January 2012

Transit execs can help guide “green” projects

by Chris Marshall and Ron Kilcoyne

MacArthur Transit Village (rendering shown) is a proposed, mixed-use transit-oriented development located adjacent to the MacArthur BART Station in North Oakland, Calif. The U.S. Green Building Council selected the project to be part of its new LEED Neighborhood Development Pilot Program.(Photo courtesy MVE & Partners)

MacArthur Transit Village (rendering shown) is a proposed, mixed-use transit-oriented development located adjacent to the MacArthur BART Station in North Oakland, Calif. The U.S. Green Building Council selected the project to be part of its new LEED Neighborhood Development Pilot Program.(Photo courtesy MVE & Partners)
Over the past 10 years, the green building community has helped shape a blossoming landscape filled with healthy, high-performing green buildings, homes and communities worldwide. The rise in green building has accompanied — and been defined by — LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, the hallmark third-party rating system. Aside from encouraging smarter, more sustainable strategies and design, LEED encourages an integrative approach to the building planning and design process, emphasizing connections and communication among professionals throughout the life of a project. The integrative approach brings everyone to the table — from building owners and operators, to community planners and transportation officials.

Rating system
Developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), LEED is a point-based ratings system for the design, construction and operations of high-performance green buildings, homes, and as of 2007, neighborhoods. As a transportation professional, you may wonder how LEED recognizes land use and transportation features, as well as whether LEED-certified projects have the incentive to locate near transit, within existing, previously developed areas, and within close proximity to a diversity of everyday uses. Also, how might transportation professionals have a hand in implementing LEED in their communities?

In short, the LEED rating systems - through specific credits and an entire rating system integrating the principles of smart growth, New Urbanism, and green building — recognize and reward project locations that have multi-modal transportation options and make efficient and strategic land use decisions.

LEED for New Construction, for example, rewards projects for locating within walking distance of public transportation, providing bicycle storage and changing rooms, and reducing parking capacity. Public transportation access earns six points while a location with moderate surrounding density or near a variety of uses earns five points. Combined, these credits represent a significant part of the 46-credit, 100-point rating system.  

Good decisions
Looking ahead to the next version of LEED, coined LEED 2012 and slated to launch in November 2012, more explicitly recognizes good land use and transportation decisions. The new Location and Transportation credit category recognizes project location, planning and transportation issues into a new category to highlight the importance of these issues. Separating these credits symbolically demonstrates that these decisions substantively impact the environmental performance of buildings.

One ratings system, however, goes even further in rewarding smart location and transportation decisions: LEED for Neighborhood Development. This establishes criteria to evaluate the design and construction of new or redeveloped, neighborhood-scale projects. The rating system's focus is beyond the building envelope and considers where the neighborhood is located, the amenities it includes or is close to, its street and block design, and the green features included in its infrastructure and newly-constructed buildings. Over two-thirds of the rating system's points pertain to neighborhood location, layout, and accessibility to different transportation modes and amenities.

With all of this in mind, transportation professionals can play an important role in buildings and neighborhoods pursuing LEED certification. Transit systems in particular are significant players in how well a building or neighborhood might score in public transit-related credits. Planned transit is recognized in the single-building and neighborhood rating systems, accommodating, and even encouraging, expanded service to new areas.

While only existing and unplanned transit cannot help a LEED for Neighborhood Development project earn points, it can help the project meet the essential LEED prerequisites. Coordination between transit professionals and project developers helps ensure that the completed project will have the multi-modal transportation options that are required.

Earning certification
Even professionals working outside of transit can help buildings and neighborhoods earn LEED certification. Code officials can address codes that require high parking ratios or the separation of land uses, both of which detrimentally impact the building and neighborhood's transportation performance. Planning department officials can spearhead neighborhood-scale projects where single buildings or smaller neighborhoods can play a part. And departments of transportation can add bicycle infrastructure, such as dedicated bike lanes, to ensure that a building's storage is utilized.

All transit officials should become familiar with LEED prerequisites and credits relating to transportation. This creates a unique opportunity to better integrate transit and land use planning.  USGBC offers a host of resources for professionals at every stage of involvement within the green building and community marketplace, including webinars and online trainings. Visit usgbc.org/education to view the offerings.

A well-located building and neighborhood with multi-modal transportation choices has better environmental performance than one without those characteristics. LEED requirements have a benefit only when they are implemented, and transportation-related professions are an important piece in this equation. Learn more at usgbc.org.


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