As a consequence of auto-oriented planning, many station areas lack the infrastructure necessary to make people feel comfortable walking or biking to the transit stop. Large, dark parking lots separate pedestrians from station entrances, not to mention the major arterials and freeway overpasses that surround them. For the many benefits attributed to TOD to work, it has to be integrated into the landscape with easy accessibility to transit, including well-lit streets, comfortable sidewalks and streetside amenities.
One of the greatest limitations on the current crop of TODs is that not enough attention has been paid to making them attractive and pedestrian-friendly places. Trips to the store, to visit neighbors, to the park, or to sit in a coffee shop and watch the world go by should be both negotiable on foot and a delight to those walking. If transit is inserted into a healthy pedestrian environment, then pedestrians can easily become transit riders.
Locating a mix of uses within walking distance of transit does not necessarily create a place where a child can be dropped off at daycare on the way to the transit stop, where everyday errands can take place on foot, or where a business client can be taken to lunch without driving. The types of uses located within TOD must be carefully matched with the function of the place and with the needs and desires of residents, workers, and visitors. Indeed, placemaking may be as important a factor in the success of TOD as access to transit.
And that’s where TAD often fails, by not creating a functional integration of transit and surrounding development. So how is TAD created? What turns a project like Lindbergh City Center from TOD to TAD?
Stakeholders with Competing Interests
Transit-oriented development requires the participation of many actors, and occurs in a fragmented regulatory environment, adding complexity, time, uncertainty, risk, and cost to projects. TOD requires the cooperation of agencies, private business, and community members, each with their own priorities, goals and interests. It is very easy for one well-meaning cause — say, historic preservation — to become the central focus of new development. When this happens, the big picture goals of TOD — which are imminently achievable — fall by the wayside.
Many of these goals — such as maintaining a high level of station parking and maximizing pedestrian access to the station — are in conflict with one another. A transit agency that prioritizes maximizing the monetary return on its land will probably make choices that lead to suboptimal results for creating TOD, as was the case with Lindbergh City Center when Atlanta’s economy took a downturn. Neighbors with property across the street will inevitably see newer styles of denser development as damaging to their property values, whereas residents of the larger area may see the benefits for the region as a whole. Keeping TOD focused on the outcomes and balancing the needs of the various stakeholders is essential to avoid creating TAD.
It should also be noted that TAD is responsible for diluting TOD research because it is difficult to filter out. TOD is often defined as development within a half-mile radius of a station. But that half-mile radius can contain train yards, ravines, eight-lane highways and other obstructions that isolate one area from another. Or it could encompass a wealthy, gated community or towering high-rises. In this way, one half-mile radius is barely comparable to another, and developments that aren’t transit-oriented in any way become part of the statistical research that makes the case for TOD.
Various groups are finding ways to isolate TODs for proper study, looking at the project level. The San Francisco Bay Area’s Metropolitan Transportation Commission has developed a number of techniques for reflecting the true half-mile walkable radius around transit stops, resulting in shapes more like Swiss cheese slices than circles. MTC has also commissioned a study to survey residents of effective TOD in the Bay Area in order to fully understand why those projects worked and others haven’t.
Transit-oriented development fosters greater use of a transit system by supporting housing and/or commercial development within walking distance of transit stations, offering a diversity of land uses and pedestrian-oriented design. Where such development has occurred, residents use transit five times as often as those who drive to the station and non-auto mode shares are substantially higher than in neighborhoods where every trip must be made by car.