Transit Oriented Development

What is Transit Oriented Development?

Transit Oriented Development (TOD) is a strategy used in urban and town planning that aims to build developments such as apartments, retails stores and offices in a way that they can easily utilise public transport. The building are usually designed to be of medium density, varying between 3-7 stories high, whilst all being located within a transport 'corridor'. The ultimate goal is to reduce the dependence on motor vehicles and adopt sustainable methods of transport whilst reducing pollution, energy use and congestion.

Why Transit Oriented Development?

As we progress further into this century, we are faced with a combination of challenges. The cost of living is going up, so the pressure on families and individuals to make ends meet is increasing. The use of TOD can help alleviate some of that pressure by reducing the number of people who need to buy and maintain their own motor vehicles. This strategy also helps to reduce the amount of emissions and pollutants by using cleaner and more efficient modes of transport, such as buses, trains and trams. The areas that such strategies need to be implemented is areas that have been subject to urban sprawl, such as parts of the United States and most of Australia, where there is a culture of car ownership with sprawling suburbs and big back yards 1). Whenever a Transit Oriented Development is suggested for a certain area, it means that there is a definite need for it, such as traffic congestion, pollution or other logistical reasons.

What Are the Benefits?

There are many benefits to TOD. As outlined above, the reduction is motor vehicle use and the reduction of emissions is a major factor, but there are other benefits, such as -

  • Communities become more active thus leading to healthier lifestyles
  • The improvement of public transport networks from the extra revenue gained
  • The economic benefits for households by spending less money
  • A possible increase in employment opportunities by reducing travel times
  • Better productivity in workplaces
  • The reduction of disproportionate house values across suburbs

This strategy can also help increase the social interactiveness of communities by building stronger relationships due to living in close contact with each other. In most neighbourhoods where we urban sprawl, people become isolated because in most cases they do not know who their neighbour is due to the distances between them. Transit Oriented Development can help reduce these instances and create better bonding in communities. Children can also benefit by playing in the designed parks with other children instead of playing on their own. There can also be better access to health services, as people, especially older people can often be reluctant to go and see a doctor or other health professionals due to the distance that they need to travel or simply not having the correct transport options to go there 2).

How is it Planned?

TOD areas can be residential, retail or office/business, or any one of a combination of all of these. The first key to planning such areas is to determine the need for such an area. Once that the need is determined, there are a number of steps taken in order to start implementing these measures. Transit Oriented Development is not a concept that can be adopted overnight. There is a need for a host of other types of infrastructure support, and often planners will integrate and utilise the current infrastructure and then try and evolve it into their desired format. Developers and investors will need to be sourced and they will also be involved in the decision making process. These are some of the considerations that need to acted upon -

__Public Transport Network__

Planners must assess and identify the types of public transport that are currently located in the project area. They then need to speak to the organisations that are responsible for both the infrastructure and day to day running of these services and then reach a consensus about what all parties are trying to achieve. They will also determine the type of public transport that will be the most suitable for he project. Often there will be more than one mode of transport, and there may be need for co-funded projects in order to upgrade these networks.

__Roads and Other Infrastructure__

The current traffic and road system most be analysed and in conjunction with road traffic authorities, a plan needs to be made regarding the alteration of some roads and byways. Ideally in the traffic corridor, there will be very little or no motor vehicle access, so strategies need to be put in place in order to divert or discourage motor vehicle drivers from entering the traffic corridor. These corridors will often be used by people walking, or by bicycle users, and depending on the type of public transport that is going to be used, trains, trams or buses.

__Community Sentiment__

Before embarking on a TOD project, planners must also gauge the interest and preparedness of communities to embrace the idea. Many people feel a sense of freedom with their motor vehicles, and are often reluctant to change the way that they commute. The people in the communities need to be made aware that they do not have to give up their motor vehicles, they can still keep them if they choose to. They will just need to alter the way and locations in which they drive them. In many TOD projects residents have sometimes been slow to adapt to these new principles, but usually start to embrace them after seeing the benefits. There also needs to be public consultation and forums where the people in the communities can air their questions and concerns, whilst also gaining better knowledge of the principles of Transit Oriented Development 3).

__Retail and Business Support__

If the project is to be of mixed use, the owners of retail stores and businesses such as offices and services will need to be consulted in order to give them information about the benefits of such an idea. The benefits for businesses is that the amount of people that are located in their area will be magnified, thus increasing their chances of increasing sales. Non-retail businesses will also benefit by the reduction of travel times by their employees hence resulting in better productivity. Sometimes businesses can be reluctant to participate in these projects due to the difficulty faced during any phases of construction. Planners should work in conjunction with local government in order to assist and support the businesses during these implementations.

__Building Types and Architecture__

When TOD projects are proposed for certain areas, it is usually because there is a definite need for them. Planners and architects will need to first determine how many people are currently living in the proposed area, and how many more people are expected to be attracted there. In most instances they will try and utilise whatever buildings may be currently present, but in most instances new buildings will be required. In accordance with the projected numbers, planners and architects will determine the best and most efficient types of dwellings, along with the developers requirements.

Who Pays?

Transit Oriented Development projects are usually co-funded by a variety of investors. These can include local, state and federal governments, developers, public transport and infrastructure providers and in some cases business owners. Before the project is proposed there will be detailed cost estimates and time lines established and the project will be divided into sections so the relevant investors an have an understanding of approximate costs and the timing of these costs 4).

Examples of TOD Worldwide

There are many examples of thriving ans successful TOD projects worldwide. The pioneers of this method are in the Scandinavian region, as far back as the 1950's 5). Here are some examples from around the world -

__Copenhagen, Denmark__

Copenhagen is often referred to as the first major city to adopt TOD principles. The local government addressed the need for more efficient transport and access to residents and services, and implemented the scheme accordingly. A series of rapid bus and train networks were planned and then constructed, and Copenhagen is still used as an example for planners of TOD worldwide.


Copenhagen Metro


Singapore adopted TOD due to necessity. Being such a small island with a growing population, the government decided that action needed to be taken. They implemented a system which connects the city via rail networks which are surrounded by medium to high density residential dwellings, along with retail and office buildings. The efficiency of the train network along with the high cost of maintaining and owning a motor vehicle on the island has ensured the success of the project.


Singapore Rapid Transit 6)

__Portland, Oregon, United States__

Portland adopted a TOD scheme in the early 1990's, requiring that all new developments are to be linked by public transport networks. The scheme adopted requires that developers promote the basic ideals of TOD, and was the first city in the United States to receive federal funding for their project. Portland now has a network of rapid transit buses,trams and trains.


Portland Tram

__Curitiba, Brazil__

Curitiba is one of the most successful TOD adoptions. The local government implemented a rapid bus transport system along traffic corridors, and high rise buildings which are mixed use are all built along the corridor. There are more than 390 different bus routes that carry more than 2 million passengers daily. The amount of motor vehicle use for transport has dropped to more than a quarter, whilst almost half of the entire population use the rapid bus system 7).


Curitiba Rapid Bus


As we approach a crossroads in global energy consumption, ideas such as Transit Oriented Development are important in order to ensure that we achieve better sustainability. TOD can help achieve many positive outcomes by not only addressing energy use and reduce emissions, but also by improving social interaction, promote healthy lifestyles and also improving the health and financial status of communities. We must also concede that TOD may not always be possible, and sometimes may have to be altered and integrated with other planning principles due to costs or location suitability. Many governments may not embrace this concept as there is a significant amount of investment that needs to occur, whilst the returns may take some time to achieve. Decision makers need to be aware of the overall benefits of such a concept, and look to the long term.


1) , 3)
Curtis, C, Renne, J.L, Bertolini, L, 2009, 'Transit Oriented Development', Ashgate Publication Group
TTF Australia, 2010, 'The Benefits of Transit Oriented Development', Available: Accessed 12th of February, 2014
US Transport Department, 2012, 'Station Area Planning', Available: Accessed 11th of February, 2014
Cervero, R, 2009, 'Public Transport and Sustainable Urbanism: Global Lessons' in 'Transit Oriented Development', Ashgate Publication Group

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