Transit Oriented Development as an Effective Tool to Enhance Regional Planning

Introduction

Transit Oriented development is defined as compact communities, which are walkable, have mixed landuse development, centered around high-quality train stations. This type of development reduces the stress on roads by decreasing the dependence on cars and other private mode of transportation. This type of development is one of the ways to approach regional planning, city revitalization and urban renewal.  TOD also helps in creating a healthy lifestyle and enhances quality of life as it encourages walkable and bicycle friendly neighborhoods. (Transit Oriented Development Institute)

In TOD, the development is driven by two key elements, the transit and the node. In TOD, a node can be defined as the train station or the bus station around which the development occurs. Each node consists of mixed landuse areas, where residential and commercial landuse are in the same area or district. Other facilities such as offices, schools and hospitals are in close proximity to the residential areas. These areas are connected with sidewalks and bike lanes for easy access. So each region has such nodes where development is polarized and these nodes are connected through transit such as metro or BRTS (Bus rapid transit system).

Several issues such as lack of spaces, over densification and loss economic opportunities for small businesses, have arisen due to TOD. These issues hamper the growth of TOD and become an impediment for regional planning.

            According to Denver metropolitan region’s TOD Strategic Plan (2014) Denver-Aurora metropolitan region is one of the finest example for executing TOD type development. There is 20% increase in the urban population since 2005. The length of transit lines has also increased from 6 miles in 1994 to 81 miles in 2010 in Denver region. The bicycle lanes have also increased from 60 miles in 2007 to 110 miles in 2012. There is an 8% increase in bicycle and walkability share of modal split in the Denver region. Thus, based on these factors, it is evident that Denver region is prepared to implement TOD in its region.

TOD as a tool for Regional Planning

            TOD is found as a development which decreases the dependence on car. It enables working, living and playing in the same area. It reduces carbon footprints as close proximity of facilities from residence encourage walkability and riding bicycles. Economic development in communities and economic hubs can be established through TOD. The local businesses receive more promotion and benefits. The growth of real estate market through TOD provides people with various options for housing.

            TOD can be executed successfully when departments of city government and regional government such as Housing, Transportation and Planning coordinately work together. Advisory boards must be formed to help in the policy and advising the regional government with TOD related issues. A technical committee should be formed to assess the logistics and the engineering of TOD. A governing body should be made for regulatory and monitoring purpose. Then they need to identify the nodes in the regions where the development needs to be polarized. These nodes can be Downtowns, urban centers, suburban areas etc. Building codes, zoning laws and densification needs to be revised when building a compact city and creating intra-region nexus is the main objective of such development.

Issues of TOD

Obviously a utopia cannot be built through TOD type development. There are several issues which may arise while executing such development model. The primary issue is lack of open spaces. Due to densification of areas by combining mixed landuse, there may be lack of space for parks and recreational activities.

Small retailers may be affected because of such densification.  They may not get enough customers. Since the residents would be in close proximity to big retail shops, the small retailers may not receive a lot of footfall from the pedestrians or the drivers. To keep the TOD region market ready, much attention may be given to retailers who can escalate the economy at a faster pace resulting in sidelining of small retailers.

Developers in order to emphasize on a mixed landuse, high density commercial development might receive much importance, thus establishing excess offices compared to the residential complexes. This would lead office-goers to find residential houses at a distant place. This would again lead them to rely on their private vehicles, hence making the region auto centric.

Since the residential areas would be built in close proximity to transit stations and commercial complexes, the price of the land and houses might surge. The room for building affordable houses would get smaller, which can create segregation.

Acknowledging the issues arising due to TOD, some measures urban planners and developers should implement while building TOD community are; they should first educate the people about TOD paradigm. Public should be taught and made aware of the benefits of living in a TOD community.  A more holistic and macro-level approach is required. Many a times there is unequal distribution of services due to which small business and economically weak people get displaced because of this mammoth development.  A detailed socio-economic research is needed to be conducted. This would aid in equal distribution of landuses while building a mixed landuse community. Although, TOD would lessen the carbon footprints, but building such closed communities with high-raised buildings would create urban heat island effect inside the communities. So, the developers should be careful while building TOD communities.

TOD in Denver

Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG) is the metropolitan planning organization for Denver’s metropolitan area. One of the current plans DRCOG is Metro Vision 2025. It focuses on integrating the Denver region through efficient rail system. To build a closely-knit region Transit Oriented Development is being implemented by DCROG through its rail systems network. DCROG was granted 4.5 billion dollars to from the Sustainable Communities Initiative to execute TOD. To administer the region’s transportation planning process Regional Planning Committee has been established. The Regional Planning Committee consists of members from Colorado Department of Transportation, Regional Transportation Department, Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, Regional Air Quality council counties and cities neighboring Denver. To assist the board of directors of DCROG Transportation Advisory board is formed consisting members from Colorado Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, Federal Transit administration, Denver South Economic Council, Regional Transportation Department and Denver Regional Mobility and Access Council. Denver city’s Administration and Management, Community and Planning Development, Depart of Public works, Finance, Economic development and Parks and recreation aids in monitoring the level of TOD development in each station. (Denver Regional Council of Governments)

TOD began from the city of Denver. Based on the location of each station, the stations were categorized into five groups namely Downtown, Urban Centers, General Urban, Urban and Suburban.

  • Downtown: These stations have mixed use, high density, tallest building, transit hub, historic areas and high pedestrian activity.
  • Urban Centre: These stations have mixed use, high density, grid and alley block pattern, high pedestrian facilities and multi-modal facilities.
  • General Urban: These stations are surrounded by multi-family residential houses, grid and alley block pattern, main streets, corner stores and multi-modal facilities
  • Urban: These stations are surrounded by grid and alley block pattern, pre-dominantly single family housing, corner stores and multi-modal.
  • Suburban: These stations are surrounded by town centers, community open spaces and residential neighborhoods.

Based on the progress and preparedness level, the rail stations were further categorized into three types namely 1) Strategize, 2) Catalyze and 3) Energize.

  1. Strategize: These are stations which are still in their pre-development stage. It is primarily because either their construction is not complete, the complete route of the railway tracks has not been laid down or there is no market to create a TOD type development.
  2. Catalyze: These are the stations which are half-way through their establishment as a TOD station. It is because they have not met all the criteria for creating market for TOD or it lacks specific infrastructure or services.
  3. Energize: These are stations which have been completely built and are TOD ready. (Transit Oriented Denver, TOD Strategic Plan, 2014)

DCROG has been very robust in executing the TOD project across the region. In ten years, the project has covered half of the city of Denver and some stations have already begun working on it in the neighboring city of Aurora. Based on the recent “Who is TOD” survey taken in 2016 by DCROG, results show that the residents in Denver city are willing to pay 4% more rent to live in the TOD communities. On the contrary, residents living in the suburbs are not willing to live closer to the TOD communities as they prefer using their car and travelling a distance to get services. Businesses are also blooming in the TOD communities. The quantum of TOD development is escalating in Denver, but it should continue to spread otherwise Denver would be densely populated and result in congestion.

Conclusion

Transit Oriented Development is a type of development which builds compact communities and creates nexus in a region. It concentrates on walkability, mixed landuse and quality living. TOD focuses development on urban centers or city centers which act as nodes. These nodes are connected through transit such as metro or bus rapid transit system. It aims to prevent regions from becoming auto centric. Denver metropolitan region has been identified as one of the ideal regions to implement TOD. So, a TOD strategic plan was formulated by Denver Council of Regional Governments to implement TOD in the region. Several issues have arisen due this development paradigm. But through, education, awareness and meticulous efforts by city governments, these issues can be overcome. Hence, TOD can be perceived as an effective tool for practicing regional planning.

References;

Transit Oriented Development Institute, Retrieved from; http://tod.org/home.html

Transit Oriented Denver, TOD Strategic Plan, 2014, Retrieved from; https://www.denvergov.org/content/dam/denvergov/Portals/193/documents/TOD_Plan/TOD_Strategic_Plan_FINAL.pdf

Denver Council of Regional Governments, Retrieved from; https://drcog.org/planning-great-region/implementing-metro-vision/transit-oriented-development

Who is TOD in Denver, 2010 Retrieved from; https://drcog.org/sites/drcog/files/resources/Who%20Is%20TOD%20Summary%20Report.pdf

 

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