Transit-oriented development

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San Francisco's transit-oriented development at 4th & King. Photo by Flickr user LA Wad.


By definition, transit-oriented development (TOD) and public transit complement one another. The California Department of Transportation defines transit-oriented development this way:

“Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) is moderate to higher density development, located within an easy walk of a major transit stop, generally with a mix of residential, employment, and shopping opportunities designed for pedestrians without excluding the auto. TOD can be new construction or redevelopment of one or more buildings whose design and orientation facilitate transit use.”[1]

Note that the ‘transit’ in transit-oriented development can be any type of public transit, including light rail or bus rapid transit. The State of California took a major step toward promoting transit-oriented development when it enacted the Transit Village Development Planning Act in 1994. The Act gives local governments the flexibility to change land use around transit stations- such as offering density bonuses and reduced parking requirements to developers.[1]

Transit oriented development along existing routes can be a cost-effective way to increase ridership. A TOD can create additional demand for the transit service with only an incremental increase in operations costs to avoid crowding on peak trips.

Key Components

Mixed Use

Caltrans recommends a mix of uses in TODs - housing, and places for shopping and spending time, alongside transit.

Pedestrian Access

Transit-oriented developments must make using transit convenient and attractive for both residents of those developments and people accessing the stations from other areas, as well.

Design Elements

Transit-oriented developments should be welcoming and attractive to pedestrians and transit riders. This means they should be designed at a human scale and should fit into the surrounding neighborhood. While design is important for the area around a TOD, Cervero finds that design affects ridership far less than proximity of one's home and place of employment to transit stations.[2]


Transit-oriented development is seen as a useful tool for managing the high rate of expected population growth in California and across the country. By encouraging development patterns that allow for more trips to be made on foot and by transit, TOD can reduce emissions, vehicle miles traveled, and the proportion of households’ budget devoted to transportation. Importantly for transit providers, by increasing the density of activity around transit lines, TOD can increase ridership by up to 40 percent, according to one Caltrans study. Cervero, though, cautions us not to overestimate the effects of TOD on ridership because often the people who would choose to live in a TOD are self-selecting and would be transit riders regardless.[2] Dense transit-oriented development can also help reduce transit providers’ operating costs. This is true especially when compared to suburban, low-density development that increases the vehicle miles necessary for serving customers in those areas.[3]


In some places, local zoning policy is ill-equipped to handle dense development around transit, so TOD developers often need to obtain variances to develop at high densities. Further challenges to creating transit-oriented developments include minimum parking requirements and neighborhood opposition to dense development based on the possible future traffic generated by them. Both of these problems point to the assumption that, although TODs are oriented toward transit use, they must also accommodate cars in the same ways that low-density developments do. However, households in TODs are twice as likely not to own a car as comparable households not located in a TOD. Additionally, minimum parking requirements may create a heavy financial burden for developers.[3]

Financial challenges are also a problem for developers and transit agencies in creating TODs. Transit-oriented developments are mixed use by definition, but some lenders have difficulty accurately assessing the feasibility of a variety of uses in a single development. The design-intensive process of creating an appealing TOD also adds to the cost, along with the time and resources required to assemble enough land to support a large number of residences and other uses.[4]


Additional Reading

Transit Cooperative Research Program. “Effects of TOD on Housing, Parking, and Travel.” 2008.

Sponsored by the Federal Transit Administration, this 2008 TCRP report on transit-oriented development specifically analyzes the evidence on the effect that TODs have on travel behavior and auto ownership.

California Department of Transportation. “Statewide Transit-Oriented Development Study Factors for Success in California.” 2002.

This study offers a guide to the factors that make Transit-Oriented Developments successful, along with profiles of several developments throughout California. It draws on the experience of practitioners and a literature review. Further information about TOD in California can be found at the Caltrans TOD site. The Section 3 and the appendix include information about federal and California funding sources for TODs.

Federal Transit Administration. FTA Transit Oriented Development Gateway

A gateway to federal guidance, reports, and funding programs related to transit oriented development.

The Center for Transit-Oriented Development.

The Center for Transit-Oriented Development is a partnership between the Center for Neighborhood Technology, Reconnecting America, and Strategic Economics based at the University of California, Berkeley. It offers research and technical assistance to practitioners. It also houses a database of TOD projects across the United States, including completed and planned projects. The Center also hosts webinars relevant to practitioners on subjects such as joint development.

Loukaitou-Sideris, Anastasia. [// "A New-found Popularity for Transit-oriented Developments? Lessons from Southern California."] 2012.

This article examines two of Los Angeles' newest light rail lines - the Blue and Gold lines - and how their transit-oriented developments fared. Sponsored by the California Department of Transportation and the Southern California Association of Governments, the study sought to answer the question of why development was more successful along the Gold Line corridor than the Blue Line corridor. This study also includes information derived from interviews with developers and architects, along with analysis of market trends to describe the current landscape for TODs in Southern California.

San Francisco Municipal Transportation Commission. “New Places, New Choices: Transit-Oriented Development in the Bay Area.” 2006.

This report profiles 10 TODs in the San Francisco Bay Area and explains the many benefits that accompany TODs.

Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority. “Joint Development Program.” 2010.

This page of the Los Angeles Metro website describes completed TOD projects and how Metro contributed to their completion. Metro partners with developers to finance and plan TOD projects. This site includes completed and projects in negotiation.