That's the real excitement for me—the ease with GIS makes this all achievable.
Maryland State Department of Planning Promotes Transit-Oriented Development, Making Cities More Livable and Sustainable
Many cities struggle to relieve traffic congestion and provide better mobility for residents. Around the world, smart cities are attempting to tackle these challenges. In the US, a key component of modern solutions is transit-oriented development (TOD)—designs that involve pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use communities centered around public transit hubs. The TOD concept promotes a blend of commercial, residential, office, and entertainment development, unlocking economic and social potential in areas surrounding mass transit stations. It helps to create vibrant and connected communities while encouraging public transportation ridership.
The Maryland Department of Planning (MDP) works with cities to promote TOD benefits and helps the development community make informed decisions that lead to strong local economies, vibrant neighborhoods, and resident mobility. To support this effort, MDP staff created a comprehensive geographic information system (GIS)-based website with a TOD dashboard for all stakeholders. This replaces a largely paper-based operating environment and will be the springboard for other dashboards to improve collaboration and cooperation across jurisdictions.
MDP operates at the cabinet level within the state government. As a separate state agency, the department helps local governments and the private sector plan and coordinate development across jurisdictions.
"We work with local partners to identify their challenges and see if we can find the tools and resources they might need," said Michael Bayer, MDP manager of Infrastructure and Development. "The challenge for us was to take the wealth of census and other data we maintained in different locations and make it available to all at the local level."
For example, the Transit Station Area Profile Tool was built to encourage the development community to look at transit stations and surrounding opportunities to promote more economic development.
"The MDP has a focus on smart growth with more concentrated growth around transit stations, as we believe these are great economic engines," said Chuck Boyd, MDP director of Planning Coordination.
Boyd noted that although Washington, DC, is a compact metropolitan area, there are exciting development opportunities in nearby Bethesda, Silver Springs, Montgomery County, and Prince George's County—reachable by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority train.
"All are high-investment areas in terms of apartments, condos, and retail," Boyd said.
The MDP team had been looking for ways to deliver the level of economic opportunity found in Washington, DC, to the Baltimore metropolitan area utilizing transit stations. "What we were lacking was the socioeconomic and ridership information," Boyd said. "It was all held in separate locations, which meant that you couldn't compare one station with another."
The department's transportation planner, Scott Hansen, pulled that data together via smart maps and the GIS dashboard. The new insight, according to Boyd, "has opened the eyes of the development community to the area's potential."
The current dashboard took 18 months to deliver, building on work that started five years ago. An initial "static" iteration enabled users to click through PDFs on socioeconomic data, documents detailing best practices, or plans related to a given location. Now, users can roam around on-screen widgets and icons to view associated data in real time.
Initially, the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) was the primary customer for the application in support of its Real Estate Division. The MDOT often acquires properties around transit stations or rights-of-way, and it needed a way to sell excess properties once transportation projects were completed.
Motivated by the idea of democratizing data, Hansen and the MDP team deployed the dashboard for extensive stakeholder outreach to the public, developers, planners, council members, and mayors. Everyone can visit a single hub to view information from departments of commerce, transportation, housing, and community development. With ArcGIS Hub, they can explain the idea of TOD, its benefits, and its impacts on different areas.
"Esri's ArcGIS Web AppBuilder allows us to take information from many different units within the MDP and link it spatially to a map," Hansen said. "The map really is the driver because people automatically want to go to where they live and work."
The team took great care to organize information in a way that doesn't overwhelm the user. Data is categorized and accessed through tabs such as Transit and Land Use, Median Housing Sales Price, Socioeconomics, and Employment.
"Users can synthesize within the app and can add layers showing zoning, land use and cover, aerial images, and so on. They also have the ability to either work with the data through the app or download it to use in their own external analyses," Hansen said.
The new dashboard is a living entity. Embedded analytics give MDP staff a detailed understanding of how the dashboard and data are being used.
"To make a good, useful product, we needed user input, and that involved setting up a user group," Bayer said. The department has maintained high levels of stakeholder engagement. Users can see the latest updates as they occur and are aware of how specific information is used.
The promotion of the dashboard has been proactive with email blasts as well as in-person meetings at each jurisdiction to make the community aware of the benefits. The engagement process also gives MDP insight into how the dashboard is being used and how it could evolve.
So far, community response to the dashboard has been favorable. "Everyone we've been in contact with has been excited," Boyd said. "The application is really appreciated. The TOD people in particular look to tie it into their local efforts. Never forget, this isn't a one-to-one exercise, it's multiple agencies to many."
A continuing challenge is to make information about updates more widely available. MDP staff are keen to build a mailing list and may send a newsletter to better inform the expanding user community on how the dashboard is evolving. The team has also created YouTube tutorials that provide walk-throughs of specific functions.
"The development process defined here also sets in place the process for others that will follow," Bayer said. "Eventually, we'll have a whole suite of dashboards, and we have a framework. An important part of what we're doing now is defining where one ends and another begins."
The MDP team noted that a major facilitator of the current and future success is the versatility of GIS technology from Esri.
"It enables us to put data together in ways that we'd not previously thought possible," Boyd said. "There are lots of stovepipe reasons why we don't always look across different agencies. We don't, therefore, know what data we might already have."
Often, when a jurisdiction is already collecting data for another project, the dashboard and interoperability of GIS make it easy to share that information more broadly. Touchpoints include transit data but expand to socioeconomic factors, the environment, and social equity.
"That's the real excitement for me—the ease with which this is all potentially achievable," Boyd said.