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TOD Q&A With John Renne and Jeff Wood

Transit oriented development experts John Renne, PhD, and Jeff Wood recently fielded questions from Planetizen readers about TOD, its current applications and its future.
January 8, 2009, 5am PST | Planetizen
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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 November 6, 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: Hello everyone. Thanks for coming out for this live webchat with John Renne PhD and Jeff Wood. John and Jeff are co-instructors of the Planetizen Course PLAN-115: Transit Oriented Development Toolbox, and are both experts in the field.

John Renne: Hi all, This webchat is not pre-organized. If you have any questions, please fire away.  Jeff and I teach TOD Toolbox and we are using this chat as a forum to discuss questions that relate to our online course.

Peter G. Conrad: Do you know of any State-led efforts to classify existing TOD?

Jeff Wood: What do you mean by classify, Peter? Such as rankings?

Peter G. Conrad: We are looking to use statistical tools to create a typology of "areas around" existing transit stops.

Jeff Wood: Ah, well I do know of regional efforts to classify TOD. We've done a lot of work in that area, most recently in Denver.

Peter G. Conrad: The purpose would be to enable us to broadly treat them, learn about their differences and begin to prepare TOD plans for the ones that look like they have the greatest potential.

Jeff Wood: Peter, that is exactly what we did in Denver. It really helped them prioritize where to spend planning money.

John Renne: I just wrote an article on state level planning for TOD, which appears in this month's issue of the Journal of Public Transportation. I am not familiar with specific rankings. Here is link to the Journal of Public Transportation - there are a couple good TOD articles this month:

Peter G. Conrad: This wouldn't be just a ranking - it would use cluster analysis to group them according to statistics - which ones more closely resemble each other would be grouped.

Jeff Wood: Now, there are other regional typologies as well such as MTC. You can also find a basic overview of station area planning with our 202:

John Renne: Peter - you should review a TOD Assessment Tool that the State of Western Australia has put together. I can get you a copy of this. It seeks to do what you are looking for.

Peter G. Conrad: We are thinking that we would use the statistical classification process first, then define them based on their common characteristics rather than the other way around. Just because they are located in the "downtown" doesn't mean that the variables that describe their usage and perimeter land would be the same.

Jeff Wood: I believe the folks at the Center for Neighborhood Technology have done cluster analysis for Climate Change and TOD research. You might want to talk with Peter Haas at CNT.

John Renne: Does anyone else have any questions?

Jack Kanarek: As part of an APTA sponsored effort it would be useful to obtain descriptive material on recent vision planning efforts undertaken to plan for TOD. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

John Renne: Hi Jack - Good to hear from you. It's been a while. Are you looking for vision efforts by local communities or at a larger geographical scale (i.e. region and/or state)?

Jack Kanarek: Both would be of interest.

John Renne: BRT and TOD is something that there is a legitimate need for more research.

Jeff Wood: Hi Jack. As I mentioned before, the Denver example has been followed up in the Bay Area with MTC Place Types. The report from that study of regional TOD planning is here:

John Renne: Jack Kanarek: I'm pretty sure that the Center for TOD does a lot of this. Jeff: can you recommend anything? I'm coming out with a book next year called 'Making TOD Happen' which will have lots of case studies from around the world, but that doesn't help now.

Megan Carr: Thanks! And if anyone has any information in regard to BRT and TOD's I'd be interested in knowing about it.

Jeff Wood: Megan, I haven't seen a lot of study in this area either. It's definitely lacking. However there have been newspaper reports of Cleveland's new line on Euclid Avenue generating $4.3 billion in development along the line. Here's an article link for you:

Megan Carr: I'd love to find some comparative stats showing BRT's impacts on development as compared to rail, which I'm guessing is greater.

Jeff Wood: I think we would all love to see that analysis!

Lennie: Indeed!

John Renne: I hear a lot about TOD and BRT, but I rarely see any research on the topic. I think it's because there are so few systems. Some work I did on BRT in Australia was how to spur TOD in Sydney along a BRT corridor because it was not happening in the market.

Jeff Wood: The problem I've seen is that one or the other is chosen so a corridor comparison doesn't work. Some have pointed to the Orange line vs. Gold Line in Los Angeles.

Darrin: Something you might find interesting, Megan, is the Eugene Breeze (from Lane Transit District). It's a fixed-route bus, running down the center of arterials with stations much like Tri-Met has for trains in Portland. Looking for something other than this for you:

Jeff Wood: Darrin you're talking about the EMX service?

Darrin: Yes, Jeff. Breeze is a subset with a dedicated busway.

Jeff Wood: Ah. I'd never heard of it, Darrin. Thanks for the heads up.

Darrin: Jeff, the goal was to have the cachet of a light rail project without the expense of laying rail. Seems to be working well; but it does have the University to generate trips.

Jeff Wood: You can find more on the next extension here:

Jeff Wood: Yeah. It's also a relatively small region. They have two other lines planned as well with one in the Small Starts process at the FTA.

Darrin: Thanks, Jeff!

Valerie Taylor: I was wondering how the industry is progressing with making funding for mixed use easier than it has been in the past.

Jeff Wood: You mean for Mixed Use TOD Valerie?

John Renne: Valerie: Public or private finding?

Valerie Taylor: Either.

John Renne: They are both big topics in themselves. I'm not sure where to begin. I think over the years, as New Urbanism has proven successful from an economic perspective, private financing for mixed use has gotten easier.  On the public side, financing generally supports infrastructure, which set's the state for mixed use development. One thing about mixed use development is that there is a difference between vertical and horizontal mixed use. Chris Leinberger writes some good stuff on the topic.

Charles Cooper: What happens to the ridership when the university is 'not in session'?

Jeff Wood: Well, I think the University doesn't drive a lot of the ridership, the line goes between the cities of Eugene and Springfield. But I could be wrong.

Tim Halbur: Jeff and John- I'd be interested to hear any new arguments the two of you have found for density. Kunstler, for all his smarts on other issues, is anti-skyscraper, claiming they are energy hogs. Do you know if this is true?

John Renne: Tim Halbur: One thing that Kunstler points out: height and density are not the same thing.  Density drives transit ridership, local economic vitality, etc. not height.

Jeff Wood: Tim: I've heard New Urbanists claim this as well.

Jeff Wood: Tim: Here's that post I was talking about with height limits

Tim Halbur: Thanks Jeff.

Valerie Taylor: Isn't there reluctance on the private side to fund mixed-use projects? I'm thinking specifically of 3-5 story infill near transit, with retail at ground level, possible office in he middle, and either rental or condos on the upper floors.

Jeff Wood: Valerie, also we've done research on funding affordable housing near transit. There are a lot of tools that different regions and states are using to pursue this. This discusses a few, but on our reports page is one we did with affordable housing in five cities and what folks are using as tools to get there.  They often prefer 6-7 story buildings over high-rises. I would point you to a conversation on Ryan Avent's economics blog a few weeks ago about the height limits in the district to get a rebuttal.

Valerie Taylor: Is there a recent guide to getting private funding for this kind of development? Here in CA, you get an extra floor with inclusionary housing, so that's a pretty strong incentive.

John Renne: Valerie Taylor: I wouldn't say that financing mixed use is hard, but sometimes architects and planners have a vision for mixed use that includes too much retail. Plans need to be grounded in realistic market feasibility. If you can convince a bank that it really works based on market data, then you can find financing (well, maybe before this financial crisis).

Jeff Wood: I haven't seen one Valerie... I think the subject is just so huge no one really has tackled it yet.

Chris: John: What are your favorite three books on TOD?

John Renne: Some of my favorite books on the topic are: Sustainability and Cities (Newman and Kenworthy 1999), The New Transit Down (Dittmar and Ohland 2004), and Developing Around Transit (Dunphy et al. 2004)

Jeff Wood: Zoned Out by Jonathan Levine is a good book too

Darrin: Jeff, do you have any information on Community Land Trusts? It's something we're discussing here in Salem, with regard to a big piece of state-owned property.

Jeff Wood: I don't, but a former co-worker of mine was part of a community land trust here in San Francisco. She might have more resources than I. If you want to get in touch with her contact me off chat.

Lennie: Darrin, Lincoln Institute of Land Policy perhaps?

Darrin: Thanks, Lennie, I'll look them up!

Charles Cooper: Has any work been done on reintegrating smaller rural communities with larger urban ones - sort of recreating the interurban transit options of the past? After all, if we have small communities, is it not better to reconnect them, rather than building on greenfields - even if they are small/smart/New Urbanist?

John Renne: Charles Cooper: I was in Meridian, MS last week for a rail conference. The topic related to your question. Downtown Meridian has done great things with its train station and because it's on an Amtrak Corridor it has helped to reconnect it to New Orleans, Birmingham, Atlanta, and other cities along the corridor. It's a good example to take a look at.

Jeff Wood: Charles: I have not seen an interurban revitalization but I think part of why people are starting to look at high speed rail is to bring in areas that might not have air service to the larger regions. It would be nice to have those lines back though. I see modern light rail as more interurban as it generally travels through a number of jurisdictions. There's also a movement for Rapid Streetcar which puts streetcars on their own ROW with the smaller vehicles. Portland is planning a line to Lake Oswego like this.

John Renne: Amtrak has a great plan to connect Chicago to many other cities within the mid-west. This would be another good example. I'm not sure if the plan has been made public yet or not.

Gretchen Eichar: Can you recommend good resources for encouraging pedestrian/transit oriented development within resort communities?

John Renne: Gretchen: You should check out a consulting firm that I used to work for - Charlier Associates from Boulder, Colorado. They specialize in this topic.

Jeff Wood: Gretchen: I don't think I've ever seen anything related to that. I'll keep thinking about your question.

Jennifer Shih: Does anyone know about good places to learn about TOD typologies? I have found information through the Reconnecting America's Center for TOD but wondered if there are other good sources of information?

Jeff Wood: I highly suggest reading The Option of Urbanism. Killer book by Chris Leinberger.

John Renne: Jennifer Shih: We discussed this a bit earlier. I recommend a report from Western Australia called the TOD Assessment Tool. I can see about getting a copy of it. They use it to classify TODs across the region for setting investment priorities.

Jennifer Shih: Thank you

Nate Berg: I've noticed that a lot of the retail outlets at new TODs in L.A. are primarily chains. Is this a trend you've noticed? What do you think about it?

Jeff Wood: Nate: I don't like it.

Jeff Wood: The problem I see right now is that since cities don't have as extensive transit networks as places like SF or Boston etc, TOD is going to be at a premium and expensive. Research we did on TOD diversity shows that in places like Chicago and more extensive transit systems, the area around stations is more diverse than the region as a whole.  That is an element of giving more people options. As it stands now, one line will be the favored quarter as Chris L puts it and will be at a premium. Until more corridors are developed, it might stay that way.

Valerie Taylor: Diverse in what sense?

Jeff Wood: Diverse as in mix of races and incomes. Here's the report:

Darrin: Jeff, is that the area around "organically grown" transit or around new TOD?

Jeff Wood: Darrin: Organically grown

David Gaspers: Streetcars and TOD...besides all of Portland's great research...are the any other communities that have statistical data (not just "$" amount of economic development) that supports the "streetcar effect"? But the number increases for valuation, density.

John Renne: David Gaspers: Great question. I am writing a proposal to study the impact of streetcars in the recovery of New Orleans. Everyone knows that they are not the driving force, but they do add some value here.

Jeff Wood: David, unfortunately we haven't seen anything other than $ numbers for total economic development in places other than Portland. I would like to see more research in the area of streetcars. We are wondering what the economic effects would be because it's possible they could pay for a lot of their capital cost through value capture.  Seattle is paying half of its cost through an assessment district.

Bruce Williams: Related to streetcars, there is some research that shows higher patronage on streetcars versus what was expected, or experienced previously on buses in the same corridor. Sorry I can't point you towards a specific source.

Jeff Wood: Bruce: Ridership numbers on the modern streetcar in Tacoma, in Portland, and in Seattle show they were higher than initially modeled.

Darrin: Jeff, short of mandates, how would you suggest encouraging that diversity in new TODs?

John Renne: Darrin: I suggest that states allocate Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) based on a point system that gives priority to TOD. This is what California did.

Jeff Wood: I would add to what John said Darrin and say build more transit!

John Renne: Darrin: You might also want to check out the various programs that the MTC in the Bay Area uses. The TLC and HIP programs. I also agree with Jeff. We need more supply of transit in the USA.

John Renne: Jeff - Is TLC and HIP going strong in the Bay Area?

Jeff Wood: TLC is doing really well. They are about to go through another round. It's basically a way to get districts to plan smarter around transit and primary modes of transport like walking and biking.

Megan Carr: Darrin: Another example of encouraging diversity and avoiding gentrification was a city owned property in Denver along the Welton Street Corridor where they offered low rate loans, tax credits and Community Development Block Grants.

David Gaspers: Is there any European streetcar systems that could provide data on economic development, increased property values, etc?

John Renne: David Gaspers: Great question. The answer must be yes. Check out the work of these European authors on this topic: Luca Bertolini, Carmen Hass-Klau. They would get a good starting point.

Charles Cooper: Interesting article in the Toronto Star today about a couple who have worked for months to kill a bus route that runs through their neighborhood - because it 'devalues their house'. They failed (so far), but in some locations, TOD in any form is going to be a hard sell.

Valerie Taylor: Cooper: We are about to vote on a tax measure to restore rail to Marin County CA. If resulting TOD is perceived as all low/moderate income, it will not succeed in this high-income area, in my opinion.

Planetizen: John, Jeff: do you have any final thoughts before we wrap up?

John Renne: This was a great session. I hope to see some (or all) of you in the course. If we have strong student desire, we can do these live chat session on a more regular basis.

Jeff Wood: Yes, thanks everyone for coming.

Planetizen: OK, everyone. Thanks for coming to today's live webchat with John Renne and Jeff Wood. We hope this was an interesting and educational experience for you.

John Renne, PhD, is Assistant Professor of Transportation Studies and Urban Planning, and Associate Director of the Transportation Center at the University of New Orleans. He has worked with state and local government on smart growth and transportation planning, particularly transit-oriented development (TOD), across the United States and Australia.

Jeff Wood is a Program Associate/GIS Specialist at Reconnecting America. Jeff does mapping analysis for a variety of projects and conducts research on transit mode funding, technology and the relationship of transit to development.

John and Jeff are co-instructors of Planetizen's online course PLAN-115: Transit Oriented Development Toolbox, which covers all the basic knowledge planners need to know about TOD planning and implementation.

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