Transit-Oriented Development - Key Components of Successful TOD Projects

Table of Contents:

TOD successes are not just arbitrarily cobbled together. In order for TOD to work, many factors must be incorporated into the planning and implementation process. Calgary Transit provides a good overview of some of these key components in their best practices manual. Some of these components are included below and Tri-State has added a few of our own:

Density and Smart Land Use Decisions

Density is an integral component to successful TOD projects. Increased density means increased numbers of people in a certain area, through ‘up-zoning’ or zoning that allows for greater numbers of housing units in a certain area. Denser developments promote smarter land use decisions that tend to be more transit-supportive and in turn justify increased transit in a community. Transit-supportive land uses also tend to include mixed-use developments, often with housing or offices above street level retail, which leads to increased pedestrian and cycling traffic and in turn creates vibrant street life and consumers for local businesses.

Examples of transit-supportive land uses include:


Examples of non-transit supportive land uses include:


Regional Cooperation

Historically, land use decisions have been the purview of local zoning regulations. Unfortunately, regionalism has often been regarded as an ineffective tool to manage development and mitigate unintended consequences of development because zoning regulations are local.

However, the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) has found an effective way to promote regional cooperation. To do this, NJDOT’s Future in Transportation (NJFIT) program began working in tandem with local municipalities. While not a TOD program, it is arguably the region’s most successful smart growth program as well as a prime example of how regional cooperation can successfully link transportation and land use decisions.

To do this, NJDOT tackles transportation problems by targeting finite transportation dollars to areas that recognize that road widening and capacity expansion are not the sustainable solution to traffic congestion. NJDOT partners with municipalities that are willing to work with each other to address existing land use patterns by changing their local zoning and regulations to promote greater density and accommodate transit as tools to mitigate congestion.

Pedestrian and Bicycling Accessibility

An additional component to successful TOD programs is pedestrian and bicycling accessibility. Making the trip to and from the transit station pleasant and safe for walkers and cyclists helps drive up transit ridership. According to the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT), TOD “sits within a connected grid of streets that are easy to navigate. Pedestrians are made to feel safe with wide sidewalks, well-marked crosswalks, good lighting and narrow streets to slow car traffic.”

Good Urban Design

Successful implementation of TOD also benefits from good urban design. This includes attractive architecture, businesses at a pedestrian vantage point that are oriented to streets, with abundant street trees and plenty of park benches that make walkers and cyclists want to sit, relax and ‘people watch’. Good urban design is inherently linked to fostering pedestrian and cycling accessibility.

Mixed-Income and Affordable Housing

One popular image of TOD is of high-end condominium developments mixed with luxury retail and nightlife. But TOD can and should be much more than this. Many cities around the country are using transit-oriented development as a way to boost affordable and mixed-income housing. This is a win-win combination, as TOD programs that incorporate mixed-income housing create instant ridership for transit systems, broaden employment opportunities for low-income workers and workers without access to an automobile and also broaden employers’ workforce pool. (See Presentation on Mixed-Income TOD in Metro Denver)

At right is one example -- the Center Commons project in Portland, which has 75% affordable units.

Parking Management

While the ultimate goal of TOD is to reduce dependence on automobiles, good TOD programs recognize automobile usage is still a part of life in many communities. Truly successful TOD programs mitigate this usage by managing parking accessibility effectively. By creating ‘just enough’ parking, often to the rear or side of buildings, TOD promotes one-park trips, or trips that allow drivers to park once and accomplish multiple tasks by walking or riding transit. Parking pricing is another tool that can be used by municipalities to manage parking effectively. A good resource to learn more about parking pricing is the book The High Cost of Free Parking by urban planner and professor Donald Shoup. (Linked here is a PowerPoint presentation based on the book.)

Cultural Development and Place Making

Cultural activities help bring a sense of vibrancy to transit-centered communities, making them more intriguing destinations and livelier places to live. Examples include community promotion of the arts, festivals, concerts and farmer’s markets.

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