Portland Metro’s TOD Strategic Plan

 A Regional Guide to Investing in TOD

The Center for Transit-Oriented Development and Nelson\Nygaard Consulting Associates worked with the Metro TOD Program to develop a TOD Strategic Plan. This Strategic Plan is designed to guide future investments by the Metro TOD Program, in order to ensure the program maximizes the opportunities for catalyzing transit-oriented development throughout the region and effectively leverages additional resources to comprehensively advance TOD in all station areas and frequent bus corridors.

About the TOD Program

Metro’s Transit-Oriented Development Program serves a unique and critical implementation-based role that is unmatched in other regions around the country. The TOD Program is designed to provide incentives, primarily in the form of modest funding grants, to private developers to build higher-density, mixed-use projects located near transit. The program is structured to encourage projects that “push the envelope” in terms of density or building type, acknowledging that these projects are often more expensive to build or carry additional risk. The Program’s strategies for maximizing TOD potential include:

  • Contributing to local identity through multi-year investments in catalyst projects and place-making elements;
  • Creating market comparables for higher-density mixed-use development near transit and in centers;
  • Cultivating developers with expertise in higher-density and mixed-use development in suburban settings; and
  • Building community acceptance of urban style building types in suburban communities.

For more information on the TOD Program, visit Metro’s website

January 26, 2011, Presentation


Creating a Typology to Guide Implementation
In the past, typologies have primarily been a tool used for land use visioning at the citywide, transit corridor, or regional scale. Place types offer guidance on the land use mix and densities that might be appropriate in a given geography, enabling large scale scenario building. For example, the Denver TOD Typology helped the City of Denver to create a high level land use vision for the existing and forthcoming light rail station areas anticipated through the Fastracks plan. The typology then also helped the City get a sense of where station areas should be prioritized for further, more detailed planning efforts based on the anticipated level of change, market strength, and infrastructure needs. The Denver TOD Typology and Strategic Plan can be found here.

Rather than establishing a land use vision, a TOD implementation typology - such as that developed for this strategic plan – looks at a range of factors to determine which types of implementation strategies will be most effective to prepare any given location for future transit-oriented development.

In the case of Portland, we evaluated a range of factors related to market strength and urban form in order to group the region’s station areas and frequent bus corridors into three categories:

  1. Plan & Partner
  2. Catalyze & Connect
  3. Infill & Enhance

The titles of these categories reflect the types of investments that are, at present, most appropriate to help prepare the corresponding station areas and corridors for more intensive TOD. The below figures show how these categories fall relative to market strength and urban form measures.

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Numerous detailed implementation strategies used to promote TOD exist within these categories. But the TOD Program – which primarily focuses on investments that catalyze development – is not the agency responsible for most of these strategies. A more detailed evaluation of implementation strategies (shown below) places the TOD Program investments along the spectrum of activities that are needed to promote TOD.

Figure 30
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By using this implementation typology, the TOD Program will be able to more systematically determine where its involvement will be most effective. But, the Strategic Plan can be used by all planners in Portland: Ideally, other public agencies in the Portland Region will be able to use the typology to also determine what actions they might be taking to promote TOD within their own jurisdictions.

For more on implementation typologies, stay tuned for the Denver West Corridor Equitable TOD Strategy, to be released by CTOD Summer 2011.

National Application

Implementation Typologies can help regional and local agencies use market and physical characteristics to make sense of the types of investments needed to promote TOD at the neighborhood scale – without expensive and time consuming station area planning.

This tool can help: jurisdictions planning many station areas at once; jurisdictions needing to allocate scarce resources for planning, infrastructure, and "bricks and mortar" development across a large, diverse geography

Mapping Urban Form at the Regional Scale
How does one capture the unique physical characteristics of every neighborhood at the regional scale? This was one of the key challenges Metro staff, CTOD, and Nelson\Nygaard worked through to create the implementation typology for the strategic plan. To truly understand the potential for each station area and frequent bus corridor to support future TOD, we looked at a number of factors including:

Transit Connectivity:

  • Proximity to Light Rail
  • Proximity to Frequent Bus

Pedestrian and Bicycle Connectivity:

  • Intersection Density
  • Proximity to Trails
  • Low Traffic Streets
  • Dedicated Bicycle Lanes
  • Sidewalk Density
  • Overall Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety at Intersection Crossings

Land Use Characteristics

To compile these many factors into a single, meaningful, and measurable indicator of urban form and “TOD Readiness,” Metro staff created a GIS Model that quantifies each of the above, weighs their impact on TOD potential, and overlays them into a single measure. A simpler version of the model clusters the above characteristics into five categories, called the “5 P’s:”

  • People: The number of residents and workers in an area has a direct correlation with reduced auto trips ;
  • Places: Areas with commercial urban amenities such as restaurants, grocers, and specialty retail not only allow residents to complete daily activities without getting in a car, but they also improve the likelihood of higher density development by increasing residential land values ;
  • Physical Form: Small block sizes promote more compact development and walkability;
  • Performance: High quality, frequent bus and rail service makes public transportation a more reliable means of getting around and can be correlated to less driving.
  • Pedestrian/Bicycle Connectivity: Access to sidewalks and low stress bikeways encourages many more people to walk or cycle to transit and neighborhood destinations.

5Ps of TOD Readiness
The resulting composite score provides the “urban form” variable in the Y axis of the TOD Typology, and looks like this:

Figure 18
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In the TOD Strategic Plan, this regional mapping was used to provide a quantitative measure of urban form. Metro divided station areas and corridors into three progressively higher scoring categories based on their performance in the model: transit adjacent, transit related, and transit oriented. The quantitative nature of the measure provides the TOD Program with a defensible approach to defining where their investments make sense. Moreover, as station areas and neighborhoods change over time, their score in this model can improve, thus qualifying them for a new set of investments.

There are many other potential applications of this regional modeling work as well. Indeed, many other regions have used similar models in blueprint planning. Metro is presently exploring the possibility of using this model to help align future transit corridors with the neighborhoods that are most ready to support dense development. For example, one of Portland's next light rail corridors will be Barbur Blvd. The blue areas on this diagram show those places along the corridor that could be most supportive of TOD. This type of information can inform the way that stations are aligned.

Barbur Blvd
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  Note: Barbur Blvd corridor runs diagonally down from the top right corner of the map.

Other factors such as construction costs, right-of-way ownership, and equity still need to be considered, but such models can pave the way for consideration of new methods for transit planning. As more jurisdictions enhance their GIS capacity, it is worth considering whether the data used in this model could be collected on a more widespread basis.

National Application:

Regional mapping of urban form characteristics can provide a quantitative assessment of the ability of different neighborhoods to support TOD. This sophisticated modeling effort does require high quality local data, but much of this data can be acquired from national sources.

This tool can help: jurisdictions to quantify urban form characteristics in a defensible way that informs TOD investments; transit authorizes to appropriately align future transit corridors to connect places that are inherently transit supportive.

Metro has been exploring how to more effectively evaluate their future transit corridor investments through its High Capacity Transit study. More on this study is available here.

Strategies to Support TOD at the State and Regional Scale
While land use decisions are the purview of local jurisdictions, regional and state agencies have developed a growing array of tools and policies to support TOD. The Strategic Plan explored some possible options to increase state and regional support of TOD with:

For descriptions of these and other strategies, please click on the links above.

Additional resources:

For more information: