by BEN BROESAMLE
Planning professionals, private sector developers, and the media often operate with different definitions of Transit-Oriented Development (TOD). Many confuse TOD with mixed-use development and claim that new, mixed-use development with 100 residential units and 100 parking spaces next to a nice bus stop with buses arriving every 15-30 minutes is TOD.
In short, no.
Mixed-use development is typically development with retail on the ground level and with other uses above, without other distinguishing features. Despite sharing common features with mixed-use development, TOD differs from mixed-use development. The focus of TOD is the dramatic reduction of privately owned, single occupancy vehicle use. A development parked at 1 space per dwelling unit, or 1 space per 1,000 gross square feet is not TOD under any circumstances because TOD first and foremost seeks to reduce the space required for and provided to private automobiles.
TOD & TRANSIT, TWO PARTS OF A WHOLE:
If readers failed to read further than the title of a recent article in The Atlantic, “’Transit’ Might Not Be Essential to Transit-Oriented Development,” then readers might think that transit is only a marginal factor in TOD. However, the study that the article cites concludes: “The focus on rail is particularly problematic in cases where developments near rail stations are simply transit adjacent, with high amounts of parking, low density, and large units being offered for sale [as opposed to smaller rental units].” The quote is precisely correct. That development pattern is problematic, with or without rail. Development considered TOD that is actually merely transit-adjacent, retaining priority given to private, single occupancy vehicles directly detracts from the goals of TOD.
TOD and transit must always be seen as two halves of a whole. Transit provides mobility. Development without parking near transit provides increased densities and walkability, making high-capacity rapid rail transit the most effective and reliable method to move people between neighborhoods. Additionally, the compact, mixed-use, pedestrian-prioritized nature of TOD provides accessibility, a convenient lifestyle for those seeking to live without the hassle of owning a car.
WHAT TOD IS:
In short: TOD is unparked, mixed-use, walkable development near high quality transit investments. It provides essential retail services, at least some employment, and access to high-capacity, rapid, reliable transit all within a convenient, 5-minute walk. TOD actively reduces the availability of on- and off-street parking as much as possible and therefore uses space that might be otherwise filled with idle cars. In practice this means development near high quality transit and without private parking. Always.
This definition should be stated at the beginning of any media outlet piece or investor call about TOD.
Ben Broesamle is an aspiring real estate development and investment leader specializing in human- and transit-oriented development. He presently works as an analyst in commercial real estate finance and is on the board of Seattle Subway. He holds a BA in geography from UCLA where he concentrated in urban and regional development studies and minored in environmental studies. He moved from Los Angeles to Magnolia in 2010 where he now commutes via the 33 or 24.