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The Potential for Private Investment in Transit

9:03 AM PDT on May 17, 2010

5th_street_bridge_420x291.jpgAn old streetcar line
built by a private developer in Richmond, Virginia, around the turn of
the last century. (Photo via North
Richmond News
)

Could private developers be the key to developing the nation’s
transit infrastructure?

That’s the question that has engaged many members of the
Streetsblog Network over the weekend.

The catalyst for what has become a very lively discussion was an
article
by Christopher Leinberger on the Atlantic’s website, part
of their month-long "The
Future of the City
" special report.

Leinberger suggests that we might look to an earlier model of
financing for mass transit — one in which real estate developers pay to
build not only housing, but also rail lines to serve those new
neighborhoods.

It worked in pre-World War II America, Leinberger notes, creating
the "streetcar suburbs" that later were rolled over by federally funded
highways and the sprawl they enabled.

But Human Transit’s Jarrett Walker warns against looking to the past
for solutions. He argues that current labor and environmental
regulations, concerns about sufficient competition, and integration into
existing transit systems are potential pitfalls of privatization. He
does think that there are funding mechanisms involving private
enterprise that could be effective:

I am not arguing against value capture or tax-increment financing, which Leinberger also endorses.  These are methods offinancing a rail line partly through debt that will be repaid based onhigher land values — and thus higher land taxes — that the line willgenerate. There is no reason we can’t continue to expand on theseprinciples as a revenue source. I’m criticizing only the more simplified nostalgia on which Leinberger builds his argument.

Also weighing in with posts on the topic are City Block and Discovering
Urbanism
. Both are rich with links and resources, so jump on in.
And check out Washington,
D.C.’s plans
to have commercial landowners pony up for its new
streetcar line.

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