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Transit Oriented Development Attracts Business, Residents

young man on bench at transit station

Transit oriented development, often abbreviated TOD, refers to a development adjacent to a transit stop. Usually rather than simply a bus stop, a station for a light rail or subway system, or a bus hub center are necessary to make the density sufficient for the concept to be viable.

The idea also is associated with being a mixed-use development, including both residential and commercial land uses, or at least a mixture of retail and office.

Sometimes civic uses also become part of the TOD. All locations within the complex should be within a half-mile of the boarding location, with lower density or intensity uses at the periphery. Sometimes the half-mile is expressed as a 10-minute walk instead.

The Benefits of a Transit Oriented Development

The concept is attractive because if enough density can be clustered around a transit stop, there could hardly be more positive green effects, including:

1. Households are able to realistically reduce the number of cars they own and the number of miles driven. The community reduces its carbon footprint.

2. Transit enjoys increased ridership.

3. The real estate development becomes attractive to non-drivers or non-owners of automobiles.

4. The station is enlivened for other passengers and the surrounding neighborhood, and safety at the stop increases.

5. Passengers are able to take advantage of small businesses, such as coffee shops or other convenience goods purveyors, who may lease space in the transit oriented development.

6. A blow against suburban sprawl is struck. In fact, a related term, transit proximate development, carries this specific meaning.

Transit proximate development is used to describe instances in which the development is near transit, but not fully oriented toward the transit facility in the sense of shared parking, physical orientation toward the boarding platform, particular care taken for pedestrians, and so forth. So in professional jargon, transit proximate development is less desirable.

7. Joint parking for the development, including commercial and residential uses, as well as transit riders, represents a possible savings in total parking.

8. In the face of peak oil and climate change, any relief from the need to drive to work or to obtain basic goods and services is a positive at both the household and community levels.

How to Build a Successful, "Green" TOD

Features that are important to the success of a project include the following:

  1. Building in sufficient density. Single-family homes will not bring the market for convenience goods, transit ridership, and reduction in vehicular traffic that will be required. If we could repeat those two sentences without being ridiculous, we would. Nothing is more important.
  2. All aspects of the development tailored for pedestrian safety, particularly if the transit stop pre-dates the surrounding new construction. The goal is not to march pedestrians through huge parking lots, but rather to tuck parking into out-of-the-way locations, preferably in garages, so that residents and commercial customers have a quick and safe path to transit.
  3. Reduction in the amount of parking that normally would be required for a comparable development without access to transit. Since residents, employees, and visitors all may arrive by transit, lowering the number of parking spaces should be feasible. Parking also may be managed strictly so that shoppers, for instance, can park near their destinations.
  4. Enough open space and natural elements for the transit oriented development to be attractive and people-friendly. Stormwater detention and retention may serve the dual purpose of providing open space and contributing to clean water.
  5. Multi-story buildings. Design inventiveness can prevent simply a series of nearly identical and therefore boring five-story buildings. Good design and attention to detail also may attract cultural institutions, whether on a permanent or an occasional basis. Creating a vibrant atmosphere with some public gathering space is critical to a successful 24-hour, 7-day space.
  6. If the real estate development is massive enough, a collector system of vans or small buses. Circulation internally within the development further assists residents, customers, and visitors, especially in harsh climates.
  7. Appropriate housing types for the singles, empty nesters, or couples without children likely to be attracted to the TOD.
  8. Mixed-income housing, important in every neighborhood. This policy can be quite unobtrusive in a densely stacked transit oriented development.
  9. Green infrastructure, specifically including smart infiltration of stormwater runoff and inclusion of enough open space.

Broader Impacts of TOD

Surprisingly, perhaps, transit oriented development can lead to neighborhood revitalization and redevelopment. TOD also can counteract tendencies toward urban sprawl, although as we note on the transit and sprawl page, the relationship is not always linear. 

In cities where transit, or at least the form of transit under consideration, is popular, the existence of the station and the provision of sufficient density will be enough to overcome very strong objections about neighborhood quality.

Of course, if you are building a transit oriented development in a neighborhood of questionable safety, extra precautions become necessary, and the usual tapering off of density at the edge of the development may not be as applicable.

The state of New Jersey has been offering state grants for the creation of what they term a transit village. The Garden State has emphasized affordable housing and job growth in addition to other common elements of transit oriented development.

For an interesting article on how transit oriented development can improve the amount of affordable housing, see the link. And we should add that in many parts of the world, transit oriented development has been a norm for many years.

This raises the point that public sector involvement to spur transit oriented development often is necessary. Surprisingly, sometimes developers are slow to catch on, and to request the type of mixed-use zoning that would be required to make the transit oriented development an optimum success.

So pre-zoning for TOD can be a tremendous stimulus to the process, because it sends a signal to the development community about the density that would be allowed and also the types of uses that can developed in close proximity to one another with good planning.

Listing the criteria for pedestrian amenities in advance also will prevent surprises, and if you want to take our advice and require a hint of green amidst an otherwise packed site, it's important to pre-warn the development community of that factor as well.

Delineating the degree of parking relief that might be allowed also helps developers begin to visualize the profitability that could come their way as a result of pursuing perhaps the extra complexity of TOD.

Any financial incentives to be offered, including tax increment financing or other more innovative incentives, could be signaled in advance by the government as well.

For extensive additional information, also consult this site on the subject.

Economic Development Side:

> > Transit Oriented Development

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