Lindbergh City Center, Atlanta, Ga.
When Atlanta’s Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) announced plans to create a transit-oriented development (TOD) at the Lindbergh Metro Station, and that Atlanta’s second largest employer, BellSouth, was on board to locate new offices there, people could sense a shift in the air. Watercolor renderings of the project pictured a rosy mixed-use development with shops and easy access to transit. A village-like Main Street in the plans was organized in accordance with the principles of New Urbanism. Atlanta’s mounting traffic woes and years of sprawl seemed to be shifting into a new, transit-oriented future. “The plan was such a departure from the norm,” said Atlanta Journal-Constitutionreporter David Goldberg, “and so important a symbol of positive change, that it was front-page news for several days in the local papers.”
The final product left something to be desired. As resident Peggy Whitaker complained, “They…put together something they called TOD when it’s just a BellSouth office park with a transit station stuck onto it.” With the majority of the project’s square footage occupied by one corporate tenant, the pedestrian life of the station conforms to the traffic cycles of the business day. While it does include a mix of uses — residential, retail and commercial — the uses are mostly segregated to their own corners of the development. Moreover, while the final design kept some of the original “urban village” concept, it is hard for the visitor not to feel intimidated and closed in by towering buildings and parking decks, heavily trafficked arterials and the railroad trench.
Oriented or Adjacent?
Sites like Lindbergh City Center have come to be known as TAD, or transit-adjacentdevelopment. As G.B. Arrington of PB PlaceMaking says, “Within the family of TOD, you might say there are two ‘brothers’ — TOD and his ‘evil brother’ TAD.” TAD is TOD gone bad, development that is adjacent to transit but breaks all the rules that make TOD work, like making public spaces the focus of building orientation and neighborhood activity; creating pedestrian-friendly street networks that directly connect local destinations; and providing a mix of housing types, densities and costs.
In 2004, our organization surveyed the TOD landscape in the book, The New Transit Town: Best Practices in Transit-Oriented Development.What we saw wasn’t heartening; many of the sites that were built in the first flush of excitement over the concept of TOD had failed to live up to their potential. The amount of hype around TOD far exceeds the progress to date, with many transit proponents selling new transit investments on the basis of future land-use changes. The result has been that transit opponents have begun to deride TOD as a failure by critiquing the performance of these flawed projects. This presents a particular challenge for the transit industry, because the long-term success of many projects depends on development trends over which the industry has, at best, only indirect control.
So why are we being saddled with TADs, and how can we stop them? What has gone wrong in the quest to build the perfect transit-oriented development?
The Urban Fabric
First and foremost, it must be remembered that 60 years of auto-oriented development is difficult to mend. Streetcar suburbs of the past created natural development patterns that scaled from dense, multi-story developments along the transit lines down to single-family homes. Today, station area plans such as Calthorpe Associates beautiful design for the area around the Colma, Calif., BART station have improved development directly at the station, but the surrounding area is still auto body shops, motels and strip malls. It has taken 12 years to inspire the current development, and it may take 12 more to repair the urban fabric of the immediate area.