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.


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.


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.

68 Replies to “What Is Transit-Oriented Development, Anyway?”

  1. From a users perspective I think of TOD as a place where transit is a usable, every-day utility, which I think dovetails with what you’re talking about.

    1. Absolutely. Transit isn’t a silver bullet for every trip. There will be times when this “completely unparked” rule should be broken to offer car sharing services. Otherwise, TOD is focused on creating compact neighborhoods around high quality transit that serves as mobility for trips that aren’t just commute trips, but off peak, weekend, and night trips.

      1. I disagree that TOD should be completely unparked. TOD should be unparked to the extent that only those that want to pay for a parking spot pay for it and the parking structure doesn’t disrupt pedestrian scale design of the development.

      2. I’m happy to disagree on that point. I’m even willing to compromise–community parking structures are OK as long as they can be converted later-more expensive initially because it requires higher ceilings and more building infrastructure. But the cost savings of not building parking (especially underground parking) gives a lot of opportunity to build pedestrian improvements and even still provide reserved spaces for car sharing services near-grade or at-grade. To that effect, we disagree, I think TOD should completely remove private, single occupancy vehicle parking from within the 1/4 mile walkshed of transit stations.

      3. I think no parking can work well for small projects where providing underground parking wouldn’t work because of site design and surface parking would ruin the pedestrian environment, but I don’t think it’s realistic to believe that medium to large mix-use TOD projects won’t have any parking. With that said they should certainly have heavily reduced parking ratios (.25-.5 parking spaces per unit).

      4. Same argument used by the developers of the Spring District to provide a 1.0 ps/u ratio. Unparked TOD is as realistic as we make it. Does it exist in Seattle yet? No. Can it? Yes. Will it be successful once built? You bet.

        If you need a private, single occupancy car, for that 5% of the time it’s actually in use, you can park it in spaces already available all around the region or at the outer edge of the TOD and have it waiting for you for that 3-5% of your day you might use it. I would also argue that zip car, car 2 go, and high quality transit make private, single occupancy vehicles unnecessary for residents of TOD.

    2. I would just add that one thing that bothers me, is when people discuss TOD as a single building, particularly in areas that are transitioning from auto to transit orientation. One building in my opinion doesn’t have the “gravity” to re-oriented an area, because one building doesn’t create an urban environment. Buildings like 2200 Westlake with lots of housing and every-day services like a grocery store can start to catalyze that process but I think in the US we’re too focused on individual buildings when we talk about TOD and not the whole neighborhood.

      1. You’re right. But unless you have $300,000,000 I don’t know about, it’s hard to redevelop an entire neighborhood at once.

      2. ^That sounds snarkier than I intended. I apologize. I think it’s important to keeping the macro (neighborhood) and micro (project/pacel-level) goals in mind simultaneously.

      3. Yes it takes a lot of money but in a lot of suburban areas this is the level of full scale change that is needed to make TOD not transit adjacent development. You certainly need to keep both in mind but what makes functional, walkable, transit-oriented development is greater than the sum of each building.

      4. Agreed. But unfortunately the reality is that we have to catalyze each neighborhood somehow and those projects have to be awesome, both in their financial returns and returns to the urban environment. In some ways they have to be more idealistically pure so that you can change peoples’ minds about things like the necessity of that last 0.25 ps/u.

      5. Catalyst projects usually are the highest quality project in the whole neighborhood for sure but I think this usually doesn’t apply to parking ratios because catalyst projects by definition have to deal with current market expectations.

  2. One thing that is missing from a lot of places claimed to be TOD – especially TOD at park-and-ride lots (South Kirkland P&R, I’m looking at you) – is a grocery store. A bus to get to work is great, but, everyone is still expected to get into their car every time they need to pick up groceries, it’s not really TOD.

    By contrast, when I think of real TOD, I think of places like the apartments on top of the Fremont PCC or the homes next to the Capitol Hill QFC.

    While Belltown comes a lot closer to TOD than South Kirkland P&R, residents there too suffer from the lack of a major grocery store within walking distance. With so many residents, you would think that the demand to support a Belltown Safeway or QFC would be there. The only thing I can think of is that there is still a strong automobile bias in the business community, so the high cost of land for the parking lot, along with the fact that residents outside of Belltown would be unlikely to drive there for grocery shopping when there are more convenient options closer to home prevent a Belltown grocery store from penciling out on paper.

    1. Amen. Juanita Village is a perfect example of this. It has a Starbucks and some restaurants and lots of housing on top but most of the day a grocery store is a 30-minute headway bus ride away.

    2. Certainly access to essential retail services (grocery, pharmacy, etc.) can make or break the livability of TOD. Small grocers and corner stores (with fresh food) allow for some of these needs to be met, but I’m not sure about the legality of corner stores in Seattle or King County neighborhoods–I believe there are zoning issues. There may also be economic viability issues that are built into the sea-of-parking grocery store model from the small business owner’s perspective. There may be elements of chicken and egg conundrum in the future between walkability and essential retail services access. However, if we get the transit right (fast, frequent, all-day) you could also have access to these services a mile or more away–one or two transit station areas away.

    3. I’m not sure what the typical Belltown resident does, but maybe he or she goes to the Pike Place Market. It isn’t that far away. This, along with the occasional visit to some of the smaller stores in the area might make sense. Some of the bigger department stores like Target offer dry goods like cereal (at a great price). If you are shopping for one or two, then riding the bus with a bag full of groceries isn’t hard at all. Then again, maybe the shoppers stock up by renting a car once a month and making a Costco run, while getting all their fresh produce near by. Amazon probably delivers food as well.

      I agree with your assessment of Fremont as a TOD location. Or maybe the term TOD is misleading. A better term might be “development that is not dependent on a car”. Most of the people I know that don’t have cars simply can’t afford them. But one of the few lives in Fremont — the other on top of Queen Anne. Neither has especially great transit, but most of the city doesn’t either. What they do have is a large range of amenities close by.

      1. RossB, when I lived in Belltown, I avoided the Market like the plague. Half of it closes right when I got home at 6 (produce and fish at 7), and it didn’t have half the stuff I wanted (snacks, soda, beer, etc.)

        I tried going to the IGA for a while, but it was just as far and half the cost to shop at the LQA Safeway.

      2. The downtown Target and the Kress are two supermarkets now available in Downtown Seattle… but i tend to think you’re correct. I don’t live in Belltown, but I have the means to arrange for the vast majority of my groceries to be delivered directly to my door each week — including organic produce, meats, and fresh baked goods.

    4. Interestingly sounds like Greenwood may be doing better than some of these places mentioned. Greenwood has a Fred Meyer, Safeway, and Walgreens, restaurants, hair salons, an every 15 minute bus to dowtown (a slow one with too closely placed stops), etc. but is lacking an abundance of housing and has a lot of parking.

      1. The problem with Greenwood is that the extent of “transit” there is a slow bus to downtown and a slow bus to the U-district and, to get anywhere else, you pretty much have to take a slow bus to either downtown or the U-district, only to transfer to another bus. Commutes to Bothell, Microsoft (without eligibility to ride the Connector), or almost anywhere on the Eastside would take on the order of an hour and a half, each way. Ditto for anything south of downtown.

        While bike facilities are decent in the north-south direction, they are lacking in the east-west direction, especially if you are trying to go northeast to connect with the Burke Gilman trail.

        That being said, for people that hardly ever need to leave north Seattle, Greenwood is certainly decent, as it does have a fair amount of shops within walking distance. Light rail to Greenwood someday in the future would absolutely be a game-changer.

    5. I wish the Link Roosevelt Station would have a grocery store and residential units above it. The QFC it replaces is much missed by locals even if Whole Foods is nearby.

  3. Can someone help me make sense of these conflicting messages when it comes to TOD in this area? Take the Spring District development and the South Kirkland P&R. On the one hand, we’re told we will no longer need a car when we live or work in TOD. We are told that by both the transit agencies planning to build lines through said projects, and by the developers themselves. “Transit will take you wherever you need to go!” they boast. Yet, these very same self-proclaimed TOD projects who are telling we won’t need cars, are planning on building enough parking spaces for all the workers and residents in their “sell your car” TOD developments. What gives?

    1. The most likely major issue is: Risk.

      Look at it this way, the smart, experienced folks developing the Spring District don’t want to risk not renting their retail and residential units in a very suburban (currently unwalkable) area for fear of losing lots of money on their huge project. In the development world, there are two goals, in order: 1) don’t lose money (lower risk) 2) profit as much as possible (raise returns). If their potential renters go somewhere where they can bring their cars because the Spring District didn’t have enough parking, the developers lose money.

      Minor issues are: location (suburb of Bellevue) and market demographic (suburban families want to drive more).

      Is the Spring District a TOD? We’ll see. Things that matter in judging if something is a TOD: pedestrian-priority and de-parking, transit investment quality, station location in relation to development, essential retail service access.

    2. The goal of the S. Kirkland Park and Ride project is to expand parking capacity for those driving to transit, while also adding affordable and market rate housing at the same time. The goals of this P&R are completely different than those of TOD.

      1. About the South Kirkland P&R from King County’s website:

        “Metro Transit’s new three-story garage on the Bellevue-Kirkland border opened Sept. 5 and has 530 parking spaces, plus 260 spaces in the surface parking lot. The lot used to have about 600 spaces, and will top out at 850 spaces next year once construction is complete on the mixed-use housing project next door. Together, the garage and housing comprise a so-called transit-oriented development (TOD), successfully concentrating housing and a transit hub to reduce the need to drive or own a vehicle.”

        They both call it TOD, and will be creating enough parking spaces, on top of the spaces for P&R users, for every resident and commercial tenant.

      2. South Kirkland P&R is clearly the antithesis of TOD, not just because of the ample parking, but because running all the buses through the parking lot makes transit less usable for all riders who are travelling by bus from destinations north of the P&R to destinations south of the P&R. I’d be okay with the parking *if* the buses stayed out of the parking lot and only served on-street stops. I submit that having the buses go into the parking lot may be a violation of Metro’s Service Guidelines.

      3. A lot of questions like this one can be answered by “Car-dependent” = not TOD.

      4. @Ben: You need a deeper analysis than Walkscore to dismiss a location. Throughout America and the world there are lots of car-dependent places that can, should, must be transformed into something more walkable. They’re a majority of our built environment and they aren’t going away. Their current lack of nearby businesses or variety of businesses is something any land use plan would rightly look to address, and those with existing transit connections because they’re on the way somewhere would be great places to start.

        At South Kirkland P&R it’s not just that the business variety residents would want isn’t there today. It’s that the topology and much of the infrastructure of the area hinders an orientation toward transit and walking (infrastructure ranging from the broken-up street network to a location and layout that makes it impossible for 405-based regional transit to stop there). It’s going in where it is not because it’s a good location to build a town, but because the county owns the land there (the county must have bought that land because it was cheap and sorta-near 520 — you don’t spend tons of money on land just to put a surface parking lot on it). Even if nearby privately-owned lots down 38th eventually redevelop in similar fashion and the hedge rows between the lots gain walking paths through them, that’s not a huge amount of potential (though at least it’s near transit and cycling routes).

      5. @Al I wasn’t dismissing the location, although as I read on, perhaps you are?

        I was suggesting that walkscore can provide some (very imperfect, sure) answers as to what’s missing from the pedestrian-prioritization of a development billed as TOD. A “car-dependent” rating on walkscore indicates there are things still missing from the livability of the potential TOD, as in it’s not TOD yet.

      6. Even car-oriented “fake” TOD still allows a married couple to share one car between the two people, rather than buying a separate car for each person. By suburban standards, that’s certainly progress, of sorts. Another thing South Kirkland P&R will have going for it is good biking facilities via the cross-Kirkland trail and (after the construction finishes) the 520 trail to Seattle.

        As to living there without owning a car, the 255 bus, alone isn’t going to cut it. The bus to downtown Bellevue or is an infrequent milk run. The bus to Redmond is an infrequent milk run with a transfer to another infrequent milk run. No retail whatever within a reasonable walking distance. Car sharing is also extremely important for car-free living, yet completely lacking from virtually every suburban “TOD” proposal I’ve seen. When the nearby office buildings redevelop into retail that compares with downtown Kirkland, meaningful north-south express buses (or rail) start serving the area (not just buses to Seattle), Car2Go expands to cover all to Bellevue, Kirkland, and Redmond, and Zipcar starts having cars available on site, then we can talk about car-free living in the South Kirkland P&R TOD. However, I have serious doubts of any of these things happening in the foreseeable future.

        If we want to talk about a suburban TOD proposal that has a decent chance of working, the future Overlake Village (NOT what’s there currently) starts to have potential. Over there, the immediate walkshed includes Safeway, Fred Meyer, an entire shopping center, with even Crossroads Mall being a 15 minute walk away. In addition, the walkshed will contain good jobs (Microsoft) and good transit (Link station) to both Bellevue and Seattle. The big unknown that will really make or break car-free living there is whether or not the area will have decent car-sharing options. A couple of Zipcars would help, but with only two cars shared over a large development, that doesn’t really work for going anywhere spontaneously because if they might be already booked and because the need to pay for the round trip while the car is sitting there, parked at a destination, somewhere, makes trips unnecessarily expensive. If by 2023, Car2Go managed to strike a deal to include much of Bellevue, Kirkland, and Redmond in its home area, that would make a world of difference.

    3. The new development along MLK Way and the Link line in Seattle, isn’t that considered TOD? And doesn’t that area have a good walkscore? I believe there is one or more people here who lives in that area. Question. How do you usually get to the grocery store?

      1. I don’t live there anymore, but when I did, I walked across the street. There’s a Safeway at the corner of Othello and MLK.

      2. I think Ben B is somewhat overstating the case for the parking ceiling in “TOD”. Seattle is trying to go from 1:1 to around 1:2, and we should be glad we’re starting to make inroads. I’ve heard The Station at Othello Park has empty parking spaces because tenants won’t lease more than 66% of them. I would love to have more neighborhoods like Summit where half the buildings don’t have any parking, but that’s just not realistic for Seattle at this time. First we have to get to 90%, then 80%, then 70%, etc — and we have to keep improving transit to have a credible case for this.

      3. Oh, and “transit-adjacent development” is Southcenter Mall, not the things along MLK.

        Although I do find the new buildings at Columbia City station pretty sad — the ones with St Dames, Bananas, and ReWA. Physically they’re pedestrian-friendly, but aesthetically their facades are sparse and windswept and don’t attract pedestrians. Even Othello’s 2-story strip malls with center parking are more soulful than that.

  4. Planning meeting tonight for 1301 Western Ave, just south of Seattle Steam. Its a 16 story tower with roughly 1-1 parking. I think they could easily remove a whole floor of parking, and have a few carshare spaces. First Ave will have a streetcar someday, and there are lots of parking lots nearby to lease as well. And its about a block and a half from University Station. It doesn’t need more parking.

    1. Per Slide 35 of that pdf they can only have one level of parking above grade in their design, but they want a variance for the water table to put one level below grade and two above grade:

      “On lots of 30,000 sf or less, one story of parking is permitted above the first story of a structure for each story of parking provided below grade up to four stories max; parking about the third story shall be separated from the street by another use for 30% of each street frontage of a structure which shall be located at the corners. The perimeter of each story above the first floor shall have an opaque screen at least 3 ½ feet high.” (SMC 23.49.019)

      “Due to the high water table on the site, we are proposing only one level of below grade parking and two levels of above grade parking. We intend to wrap the University Street parking with other uses and screen the parking on all visible sides. Design Guidelines B-2, B-4, C-2, E-2”

  5. Capitol Hill and Pike/Pine are TOD – or really more appropriately “transit oriented communities”

    1. This is true by definition, since they were designed around streetcars. Of course, this does not mean they should be considered complete and get to hang out the “Not Welcome” sign to new development and more population, as some are trying to do.

      The taxpayers spent billions on the rail service that will connect Capitol Hill more swiftly to the other major destinations in the region. They should accept more densification to justify the gold-start transit connectivity they are getting.

  6. The complement to TOD isn’t merely transit, but TOD-oriented transit.

    The political problem is that TOD-OT is based around theoretical future inhabitants, while politicians respond to the people who live where they live, now. To the extent people factor in future inhabitants, they do so mostly from a place of fear of the unknown future neighbor, who might be some less wealthy renters. So, we end up building mid-rise housing in the most ridiculous, isolated locations where the inhabitants can’t walk to the basic amenities. I’m not just talking about South Kirkland P&R, but also about Arrowhead Gardens (as a particularly nasty example of seniors living on a virtual island), and to a lesser extent how we are shunting such construction off to the areas of least political resistance, mostly around city limits. Hence, the political viability of Greenwood mid-rises.

    The Olsen-Meyer P&R helped bring about the tragedy of Arrowhead Gardens. Now, the bus route that connected that P&R to downtown no longer exists. The bus route helped induce the contruction, but the construction didn’t produce much ridership, only enough to keep the Arrowhead Gardens knot in the 60. That knot will forever make the 60 a non-desirable way to get between South Park and West Seattle.

    Contrast this to the A Line – which at least in terms of path (except around the tragically misplaced Federal Way TC) was designed as TOD-OT. You can see lots of mid-rise housing along the A Line, and none of it requires the buses to pull off into a parking lot. I hope ST planners deciding future station locations will look at the A Line as an example of what to do.

    Other routes I look to as the best examples of TOD-OT include the 8, 12, 44, 49, 73, 120, and 358. They each have their own challenges, but they stick to the principle that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, In the case of the 8 and 49, I’m talking about the segments of each line on either side of the mid-line turn, and don’t foresee either route continuing their current jointed paths after U-Link opens.

    Getting TOD isn’t simply a matter of advocating for TOD. It is also a matter of designing transit to induce the TOD.

    1. Brent, you raise a really good point. There are a lot of steps involved in building the sustainable world envisioned by TOD. Transit is probably the first step. I’m hoping for and working on Subways for Seattle. I don’t think it’s the correct mode every time, but any mode that can compete with cars and that don’t ever stop for cars are best for attracting choice ridership. If you’re like me and trying to create a world oriented towards humans and not their cars, having mobility competitive with cars and more convenient is important.

      The question becomes, “has transit ever induced TOD where there is no strong market for redevelopment already in place?” There are two ingredients to TOD: a real estate market (and zoning that allows) for redevelopment and, as you say, high quality transit.

      1. You raise a really good point that having the zoning in place to allow for TOD is essential. As we’ve seen in neighborhoods like Roosevelt, the neighbors may balk at TOD after getting the transit, so it may be useful to make TOD zoning a prerequisite for getting a station, going forward.

        Metro could, likewise, tie improved transit service to zoning.

      2. “…so it may be useful to make TOD zoning a prerequisite for getting a station, going forward.”

        I could get behind that if it were done correctly–as long as the ability to retrofit stations into every neighborhood or “urban village” is there. This issue becomes the long-term mistake of skipping a stop.

      3. That would hold people who want to take transit hostage to their neighbors agreeing to upzones. People were suggesting that for places like Roosevelt and Beacon Hill: no upzone, no station. Does that mean there’d be no station between U District and Northgate? Or that you’d cancel the line because some neighborhoods in the middle don’t want to play nice? That hurts everyone who wants to have a better alternative to driving. Density is becoming more and more acceptable as time goes on, so eventually these problems might just go away and we can build up then. In the meantime we need rapid transit now, or actually we needed it twenty years ago, and people are wasting months of their life on slow/infrequent/unreliable buses.

  7. Perfect place to ask this. I have repeatedly asked on this blog what the plan is for Convention Place Station once buses leave the tunnel. I always get this ultra vague and rather annoying answer of “it’ll be TOD”. Okay…. does anyone care to expand on that for me? That doesn’t really tell me anything about whether the station will cease to exist or if they will somehow continue its use. Can anyone give me a clear answer on this? It’s okay if no one knows, I just don’t want a vague answer that doesn’t say much.

    1. I have a rather unhelpful answer for that. I don’t have any idea if the station will cease to exist, but I I believe its use will end since buses will be rerouted out of the DSTT and trains won’t stop there.

      The station property is not yet “surplused” property, i.e. still in use by Sound Transit. Once the property is “surplus”, in general, Sound Transit will then directly comment on what proposals and plans it has for the property.

      It might be TOD. The scary part is that it might not. Sound Transit is only required to seek fair market value for the property, whether it sells it or ground-leases it.

  8. The term “TOD” was created as a marketing strategy by an urban design in the late 1980’s. I believe it was Peter Calthorpe or someone in his firm at the time (noting that many key people left that firm in the 1990’s). Before then, the term was often “mixed-use, high density development” or “planned urban development”. The “transit” spin provided more justification for upzoning. Still, there are decades of “TOD’s” in America that developed from market forces from places with historic rail systems like New York and Boston and Chicago to the newer systems like Atlanta and Washington, DC. The idea isn’t new at all.

    One major issue I have with the term is that it is used to “justify” mixed-use, high-density development near all sorts of transit stations – not just those places with high frequency, all-day transit. Anyone who has ever lived near a diesel railroad knows that being next to the line can be quite a disturbance in terms of noise and vibration! The residential part should be designed to make it “livable” to be near the transit line (with mitigated noise and vibration) and many urban designers and developers overlook that.

    1. Agreed. I live overlooking the BNSF yard in Interbay. I like trains as much as the next Transit Blog guy, but getting everything exactly right is the trick.

      Peter Calthorpe has also recently begun walking back the transit from his focus, it doesn’t suit him anymore. I’m still focusing on transit orientation and physical adjacency because I don’t think it’s been implemented since the street car suburbs of the 1900s–outside of the markets you mention. It still has lots of potential in regions like this one building subways and light rail.

    2. I’ve been wondering about Calthorpe. In some ways he seems to realize that the early “TOD without the T” greenfield developments have been missing something, but on the other hand he still has high hopes for the Issaquah Highlands.

      1. Having high hopes for the Issaquah Highlands is not entirely unjustified. It’s still suburban, but it’s a quantum leap over normal suburban development patterns. It makes non-P&R transit a reality for far more commuters than would otherwise be possible, even if they’re still driving their cars for many non-commute trips, and it’s internally very walkable/bikeable.

        If more suburbs looked like IH both the transit picture and quality of life in the area would be significantly improved.

    1. Transit-Oriented Development (TOD):
      TOD is a land development pattern that integrates transit and land use by promoting transit ridership while supporting community land use and development visions. TOD typically consists of public and private development projects that create dense, pedestrian-oriented environments with a mix of land uses and activities at and around transit facilities. The design, configuration and mix of buildings and activities around the transit facility, as well as the location and design of the transit facility, should encourage people to use transit and foster a healthy, livable environment. TOD is
      generally focused on land within approximately one-half mile, or 10-to 15-minute walk, of a transit facility and along corridors that provide key connections to the regional transit system.

      Agreed! It’s a matter of implementation. Sound Transit is worried about 15-minute walks from their stations. TOD done right has to first start within a 5 minute walk of the station and grow from there. Within a 5 minute walk, POD has to be even more prioritized over private, single-occupancy vehicles. Parking has to be reduced more, carsharing has to be encouraged more, and the urban design has to focus on pedestrians a lot more.

  9. All things being equal, I don’t see why TOD has to

    (a) feature much smaller dwelling units
    (b) have a much higher cost per square foot

    Than standard suburban development.

    If you are deducing carspace, and focusing on transit, then correspondingly you should be able to devote even more space to liveability.

    Yet sadly, it seems like the tiny apodments, expensive rents and high taxes are more like the truth of TOD.

    1. Generally correct. (A) I think developers still need to realize that TOD needs “family” units too (3ba/2ba, etc.). We’ll get there, eventually. For now families leave core cities, so developers can’t see it.

      TOD shouldn’t have a higher cost per square foot to construct. If you reduce/remove parking from the equation you save on construction cost $. But all things aren’t equal. Unimproved land costs, i.e. what the developer buys the parcel for, account for the difference in construction costs (“location, location, location”).

      That expensive rent is also a function the the lack of supply and high demand–i.e. simple economics. All new development will be expensive to rent until we realize that we need to develop compactly, near transit stations, and build tall (see “compactly”) to satisfy the high income renters’ (Amazon, etc.) demand without demolishing entire neighborhoods to build 5-over-1s (those annoying 6 story buildings you see all over Ballard that start to look the same quickly).

      Also Seattle will eventually have to look a little more like Los Angeles with single family lots converted to multifamily, having short 2-3 story, 6-12 unit apartment buildings developed on them. Those are the cheapest to build and therefore the cheapest for renters.

  10. When discussing transit-adjacent versus transit-oriented development the main discussion is related to design, which you didn’t directly address. There’s more to pedestrian-oriented design than just parking ratios. Sure, at some parking ratio, good mixed-use design becomes virtually impossible, but having a low parking ratio doesn’t ensure good design or connectivity so design / site-planning is key element of TOD.

    I’m generally a fan of market-based parking but in the case of expensive fixed rail or high quality BRT investment I think parking maximums make sense. I don’t know about zero parking. Particularly in the case of businesses you will always a have a mix of employees who live in different places. Some of them will drive. Most people don’t have as much choice about where they work as where they live. But it certainly make sense that if an employer or potential is going to park at conventional rates then this is not the place for them. Another thing that might make sense is requiring parking to be unbundled; i.e. it can’t be given away for free in rent or lease contracts. I’m not sure of the legality of that, but it seems like it could be part of a TDM (transportation demand management) plan.

    1. I agree. By unbundling parking and drastically reducing the availability of on- and off-street parking you have better design potential. As for where to locate parking, an ideal place is in parking structures at the edge of the TOD that are designed to be convertible to other uses later–this requires much more building infrastructure and higher ceilings and is expensive, but worth it long-term.

  11. I’m a little late to this party, but wanted to weigh in with some history of TOD.
    A TOD was originally called “Pedestrian Pocket,” until Peter Calthorpe changed it.
    While UW Architecture, in 1988 I organized the Pedestrian Pocket Charrette, which included Calthorpe, Dan Solomon, Harrison Fraker, Mark Mack and others to explore and flesh out the concept, with which Calthorpe had been playing at Berkeley. It was a seminal event, as the ensuing “Pedestrian Pocket Book” (4 printings) was a national bestseller in urban design and helped jumpstart both TOD and New Urbanism (which many of us continued to support and help evolve).

    TOD was originally conceived as a suburban infill strategy, but later was applied to urban settings. It was an embarrassingly simple, old and obvious idea – limit its radius to 1/4 mile; provide both retail and employment with walking distance of the low-rise, high density core and transit stop; have a walkable mixed-use “mainstreet “of individual shops rather than mall, and connect it to existing and new development with transit. (Park n ride was discouraged.)

    TOD was never intended to eliminate the automobile but to reduce dependence on it, primarily through increased provision of transit (preferably rail but express buses – now BRT – was acceptable).
    The parking ration was 1:1 for residential and much lower than the commercial requirements of the day. (We were hoping to reduce households from 2 cars to 1 car, and to reduce VMT by up to 50%.) Importantly, the mixed use included jobs – both commercial and institutional – in an attempt to achieve a jobs-housing balance (not within each TOD but within the transit network). Each TOD would have a diverse demographic (with daycare to senior citizen facilities) and a mix of housing types and sizes that were less dense on the periphery (with the radius later extended from 1/4 mile to 2000 feet).

    Since its birth (sort of in Seattle!), TODs have evolved to be more urban – denser, higher-rise and located within the urban fabric, which often means the parking ratio can be reduced to 1:2 or lower, even eliminated in some cases (Chicago, e.g.). TODs continue to evolve.

    Ironically, almost 25 years after the charrette, a U of Michigan team of students that I advised won the $50,000 ULI/Hines competition for a TOD at a transit stop along Rainier Ave. Sweet fruit I thought.

    I hope this history sheds some light on your ongoing conversation.
    Doug Kelbaugh, Prof. and former Dean, U Michigan

    1. Thank you, Dr. Kelbaugh!

      You must be scared that I’m fighting a war on cars? I’m not. But it’s time to clarify the definition of TOD to remove the parking for private, single-occupancy vehicles from the 1/4 mile walkshed of transit stations and build convertible parking structures at the edge of the 1/4 mile walkshed TOD area. That will truly allow for the prioritization of pedestrians in the urban design that incremental and slight reductions won’t–and will reduce costs a great deal also, those parking ramps are expansive.

      Once outside of that 1/4 mile walkshed, I agree that simply reducing the private, single occupancy vehicle ratio to 0.25 or 0.5 is a good treatment all the way out to 1/2 mile walkshed distance.

      1. I should add that reserved parking for carsharing services does have a place within that immediate 1/4 walkshed.

      2. Ben
        While it’s true that both surface parking and mulit-level garages are antithetical to good urbanism, I don’t think you have to be that Draconian within the quarter-mile radius of the transit stop. It’s a question of balance and proportion.
        There can be limited off-street parking for residents (who have to pay pretty heavily, given its scarcity). In fact, it’s essential for some households (either for health reasons or because the transit system is too limited). Cars – both in motion and at rest – in reasonable numbers and traveling at reasonable speeds are part of the contemporary city. Complete streets, which have rightfully returned privilege and r.ow. to peds and cyclists, are also for cars.
        We have a long way to go before our transit infrastructure catches up with Europe and Japan.

        Btw, Peter Calthorpe and I have continued to work on TODs, both together and separately (in Dubai, Riyadh and in China, where he continues to get good traction). I’m currently teaching a TOD studio around Detroit’s Amtrak station, which is soon to be joined by a light rail station. It’s very dense, with buildings 20+ stories.

        Keep up the good fight!

      3. I’m happy to disagree with you and be entirely “draconian”–as you allege :)–and let the NIMBY’s force us to build a modicum of parking. But I’d be interested to hear your opinion on Dr. Cervero’s 2008-09 UCTC work suggesting we still drastically over-park TODs, which as you say “is antithetical to good urbanism.” In his same paper Cervero suggests carsharing and I would add unbundled parking structures, which I offer should be removed to the edge of the 1/4 mile radius, would suffice perfectly well for those who need cars when transit isn’t a good option. Yes, we would need to build transit first to make TOD work, and transit isn’t being built fast enough, so I understand Mr. Calthorpe’s desire to stop waiting for transit and pull back from the Transit requirements and keep cars in the picture, but I still take issue with it. It is the parking’s fault that we have bad urbanism in TODs still. I will have to write my next post about parking more specifically.

        Dr. Donald Shoup suggests we conduct a real economic analysis of the construction, financing, and operating costs of parking to see if it pencils. Multi-level garages at Seattle–and I would guess Detroit, also–parking rates don’t.

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