Webchat with TOD Experts John Renne and Jeff Wood

A transcript of the recent live webchat with John Renne, PhD, and Jeff Wood, experts on transit oriented development.

Photo: John Renne, PhD Photo: Jeff Wood

Planetizen hosted a live online chat session using a new online webchat tool called University WebChat with transit oriented development experts John Renne, PhD, and Jeff Wood on Wednesday, March 5, 2008. Planetizen readers submitted questions and discussed the latest trends and issues in the world of TOD with John and Jeff, co-instructors of Planetizen's online course PLAN-115: Transit Oriented Development Toolbox. The following is a transcript of the chat session.

Planetizen: Thanks for coming to this online chat with TOD experts John Renne, PhD, and Jeff Wood -- co-instructors of Planetizen's online course "PLAN-115: Transit Oriented Development Toolbox" Feel free to start asking questions.

Sheila: Can someone give me a good explanation of what TOD does? benefits?

Jeff Wood: Sheila, since I imagine there are going to be a few questions here in a row I'd like to start by pointing you to a document on the Reconnecting America website called TOD 101: http://www.reconnectingamerica.org/public/download/tod101full

Sheila: Great, thanks Jeff!

Drew Westberg: How can a smaller metro area plan for TOD?

Jeff Wood: Drew: A lot of cities have started planning for TOD by taking up some of the principles of New Urbanism or Smart Growth. TOD doesn't just relate to transit but also the ability to walk in a neighborhood.

Graham Pugh: John or Jeff, I am from the Philadelphia suburbs and am looking at TOD from a private sector standpoint. I would love to head a project implementing the principles of TOD, but in the Philadelphia area, relatively few of the jobs are downtown - how to build and market a successful TOD when most everyday destinations are in the suburbs, out of the reach of effective public transportation?

Jeff Wood: Graham: There was a report by Gary Barnes of the University of Minnesota in 2004 that discusses why job centers were important, even in the suburbs for transit ridership and that clustering them together would get more people who live in the suburbs and go to jobs in the suburbs the ability to take advantage of that cluster. http://www.nctr.usf.edu/jpt/pdf/JPT 8-2 Barnes.pdf

Graham Pugh: Thanks Jeff

Shannon Jaax: What are some of the most important policy/land use tools a city can implement in order to facilitate/encourage TOD?

Jeff Wood: Shannon: I would suggest leveling the playing field and one of the biggest hurdles we have seen lately is that people are trying to put too much of the burden on TOD to save the world.

Shannon Jaax: While TOD won't save the world, there are some cities that have been effective at incorporating TOD into station planning for light rail, etc, and some cities that may have a new light rail station and no development spurred around it.

Jeff Wood: Encouraging growth around stations through form based codes or hybrid zoning that reduce parking requirements works really well, but letting developers know what the rules are beforehand instead of having them worry about zoning changes and moving the process forward is a huge deal.

Eric Stoller: In Duluth, MN we're looking at bringing regional rail back between here and Minneapolis. Are there good TOD examples for a mid-size central city (with lots of tourism) with rail?

John Renne: Eric - you might want to look at Reconnecting America's book on Streetcars, which is called StreetSmart. It discusses some good examples for smaller and medium-sized cities.

Chris Baker: I'm a Canadian planning student starting a lit review for a thesis/practicum involving TODs and urban design guidelines in the Canadian 'cold weather' context -- why do people live there, are existing TODs successful, how to make them better. Any thoughts?

John Renne: Chris - For cold weather climates and TOD, you should check out Scandanivian cities like Stockholm and Oslo.

Ilya Lozovsky: My question is this -- how does TOD actually differ from Smart Growth principles? It seems to be largely the same thing, except around a transit station. Any thoughts?

Jeff Wood: Ilya: From what I've seen transit has been used to shape the development patterns. TOD relates to orienting that specific smart growth to the transit, walking and biking instead of the automobile.

Ilya Lozovsky: Thanks. Kind of like (Smart Growth applied to a neighborhood) + (A transit station is nearby) = TOD!

Preeti Solanki: Be careful, Ilya. There is a difference between transit-adjacent development (TAD) and TOD

Ilya Lozovsky: I haven't heard the term TAD before

Kevin: I have heard numerous criticisms of TODs and new urbanist/smart growth principles - rising house costs, taking away choice, etc. Some even call them "fascist". How do you respond to these?

Eric Stoller: One way to respond to the rising price argument is that it's an indicator of pent-up demand. Build more, price comes down.

Jon Ryder: Kevin: TOD is supposed to increase choice... One can still drive to TOD areas, but the ability of people to get around by bike or foot is increased.

John Renne: Hey Jon Ryder - good answer!

Rich Felsing: What's the key to making public space in/near TODs attractive. In Bloomfield, NJ the end of Newark Light Rail can't be thought of as bike-friendly. Or feet-friendly. Urban context is auto-oriented w/single-family homes on small lots.

John Renne: Rich - I think you hit the nail on the head. TODs must be pedestrian-friendly. Transit is really an excuse for created PODs - pedestrian-oriented developments.

Ryan Furgerson: Hi. My question is does TOD work around commuter rail? How different would you approach it (density, etc.) vs. if it were around a higher-frequency service?

John Renne: Ryan F. - TOD works great around commuter rail. Just look at the example of the New Jersey Transit Village Initiative. You also find great examples of TODs around commuter rail around the world. The key is that development must be pedestrian-oriented

Jeff Wood: Ryan: It can work around commuter rail and, really, the densities depend a lot on the headway of the transit. I would suggest looking at Gaithersburg, MD. I believe they have done some good planning around commuter rail.

Shannon Jaax: Are there any cities that you would recommend as best practices for form-based codes or hybrid zoning?

Jeff Wood: Shannon: A lot of it has to do with the market as well. At Reconnecting America, we have done a lot of work developing regional TOD plans that look at the market as well as individual sites. Some sites are ready to go while others need a bit more time.

Donna: How do you overcome local residents' resistance against TOD and how they have influence with the officials they elect?

John Renne: Donna - TODs must work with the needs of the local residents. Planners need to educate the local community about the benefits, but you won't get a TOD built unless the local community is on-board.

Jeff Wood: Donna: We've found that tours of the real thing really change people's perceptions. What people have in their minds when it comes to the word "density" doesn't usually compute when they see good examples.

Donna: Thank you, Jeff.

John Renne: I agree with Jeff Wood. Tours of successful TODs are so important.

Martin Hudson: Donna: Along with what has already been said, we have found that focusing on the economic values of smart growth and redevelopment has really helped. Also, use as much information from the development community to support the idea = less resistance.

Donna: Thank you, Martin. Here in central PA, we don't seem to be getting through using economics or anything else to sway opinion in favor of TOD, smart growth, anything that would change the status quo. Frustrating!

Martin Hudson: Donna: I work in Ohio and we have many similar challenges as Penn. We decided to go with a point code system that was focused on Smart Growth and sound urban principles.

Zach: Martin Hudson: could you elaborate some on your point system?

Martin Hudson: Basically we focused our codes on these main principles and assigned point totals to each item. Then we place an overall point total requirement for each type of development that must be met. This gave the development community a feeling that they can still pick and choose what items they put into their project. Yet, we still get certain smart growth. It's not perfect, but it was a way to get the ball rolling.

Donna: Martin: Interesting - I will have to do some research on that. Any suggestions? And thanks again!

Ilya Lozovsky: Jeff: What kind of things would you highlight in these tours? Pedestrians enjoying the outdoors, street life, etc?

Jeff Wood: Ilya: How the densities are done. One good example is Mission Meridian TOD in L.A. done by Moule Polyzoides. They have a lot of density on-site but it looks only marginally different from the housing across the street.

Drew Westberg: Can someone address Bus Rapid Transit and how successful they've been with promoting TOD, particularly in smaller metro areas?

Kristin Bennett: Drew - you may want to contact Lane Transit District in Eugene/Springfield, OR. I sat in on a very good BRT presentation one of their transit planners (Mary?) gave at the recent National Smart Growth conference in D.C.

Drew Westberg: Thanks Kristin. I will do that.

John Renne: Drew - There is a lot of hope for BRT and its influence on TOD. I have not seen many examples in the USA or Australia. I'm not saying that BRT can't and won't work, but developers are less willing to invest in TODs around bus than train lines. In work I've done in Sydney, BRT requires a higher level of government involvement to make TOD work. This includes direct public investment in subsidizing the development.

Jeff Wood: There was an article a few weeks ago about the Euclid BRT in Cleveland. The tally was $4B in development. I will say you have to be careful what you call BRT. The Euclid corridor has its own ROW while other BRT lines just have lengthened stops.

Jon Ryder: That Euclid corridor project is turning into a "big dig" scenario, isn't it?

John Calimente: Drew Westberg: If you haven't already looked at them, Curitiba, Brazil and Bogota, Colombia are really the leaders in BRT. I know from talking with city staff in Curitiba that they've specifically targeted development around BRT. Not sure about walkability.

Kevin: Anyone familiar with the Lake Street/Hiawatha Line TOD in Minneapolis? Want to comment on its success/challenges since the initial plans in the early 2000s? Thanks!

Eric Stoller: Kevin: re Minneapolis light rail. They blew away ridership projections. I don't know much about what planning tools the city developed, but station area development really took off. Especially housing, but some better retail and services too.

Jeff Wood: Kevin: I am not familiar with that particular TOD, however the Hiawatha Line has been a success exceeding the projections for housing units 15 years in advance.

John Renne: I think there are still questions about the conflict of commuter parking versus development in transit station precincts. As fuel prices increase, how can we accommodate both? I also think there are still some big gentrification questions surrounding TOD.

Steve Lawton: We just had a survey done here in Hercules, 7 years after our citywide charrette and adoption of a form-based code. Eighty-two per cent of residents told phone interviewers they want the two TOD projects to get built fast. I am under pressure from my citizens to get TOD delivered. This is because they have 'put their hands on it'.

Ken: Regional rail (Miami to West Palm Beach Tri-rail) is potentially being expanded to our area (Palm Beach Gardens, FL) and further north. A transit stop will be at either or both areas (north supports it) and our area is a luxury community consisting of single family homes primarily. What kinds of info can best convey the benefits to the high wealth individuals?

Martin Hudson: Ken: I would first focus on the data that shows transit doesn't increase crime in an area. That will probably be a major concern.

Kevin: I agree with the gentrification issue. This seems to be a big issue with many types of smart growth developments. They seem to attract the more educated, forgive the stereotype, "latte" types. We need to address diversity and affordable housing.

John Calimente: Martin Hudson: re: transit doesn't increase crime - Can you recommend any good studies/researchers that have covered this issue?

John Renne: John Calimente: That's a good question. I would add your question to the list of "research gaps" in TOD. The crime issue would also fall into the area of CPTED = Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design - there is a whole body of literature on that topic.

Martin Hudson: John: I would first focus on data that shows how most crimes are committed. Example: A lot of break-ins are done by people who drive to the area so they can escape with the stolen items. They are not going to ride a train and them carry the TV over to the rail station and wait for the next train. That would be the first angle I would take.

John Renne: Martin: Let me know when you finish your research. I'd like to read it. Sounds interesting!

Steve Lawton: The neighborhood around the Fruitvale BART TOD is certainly a latte-free zone.

John Renne: Fruitvale is the best example of a community-planned TOD.

Sheila: Where is Fruitvale located?

John Renne: Fruitvale is located on the Bay Area Rapid Transit system in Oakland, CA

Chris Baker: Kevin. I agree affordable housing (a new urbanist principle) is often an often-cited criticism of TOD/Smart Growth/New Urbanism

Chris Baker: Q. for John and Jeff, what questions do you have about TODs? What are some emerging gaps in the current research?

Jeff Wood: Chris: We need to know more about design of transit systems and integration with the community to encourage TOD.

Ryan Furgerson: In general, is there a rule of thumb for headway vs. density? If foot traffic is highly-peaked, won't commercial establishments be reluctant to locate in such a TOD?

John Renne: In terms of general guidelines - an article by Newman and Kenworthy in Winter 2006 Opolis journal called "Urban Design to Reduce Automobile Dependence" found that you need a minimum of 35 jobs plus housing per hectare.

Jeff Wood: Ryan: I would encourage you to get a book by Jeff Zupan called "Public Transportation and Land Use Policy". I don't have the numbers but there are some good charts in there. Also "The New Transit Town" has some information on that.

Jeff Wood: Peter Newman has said that once you get to 10,000 jobs or 10,000 people per square KM you can start getting to the 5 minute headways

Paulina Mikicich: But density is not enough. What type of "catchment" area is required to make BRT TOD's work in a suburban context?

John Renne: Paulina: There has not been too much research around BRT TODs. But for any TOD, you need to create a walkable environment that maximizes accessibility to and from the station. You also need things to walk to.

John Renne: Cervero and Kockelman wrote a paper that discusses the importance of having all 3 D's - Density, Design, and Diversity (land use mix).

Zach: I agree with Chris Baker, you have to include something interesting between point A and B before you can really make people want to walk.

John Renne: You also need good public space.

Alex Kalamaros: What is maximum station distance to be defined as TOD?

Chris Baker: The APA defines a common walkable time of 5 minutes, that translates to 1/4 mile - people will walk a 1/4 mile, but after that they will get in a car. I believe people will walk farther if it is an interesting/pleasant walk.

John Renne: Alex - usually people refer to a TOD as the area that's within 1/4 to 1/2 mile around the station.

John Calimente: Of course it depends on if you're walking or cycling, too. In Tokyo it's common for people to bike 15 minutes to the station - not sure of what distance that is

Jeff Wood: Alex: That has been up for discussion. A recent report by the University of Oregon states that people in Portland and San Francisco were walking a half-mile on average and even more. So it can depend on people's attitudes as well as the walkability.

Bill Holmstrom: UO research on walkability: http://www.uoregon.edu/~schlossb/biosketch.htm

Marcus Baker: Three keys to any "walkable community"/TOD development: safety, accessibility and convenience.

Ken: Status quo seems to rule the land around here. Our luxury community is opposed to residential height, affordable housing, mentioning density, etc. Other details about how to convey the benefits of TOD ? Also, what is the typical size of most TOD?

Jeff Wood: Ken: That's a good question. Usually high wealth individuals got there by saving money. I would imagine telling them they could save almost $10,000 a year by taking transit and getting rid of a car might sway them, but then again you never know. As to the Gentrification issue, we just put together a report on Affordable Housing and TOD for the FTA and HUD. It's on our website: http://www.reconnectingamerica.org/public/reports

Ken: Jeff, the communities are typically urban sprawl luxury, gated community after another, however, regional rail comes through town and vacant and/or redevelopment opportunities exist. Is there a typical acreage that works for a TOD town center?

Jeff Wood: Ken: TOD types vary. It's a community process. We've put together a TOD types book for the MTC. I don't have the link close but it discusses building types for different transit zones.

Marcus Baker: I haven't seen the question addressed regarding funding sources for light rail... did I miss the response?

Jeff Wood: Marcus: Must have missed it...such a flurry of questions! There have been lots of discussions lately of how to finance these projects. Houston, I believe, is looking to do a Design-Build-Operate-Maintain where they have another company build and operate the line. Other places look at TOD for increased TIF revenue, parking districts, half cent sales taxes, CMAQ federal funds...

Laura Grams: I am from Houston and METRO is working on a joint partnership with a developer to fund their TOD. See http://ridemetro.org -- it is under METRO solutions and it is the Cypress Park and Ride.

Jeff Wood: For the Streetcar in Seattle, the land owners paid half through an assessment district.

John Calimente: Jeff Wood: re: Seattle streetcar - I think this sort of land development model is the way forward. Any other examples in the US?

Jeff Wood: John C: It's the way we used to do it. Portland is doing something similar. Many other cities are looking at that option as well. I think that's the way of the future as well. You'll see a lot more in the coming years, I believe.

John Calimente: John Renne: re: conflict of parking vs. development in transit station precincts - I think we really shouldn't be accommodating the automobile as much as we have at commuter stations...but how do we make that transition without a major oil shock?

John Renne: John C.: You raise a good point, but you also need to realize that transit agencies feel like they rely on commuters who park and ride for both fares and parking revenues. This has become a big issue for transit agencies around the USA

Chris Baker: John Calimente - I have the same question, I have read in a couple places that TOD residents still own cars so TODs do not reduce the need for parking spaces as much as Calthorpe and Co. say they should. John R. my source RE parking is Lund, Hollie. 2006. Reasons for Living in a Transit-Oriented Development, and Associated Transit Use. Journal of the American Planning Association. 72: 357

John Renne: Chris B.: The Center for TOD's "Hidden in Plain Sight" study found that vehicle ownership was significantly less in transit precincts. Jeff - has that study been updated?

John Renne: http://www.reconnectingamerica.org/public/reports - See Hidden in Plain Sight revised April 2005

Chris Baker: John, thanks, I will. I need to combat this parking issue.

Jeff Wood: We know form reports by G.B. Arrington and Robert Cervero that the ITE manual overestimates Trips in TOD by 50% We also know from the census that people that live near good transit drive less.

Ken: My hybrid needs a bumper sticker: "When will we build walkable communities so I won't need this car?"

John Renne: Ken - as people get older, they can't drive as well as they could when they were young. Studies are finding that the elderly want walkable communities.

Ken: Any available information about how much money was invested in a particular TOD area, and how much revenue was generated? Possibly multi-city comparison data?

John Renne: Ken: see http://rtdgoldline.projectwest.com/media/uploads/RealEstateImpacts.pdf

Jeff Wood: Ken: I haven't seen that study. Perhaps that's one to add into the "things that need to be looked at" category.

Chris Baker: Jeff, the following article talks about trip generation and the traffic engineers handbook -- Millard-Ball, Adam and Siegman, Patrick. 2006. Playing the Numbers Game. When it comes to TODs, trip-generation figures can make all the difference. Planning.

Chris Baker: Jeff, do you think TODs fail or have problems because the traffic engineer handbook calls for infrastructure that is not actually needed?

Jeff Wood: Chris: Yes. Adam and Jeff Tumlin at Nelson Nygaard are the parking and trip experts for TOD. I'm trying to get them to give us some resources for the best practices database. Parking is expensive and can be the difference in making a project pencil or not. John might be able to address this as well.

John Renne: Parking is a big issue. I think the ULI has done some research on this with the Center for Urban Policy Research at Rutgers University. I know Professor David Listokin was working on that project.

Kevin: When you think of successful TODs at light rail/rail lines in the U.S., what examples come to mind first as good case/precedent studies? Any links to find these?

Chris Baker: Kevin, San Diego, San Fransico, Portland Oregon

Jeff Wood: Kevin: See the Arlington County case study in D.C.

Jeff Wood: I would like to let everyone know that at CTOD we have a lot of resources in a best practices database: http://www.reconnectingamerica.org/public/practices. The search engine isn't working as well as it should but there are about 200 reports and studies on TOD.

Alex Kalamaros: Any examples/case studies of TOD on freeway caps/covers?

Jeff Wood: Alex: I haven't heard of any studies like that but there are a few freeway caps out there. Perhaps John R. knows?

Kevin: Forgive me for being too philosophical, but what will it take to make the cultural shift away from suburbia and autos to walkable areas and TODs? $10.00/gallon gas? Hmm...

John Renne: Kevin - I think $10/gal would certainly help. And it might be in our not-too-distant future.

Jeff Wood: Kevin: I think good transit would be a great start. I don't think people should have to be heroes to take transit. It should be convenient for people and easy to use.

Steve Lawton: Four dollar gasoline has changed the public conversation about land use and TOD's.

Sheila: Not here in California -- seems that no matter how high the gas prices will go up, Californians REFUSE to give up their cars :(

Steve Lawton: Californians (I am one) reasonably refuse to get out of their cars because they would starve to death. Their imagination does not include any other way of life.

Ken: John Renne - any examples of luxury mass transit, haha ;)

John Renne: Ken - Electric rail versus diesel bus. Luxury vs. poor.

Ken: Where is Jane Jacobs when you need her :(

John Calimente: Any great examples of TODs that you've seen? I've seen Fruitvale mentioned - others? Europe/elsewhere OK too.

John Renne: John C.: Subiaco, Western Australia is a great one. There are many in the USA. You should check out Jeff's database.

Jeff Wood: John C: Buersplien in Rotterdam always fascinated me.

Martin Hudson: John: This might be a good start: http://primebuzz.kcstar.com/?q=node/9793

Jon Ryder: Copenhagen is amazing, as are Stockholm and Berlin.

john: John we are getting a new TND in Baton Rouge called Rozan. The current traffic in the area is heavy during rush hour already. Any ideas how to mitigate the impact?

John Renne: My advice for Baton Rouge is to kill the idea of the BR-Loop and think about mass transit alternatives. I, too, live in Louisiana.

John: Yes, one goals of the TND in Baton Rouge is to finally connect all the streets. Do you have any suggestions for further study on TNDs and Traffic Impact? As you know BR and mass transit don't go together.

John Renne: I honestly don't know much about Rozan. I need to learn about it.

John: Talk to Beth Tomlinson :)

Kevin: Amsterdam is awesome!

Sheila: Any TOD's in Rome, Italy?

John Renne: TODs in Italy - Yes. There will be a chapter on that in a new book I'm editing called - TOD: Making It Happen. It should be out in about a year. We are working on the final drafts of the various chapters. It will be the first International Case Study Book on TOD.

Jeff Wood: In addition to what John said, go to Vienna and Budapest.

Jon Ryder: But those sorts of urban environments don't really exist in the U.S... even in dense areas.

Kevin: Rome is really, really dense as it is.

John Renne: My top advice for everyone is to go to The Netherlands (Amsterdam), ride a bike, and check out their TODs. Then go to Copenhagen, Stockholm, Germany...

Eric Stoller: Can some one identify good firms to do station area/TOD planning?

Jeff Wood: Eric: There are a lot of good firms. On the East Coast Goody Clancy has won some awards. On the West Coast CDandA and Opticos are Bay Area local firms... There are a lot of good ones out there, though.

Chris Baker: Eric. Peter Calthorpe and Assoc.

John Renne: Placemaking at Parsons Brinkerhoff is a good one. Citiventure Associates out of Denver is a small firm run by Marilee Utter. She is a top expert on TOD.

John Renne: Check out: http://www.vtpi.org/ Lot's of good info.

Zach: Does anyone have any examples or information on TOD in smaller towns? Does this seem to be a metropolitan area-only topic right now?

Jeff Wood: Zach: Try this report http://www.cnt.org/repository/BlueIslandExecSummary.pdf

Diane Paoni: Does anyone have any examples/contacts/research links about transit adjacent development and TODs in Canada?

John Renne: Diane: Contact Gordon Price from Simon Fraser University in Vancouver.

Ken: Anyone have any links to visual examples of TOD town centers, etc.? Visually conveying information to residents and commissioners has always seemed to work during charrettes.

John Renne: Ken: I think the Congress for New Urbanism Website has an image database.

Jeff Wood: Ken: I would suggest looking through Flickr.com There are a huge amount of photos in there and a lot of good TOD pictures if you do the right searches.

Sheila: Flickr?? I would never have thought Flickr would have TOD info. Thanks

Planetizen: This chat session will now be ending. Thanks for coming to this online chat with TOD experts John Renne, PhD, and Jeff Wood -- co-instructors of Planetizen's online course PLAN-115: Transit Oriented Development Toolbox.

John Renne: Thanks everyone. It was great chatting with you all. I hope to see you all in the course.

Jeff Wood: Thanks!

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