“I Want TOD, But I Don’t Want Transit”

Last week I was at an interview for a potential real estate developer client who wanted transit-oriented development (TOD), but weren't sure he wanted transit. This was a progressive developer who wanted more density, a mix-of uses and walkability. How could it be he wasn't sure he wanted the planned transit line? Is it possible the developer had it right?

As it turns out the developer wasn't as wrong as you might think. In most communities across the United States one of the biggest problems with TOD is the "T." Developers figured out long ago the process of creating special places -– place making –- creates value by making places people want to come back to.

Transit agencies on the other hand have yet to learn this place making lesson. Transit managers are often content to design transit around parking for the automobile and bus stops. How transit fits into the community, how it behaves as a good neighbor or how it creates special places is a question rarely asked.

Based on our research and experience developer interest in TOD is at an all time high. Yet given the development hostile design of transit projects in most of the United States it might not be surprising developers might be reluctant to have transit as a neighbor.

If transit agencies want to avoid the "I want TOD, but I don't want transit" developer conundrum they are going to have to change transit. Transit managers need to design more of their transit stations to fit into the community and stop designing transit just for the automobile.

G.B. Arrington is a vice president and principal practice leader at PB's PlaceMaking group



What's in a name...

I've heard many requests/comments/observations similar to this. Any suggestions as to what would be a user-friendly, easily acronymized, and descriptive name to call these TODs without the "T"?

Why don't developers want transit?

Perhaps G.B. could explain to us why developers don't want conventional transit as part of their projects.

Maybe they would be more interested in some of the more innovative, far less expensive, less disruptive, energy conserving, cost-effective sytems now being developed all over the world.

Descriptions of such systems are provided at: http://faculty.washington.edu/jbs/itrans

Jerry Schneider

Not So Fast

Frankly, I just don't buy this.

Transit managers have a mandate, which in this day and age can only come from planners and regional authorities. The transit is a mechanical piece of the puzzle- such an extremely powerful piece that it appears to have magical powers, so complex to do well that it appears as baffling as a sorcerer's stone, but at the end of the day just a mechanical piece of the puzzle.

Transit managers like to provide parking at the outset and later, when development has occurred, sell the parking lots to buy down the transit debt. This process has a lot to recommend it and anyone who wants to change it should suggest something better.

That's the role of the planners, the developers, the demographers, and the voters. It shouldn't take too much imagination to see that tasking transit managers with developing a sense of place could create some world-class disasters.

Everyone in the community has dreams- some too grandiose, some not ample enough- and the role of the transit planner is to know how the nuts and bolts of transit affect the translation of dream to reality. Unlike banks, hospitals, or even city governments, where the failure of one may be compensated for, or at least alleviated, by the existence of others in the region, you only get one transit system. The system has to generate ridership and reliably deliver it. Doing that well is enough to ask of the transit management.

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