Public Interest Transportation Forum -

Research and Development on the Regional Implications of Transit-Oriented Development

Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) means more dense and compact development around transit stops, in particular, rail stations. TOD is sometimes called Transit-Focused Development.

PITF Co-editor Dick Nelson has prepared a series of charts and tables that illustrate the land use transportation connection in Seattle and western Washington State.

The City of Seattle has published a Station Area Planning Atlas that describes existing land use around Link light rail stations, and visions and plans for how that land use could be changed to support more train riders.  An article in the Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce on October 27, 2000 provides an overview of the City's intent with respect to Link station areas.

One important issue in deciding the level of government effort to promote TOD is the degree to which public and private spending to change land use around transit stations actually causes mode shift toward transit:  that is, a higher proportion of transit use and a lower proportion of private vehicle use.  An article by Dick Nelson in the Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce in February 2003 points out that more research is needed to understand what makes TOD work as a regional tool for increasing transit market share.

A 1999 column by Bruce Ramsey in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Streetcar is More Aptly Named No Real Public Desire, covered some summary views of PITF Co-editors Dick Nelson and John Niles on TOD.

A series of research papers on the implications of Transit-Oriented Development for changing travel behavior toward more transit use have been prepared by PITF Co-editors Nelson and Niles:


"Market Dynamics and Nonwork Travel Patterns: Obstacles to Transit-Oriented Development?" Prepared for the 1999 Annual Meeting of Transportation Research Board.  Overheads from the presentation of January 12, 1999.


"Measuring the Success of Transit-Oriented Development: Retail Market Dynamics and Other Key Determinants," prepared for the April, 1999 National Planning Conference of the American Planning Association in Seattle.


"A Prerequisite to Planning for Transit-Oriented Development: Understanding Non-Work Activity Location Patterns and Trends." On March 9, 1999, at the bi-annual TRB Conference on Transportation Planning Methods in Boston, John Niles presented a preview of this paper on transportation planning methods that anticipate the structural changes brought about by retail and consumer dynamics.


"Enhancing Understanding of Non-Work Trip Making: Data Needs for the Determination of TOD Benefits" to be presented by John Niles at the Transportation Research Board Conference, Personal Travel: The Long and the Short of It, Washington, DC,  June 30, 1999.


"Observations on the Causes of Nonwork Travel Growth" (PDF format), presented by Dick Nelson at the Transportation Research Board 79th Annual Meeting, January 10, 2000 in Washington, D.C.

Summary Quotes by other Researchers on Transit-Oriented Development:

The track record with new rail systems in the United States leaves a lot to be desired. Studies show that new-generation rail systems have failed to produce the ridership that was promised and ended up costing more than was forecast.... Putting a point-to-point rail system in a sea of spread-out, auto-oriented development is hardly a recipe for successful and sustainable transit. Quite simply, too often across America, transit and cityscapes have been way out of synch.
-Robert Cervero, The Transit Metropolis, 1998.

The Federal Transit Administration and the U.S. Environmental Protection agency, as well as many environmental and other interests, are promoting transit-focused development as an answer to traffic congestion and air quality problems. Yet, despite widespread knowledge about the benefits of transit-focused development and measures for achieving it, such development in practice remains problematic.
- Douglas R. Porter, President, Growth Management Institute, 1998

One of the problems with new planning concepts such as Transit Oriented Development is the "magic bullet" effect --that this one idea will "solve the transportation problem". The intensity of this thinking is increased in this case by zealots who have embraced the idea and may raise public expectations well beyond that which can be obtained.
- Robert T. Dunphy, Urban Land Institute, 1999

Whatever the merits of neotraditional and transit-oriented designs, and there are many, their transportation benefits have been oversold. Each development must be evaluated as a separate case to determine whether its net impact on auto use is positive or negative.
- Randall Crane, University of California at Berkeley, 1996

The roots of our transportation and land use policy dilemmas lie in the absence of consensus on which environmental and social conditions are truly problematic...If the aim is to reduce environmental damage generated by automobiles, the effective remedy is to directly price and regulate autos and their use, not land use. If the aim is to reduce metropolitan spatial segmentation, the effective remedy is to expand the range of housing and employment choices, not travel choice.
- Genevieve Giuliano, University of Southern California, 1995

Such systems (new or expanded off-road transit) are costly but divert relatively few commuters off roadways, especially in fast-growing areas. Yet many metropolitan areas have proposed or are actually building such systems. They are often persuaded by the argument that "every world-class area ought to have one," rather than by cogent analysis of how these systems will actually work.
- Anthony Downs, The Brookings Institution, 1992

Return to the Public Interest Transportation Forum home page.

Last modified: February 07, 2011