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Transit Oriented Development

What is Transit Oriented Development?

Transit oriented Development is designed to maximize access to public transport in a residential, commercial or mixed-use area. Ultimately, they discourage an individual’s auto-dependency and promote transit ridership, thereby alleviating traffic congestion,  improving air quality, and limiting carbon emissions. A Transit oriented Development neighbourhood typically has a center with a train station, metro station, tram stop, or bus station, surrounded by relatively high-density development with increasingly lower-density development spreading outwards from the center.  According to renowned architect and urbanist, Peter Calthorpe, the concept of Transit oriented Development “is simple: moderate and high-density housing, along with complementary public uses, jobs, retail and services, are concentrated in mixed-use developments at strategic points along the regional transit system.” Transit oriented Development may have other names such as “”Pedestrian Pockets,” “Traditional Neighborhood Developments,” “Urban Villages,” or “Compact Communities” (Calthorpe, 1993). Transit oriented Development emphasize the “integration of transit on a regional basis” and walkability in the neighborhood.  Peter Calthorpe has summarized the urban design principles associated with Transit oriented Development:

  •  organize growth on a regional level to be compact and transit-supportive;
  • place commercial, housing, jobs, parks, and civic uses within walking distance of transit stops;
  • create pedestrian-friendly street networks which directly connect local destinations;
  • provide a mix of housing types ,densities, and costs;
  • preserve sensitive habitat, riparian zones, and high quality open space;
  • make public spaces the focus of building orientation and neighborhood activity;
  • encourage infill and redevelopment along transit corridors within existing neighborhoods.
    –The next American Metropolis: Ecology, Community, and the American Dream, p. 43
Transit Oriented Development
Transit Oriented Development

Transit oriented Development also helps to ease middle-income households’ spending on housing and transportation. The average household spends 32 cents of each after-tax dollar on housing and 19 cents on transportation while lower-income households spend up to 60 percent of every after-tax dollar on housing and transportation expenses (Dittmar & Ohland, 2004). Living closer to a transit center can help lower-income households spend less on transportation, thus improving their overall quality of life, making healthy city.

Transit oriented development involves not only heavy rail transit (HRT), both surface and underground, but also feeder bus service and express bus service. Recently, light rail transit (LRT) is gaining popularity in many cities as a replacement for bus in some busier corridors particularly due to its ability to carry significantly more passengers per hour per direction but also due to its quality of service and reduced journey times due to traffic signal priority as in the case of London. (Gleave, 2005: 99) Moreover, all the different transit networks involving HRT, LRT and bus should be integrated in the transit network planning process along with provisions for smooth transfer in between. In addition to improvement of transit service,13 some auto disincentives are also required to achieve desirable transit system efficiency. (Casello, 2007: 65) However, in case of existing underutilized transit infrastructure, construction of new transit infrastructure is not an option and redevelopment of the existing transit nodes at higher density using mixed use development principles should be the priority. (E.P.A. 2001) Furthermore, cities with several activity centers in addition to the central business district (CBD) also referred as ―polycentric metropolitan development‖ tends to show more distributed trip patterns along with higher modal percentage of automobile usage. Thus, coordinated transit services both between and within activity centers (Casello, 2007: 76) and between primary residential areas and activity centers are required to improve transit system performance. (Modarres, 2003: 78)

Walking Sheds (The “Five-minute Walk”)

One of the primary focuses of Transit oriented Development is surrounding a transit station with development appropriate to high-occupancy transit use.  An overlay zone that defines a TOD area is typically between 50-100 acres (Berke, et al., 2006).  The “walking shed” is the area the people living, working, or otherwise using this area are willing to walk to access the transit station.  Most jurisdictions consider a five-minute walk roughly ¼ mile from the transit station.  This defines the geographical extent of the TOD.  Barriers to walking include lack of pedestrian infrastructure, significant elevation changes, and long blocks. These factors may changes the distance pedestrians are willing to walk to and from a station and ultimately affect walkability and a failed plan might lead to loss of walkable cities!

Density Concentrations and Land Use Buffers for Transit Oriented Development

Typically in TOD, higher density development is allowed or required within a short distance of the transit station (300-500ft). Further away from the station – 500-1500ft – is usually located another, less intensive zone, with a continued mixture of uses.  Finally, a zone from 1500 feet to the edge of the TOD zone is still less intense in density and uses are intended to blend into the surrounding community.  The City of Austin created overlay zones – Gateway, Midway, and Transition – with distances and development intensity similar to those listed above (City of Austin, 2005).  The intent is to provide a walkable, sufficiently dense, safe, area around TOD stations in the context of a land use pattern that promotes varying forms of transit.  A mixture of densities is envisioned throughout the TOD, with density graduations decreasing from the zone encompassing the TOD station.

Incentives for Transit Oriented Development

Successful TOD does not develop solely based upon market favorability.  Along with plan-making for station areas, the development climate can act as an impetus for TOD, especially when incentives are placed upon desirable development within a TOD district.  This incentive has proven effective in various TOD districts.  The San Mateo Transit Oriented Development Program is a prime example of how government-provided incentives can promote desirable features of TOD (Napier, 1998).  The program directed grant funds for on- or off-site improvements to properties within 1/3 mile of a specified transit station with sufficient allowable densities.  The program helped create over 3,600 new bedrooms surrounding a rail station; sidewalk improvements; plazas; lighting; and landscaping.  San Mateo’s goal of promoting a transit-oriented, walkable, safe community with mixed densities and land uses was achieved while profitability for developers working on these projects was realized.

Other incentives including residential density bonuses, transferable development right receiving area bonuses, reduced or eliminated traffic impact fees, streamlined permit process, or short-term tax abatement may also promote successful development in TOD districts.

Example of Transit Oriented Development : Metropolitan Place in Renton, Washington

One successful example of Transit-oriented development is “Metropolitan Place” in Renton, Washington (Smutny, 2002). It is one of KingCounty’s first transit-oriented developments and was completed in September, 2001. Metropolitan Place is a mixed-use development (apartment/retail) located across from a park-and-ride transit center. It includes 90 apartment units, 4,000 square feet of retail (ground level), and 240 parking spaces in the underground parking garage and 150 parking spaces for park-and-ride (Metro KingCounty, 2005).  Residents in this community are provided one free bus pass per unit to encourage higher use of public transit. KingCounty leases stalls in the parking garage for park-and-ride use, and these stalls are shared during non-commute hours.  Finally, Metropolitan Place provides affordable housing units that attract a mix of income levels.

Problems with Transit Oriented Development

Many of the problems associated with implementing TOD have to do with societal acceptance.  The biggest problem with this tool is that given a choice, people often choose socially and economically stratified neighbourhoods. In addition, those that can afford it seem to prefer the convenience and comfort of automobile use.  Banks are structured to fund isolated single-use developments and are forced to underwrite them based on past successes rather than future needs (Dittmar & Ohland, 2004).  Banks, no doubt, would fund new financially safe developments rather than bet on the success of urban renewal.  Also, many new residential projects today are still required to utilize standard parking ratios, even when they are located adjacent to transit centers.  Such requirements undermine the potential density bonuses of TOD.

Four layers of planning affect TOD developments: regional plans, Comprehensive Plans, Specific Area Plans, and zoning ordinances. Because regional institutions and local governments sometimes lack coordination and individual towns and cities rarely work together, new transit corridors that need complementary land uses are often difficult to implement. In short, TODs require regional planning, and many times regional planning authorities do not exist.

Finally, TOD is a new enough concept that there is no clear path or “definitions, standards, or road maps for developers to follow” (Dittmar & Ohland, 2004). Investors or builders are risk averse. Some have also argued that because there is no market and no incentives “for more compact, mixed-use development near transit,” there is not much TOD supply.  These problems all need to be addressed before TOD implementation becomes widespread.

Read about: Cluster DevelopmentThe Relationship between Transit and Land Use