jobs near train stations helps us make new public transportation cost-effective. The more homes, offices, shops, and schools are spread out, the more people have to drive, and the less likely it is that a train will be convenient."

Good to see planners thinking this way. The state shouldn't be funding a public transit project that simply sparks more exurban McMansions, without developing walkable centers near the train stations that offer residences and retail with appealing streetscapes between them. Hopefully someday the area around Framingham's train station will also include an appealing, walkable streetscape to and from nearby residences and commercial areas. Right now the distance is theoretically walkable, but the streetscape is so offputting that few if any commuters would actually do so.


  1. A really good example of this is Charlotte's new light-rail line. They have been changing zoning laws to encourage higher-density development in the neighborhoods near stations.

  2. I live, technically, w/i walking distance of the Framingham train station, but am unable to go on foot due to the lack of sidewalks, or even a shoulder in some places. I realize the plans for pedestrian freindly planning probably doesn't extend the 1.75-2 miles I'm hoping for, but it sure would be nice to have the option of walking to and from the train when the weather improves.