The University of Texas Center for Sustainable Development was contracted to model the impacts of a high capacity transit investment in Austin, Texas using
the Envision Tomorrow Plus software suite. The study evaluated the impact of the proposed Project Connect urban rail alignment in terms of the consequences from a “no build” – or “build” perspective for the year 2030. The Envision Tomorrow Land Use and Development analysis enabled the assessment of plausible economic development, sustainability, and transportation outcomes. While the indicators describe benefi ts of high capacity transit that are able to be quantifi ed, the study also utilized 3D visualization in order to capture the changes to urban form expected to be generated by the addition of high capacity transit.
Why is this Research Important?
A significant academic literature in the U.S. reveals that high capacity transit investments, particularly urban rail transit, often have substantial land use impacts in addition to the benefi ts of reduced vehicle use and congestion alleviation. The ET+ scenario planning software tool, developed in part by a UT research team as part of the Sustainable Places Project, enables the assessment of future land use scenarios using state-ofthe- art analytics that move beyond traditional economic development estimates. Because the analysis utilized inputs from market-tested building prototypes, the analysis produced reliable estimates that would likely play out in a real-world context. The addition of a high capacity transit station to an area creates a shift in market attraction for more efficient building typologies that have smaller unit sizes, consume fewer resources and create less waste. This research effort was able to capture these shifts in terms of sustainability impacts, including substantial reductions in internal water use, landscaping water use, waste water generation, and energy use. While better in terms of sustainability, the high capacity transit also attracts mixed-use building typologies and more intensive development than what is probably in the project horizon without the transit investment. This includes vertical mixed-use typologies, placing more housing units above retail and commercial spaces. As a consequence, the ET+ MXD transportation model predicted a nearly 8% reduction in vehicle miles travelled for the corridor with the addition of high capacity transit, with other benefits such as increased walk and transit trips and reduced monthly transportation costs.
The project also utilized 3D visualization technology in order to convey the likely changes to urban form that would occur in high capacity transit station areas. The visualization highlighted stunning transformations of several station areas into places that provide residents and employees access to amenities in close proximity, reducing the need for automobile trips and instead encouraging walking, cycling and the use of transit.