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Transit-Oriented Development (TOD): It’s not just about the station

February 12, 2015

By John Shardlow

Successful TODs stem from big-picture thinking; here are four proven strategies to maximize potential

As many communities across the world have discovered, successful transit-oriented development (TOD) can be advanced, or thwarted, at multiple levels. At its best, the process starts at the corridor level and then moves inward with increasing levels of detail to station areas and finally to specific projects. While every corridor and transit system is unique, I’ve found several proven strategies are essential to maximizing the potential of TODs.

Station locations and typologies

Sometimes we have the good fortune to guide decisions about transit station locations, but often planners are engaged after the stations have been planned or even built. In either case, the areas surrounding each station must be carefully analyzed to answer two key questions: How does the area currently function? How could it change in response to planned improvements? 

The answers form the bedrock of decisions about the typology for each station. In simple terms, a station area’s “typology” is a description of its characteristics and function within the corridor. For example, a station area may be assigned a typology to reflect that it is a job center, or a mixed use node, or more of a park and ride location.

This work often includes a combination of land use planning and market research. In Minnesota, The Twin Cities’ Bottineau Corridor is a good example of this early planning process. Here we’ve established clear typologies for each of the station areas and more detailed work is now underway.

Integration with comprehensive planning

Once the typology work is completed, the corridor area must be integrated into the community’s comprehensive plan. This important step is often overlooked. But it’s crucial to make certain that any recommended changes in land use or density are supported by the plan and that they are also  reflected in and supported by the adopted plans for transportation, housing, parks and open space, community facilities and more. Finally, successful TOD planning requires strategic investment. This means that the needs and priorities for each station area are provided for in capital improvements plans and coordinated with all of the other systems plans.

Multi-jurisdictional coordination

Sharing the vision for every station area along the corridor with all other agencies and organizations responsible for infrastructure and other investments in the area is a crucial step in generating excitement and support. Failure to coordinate planning at this level can result in missed opportunities and negative consequences.

A common example is where a county, region, or state builds a major roadway through an area where the local community aspires to achieve a compact, pedestrian friendly neighborhood. Specifications for many higher classification roadways often separate uses and create barriers to safe pedestrian and multi-modal transportation options. Successful planning can also be as simple as coordinating the engineering of the transit system with the station area plans to avoid locating massive utilitarian transformers in key public realm spaces. 

Tracking investments and marketing

It’s important to track all public and private investments along transit corridors and several tools are available to use as models, including one we’ve developed for the Twin Cities Metropolitan Council to use on multiple transit corridors. As corridor or station area plans spur actual development, that momentum can be used to help market the corridor, and increase the confidence of private investors. The most successful transit corridors are those where a distinct identity and brand has been established for the entire corridor and each station area contributes its part of the mutually beneficial whole. 

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