Clear, accessible definitions for common urban planning terms.

What Is Transit Oriented Development?

2 minute read

Transportation and land use are deeply connected, but decades of planning and development policy ignored the consequences of only paying attention to one side of the equation. Transit oriented development takes a more holistic approach.

Transit oriented development is planned and designed to locate high-demand land uses at or near the most efficient modes of transportation, like light rail lines, subway lines, and frequent, high-capacity bus routes.

As a goal of planning and land use policy, transit oriented development is intended to decrease the use of automobiles. Benefits of transit oriented development include reduced cost of living for residents and workers, reduced pollution and emissions from automobile trips, and reduced economic and social costs from automobile congestion.

Transit oriented development can be encouraged by creating zoning codes that allow and encourage compact residential projects with larger numbers of units (also known as density), near transit stations and stops. In addition to multi-family residential buildings like high-rise apartments and condominiums, office, retail, and civic uses can also be considered transit oriented development. Allowing a mix of uses is a popular way to maximize the effect of a transit oriented development.

Other methods for encouraging transit oriented development include streamlining the approvals process and providing financial support, through special funding or tax arrangements, for developments near transit stations and stops.

Design standards and other building requirements that encourage walking and ensure seamless integration with non-automobile modes of travel might also be necessary to maximize the potential of a transit oriented development.

Transit oriented development is a popular phrase, deployed by politicians and developers for marketing or public relations purposes. Often, however, transit oriented development projects fall short of their stated intentions if they are not carefully held to high standards.

Editor's note: some media publications and other written sources will prefer to punctuate the term as transit-oriented development. The distinction is a matter of preference, but should be used consistently in either case.