How Transit Oriented Developments are Transforming US Cities

The trend toward public transit and walkability coupled with the desire to live in an urban setting has been rising in popularity in the U.S.

Suburbs have started to play host to mini mixed-use, village-style complexes in an effort to give residents a community feel. Corporate America has latched onto this wave as well. The last few years have seen companies once happily ensconced on the outskirts of the nearest city making the move to major metros in the hopes of attracting and retaining a younger workforce.

These shifts are happening all over the country, but one of the most integral elements to each is its proximity to convenient and reliable transportation infrastructure. City planners and corporate recruiters alike are discovering that mass transit is in high demand not only for millennials but for many others who simply are tired of spending hours a day in traffic commuting to and from work.

Transit-oriented developments (TODs) build on these concepts and take them to the next level. Not only does mass transportation figure into the plan; it is the plan.

While the term TOD is relatively new, the concept is not. “New York City and other places with mature transit systems have been doing TODs for the life of the city,” said Terry Willis, architect and principal at KTGY in Denver.

Essentially what a modern TOD strives to accomplish is to provide shopping, retail, entertainment needs and even employment for residents — along with a handy path in and out.

“Development and transportation go hand in hand,” said Art Guzzetti, vice president of policy with the American Public Transportation Association.

In most true TODs, high density building design is encouraged and even rewarded with height and other variances and allowances because more people equates to higher ridership. The City of Phoenix, for example, has succeeded in promoting development while preserving the integrity of historic and cultural areas. Hillary Foose, director of communications for Valley Metro public transportation said TODs, along with precision placement of rail lines near Arizona State University and along popular city bus routes, made it possible for the transit system to reach its 20-year goal of 50,000 daily riders within just a few years.

San Diego is on the same page with its high-density development philosophy. The Park + Market project in San Diego’s downtown is a strong example of how, with city support, developers can come up with solutions that let everyone win. Developers built the entire space around an ‘activated square’ that has events for all ages and residents, office tenants, trolley line users and the general public. Collaboration on the part of the city is an effort to make up a deficit of an estimated 50,000-plus living units in the area.

TODs are driving transit development in many areas, but not just for the economic benefit; they also assist in building communities and giving people more options in connecting to other communities.