In the quest for more sustainable and livable urban environments, transit-oriented development (TOD) is proving to be helpful. This approach to urban planning promises to not only transform the way we move within our cities, but also the way we connect and interact within our communities.
What is transit-oriented development?
Transit-oriented development is a comprehensive urban planning strategy that centers around creating vibrant, mixed-use neighborhoods in close proximity to public transportation hubs. Rather than relying heavily on private vehicles, TOD encourages residents to use efficient and sustainable modes of transportation such as buses, trains, trams, and bicycles.
The goal of TOD is multifaceted. Generally speaking, it’s an environmental initiative that reduces carbon emissions. However, it’s also a socially empowering concept that brings accessibility options to communities. There are also economic benefits to consider. In fact, this confluence of benefits is why major cities across the world have embraced transit-oriented development plans—either in revitalization efforts or as part of sprawl.
Types of transit-oriented development
There’s a lot more to TOD than installing a few bus lines or putting up bike kiosks every few miles. The concept requires purposeful planning and execution, and a mind for community integration. As a result, transit-oriented development comes in various forms:
- Urban core revitalization. This type of TOD focuses on redeveloping underutilized or blighted areas within the central urban core. It often involves repurposing abandoned industrial sites or run-down buildings into mixed-use neighborhoods.
- Transit corridor development. This form of TOD concentrates on developing along transit corridors, such as bus rapid transit (BRT) or light rail lines. The goal is to create a series of transit-friendly nodes or hubs along these corridors that provide residents with easy access to public transportation and various amenities.
- Suburban retrofitting. Suburban areas can also benefit from TOD principles. Suburban TOD involves transforming car-dependent, low-density zones into mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods around existing or planned transit stations.
- Station area development. This is perhaps the most common type of TOD. It focuses on creating mixed-use neighborhoods within close proximity to major transit stations. These developments often include a blend of residential, commercial, and recreational spaces that cater to the needs of both commuters and residents.
- Air transit-oriented development. This type of TOD centers around airports. It aims to create interconnected communities that not only provide convenient access to air travel, but also incorporate a mix of residential, commercial, and entertainment options to serve travelers.
- Eco-focused TOD. In line with sustainable development goals, eco-focused TOD emphasizes environmentally-friendly design and practices. These developments prioritize green spaces, energy-efficient buildings and sustainable transportation options like biking and walking paths.
- Mixed-income TOD. These developments strive to create a range of housing options, catering to people from different socioeconomic backgrounds. The goal is to prevent displacement, encourage diverse communities, and provide affordable housing options within easy reach of public transit.
- Preservation TOD: In areas with cultural or historic significance, TOD projects may prioritize preserving architectural heritage while incorporating modern amenities. This approach ensures that the community’s character is retained while benefiting from enhanced transit accessibility.
There are even more forms of TOD beyond these common options, including waterfront, campus, industrial, and electric vehicle (EV) projects. In any case, the goal is largely the same: create accessible, thriving communities.
How does TOD create community connectivity?
TOD focuses on developing land to promote better access for residents and visitors. In turn, it fosters community connectivity by making it easier for people to access and enjoy the spaces available to them. For example:
- Pedestrian-friendly infrastructure. One of the cornerstones of transit-oriented development is the emphasis on walkability. TOD designs prioritize the creation of pedestrian-friendly streets, sidewalks, and public spaces.
- Enhanced public spaces. Transit-oriented developments often feature well-designed public spaces such as plazas, parks, and gathering areas. These spaces are focal points for community activities and events, to foster a stronger sense of community.
- Mixed-use spaces. TOD projects integrate a mix of residential, commercial, and recreational spaces. This diverse array of land uses encourages residents to live, work, shop, and socialize—all within the same neighborhood.
- Cultural and economic exchange. With people from various backgrounds coming together in transit-oriented neighborhoods, a mix of cultures and ideas often emerges. This environment can facilitate cultural exchanges and contribute to the growth of local economies through increased business and tourism activities.
Exploring the benefits of TOD
In creating more pedestrian-friendly, accessible, interesting areas, TOD sets the stage for significant benefits that go far beyond the neighborhoods themselves. Cities that have implemented TOD concepts have enjoyed:
- Reduced traffic congestion. TOD projects help alleviate traffic congestion, leading to smoother commutes and improved air quality.
- Environmental sustainability. TOD supports sustainable transportation modes, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the ecological footprint of urban areas.
- Improved quality of life. Walkable neighborhoods, access to public transportation and the presence of community amenities contribute to a higher quality of life for residents.
- Economic growth. TOD projects often attract businesses and generate economic activity, creating job opportunities, and increasing property values.
- Health and well-being. Encouraging walking and biking as primary modes of transportation promotes physical activity and healthier lifestyles.
- Efficient land use. By concentrating development around transit hubs, TOD makes efficient use of land and reduces urban sprawl.
- Equitable access. TOD ensures that a wide range of individuals, regardless of socioeconomic factors can access reliable transportation options and essential services.
Transit-oriented development has the potential to reshape the way we experience our cities and communities. By emphasizing accessibility, sustainability and community engagement, TOD creates spaces where people thrive, relationships flourish, and communities are encouraged to interact. Ultimately, they’re at the forefront of sustainable development on many levels.