Monday, June 11, 2007

T.O.D. = M.I.A.

Transit-oriented development is key to getting people out of their cars and on to transit. There are as many definitions of transit-oriented development as there are academics, land-use planners, developers and the like trafficking in the concept. It appears, however, the TOD consisted of high-density, mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly development that is well-served by transit. Truly effective TOD makes it possible for people to live without owning a car, a major cost-savings for households.

Representative Hamos' RTA reform bill (Amendment #1 to S.B. 572) does little or nothing to advance the cause of TOD in this region. This may be understandable from a political perspective. Local governments tend to want low-density development because that kind of development reads "gentry" (or maybe "white") but then complain bitterly when they don't get much transit service.

The hands-off approach towards land use, however, is unacceptable from a public policy perspective. The RTA and its Moving Beyond Congestion allies seek $3 billion or so a year in public investment for public transit in this region. TOD is key to ensuring that this money is well spent by providing demographic conditions that are favorable to transit.

Other transit agencies aren't so passive when it comes to land-use. In Denver, for example, the local transit agency plays an active role in encouraging TOD around rail and BRT stations. It has adopted a TOD policy and files annual reports on TOD as it relates to the transit system. There appears to be a movement to build vertically around rail stations.

Certainly, the governance and funding issues involved in Representative Hamos' legislation are important. Her bill's neglect of how the region develops its land around transit stations and in transit corridors is most unfortunate.


Lee said...

This is a critical topic, yet my alderman has referred to TOD simply as a planning philosophy that some people believe in. It goes to show that this message really isn't reaching the public, since they still don't seem to get it.

One thing to point out though is that it's not a "hands-off" approach that has prevented TOD in our region. It's just the opposite -- a very hands-on approach opposing density. If we kept our hands off, the areas around transit would naturally densify, because the increased value it creates would attract more development than is currently allowed. Zoning is tightly controlled by our aldermen, and you're right that many of them are not too friendly toward density. But perhaps you mean the RTA has been hands-off -- and I'd agree that they need to be much more active in educating our region on the need for TOD to sustain quality transit.

Anonymous said...

If the legislature is unable to (1) agree on a tax for "funding" and (2) tackle the governance issues with relation to the RTA and Pace, how do you expect SB 572 to have any chance in affecting localities' planning powers, especially with regard to home rule municipalities? Work on the achievable first.

Anonymous said...

I meant RTA and CTA boards.

Anonymous said...

Seems some are misinformed.

The RTA has completed over 50 high value TOD projects in the suburbs. See

The City of Chicago has gone after TOD on a case by case basis.