Frequently Asked Questions

What Is Transit-Oriented Development?

Transit-oriented development, or TOD, is a type of community development that includes a mixture of housing, office, retail and/or other commercial development and amenities integrated into a walkable neighborhood and located within a half-mile of quality public transportation.

Some of the benefits of TOD include:

  1. Reduced household driving and thus lowered regional congestion, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions
  2. Walkable communities that accommodate more healthy and active lifestyles
  3. Increased transit ridership and fare revenue
  4. Potential for added value created through increased and/or sustained property values where transit investments have occurred
  5. Improved access to jobs and economic opportunity for low-income people and working families
  6. Expanded mobility choices that reduce dependence on the automobile, reduce transportation costs and free up household income for other purposes

To find out more about the benefits of TOD, check out our series on TOD

What is equitable TOD?

Transit oriented development (TOD) can be a neighborhood or business district within a quarter-mile to a half-mile of a transit station that generates ridership for the transit system, lowers people’s cost to live and work by reducing dependence on driving, and increases job access opportunities. While lower income households who frequently lack a car, or for whom the cost of driving eats up a significant portion of household income, should be able to take advantage of living in a transit oriented neighborhood, there is often pressure to target new transit-oriented development to higher income households. The concept of “equitable TOD” prioritizes investments that support the production and preservation of affordable housing near transit; provides other tranist-accessible community services such as schools, health clinics, and food stores; and enhances access for transit-dependent populations through connecting bicycle and pedestrian facilities. Equitable TOD is about creating equal opportunities for people of all incomes to capture the benefits of transit oriented locations.

Related CTOD Documents:

Related Information: Reconnecting America Featured Topic page on TOD & Equity

What are TOD placetypes and how do they work?

Some transit stations are located in bustling downtowns at the heart of the regional economy; others are in residential neighborhoods where transit provides a convenient means for commuters to travel to and from work and other destinations. Some stations are located in areas that are experiencing rapid growth and change, while others are in more established, built-out neighborhoods where any change will be incremental. Every station area, whether existing or proposed, faces unique challenges and will require specially tailored strategies to create high-performing transit-oriented development (TOD) projects. However, many different types of station areas share similar characteristics. These similarities can help planners, citizens, and elected officials quickly and easily understand key planning considerations and what to expect in terms of the character, role and function of the places that will be created.

There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to TOD. Over the last five years the Center for Transit-Oriented Development (CTOD) has developed and applied many TOD Station Area Typologies, in different regions, such as Denver, Portland, Chicago, and Baltimore, to help plan for station area revitalization and development. A TOD typology is a way to group together different transit zones that have a common set of characteristics. A typology has several place types, and all of the station areas within one place type have some elements in common. The characteristics that define a typology can differ depending on what outcomes the typology is meant to accomplish, and not every station area in one place type will be exactly the same. Typologies are useful tools because they increase understanding of characteristics that contribute to place, establish measurable performance benchmarks, and provide a framework to set goals for better performance.

The widely varying characteristics that help define places require different strategies and approaches to be employed to foster the growth of vibrant transit-oriented neighborhoods that enhance existing assets and conditions and serve people of all incomes. These differences can often be highlighted through the use of a typology tool that identifies key themes and strategic decisions that apply across a range of places when implementing TOD.

To Find out more about Place Types and TOD Typologies visit Reconnecting America's featured topic on Station Area Typologies.

What densities are associated with transit?

The answer is….it depends. In 1977 Jeffrey Zupan and Boris Pushkarev wrote the seminal work on this subject called Public Transportation and Land Use Policy. This work attempted to define the appropriate housing and employment densities for certain types of transit service. Since that time, the generally accepted numbers from that report have stayed the same but many things about the built environment have changed. Downtowns have become more dispersed and housing has spread to the regional periphery. Studies are currently under way to answer this question once again.

Ultimately for each transportation type there are ranges, and it is not just residential densities that matter. Employment densities and the size of downtowns and employment clusters play a big role in determining transit needs. Zupan, Kolko, Cervero, Barnes, and others have cited the need to have dense downtown clusters that influence ridership from the outlying areas. For example, Zupan states that for Rapid Transit, it is necessary to have 50 million square feet of clustered office space downtown. That number lowers to 35 million for light rail and 20 million for 10 minute bus service. Others such as PSRC suggest that 50 employees per acre is the magic number.

On the residential side, it's heavily dependent on the station area and type but densities cascade downward from 79 dwelling units per acre to 2 dwelling units per acre for very far out commuter rail in Zupan. So depending on the type of transit, the corridor, and the service, there are wide ranges of densities that are said to support transit.

Finally, if the goal is to reduce Automobile travel, Peter Newman of Australia has noted that 35 people per hectare (or 14 people per acre in employees and residents) is the threshold at which VMT starts to drop. So again, there is not one size fits all solution to this question, and the answer is that it depends on the situation in which each corridor is being considered.

These CTOD related documents provie more on the subject:

Related Information: Reconnecting America topic tag on Transit and Density in Resource Center.
How does the FTA funding cycle work?

There are four broad stages that transit projects move through from the initial conception of the project to the moment the new line opens. However, we recognize that within this overall framework, each project has a unique process. They have different reasons for being built, ranging from the desire to create a new network, expand an existing system, or expand mobility and access for a single neighborhood. Different kinds of leaders and advocates have their own reasons to push for a project to reach completion. Each project is funded through a unique combination of local, state, or federal sources, and of course the neighborhoods that the lines connect or pass through are all individual places with their own set of needs and visions. Nonetheless, all transit projects go through a similar process to move from concept to reality.

Regional Planning

Regional planning is a key first stage to construct successful transit projects and often happens before specific projects can be drawn as lines on a map. Ideally, this stage should include an analysis of regional development patterns and the needs of the existing transportation system such as connections to employment and low income communities. Successful regional visioning processes can guide transit network expansion for years to come, as Salt Lake City and Portland have proven in their respective Envision Utah and LUTRAQ (Land Use, Transportation and Air Quality Connection) processes.

Technology Assessment and Corridor Feasibility

The next stage in building a transit line focuses on the corridor itself. Alternatives Analysis is a key component of this stage—comparing similar alignments that all vary slightly from each other but attempt to connect the same set of neighborhoods or destinations. Stakeholders begin to debate specific station locations and assess the benefits and feasibility of different transit technologies. This is also the stage where the jurisdiction leading the planning must start to think seriously about how the construction of the line might be funded. Projects seeking federal funding may officially apply to enter the New Starts process during this stage.

Chosen Alternative, Funding, and Engineering

Projects enter the third stage of transit planning after planners and stakeholders have chosen the initial alignment and agreed upon station locations. In technical terms, this official decision is called the Locally Preferred Alternative, or LPA, and is usually approved by a city council or other political body. In this stage, detailed funding decisions, environmental assessments and preliminary engineering are completed. A cost estimate for the LPA with more details than the alternatives analysis is drawn up and funding options are considered. In many cases, transit project funding is cobbled together from numerous sources.

Final Design and Construction

After the engineering plans and environmental impact analyses are complete, projects may be ready to move into the final stage of transit planning and construction. Locally funded projects may begin construction while projects relying on state or federal funding must get finalized grant agreements to move forward Lines seeking federal funding will first move into final design, when construction preparation (including right-of-way acquisition) begins. Projects that reach final design often go on to receive a Full Funding Grant Agreement from the Federal Transit Administration, which is the last step before projects begin breaking ground.

What is value capture?

In this era of constrained transit funding and widespread demand for new and expanded transit systems, policy makers, transit planners and elected officials are increasingly interested in harnessing a portion of the value that transit confers to surrounding properties to fund transit infrastructure or related improvements in station areas. This idea, known as “value capture,” is much discussed in planning, transit, and local government circles. Value capture is seen as a way to help pay for capital projects as well as a potential source of income for paying ongoing operating costs. However, transit agencies are not the only ones hoping to capitalize on the value created by transit. Local jurisdictions hope to tap into rising property values to encourage transit-oriented development (TOD) and help pay for neighborhood improvements such as local infrastructure, improved pedestrian linkages, and affordable housing. Meanwhile, property owners and developers see transit as a highly desirable amenity that has the potential to increase the value of surrounding properties and create lucrative development opportunities.

CTOD Related Documents:

Related Information: Reconnecting America Featured Topic page on Value Capture

Why are job concentrations important part of TOD?

Transit-oriented development (TOD) planning has generally been focused on developing dense mixed-use residential buildings near stations to increase transit ridership. However, research shows that transit ridership is more closely tied to the density of the workplace (destination), than to the density of the residential neighborhood (origin). Furthermore, the work trip comprises 59 percent of all transit ridership in the United States. Therefore, it is clear that dense employment centers, whether they are in urban or suburban locations, are key to transit performance. Corridors that connect higher density job centers as well as residential neighborhoods have strong potential to support high-capacity transit. In addition, the transformation of single-use suburban job centers to compact, mixed-use districts also increases the likelihood that workers will forego the car for short, mid-day convenience trips. Planning for transit-accessible job centers can also help to broaden economic opportunities for workers, particularly low-wage employees that rely on transit to get to work, as well as improve mobility for all residents.

CTOD Related Documents:

Related Information: Reconnecting America Featured Topic page on Employment & Transit.

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