Are TODs Really PODs?

Samuel Staley's picture

For a while now, I've wondered if we have been mislabeling the development around well functioning transit stops as transit-oriented developments (TODs). This may seem odd, because numerous studies have shown that property values can increase by 20% to 40% percent around transit stops, particularly rail stations (although the increases are uneven).

The beginnings of my skepticism began when I started looking at transit ridership at these stations. For example, a quick look at boardings at Dallas light rail stations finds little, if any, relationship between transit ridership and investment around the station (see slide 7). A recent study (February 2011) of more than 200 TODs in California by the Public Policy Institute of California found no evidence that they boosted employment. (See also this study of Atlanta MARTA stations in the Journal of Urban Economics.) And, more tellingly, a survey of residents in Portland, Oregon by sociologist Bruce Podobnik at Lewis & Clark College found that residents of the New Urbanist TOD Orenco Station utilized transit more than conventional suburbs, but not any more than older Portland neighborhoods. In fact, most residents (two-thirds or more) continue to use their car to get to work rather than transit. Moreover, transit use has actually declined as a share of commuting trips in recent years (see Table 5).

So, what explains the increase in property values?

I believe it's the pedestrian access. The accessibility provided by density and mixed uses generates the value around these stations areas, not the transit access per se (and hence the mislabeling). In short, these stations areas are Pedestrian-Oriented Developments (PODs), not TODs. Indeed, Podobnik's survey of Orenco Station residents hints at this. In Table 5, 50 percent of survey respondents in Orenco said they walk to stores or shops five times a week or more (up from 11 percent five years earlier).

If I'm right, the implications are important for planning. While transit can't (and shouldn't) be dismissed, it's really a secondary component in making a vibrant urban place. Access from multiple transport modes (especially walking) to neighborhood services--from restaurants to shops to convenience stores to entertainment--is more important. Access is also important because most neighborhood businesses can't survive financially just on local patronage. So, planners need to consider access by all modes of transportation to make these areas work. Transit becomes important because the density and availability of neighborhood services makes it viable. In short, transit doesn't drive development, density and access does.

The implications also beg planners and researchers to begin really focusing on the differences in travel and trip behavior between transit, automobiles, walking, biking, and other travel modes. Too often, surveys lump alternative modes together. At the neighborhood level, big differences likely exist between walking and other modes even though they are obscured when the data are aggregated.

Of course, one of the problems we face now is that funding streams are generated around TODs, not PODs. In part, that's because funding is almost always linked to transportation funding, not access or urban character (and infrastructure needs) more generally. The next phase, particularly for state and local governments, is to think in terms of shifting infrastructure funding programs to consider broader and more integrated approaches that are less modally oriented and more geographically oriented.

Sam Staley is Associate Director of the DeVoe L. Moore Center at Florida State University in Tallahassee.



Todd Litman's picture

TOD and Pedestrian Travel

Sam, I agree with your overall points - that the largest travel impacts of Transit Oriented Development are shifts to walking and cycling for local errands (travel to school, parks, shops, friends, etc.). However, I think that high quality public transit plays an important role, by allowing households to reduce their vehicle ownership.

Most households have numerous local trips that, in a compact, mixed-use neighborhood can be performed by non-motorized modes, and a smaller number of longer-distance trips (largely commute trips) that require either automobile or public transit. Residents of TODs can count on being able to use transit for many of these trips, and so tend to reduce their vehicle ownership - from three to two, two to one, or one to zero vehicles. This reduction leverages additional reductions in vehicle travel, consisting of travel shifted from automobile to walking, cycling and transit, and lower-value discretionary vehicle travel that is simply eliminated. In contrast, if the same household locates in a typical automobile-dependent area, every adult owns a motor vehicle, the marginal per mile cost of driving is low, and they feel like they should maximize their vehicle trips in order to get a reasonable return on their investments ("Why should I bike to the store to save $1.00 of fuel if my car costs $10.00 per day in fixed costs sitting in the driveway?").

TOD residents tend to own 20-40% fewer vehicles and drive 20-60% fewer annual miles than the same households would if located in more automobile-dependent locations. This is a very large leverage effect: each mile of transit travel substitutes for 2-10 miles of automobile travel. These effects are overlooked if you simply measure transit trips or mode share in TODs. I agree that in some situations communities can achieve significant trip reduction benefits by improving local access with pedestrian and cycling improvements and more compact, mixed development, but impacts and benefits are likely to be much larger if high quality public transit services are also provided. I also agree that we need better data collection to evaluate these impacts.

For more information see:

G.B. Arrington, et al. (2008), "Effects of TOD on Housing, Parking, and Travel," Report 128, Transit Cooperative Research Program (; at

G.B. Arrington and Kimi Iboshi Sloop (2010), “New Transit Cooperative Research Program Research Confirms Transit-Oriented Developments Produce Fewer Auto Trips,” ITE Journal (, Vol. 79, No. 6, June, pp. 26-29.

John Holtzclaw (2000), Does A Mile In A Car Equal A Mile On A Train? Exploring Public Transit’s Effectiveness In Reducing Driving, The Sierra Club, (, 2000.

Todd Litman (2004), "Rail Transit in America: Comprehensive Evaluation of Benefits," VTPI (; at; summarized in “Impacts of Rail Transit on the Performance of a Transportation System,” Transportation Research Record 1930, Transportation Research Board (, pp. 23-29.

Todd Litman (2011), "Land Use Impacts on Travel: Current State of Knowledge," Planetizen ( ).

Todd Alexander Litman
Victoria Transport Policy Institute
"Efficiency - Equity - Clarity"

Real Estate markets trend towards a perverse equilibrium

"......(if) every adult owns a motor vehicle, the marginal per mile cost of driving is low, and they feel like they should maximize their vehicle trips in order to get a reasonable return on their investments....."

Very, very important point. It is this marginal cost that needs to be compared with "the alternatives", not the total cost of automobile ownership and use that so often gets featured in comparative studies. Also, when analysing low income households, it is older, depreciated cars that they will own, not expensive new SUV's. The potential cost of running a ten year old small Japanese hatchback is very low.

The true answer to this dilemma, is new forms of paying for automobility, where the capital cost is not paid, but charged as part of the cost of USE per mile. But even then, perverse effects on real estate markets would probably arise to negate the change, as the new true cost of travel capitalises into property values.

The problem with trying to maximise the "choices" of residential location that allow for a car-free lifestyle, is that there are simply so many types of employment that do not lend themselves to location adjacent to high density residential living, or to transit routes. And the higher the demand (whether the result of true "choice" or "encouraged" by regulations and subsidies) for such locations, the higher the premium Real Estate market PRICE of such locations. Land markets will simply find an equilibrium somewhere long before a high proportion of businesses and households have "located" favourably.

I suspect that land markets already were finding such an equilibrium decades ago, which is why the planners back then simply went with the flow and planned for "auto dependent development". There was no lack of pre-auto era "walkable" communities back then, and these were emptying out and falling into "blight". One dilemma that social agencies face today, is their few clients who remain stuck in blighted high density ("walkable") locations, simply do not have the qualifications to do the jobs on offer in the high-rise buildings they are within walking distance of, and need auto transport out to low-skilled suburban jobs. It would be better to move these people OUT and closer to their jobs, and "renew" the high density area for the highly qualified workers. At this point, it will cease to be "affordable" in median terms.

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