Public acceptance of high-speed rail as evidenced by a recent national survey could spur transit-oriented development in the future, say two top industry experts

“The results clearly confirm what we’ve always believed: that there is a unsatisfied demand in the U.S. for high-speed rail,” said Neal Sleeper, president of Cityplace Co. in Dallas and chair of ULI’s Transit Oriented Development (TOD) Council. “Having the option of making connections to major cities by high-speed rail would be an important compliment to our existing highway and air transit systems. It would give people more opportunities to move around without their cars and would help spur more transit oriented developments.”?

Adds John Hempelmann, an attorney at the Seattle firm of Cairncross & Hempelmann and vice chair of ULI’s TOD Council, “Expansion of any type of high capacity transit will help promote more compact, sustainable development connecting employment and denser housing opportunities. The more opportunities we give people to live in walkable communities and have transportation alternatives to single occupant vehicles, the better it is for them and the real estate industry.”

Sleeper and Hempelmann were reacting to the results of an American Public Transportation Association (APTA) survey late last year that showed that nearly two-thirds of adults said they would definitely or probably use high-speed rail service for leisure or business travel if it were an option.

APTA noted that switching from driving to riding public transportation enables individuals to cut monthly and yearly transportation costs while also reducing their carbon footprint. APTA proposes that Congress invest $50 billion over the next six years in high-speed rail projects.

Sleeper points out that Cityplace in Dallas – a 130 acre (52.61 h) mixed-use project with only 16 acres (6.47 h) left for development – is adjacent to a light rail station as well as a streetcar line. More high-speed rail projects would spur real estate expansion the same way airport development did, he adds. ??

“The ability to expand high-speed rail ultimately lies with state and federal funding, political will, and creative public/private partnerships,” says Sleeper. “However, with the current fiscal problems faced at all levels of government, the biggest challenge is finding a way to dedicate more money for all types of mass transit – from streetcars to high-speed rail.”?

Hempelmann notes Seattle is geographically constrained with highways that are often gridlocked, so the region is building a $16 billion light rail system. “We’re going to have 36 light rail stations under the current voter approved program and some of those light rail stations have good connections to our commuter rail system on the Burlington Santa Fe lines that go from Tacoma, connects with light rail in downtown Seattle and then runs all the way north to Everett,” he continues.

One of the definite real estate plays in the next 15-20 years is high capacity transit oriented development, Hempelmann says. “Right now, the best sector for real estate nationally as well as in Seattle, is infill multifamily, especially around transit stations,” he continues. “Any kind of high capacity transit will lead to development and redevelopment of walk-about neighborhoods, where people don’t need their cars. We need to reduce carbon emissions, which has a great deal of public support. Transit oriented development is a way to do that.”