At first it sounds like a great idea. Develop the areas around train stations to include retail and housing, and more people will start frequenting the train station to and from work. Studies seem to show that it works. Property values tend to increase the closer the properties are to public transport hubs. Logically, it seems to work, too. Pick up a coffee and the paper on the way to work; pick up some groceries on the walk home. It’s actually what keeps small businesses thriving near virtually every New York subway stop.
So why not in California, a state that has passed Senate Bill 375, which requires cities across the state to reduce their driving emissions by 7 percent by the end of the decade?
The problem is that here in California, the few transit villages we have aren’t taking off. Blame it on the recession, perhaps, but the Pleasant Hill BART Station transit village is still pretty empty. That does not bode well for Sunnyvale’s planned transit village around the Lawrence Caltrain station.
Of course, that’s not the only problem facing the proposed Lawrence Station development. Much of the problem comes from Caltrain itself, which is facing serious budget woes. In an attempt to cover a $30 million deficit, Caltrain is considering slashing weekday service so that it only operates during rush hour and eliminating weekend service entirely. That would certainly hurt the traffic that transit villages thrive on.
More serious, however, is Caltrain’s threat to cut service to several stations, including Lawrence Station. A transit village only works if it has transit. Without that, it’s just a village, or rather, just another failed strip mall without a steady flow of customers to vitalize the stores. Without that traffic to fuel ye olde village shoppes, even yon village idiot would flee.