Is there really anything new to say about transit-oriented development (TOD)? ULI’s 2011 Fall Meeting and Urban Land Expo answered this question with a resounding “yes!” A distinguished panel offered up the collective wisdom of those who have a long history of making TOD happen. In different ways, they all argued that simply drawing half-mile circles around rail stations limits the vision and—more importantly—falls short in regard to the challenges ahead.
Session moderator Tony Salazar, president, McCormack Baron Salazar, included in his opening comments a telling observation. When it comes to housing, he said, most TODs are high-end rental projects. Populated by people who want—and can afford—it all, such housing still needs 2.5 parking spaces per unit. The rail station is a valued choice, but not a lifestyle. But does this sentiment apply to all segments of the housing market? Salazar told of other projects, tax credit–supported or public housing in transit-rich areas, where they had to fight to reduce the parking requirement to one space per unit. The units leased up just fine, Salazar noted, and he was confident they would have leased even with no parking.
Taking an overall view, William Fleissig, president and CEO of TransACT, submitted that we are now at TOD 3.0. TOD 3.0 combines transit-rich locations, real estate development, and livability. Public spaces, local infrastructure, housing, jobs, and services make these locations into places people want to live, work, and play. To accomplish TOD 3.0 means thinking at the level of a transit-oriented “district,” not just individual “developments.” At the “district” level, making TOD happen is no longer just about coordinating transit planning with urban design or transit agencies and developers; there is a need for an intermediary, a “master developer” who will be there for the long haul to look after place making for the district.
Steve Brown, executive vice president, Fehr & Peers, offered his own redefinition of TOD: “transportation-oriented design.” TODs should be multimodal, promoting walking and bicycling, and connecting to different forms of transit, while recognizing a continuing role for motor vehicles. The trick, Brown said, is figuring out how to make all the modes work together to support compact, mixed-use development. That’s how TODs will help us get the environmental benefits accrued from reductions in vehicle-miles traveled and lower the personal and societal costs of vehicle crashes, he added.
Pushing this definition of TOD one step further, Richard Gentry, CEO of the San Diego Housing Commission, defined TOD as a place where “you do not need to own a car to get by.” The San Diego Housing Commission used this definition, operationalized through an examination of San Diego’s bus and trolley system, to guide land and building acquisition for an expansion program begun in 2009. Of the 741 new units added to the portfolio, half are on transit-oriented properties. The commission is now adopting a policy to prioritize transit-oriented sites for all future expansions.
Representing the private investor’s point of view, Con Howe, managing director of the Los Angeles Fund at CityView, echoed Gentry. When CityView, a firm that specializes in infill housing development, analyzes transportation, they are seeking sites with good access to jobs. What are the transportation costs to the major job centers? How strong are the transit links? This analysis also means looking at all forms of transportation including buses, walking, and bicycling. Howe gave examples applying this analysis to student housing, loft condominiums, and single-family infill housing. He closed with two warnings: don’t just assume that because there is a rail transit link, the market will follow, and don’t just assume that because there is a plan for compact, mixed-use development, that developers will appear. Circling back to Fleissig’s TOD 3.0, Howe emphasized the need for investments in place making, too.