Transit Oriented Development Advances

Transit Oriented Development is spreading across America in awareness, theory and in practice.  More commonly known as TOD, it is the practice of creating vibrant, walkable, mixed-use communities surrounding transit stations.  The many benefits include a higher quality of life with better places to live, work, and play; greater mobility with ease of moving around; increased transit ridership and decreased driving and congestion; reduced car accidents and injuries; reduced household spending on transportation, resulting in more affordable housing; healthier lifestyle with more walking, and less stress; higher, more stable property values; increased foot traffic and customers for area businesses; greatly reduced dependence on foreign oil; greatly reduced pollution and environmental destruction; reduced incentive to sprawl, increased incentive for compact development; less expensive than building roads and sprawl; and enhanced ability to maintain economic competitiveness.

A recently released study points to the many benefits of TOD, one of the most important being the great efficiency of land and roads, and the huge transportation and tax savings for residents.  The study looked at the nine stations along the Orange Line of the Washington DC Metro system in Arlington County.  When the new line was built, county leaders decided to run the first half of it underground along an aging suburban corridor, known as the Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor.  Costing a lot more to build this way, the idea was that it was worth the extra expense because it would help revitalization the entire corridor.  They planned five closely spaced Metro stations and enacted what they called bulls-eye zoning around each Metro station, calling for the highest density right at the station, and tapering down to medium density, and then to lower density to blend in with the surrounding historic neighborhoods.

The last four stations towards the end of the line were not done like this, but instead built the least expensive way, down the center of the freeway.  Now thirty years later the comparison is drastically different.  The first five urban stations have accommodated millions of square feet of mixed-use development in a compact, walkable form that looks and feels like a city.  The last four suburban stations are still surrounded by miles of parking lots.  According to the study, of the roughly 29,000 passengers boarding daily at the Orange Line's four suburban stations, about 15 percent get to their station on foot, while 58 percent do so by car. By contrast, of the roughly 40,000 passengers boarding daily at the five urban stations in the Rosslyn-to-Ballston segment, 73 percent arrive at their station on foot, and 13 percent arrive by car.  This shows how beneficial it is to build compact cities around the Metro stations and the potential savings.  The 73% arriving on foot don’t require a car, a parking space, or a bus to get them to Metro, saving a great deal of money, fuel, pollution, and physical space!
  The other big savings is pointed out in the study: The two square miles of the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor, though it constitutes about 8 percent of the county's land area, is home to about 33 percent of its real estate tax base.  Arlington County has the lowest real estate property tax of any major jurisdiction in Northern Virginia.

Picking up on the importance of Transit Oriented Development, the Urban Land Institute (ULI) has just released their Ten Principles for Successful Development Around Transit.  The report points out “in the early years of the 20th century, transit dominated travel in cities – and by necessity, development was clustered near transit.  In fact, transit and land use were so closely connected that private transit operators often developed real estate and used the profits to subsidize transit operations.”  By the close of the 20th century, the private automobile had come to dominate the transportation scene in America in no small part because of our over emphasis on road building.  The study goes on to say “recently, however, new trends have emerged that favor cities, transit, and development around transit.  A number of major cities with extensive transit networks – including Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Washington DC, and Seattle – are enjoying increases in overall population and even greater gains in downtown areas, where transit is most accessible.  It is even possible in some cities to get by without a car.”

The goal of the Ten Principles for Successful Development Around Transit is to promote successful development, grow transit ridership, and create livable communities.  “If real estate development is to support transit, the single most important requirement is that it be near transit.  Once that requirement has been met, the principles outlined here will help support transit and strengthen both the project and the surrounding community.  Suburban gridlock is pushing many growing communities to explore alternatives to the automobile.  The availability of options such as commuter rail, light rail, heavy rail, buses, and bus rapid transit will allow people to choose between wrestling with traffic and taking transit.  Attractive development around transit can add to the positive aspects of the transit experience.”

Development around transit promotes compact communities, multiple rather than single uses, a pedestrian orientation, and attention to civic uses.  Successful development around transit also demands a new form of community building that not only supports and encourages transit use but also transforms the surrounding area into a place that is so special and irresistible that people will invest there, live there, and visit again and again.

The Ten Principles are:


1.  Make It Better with a Vision

2.  Apply the Power of Partnerships

3.  Think Development When Thinking about Transit

4.  Get the Parking Right

5.  Build a Place, Not a Project

6.  Make Retail Development Market Driven, Not Transit Driven

7.  Mix Uses, but Not Necessarily in the Same Place

8.  Make Buses a Great Idea

9.  Encourage Every Price Point to Live around Transit

10. Engage Corporate Attention

For more information, visit the following:

TOD Study

TOD Books

TOD Resources

More TOD Resources

Washington Business Journal on Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor

Transit Oriented Development

Smart Growth America on Transportation

Sierra Club on Transportation

1000 Friends of Oregon

Congressman Blumenauer Creating Livable Communities

New Thinking for a New Transportation Age

Encouraging Transit Villages

Sprawl and Health

Walkable Communities

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