Transit-Oriented Development Performance Measures

On September 9th, 2005 I attended the second day of the three-day 10th Rail-Volution Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah. The second session I attended was “Transit-Oriented Development Performance Measures”. It consisted of three speakers.

The first speaker was Elizabeth Deakin, Professor, Dept. of City and Regional Planning Director, University of California Transportation Center. Berkeley, CA.

Professor Deakin is the elected director for BART, the Bay Area Rapid Transit system. She moved to California in anticipation of the BART system. The BART system was intended solely as an exercise in commuter rail, with no thought of Transit Oriented Development. Over the years, development began to spring up on the BART parking lots as Cal-Trans sought to maximize the money provided by these parking lots. (BART charges for parking at it’s lots?) Several development proposals were made, including series of huge office buildings and multiplex theatre, but each was opposed and soundly defeated by the neighborhood surrounding the BART station. As Professor Deakin noted “The neighbors knew bad TOD when they saw it”.

Professor Deakin’s project arises from a partnership between the FTA (Federal Transit Authority) and various California Legislatures, as an attempt to create a cooperative effort to accomplish overlapping tasks.

TOD has been used to refer to many things, from the projects, to the plans, to certain existing areas. TOD varies with region size, physical characteristics, number of centers, and type of TOD being developed. The type of TOD that is used in a regional center is not the same that would be appropriate for a small town.

There is a huge and growing literature about TOD, but it is academically disappointing because it is anecdotal, unsystematic, based on a limited number of cases and lacks detail, and is mostly promotional. Thus, the task Professor Deakin’s confronts is how to identify and monitor the factors affecting the success of TOD. However, in order to do so she must first create a set of metrics to determine success by, in order to allow the FTA to develop a set of procedures and metrics to be used when and evaluating petitions for funding from the Federal “Fresh Starts” program. (There are currently 8 cities involved in the Fresh starts program: Portland, Phoenix, Minneapolis, Charlotte, Baltimore, San Diego, Sacramento, and San Francisco. Currently, the FTA looks at existing land use and future land use plans.

One of the metrics presented as an example was “accessibility”. The issue with its use as a metric lies in how it should be defined. Thru regional travel models, or thru what is on the ground.

During the 2005 roundtable on TOD, it was revealed that development patterns over a half-mile radius were more significant then over a quarter mile radius. Secondly, that the number of transit riders needed to be cost effective varied upon the location of the station in the region, the local context, and the station’s relation to other stations. An uninterrupted network of pedestrian paths, as well as the quality of street crossings (no long delay at intersections, good crosswalks) and well managed parking and traffic calming are each necessary to ensure that the critically important pedestrian access would work. Things like being able to bring bikes on transit may be critical. It was suggested that in order to compete with the car as a commuting mode, transit should be made smart, easy and comfortable. Transit should be made time and cost competitive to the automobile, making route arrangement very important.

When creating TOD, it is best to look for suitable existing development. It is not sufficient to have just a few buildings nearby or a few buildings with a parking lot. A whole neighborhood is required. For TOD to work, there needs to be both an access plan and a land development plan. The land development plan should include a market assessment and should give you some idea about whether the TOD will work out or not. However, the value of a market assessment is somewhat limited in the case of TOD, because market assessments typically cover no more then five years, while TOD build-out cover 10-20 year spans. The specific mix of uses will create an attractive environment that will attract occupants and produce substantial rider ship will vary. TOD is not a matter of having a cookie cutter plan. For example, a specific TOD may not need more ground floor retail because it already exists within the area.

Part of the research is intended to determine if TOD is a good investment for the state. Is it supported as being financially viable by literature review and data analysis? In order to make the capital investment in a transit system cost effective, the associated development must have the density or activity to generate the requisite ridership the system needs. For less capital intense systems, such as Bus Rapid Transit, you do not need such expensive development. BRT is also a good choice for communities that do not want to make a see heavy duty development, BRT may be better.

Implementing TOD is not easy. If you don’t get public support, you will probably not be able to implement it. Parking design should be handled in such a way that it becomes an asset to the neighborhood. Because the presence of feeder buses, taxis and shuttles neighbors are often convinced that TOD is a major traffic generator. People will need incentive to get things done, because regulation in the area is a real barrier to TOD. Thus it is necessary to recognize differences in objectives between participating parties, so a win-win solution can be found.

TOD by itself is not a magic bullet. It will not overcome inefficiencies in operations, nor serious foul-ups with station locations and route. TOD will not cure your problems. When planning TOD, development cycles need to be considered. TOD may be planned and platted, only to be stalled by market conditions and have nothing happen for five years.

Housing advocates like transit. However, affordable housing is not always a major issue to cities when considering TOD. It is not urgently supported, because affordable housing is perceived as imposing a high cost in social services on the community.

Other arguments for TOD include the desire to save open space by reducing sprawl and the size of the development footprint, an argument that will resonate with economists and tax groups. However, even infill does create infrastructure demands.

Local governments interested in TOD because they want traffic reduction. They want to see transit with pedestrian access. Larger jurisdictions with downtowns are looking for ways to revamp the area around stations, but are concerned with car access to the station. If you are looking at enough development to really increase, massively, the number of riders, then local government tends to freak. And the transit rider production is probably small, especially without associated parking and driving policies. Cities are continuing to develop every way they can, playing catch as catch can, one hand undoing what the other hand has done.

Equity is an issue when discussing TOD. For example, while increased property values may good for owners, but not so good for renters, new businesses, and new couples. You gave to manage both transit and car access. Parking should be handled in such a way that it reflects the cost of provision, to ensure equity between pedestrians and drivers.

Professor Deakin conclude that there is a lof of enthusiasm for TOD, even as people are beginning toe question the hype, and some hard thinking is needed to get thru that.

The second speaker was John D. Lorentis of the Regional Transportation Authority for Chicago. He largely agreed with what professor Deakin had said, and devoted his time almost exclusively to raising pertinent questions about TOD.

Mr. Lorentis is interested in TOD metrics because he has been asked by members of his board of directors wanting to have it proved that “ this stuff really works”.

The CRTA (agency Mr. Lorentis works for) is a regional agency coordinating three sub-agencies, one or heavy rail, one for metro bus, one for suburban buses, that provides funding, planning and oversight for local operators. The RTFA has an annual application process that involves 272 municipalities, 240 of which served by commuter rail. The CRTA Acts as a regional transportation technology committee to determine which applications for transit should be allowed. They want to get communities to recognize the value of transit investments. They encourage commercial and residential development near transit facilities. Most cities just hire a traffic engineer for technical expertise, and no more. Many see TOD as downtown redevelopment. For them, community values are important. The aesthetics and character of the project are paramount. They are interested in “Transit Villages”.

The trouble with TOD is that it covers such a wide variety of activities. There are two types of projects: Cities seeking stations, and stations seeking development. The former is a case of existing Transit Oriented Development and the latter a case of developers being requested to develop near transit.

In order to make development work, it requires the local community to act as a facilitator between many different agencies (such as the transit agency, residents, and developers). The amount of assistance/motivation/support that will provided by the public and private sector depends on the attractiveness of the site.

The CRTA has a wide variety of rail projects. In addition to places that have had rail service for a hundred years, they have satellite towns and baby boom suburbs, now developing a taste for transit. These later typologi]es, Mr. Lorentis also referred to as “towns on tax steroids” and said that they were “Really pushing development transit. They want rail lines and stations now.” Also within the jurisdiction of the CTRA, there are historic town centers that previously used stations as agricultural drop off, as well as old industrial locations near train stations.

There are also new Greenfield expansion sites, where post-ISTEA rail lines are being fought because of the expectation that the old downtown will be abandoned as the new ISTEA promoted line goes in.

The third speaker, Cali Gorewitz of “Reconnecting America’s Center for Transit-Oriented Development” spoke directly from the PowerPoint, and made no additional comments, and took no questions. All information presented can be found in the Powerpoint.

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