ORLANDO – When the SunRail commuter rail line begins operating in two years, there will be 18 stops along the 61-mile corridor.
And each station, in the future, will likely represent a dramatic opportunity for the hosting communities in Orange, Osceola, Seminole and Volusia counties. Those stations offer the potential for an enormous amount of new mixed use development that brings not only new businesses and jobs to the station locations, but also ways to make it more appealing to riders thinking about using SunRail, said David Harrison.
“Increasing ridership is really the goal of transit oriented development,” said Harrison.
Harrison is an intern with Metroplan, the regional transportation partnership agency in Orlando. On Wednesday, Harrison made a presentation to the Metroplan board of directors about the development opportunities around those SunRail stations, including the four in downtown Orlando.
Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, who serves on the Metroplan board, said the cities and towns hosting a SunRail station are well aware of the development opportunities that a transit rail system offers, and have been revisiting their long term planning for the communities surrounding the stations.
“Our partners all up and down the 11 mile corridor have been changing their master plans to ensure it reflects SunRail coming in,” Dyer said. “A lot of people have spent a lot of time thinking about transit oriented development for this project.”
Harrison said a lot of the theories behind this are outlined by author Peter Calthorpe in his book “The Pedestrian Pocket Book,” which documents a one-week design workshop involving eight architects and 60 students who explore a model that includes “a simple cluster of housing, retail space and offices within a quarter-mile walking radius of a transit system,” the book notes.
The goal is to create a model for development that relies on mass transit, higher density development in urban areas, and pedestrian accessibility.
“ ‘The Pedestrian Pocket Book’ is a search for nothing less than a new American dream – one that restores public life in our communities,” the book notes. “It reminds us that architects can be idealists too, and are capable of helping instigate reconsiderations of how we live our lives.”
A similar entrepreneurial spirit should exist along the SunRail route, Harrison said.
To achieve this vision, “It relies on a mass transit system cutting through the middle, and providing pedestrian accessibility,” Harrison said. “It allows you to preserve environmental access, open spaces, as well as historic neighborhoods.”
What he envisions, Harrison said, is generating more development around the SunRail stations – but that includes not just new businesses to service the people getting off the trains, but also more housing options for people who want to live close to the station.
“It’s estimated that by 2030, 25 percent of people will seek housing near transit,” Harrison said.
The housing that does get built near the stations, he said, will likely soar in value.
“You’ll see increased real estate development, which leads to increased property values,” Harrison predicted.
The four stations in downtown Orlando will be at Florida Hospital on Princeton Avenue, at the Lynx Central Station, at the Church Street Station, and at the Amtrak/Orlando Health station.
All four stations have the potential for enormous economic activity being generated all around them, he said.
“There are a few key points used in all successful transit oriented development,” he said. “You have to have a vision and long term planning.”
The city should start planning now, he said, to make the areas surrounding the stations visibly appealing and inviting to pedestrians.
“The city of Orlando has anticipated rail coming for quite some time,” Harrison said. “Complementary infrastructure should be implemented in the station area, including bicycling and pedestrian improvements.”
A connection to the Lynx bus service, he said, will also be critical to making SunRail a success, since those buses can help transport the rail line’s commuters to their next destination.
“Lynx connectivity is key,” he said, “as SunRail is primarily a north-west corridor, and Lynx will provide the east-south connections.”
But at the same time, Orlando has known since a 1992 commuter rail feasibility study that it wanted a commuter rail going through the city, so the city is already well ahead in the planning stages, he added.
“The city of Orlando has many things in place for the transit oriented development to be successful,” Harrison said.
SunRail will start in Debary in Volusia County, travel through Seminole County into downtown Orlando, and then continue on into Osceola County, ending on Poinciana Boulevard at the intersection of Orange Blossom Trail and Poinciana Boulevard.
Harry Barley, the executive director of Metroplan, said his agency, through an advisory council, would be looking at another aspect of rail service later this month.
“We will be having a freight workshop on August 20, here in the office,” he said.
Metroplan is at 315 E. Robinson St., on the third floor, and meets in the David L. Grovdahl Board Room.
Barley also praised Harrison for his hard work on the SunRail TOD study, noting “In my day, interns made coffee, ran errands, and washed your car.”
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