Zoning Practice — September 2004

Ask the Author

Here are reader questions answered by Hank Dittmar or Ellen Greenberg, AICP, authors of two articles on transit oriented development in the the August 2004 issue of Zoning Practice.

Question from Alex D. Beseris, Senior Planner, Carter Burgess:

How successful are TODs becoming with Bus Rapid Transit, or is it too soon to know? Do you know of any case studies or good examples of TODs around BRT stations? Thank you.

Answer from author Ellen Greenberg:

The American Public Transit Association (APTA) website describes Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) as follows: "Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) combines the quality of rail transit and the flexibility of buses. It can operate on exclusive transitways, HOV lanes, expressways, or ordinary streets. A BRT system combines intelligent transportation systems technology, priority for transit, rapid and convenient fare collection, and integration with land-use policy in order to substantially upgrade bus system performance." The question of whether bus rapid transit is supportive of TOD (and vice versa) is a good one, as an increasing number of BRT systems are in operation and development. My thanks to Jeffrey Tumlin of Nelson\Nygaard Consulting Associates for help with the response to this question.

While many BRT services are recently implemented or still in development, a few have enough of a track record to demonstrate positive land-use impacts. The most notable North American examples are in Pittsburgh and Ottawa, where real estate and development activity have been associated with BRT stations. Both are described in TCRP Report 90, Bus Rapid Transit — Volume 1: Case Studies in Bus Rapid Transit. Consistent with the recommendations included in my Zoning Practice article, that report, which draws on international experience in 26 cities, concludes that, "Any major BRT investment should be reinforced by transit-supportive land-development and parking policies. BRT should be an integral part of land use, transportation, economic development, and master-planning efforts."

Even more recently, TCRP Report 102, Transit-Oriented Development in the United States: Experiences, Challenges, and Prospects, synthesizes and analyzes the results of an extensive survey on TOD activity. The 145 agencies responding to the survey identified TOD projects and the type of associated transit service, with just under eight percent identified as associated with bus service of any kind. The report’s Los Angeles area case study includes a brief discussion of TOD and BRT, and reports that in Los Angeles no TOD projects had broken ground or were in the planning stages as of the time the survey was completed.

Online links to the TCRP reports are at http://gulliver.trb.org/bookstore.

Question from Jeanne Van Orman, AICP, Principal, PLACES:

What thoughts do you have on the subject of scale and its role in local acceptance of new TODs? One cannot talk about scale without talking about location type since a large-scale TOD might be acceptable at a highway interchange but not in a smaller suburban town with no large-scale developments. My own town of Arlington, Massachusetts, rejected extension of the RED LINE subway in part because of scale and impact issues but now has great feeder bus service into the end of the RED LINE station in abutting Cambridge — but, of course, that arrangement increases trip time into Boston. There must be other models that are neither this Arlington model nor the Cambridge one. Thanking you in advance.

Answer from author Ellen Greenberg:

The typology of TOD that Hank Dittmar and Shelley Poticha present in The New Transit Town describes six types of TOD at various scales. There are indeed models other than Arlington and Cambridge, including the suburban neighborhood, neighborhood transit zone, and commuter town center types included in the typology. In my own work for The New Transit Town, one example of zoning for TOD that I investigated was the planned development district adopted for Willow Springs Village Center in Willow Springs, Illinois. That project would probably be best characterized as a commuter town center, with a new mixed village center planned and being developed to be supportive of a new Metra stop. This 40-acre project is at the scale of a walkable town center, very different from the highly urbanized Arlington and Cambridge contexts with both a richer mix of transit services and much greater intensity of activity.

Another example of TOD at the smaller scale — also from Illinois — is the Prairie Crossing project in Grayslake, Lake County. Although it was originally conceived as a conservation community with an emphasis on open space preservation, the presence of two Metra commuter lines next to the community led to the planning of higher densities and more affordable units on those portions of the site with best access to the rail stations. This portion of the project, Station Village, is also planned to include neighborhood retail, restaurants, and offices.

Answer from author Hank Dittmar:

I do agree that many TODs that have had problems have had them because of insensitivity to the scale of the adjacent neighborhoods. In The New Transit Town, our chapter on the Lindbergh station makes that point exactly. Sometimes it’s just the failure to scale down as one approaches the neighborhoods, and not a question of appropriateness of the project overall. That is something one can see at Claredon Market Commons in Arlington, Virgina, as the project drops from 3-4 story mixed-use multifamily to townhome quite quickly as it approaches a single-family residential neighborhood.

That's also why we have tried to develop a typology of TOD that correlates density and transit service level to place type in the metro are — town center, urban neighborhood, suburban neighborhood, commuter town, and so on. One size does not fit all.

Question from Alex D. Beseris, Senior Planner, Carter Burgess:

How successful are TODs becoming with Bus Rapid Transit, or is it too soon to know? Do you know of any case studies or good examples of TODs around BRT stations?

Answer from author Ellen Greenberg:

The American Public Transit Association (APTA) website describes Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) as follows: "Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) combines the quality of rail transit and the flexibility of buses. It can operate on exclusive transitways, HOV lanes, expressways, or ordinary streets. A BRT system combines intelligent transportation systems technology, priority for transit, rapid and convenient fare collection, and integration with land-use policy in order to substantially upgrade bus system performance." The question of whether bus rapid transit is supportive of TOD (and vice versa) is a good one, as an increasing number of BRT systems are in operation and development. My thanks to Jeffrey Tumlin of Nelson\Nygaard Consulting Associates for help with the response to this question.

While many BRT services are recently implemented or still in development, a few have enough of a track record to demonstrate positive land-use impacts. The most notable North American examples are in Pittsburgh and Ottawa, where real estate and development activity have been associated with BRT stations. Both are described in TCRP Report 90, Bus Rapid Transit — Volume 1: Case Studies in Bus Rapid Transit. Consistent with the recommendations included in my Zoning Practice article, that report, which draws on international experience in 26 cities, concludes that, "Any major BRT investment should be reinforced by transit-supportive land-development and parking policies. BRT should be an integral part of land use, transportation, economic development, and master-planning efforts."

Even more recently, TCRP Report 102, Transit-Oriented Development in the United States: Experiences, Challenges, and Prospects, synthesizes and analyzes the results of an extensive survey on TOD activity. The 145 agencies responding to the survey identified TOD projects and the type of associated transit service, with just under eight percent identified as associated with bus service of any kind. The report’s Los Angeles area case study includes a brief discussion of TOD and BRT, and reports that in Los Angeles no TOD projects had broken ground or were in the planning stages as of the time the survey was completed.

Access the TCRP reports online: http://gulliver.trb.org/bookstore/.