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Planning for Transit-Oriented Development with 3D Visualizations

Originally posted on the PlaceMatters Blog. It is the second in their month-long series on the impressive diversity of participatory decision-making tools that communities can use for land use plans, transportation plans, sustainability plans, or any other type of community plan.

Recent expansions of public transportation systems across the country mean many communities are planning for new stations. Done successfully, orchestrating changes to zoning and public infrastructure can result in lively transit oriented development that produces amenities, affordable housing, and economic development for their communities. Poor planning can result in unsightly stations, vast parking lots, and missed opportunities.

Done successfully, orchestrating changes to zoning and public infrastructure can result in lively transit oriented development that produces amenities, affordable housing, and economic development for their communities.

An innovative planning process in Medford and Somerville completed last year demonstrated the power of new tools to facilitate an informed discussion, such as keypad polling, 3D modeling, and interactive workshops. The process utilized a broad outreach strategy featuring a variety of traditional and new outreach methods including city and community mailing lists, outreach to local television and print media, social media, and community meetings.

The Green Line Extension is a planned extension of an existing subway line in Boston that would result in new transit stations in Somerville and Medford. Although questions about financing remain, the major engineering and design of the extension is largely complete. The prospect of new transit stations has raised concerns about the challenges — and opportunities — it will create for the neighborhoods it will serve.

Although the current phase is planned to end at College Avenue in Medford, there is continued interest to extend the service to Mystic Valley Parkway. MassDOT contracted with the Metropolitan Area Planning Council to conduct a community visioning process for this potential new station.

Through several public workshops, community members explored topics of opportunity and concern and provided MAPC staff with ideas about what they would like to see developed in the station area. MAPC staff used this community input to develop alternative visions for four focus areas around the station. A model was developed in CommunityViz containing 3D models along with benefit and impact assumptions for each alternative.

At a workshop held on June 23, 2011, participants worked together in small groups to discuss the various options for each of the four areas while providing feedback to MAPC staff about what they liked and did not like. The model also generated indicators for each scenario choice such as housing units, office square footage, job creation, tax revenue, etc. Participants were able to see how their choices affected the indicators and were then able to weigh choices based on what was more important to them. The power of the CommunityViz software was in its ability to generate discussions around the table amongst community members about the perceived versus actual benefits and impacts of land use and development decisions.

The process resulted in a vision for the station area that emphasizes neighborhood connections and housing, jobs, and tax revenues from new mixed-use development.

Learn more about the project and review meeting materials on the MAPC website.

-Rob Goodspeed, a PhD student at the M.I.T. Department of Urban Studies and Planning with the Urban Information Systems program group and part-time research analyst at the Boston Metropolitan Area Planning Council.