Transit-Oriented Development - Smart Growth 101

Suburban sprawl, the pattern of low density, separated-use development which fosters an overreliance upon automobile use, is a relatively new phenomenon. Historically, development has been focused around main streets, transit centers and downtown areas. It was only after World War II that sprawling development patterns began to appear throughout the country, spurred forward by cheap oil, increased availability of automobiles and auto-centric planning like new highway infrastructure development and cheap parking. Long Island, with the creation of the first Levittown, was a model for this development pattern, which quickly spread across the region and throughout the country.

Over the years, we have seen suburban sprawl cause severe environmental damage and hinder economic development by increasing traffic congestion, destroying green space, increasing social inequity and creating a car-dominant society that leaves no place for alternative transportation systems such as mass transit, bicycling and walking. More recently we have learned that suburban sprawl often causes the destruction of the historic centers of communities by encouraging growth further and further from preexisting downtowns, thereby drawing business and needed economic dollars away from main streets.

However, over the past two decades, a burgeoning movement to reclaim community streets from this auto-centric development has emerged. Incorporated into this movement is the desire to redevelop communities to better reflect pre-war development patterns. This new movement, labeled ‘smart growth,’ calls for a return to walk-able and bike-friendly town centers. And, although it is rooted in the past, it is not stuck there. Smart growth also calls for focused development around the modern transit hubs that will be the important transportation infrastructure in the 21 st century and beyond.

This type of smart growth, known as transit-oriented development (TOD), consists of mixed-use developments of retail, commercial, mixed-income housing and open space that foster walk-able, compact and vibrant communities centered within one-quarter to one-half mile of a transit stop. Smart growth development and TOD are integral tools in the 21 st-century fight against suburban sprawl and in efforts to stop the destruction of open space and to promote sustainable economic development.

Having taken hold elsewhere in the United States and throughout the world, TOD initiatives have begun to gain momentum in the Northeast, particularly in New Jersey, but also in Connecticut and New York.

[Image: from Gladding Jackson in NJDOT presentation, "Smart Transportation -- Integrated Transportation and Land Use Planning in New Jersey: moving beyond the State Highway System."]

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