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MBA: Transit-Oriented Development

For the first chapter in our Moving Beyond the Automobile series we'll take a look at Transit-Oriented Development, more commonly known by its "TOD" acronym in transportation industry circles. TOD is a high-density, mixed-use residential area with access to ample amounts of transportation. There are usually many transportation nodes within its core and contains a walkable and bike-able environment.

We decided to take a look across the Hudson River at New Jersey's east coast where over the last two decades the amount of development has been booming. Transportation options are as diverse as you can get: the Hudson-Bergen light-rail, multiple ferry lines, PATH station, NJ Transit commuter trains, and buses are all plentiful, while in some areas car ownership is as low as 40% to 45%.

(Note: This series is made possible by funding from the Fund for The Environment & Urban Life.)

<br> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman">[music]</font> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Kate Slevin:</i>  [00:13] Transit Oriented Development is really about building sustainable communities.  It’s about locating housing, offices and retail, closer to bus and rail stations.  There’s plenty of examples of good TOD in our region.  New Jersey Transit has done a great job of helping towns develop more around their rail and bus stations.</font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Peter Kasabach:</i>  [00:33] We’re looking across the Hudson River at the East Coast of New Jersey where we’ve seen tremendous amount of high intensity development take place over the last two decades.  And one of the cornerstones of that development has been the fact that there’s an enormous amount of multimodal public transportation between the ferries, the path station, the North-East corridor and the light rail.  </font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Kate Slevin:</i>  [00:58] The Hudson-Bergen light rail in northern New Jersey has encouraged incredible amounts of residential and office development.  </font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Vivian Baker:</i>  [01:06] Ridership on the Hudson-Bergen light rail system has steadily grown since we first put together the operating segment in 2000.  We have over 40,000 passengership per day.  This particular system connects Hudson County to the path station which connects to Midtown and Downtown Manhattan.  But more importantly it unlocked the potential for development of along the Hudson River Waterfront </font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Peter Kasabach:</i>  [01:25] There are certain parts of Jersey City where the car ownership rate is as low as 40 to 45%.  </font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Robert Cotter:</i>  [01:31] The parking ratios in Jersey City are shocking to some of the people in New Jersey.  We don’t require parking.  In most of the development that you’re looking at, there’s a maximum parking ratio for much of this development, but there’s no minimum.  </font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Kate Slevin:</i>  [01:44] A key part of it is changing the zoning.  I mean the municipality that where you live change the zoning codes so they can allow a mix of uses.  You want a development near the train or bus station to have apartments above delis, to have offices above retail stores.</font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Vivian Baker:</i> [02:00] Around us are many different office buildings that house people in the financial industry, the computer industry, and the telecom industry and the shipping industry.  And when the businesses came, the people came.  There are probably about 10,000 residences that were built in this vicinity of this station and around the system.  It’s been about $5 billion worth of residential investment so far.  </font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Robert Cotter:</i>  [02:19] In the first six months of 2009, more than 18% of the building permits issued for housing units in New Jersey were here in Jersey City.  And that’s a good testament to the transit rich development.  It’s the communities that have access to fixed rail are going to be the richest in the coming century, I’m thoroughly convinced of it.  </font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Peter Kasabach:</i>  [02:39] People who previously owned two cars now might only own one.  People who own one car only use it on occasion.  Not having cars does an enormous amount, not just for what it does for the street life, but it means that we’re reducing our vehicle miles travelled in this area, which is good for the environment and reducing our greenhouse gas emissions.</font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Kate Slevin:</i>  [02:58] The challenge is really taking that model and translating it into a more suburban environment.  Suburban areas are more car dependent because things are more spread out.  So going forward we’re going to have to see more and more transit oriented development around rail and bus stations in suburban areas.  </font> <br></p> Transcription Sponsored by: <a href="http://transcriptdivas.com.au">Transcript Divas Transcription Services</a>
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  • http://walkbikejersey.blogspot.com/ Andy B from Jersey

    Great Video!

    Still, the Port Authority an NJT could do a better job provided proper and adequate bicycle parking at its stations. The square above the Grove St station is overrun with bikes due to a lack of enough parking. Hudson-Bergen LRT stations only provide unshelterd bicycle parking which is considered substandard for long-term (4 hours +) bike parking. There is some hope however. At Hoboken they placed bicycle parking inside the train shed on an unused platform in the station. This could easily and cheaply be turned into a secure bike cage.

    Also, I've noticed that Jersey City doesn't even seem to have a rush hour on its surface streets (at least when I've been there along the waterfront) which is likely due to the lack of parking minimums and the presence of all the transit options. This is great news for cyclists as there would seem to be plenty of underutilized street space to install bicycle lanes and other facilities.

  • Bruce Gray

    Great stuff Clarence! Hope to see the same here in Seattle.


  • Joanna Tribula

    Thank you for the great video!I wish Detriot was like that.

  • http://yvonnebambrick.com Yvonne Bambrick

    Nice one Clarence - thank you!

    Can you believe that Toronto, a once forward thinking city with a kick-ass Light Rapid Transit Plan (Transit City), has now reversed its position and cancelled the plan under the command of our new Mayor...?

    Painful to think of all the folks in our inner and outer suburbs that were finally getting close to having the much needed transit service that had eluded them for so long.

    You'd think the developers in this city would shout a little louder about it, given the development opportunities your video so clearly demonstrates. #sadbuttrue Toronto is going backwards.

  • John

    Great idea!
    But I can't believe you're doing a segment on BRT and not on streetcars. While streetcars in Manhattan might be tricky, most American cities were made for them and desperately need them again.
    As Robert Cotter says in your film, “It’s the communities that have access to fixed rail that are going to be the richest in the coming century—I’m thoroughly convinced of it.”

  • http://www.debian.org Michael M.

    Nothing at all about all the downsides of TOD, including gentrification and rent-seeking?

    I found this incredibly one-sided and biased; I was hoping for thoughtful and comprehensive.

  • John

    Regarding gentrification:
    I think the goal has to be to get people to move from the suburbs into the city. To make cities more attractive for everyone. With TOD, increasing development makes a neighborhood better and better; in the suburbs, increasing development makes life worse and worse for everyone. Streetcar lines attract people, businesses, development. Those become the most convenient and attractive places to live. I think it's okay that people with more money get to live in the more attractive places and people with less money live in less attractive places, and that the city evolves over time--as long as it's becoming more dense, efficient, and attractive rather than less so. The displacement of poor people from one neighborhood to another as the city improves is part of that picture. The increased tax base, availability of urban jobs, and more efficient municipal infrastructure should raise the standard of living even in the worst neighborhoods. The enemy is not gentrification; it's urban sprawl.

  • http://www.debian.org Michael M.

    John, I think you crystallized everything (or most things, anyway) that are wrong with TOD in your comment.  You're advocating using taxpayer dollars to subsidize amenities for upper middle class and wealthy citizens at the expense of lower middle class and poor citizens.  We used to do that with explicitly racist tactics like redlining, until the Civil Rights movement mostly succeeded in eliminating those practices.  Now, we do it with tools like TOD, "urban renewal," eminent-domain condemnations, and tax-increment financing.  In all of these cases, we're still using government power to benefit the well-off at the expense of those who aren't.  It amounts to a fundamentally, if not explicitly, classist and racist program for displacing the poor from wherever the wealthy decide there is money to be made.  Once upon a time, genuine progressives had the goal of lifting people out of poverty and improving everybody's lives.  Today, people who call themselves "progressive" have the goal of moving the poor farther out of sight to fend for themselves so the better-off can better enjoy shiny streetcars and bike lanes.

  • John


    First, I'd like to see taxpayer dollars subsidize public transit and urban infill instead of cars and sprawl.

    Second, I'd like to see urban transit based on streetcars that developers pay for, the way they did when our cities were first developed. Since modern streetcar lines make property owners rich, they should pay for them.

    Third, I'd like nothing more than to have streetcars and cycle tracks all over Chicago so the 30% of us who don't have cars can get around safely and conveniently and cheaply like they do all over Europe. Here we spend as much money on getting around as we do on our homes, and the proportion is higher the poorer you are. Lacking transit-oriented development, the jobs are moving out to the suburbs where the CEOs live, and their employees waste a lot of time and money driving to work. We're about to build our first cycle track here in Chicago; it will be the most expensive in history and for political reasons will be in a south-side neighborhood where no one bikes or would bike because of the danger, which will prove to everyone how stupid cycle tracks are. The best way to get streetcars and cycle tracks in poor urban areas like Chicago's south side is to build prototypes where they are most likely to work first. Transit-oriented development, jobs, and tax revenue will follow as they do every time all over the world. That will make it possible for us to provide the same services and benefits to the rest of the city. Transit-oriented development is the best way to stop wasting so much money and energy. I hope we'll decide to put some of the money we save by not building another suburban highway into better schools on the south side of town--schools that kids will be able to bike or take the tram to.

  • John

    I’d love it if we could spend some tax money on things that would make life better, more convenient, and less expensive in poor neighborhoods. Things like a modern public transit system and safe bikeways and good grocery stores. But it’s a conservative country, and no one seems to be even considering those things now. We’re going as fast as we can in the other direction, wasting our taxes and wages on servicing the high cost of car-dependent urban sprawl. That waste is surely hardest on the poor.

    Transit-oriented development based on fixed rail (streetcars) saves the city money on infrastructure and services. It makes the city money by attracting development and talent and expanding tax revenue. That’s good for the city and its taxpaying citizens, but it doesn’t guarantee the city will invest the money it saves in streetcars, cycle tracks, and grocery stores in poorer neighborhoods in an act of civilized governance.

    Maybe there’s a way of tying the two together legislatively, so some of the huge benefit derived from transit-oriented development funds similar amenities where they’re needed the most—in neighborhoods where people can’t afford to waste their time and money driving around.

    It costs about $11,000 a year to have a car here, which is like $140,000 worth of mortgage on a home (though the home generally appreciates over five years, while the car becomes worthless). Transit-oriented development makes it possible to live well without a car. That’s good for the poor—if it doesn’t make the neighborhood so convenient and pleasant that they can’t afford to live there anymore.

    What do you say when someone says, “Don’t make my neighborhood safe, I can only afford to live in a dangerous place. Don’t make my neighborhood convenient, I can only afford a place where I have to waste a lot of time and money. Don’t bring jobs into my neighborhood, I can only afford to live here if I have to drive across town to work.”

    All I can think is that if you don’t have to own, insure, fuel, maintain, and park that car anymore, you can afford to live in your safe, convenient, vibrant neighborhood. You’ll have more household income in appreciating assets and less in depreciating assets. You’ll have a better life in a better place.

  • Rob

    @Michael M:

    Take a look at PolicyLink's Equitable Development Toolkit and associated Center for Infrastructure Equity. TOD isn't inherently a "classist and racist program for displacing the poor from wherever the wealthy decide there is money to be made." Sure, there are ways to do TOD right and ways to do it wrong, but the upside is huge when planned and implemented properly. It doees help to reduce the combined costs of transportation and housing while at the same time yielding a robust range of other individual and community-level benefits. TOD isn't for everyone or every place, but it is the right presscription for many highly urbanized areas.

    How has the Interstate Highway system benefitted low-to-moderate income families and communities of color? Have successive major investments over several decades focused on improving highway capacity and design deficiencies improved the lives of such populations, or others for that matter? Should we keep building the last great highway projects of the 20th century as the nation slips into global irrelevance?

  • Rob

    @Michael M:

    Specifically, I'd look at this "equitable development TOD tool":


  • Dwight

    I am a big fan of streetfilms products but I was hoping for something a little less NYC-metro centric in this video. I think the concept for the series is fantastic, but to really make an impact I hope future chapters will be able to highlight examples of efforts being done in unexpected parts of the country, like Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, Charlotte, or Denver, etc. for TOD.

    It seems like there is bigger impact if we can see these transformations in 'the rest of the country' outside the standard 'progressive' cities of NYC, Portland and Seattle. While I realize this is a costlier production, I think it would help make this great cause of visualizing the transition away from private automobile dependency more accessible and, thus, more likely.

  • Ginger B.

    Thanks for the NJ imagery.  Really helpful.  Great learning / educating tool.

  • Edwin Yee

    The benefits to living in a Transit Oriented Development (TOD) are many-fold. I for one have no need for a vehicle. That alone equates to HUGE savings when you factor in not just the cost of the vehicle alone, but the rising cost of petrol, insurance, street-side parking, auto-theft, and monthly parking dues for a parking stall in your building. It's also often quicker to get to places I need to go by transit and I get there without the hassle of having to drive myself. This is one benefit I truly love when I head into work every morning. I'm still half asleep most mornings and that extra 23 minutes makes all the difference in my disposition. I'm also going against rush-hour traffic so the trains aren't crowded to and from work.

    I made a conscious decision to moving out of suburbia and into a TOD. I have no regrets.

    There are many car-sharing options for Vancouverites as well: Modo, Zip Car, and Car2Go to name but a few.

    For everything else, I have my BIKE.