Transit-Oriented Development

photo by FlickrCC davidwilson1949

Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) is not just development near transit, it’s development that increases location efficiency. TOD provides a rich mix of housing, jobs, shopping and recreation choices; provides value for the public and private sectors; boosts transit ridership; and creates a sense of community and of place.

Why is TOD Important?

TOD allows households to live in neighborhoods where they can walk, bike, or take transit to get around.

With transportation the second-highest household expense after housing, living near transit makes it easier for people to forego the high cost of auto ownership.TOD not only benefits new and existing residents, but also businesses, transit agencies, local governments, merchants, and developers.

    Community benefits of TOD include:
  • Greater sense of community and of place
  • More sustainable and efficient use of land, energy, and resources
  • Less reliance on cars, resulting in lower gas consumption and greenhouse gas emissions
  • Reduced household spending on transportation
  • Increased foot traffic for local businesses
  • Increased property values which can be leveraged for future development
  • Improved public health through increased walking and biking
  • Opportunities for mixed-income housing
  • Expanded transit ridership
  • Lower public expenditures on roads, water and sewer infrastructure, and police and fire protection

Quickly growing demographic groups are helping to fuel the demand for TOD. Households that are over 50, non-family, and/or ethnically diverse have historically shown a preference for higher-density housing near transit. Among Millennials, a preference for active lifestyles that don’t require driving, proximity to restaurants and other urban amenities, and a desire to use smartphone technology while commuting should help sustain demand for the foreseeable future.

TOD Implementation

Although TOD has been proven to help support transit and aid in community revitalization, there are often barriers that impede the creation of TODs.

Zoning may be prohibitive, obtaining financing can be difficult, and structured parking – although a more efficient use of land – is more expensive than surface parking. Additionally, current residents may resist land use changes. A strategic approach to implementing TOD can help to remove these obstacles. When communities target their land use, transportation, housing, and economic development investments towards transit-served areas, they can encourage TOD.

    Effective strategies and tools to spur TOD include:
  • Land assembly
  • Mixed-use zoning and density bonuses
  • Reduced parking requirements
  • Transfer of Development Rights programs
  • Expedited approval for developers
  • Value capture and business improvement districts
  • Targeted Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC), Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), and HOME investments
  • Participatory community planning
  • Small business incubators
  • Public markets

Case Studies

Affordable Housing near Transit Will Help California Combat Climate Change

CNT research helped make the case that building affordable housing near transit can significantly reduce harmful greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution from auto emissions. In 2014, the State of California decided to devote billions of dollars in new cap-and-trade revenue to fund projects intended to further curb climate impacts. In addition to investments in high-speed rail and public transit, millions of dollars will support affordable transit-oriented development (TOD).

The program is expected to raise $5 billion dollars a year by the end of the decade. In the meantime, California legislators wrestled with the question of what to do with the early revenues. CNT was asked to contribute research and analysis that quantifies the climate benefits of constructing affordable housing units near public transit. Working with the California Housing Partnership Corporation (CHPC) and TransForm, a statewide transit advocacy group, CNT calculated reductions in vehicle miles traveled (VMT) for five different income groups living in three types of locations. CHPC and TransForm used the VMT data to compute related reductions in GHG emissions from personal vehicle use. They found that investing 10% of cap-and-trade proceeds in affordable TOD housing would cut VMT by over 100 million miles in just three years. In 55 years (the estimated life of the to-be-constructed housing), VMT would be reduced by 5.7 billion miles and GHG emissions would be cut by more than 1.58 million metric tons.

On June 15, 2014, the California State Legislature approved a spending plan that includes an initial $65 million for development of affordable homes near transit, with other funds earmarked for construction and operation of high-speed rail lines, as well as for public transit. Going forward, a full 10% of cap-and-trade revenue will be allocated to help struggling California families live closer to transit, jobs, and other amenities.

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Transit-Oriented Development Rating Systems

The Center for Transit Oriented Development (CTOD) – a partnership between the Center for Neighborhood Technology, Reconnecting America, and Strategic Economics – and the Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern University collaborated to produce a “rating system” to help planners, policymakers, community groups and municipal officials make better decisions about equitable transit-oriented development (TOD) planning and projects. The eTOD Score is an assessment tool designed to facilitate a better understanding of which transit-rich neighborhoods and which specific projects proposed for those neighborhoods are “the right kind” of equitable TOD.

This rating system is designed to identify neighborhoods and districts with built, social, and transit attributes that reduce driving, encourage higher transit ridership, and promote transit equity and accessibility. By providing a specific definition of high-performing, equitable TOD, this system can be used to catalyze and direct rapid policy change in support of both specific development projects and broader initiatives intended to plan or improve transit-rich neighborhoods.


National TOD Database

A tool for planners, developers, government officials, and researchers, the TOD Database provides economic and demographic information for every existing and proposed transit station in the U.S.

Launch Tool

Performance-Based Transit-Oriented Development Typology Guidebook

A user-friendly guidebook that evaluates the performance of the transit zones in cities, towns, and neighborhoods across the U.S.

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Transit-Oriented Development in the Chicago Region: Efficient and Resilient Communities for the 21st Century

CNT researchers evaluated the Chicago region’s 367 station areas between 2000 and 2010 and identified transit zones that performed well  by anchoring vital, walkable communities with affordable, high quality of life. While Chicago made significant investments in TOD during that time period, researchers found that peer cities had more successful development of transit zones.

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Making Smart Choices: Transit-Oriented Development Selector Analysis of South Suburban Corridors

The South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association (SSMMA) is working to build TODs in ways south suburban communities desire and market conditions can support. To assist SSMMA’s initiative, CNT conducted a preliminary analysis of the potential for TOD in 33 south suburban station areas.

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