From Freiburg to Salt Lake City: the suburbs building trams to empty fields

The Salt Lake City skyline in 2002. Image: Getty.

In the United States we haven't been able to talk a lot about transit creating new neighbourhoods whole cloth since the early 20th century. Recently, though, places like Portland have been able to take abandoned rail yards and turn them into new neighbourhoods with a walkable street grid and amenities.

In Europe now, it's being taken even further. Eco-suburbs in places like Freiburg are popping up, and development is happening as tram lines are planned. The map below, from a paper written by Berkeley student Andrea Broaddus, shows the expansion of the network.

Image: Andrea Broaddus.

As an interesting side note, Broaddus' study noted that two eco-suburbs were the same except for parking provisions:

Travel behaviour data showed that residents of Rieselfeld had higher rates of transit use in an otherwise typical modal split, while Vauban’s residents had extremely low car share and high bicycle share. These differences were attributed in part to more Vauban’s more restrictive parking policies.

But back to the Reiselfeld. Of interest here is how the development was conceived. The tramway was built before the development and historical Google Earth images show this development happening. Here’s Reiselfeld in 2000:

Image: Google Earth.

Here’s a similar image from a different angle:

Image: The Modern Tram in Europe.

And a more recent image from 2006:

Image: Google Earth.

To me this is awesome. This is true transit-oriented development, and development-oriented transit.

Could we ever do something similar here in the United States? It's already happening – though perhaps not as eco-friendly or dense as would be most sustainable.

Image: Calthorpe Associates.

Salt Lake City is building the Mid Jordan Trax line into the Daybreak Neighborhood drawn up by Calthorpe. While all the houses are planned to be a five minute walk from local shopping and destinations, there are still a lot of single family homes. Additionally, there is a freeway that is being constructed up the left edge of the valley that will just make Utah's air pollution and inversion days – those when it’s colder in the valleys than the mountains – that much worse in the future.

Image: Calthorpe Associates.

Salt Lake City Suffers from Wicked Inversion Days:

Image: Flickr/UTA/creative commons.

Here's a map of the route:

Here’s Daybreak under construction:

Image: Flickr/Jason S/creative commons.

And here it is completed.

Image: Flickr/Brett Neilson/creative commons.

All the negatives aside, I think it’s an interesting experiment and one worth watching. And watch from the air we will:

2003. Image: Google Earth.

2005. Image: Google Earth.

2006. Image: Google Earth.

2009. Image: Google Earth.

Image: Flickr/UTA/creative commons.

Image: Flickr/UTA/creative commons.

Jeff Wood is principal at the San Francisco transport consultancy The Overhead Wire, and edits The Direct Transfer.

This article first appeared on his blog in 2011.


 

 
 
 
 

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City Monitor is now live in beta at citymonitor.ai.

CityMetric is now City Monitor, a name that reflects both a ramping up of our ambitions as well as our membership in a network of like-minded publications from New Statesman Media Group. Our new site is now live in beta, so please visit us there going forward. Here’s what CityMetric readers should know about this exciting transition.  

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Sommer Mathis is editor-in-chief of City Monitor.