How do you create thriving, connected places? 5 ways to expand transit-oriented planning
August 17, 2023
August 17, 2023
Development focused on transit must first consider the community as a whole
The world of transit is full of acronyms—transit-oriented development (TOD), bus rapid transit (BRT), light rail transit (LRT), transit-oriented communities (TOC), equitable transit-oriented development (eTOD). They are all are topics we talk about frequently. While most of these terms are rather straightforward, the seemingly similar terms of TOD and TOC often leave communities wondering which path is best for them. Are they truly different? And beyond their naming, how do these ideas address community challenges?
Many communities are now exploring ways to expand how mobility, density, housing, and retail intersect. And they are finding that TOC can pave the way for a new vision. We’ve seen municipalities like the City of Los Angeles, the New Orleans City Planning Commission, and the government of Ontario go beyond choosing between TOD and TOC. They are organizing around creating places that center the community’s needs.
TOD and TOC are united by an emphasis on dense, compact, mixed-use, and pedestrian-friendly development near transit stations and points. When we examine TOD, it paints a picture of how communities can capitalize on transit investment. It starts with taller buildings with a mix of uses, consolidated parking, and narrower streets. Then fill in this picture with people walking and biking. It typically features taller buildings around transit hubs that transition to shorter buildings as they connect with existing neighborhoods. This concept has been successful in bringing more riders closer to transit for decades.
TOC uses the same ideas and toolkit but thinks more broadly. TOC flips the process and starts from the outside—the existing community—and works in towards the station. By changing the ‘D’ to a ‘C’, we prioritize the importance of looking at what the community needs, whether that is to fill gaps in local transportation networks, add missing shops and services, or improve the quality of public space.
We must expand our thinking. The priority shouldn’t be focused on development and redevelopment within a defined radius near transit—it should start with discussing how transit can create new benefits for the community at large. These include changes in citywide policy, progress toward housing equity, and promotion of climate and mobility goals. Focusing on TOC rather than TOD enables planners to include the essential parts of TOD while also thinking more holistically about the needs of all. We’ve tested these principles with projects like New Bern Avenue Station Area Planning and 25Connects: A Transit-Oriented Development Plan for West 25th Street. In those projects, we explored zoning, housing affordability, equity programs, first/last mile safety improvements, mobility hubs, and other topics. We also worked to balance the authenticity of the community’s unique attributes and opportunities.
Focusing on TOC rather than TOD enables planners to include the essential parts of TOD while also thinking more holistically about the needs of all.
TOC planning is complex. By considering critical factors from the earliest stages, we can create projects that are feasible and attractive to development partners. We use five factors to guide our TOC planning process. They are:
A people-first approach to TOC means helping the community visualize what the benefits might mean to them. Whether they are a resident, business owner, developer, transit planner, or politician who will vote on the final strategy, this approach gives them a better understanding of what it will mean for the everyone. This is easier when the entire process starts from the perspective of community benefits.
TOC thinking provides a powerful roadmap for physical development to catch up with evolving needs and preferences. It improves the performance of existing and future transit. Even if a bus or train is only a glimmer of an idea, start planning now to maximize the benefit for decades to come. Join us in the next phase of integrated community planning.