What is Transit Oriented Development?

This blog post is the first in the Trans4M Blog Series, Transportation and Economic Development: Making the Connection.


What is transit oriented development, or TOD? Implicit in its name, TOD is compact, walkable and mixed use development near transit stations, corridors or hubs. 

New technologies and an increased transit culture in many cities around the world have highlighted the powerful role transit plays in community investments. Local officials can structure codes and regulations to foster vital transit corridors by encouraging higher density, mixed use projects that may not be permitted in other areas of the city. Successful transit-based growth includes residential, commercial and office development to allow individuals to commute between home, work and other destinations car-free.

Aerial view in Virginia depicting transit-oriented development areas edged by residential neighborhoods

Aerial view in Virginia depicting transit-oriented development areas edged by residential neighborhoods (source)

TOD can take on many forms, and can be both market-driven and strategically planned.   TOD is most often characterized by increased development density along transit corridors, much like we are beginning to see in Grand Rapids along the Silverline BRT and in Detroit along the M-1 Rail line. Alternatively, TOD can be realized through extensively planned public-private partnership projects that work strategically to improve both transit ridership and economic success. Increasingly, local and state governments are working with transit agencies and real estate developers to create tax and finance incentives to catalyze transit oriented projects in their communities.

Why is TOD so great?

Accessibility: The most direct benefit of TOD increased accessibility to transit services. When housing, commercial and employment centers are focused around transit nodes and corridors, people can get between destinations using transit much more efficiently.

Property values:  According to a recent study by the Center for Transit Oriented Development, land values in the Washington D.C. Metro area are 12 to20 percent higher when the land is within 300 feet of Metro stations.

Land use patterns: Transit oriented development promotes high-density, mixed-use and sustainable land use patterns. That lowers overall land use, preserves green space and prevents automobile-oriented sprawl.

Transit ridership: Transit oriented development is beneficial for both real estate and transit. When people live and work within walking distance of a reliable transit stop, ridership greatly increases and transit investment is financially supported.

Job and housing opportunity: TOD increases transportation options, which in turn, increases accessibility to jobs and diverse housing choices.

The Euclid Corridor in Cleveland: A Poster Child for Transit Oriented Development  

Our recent visit to Cleveland’s Healthline Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) revealed the power that it has on urban development. Since the inception of the BRT line in 2008, Euclid Avenue, the corridor along which the BRT runs, has experienced over $5.8 billion in economic development, and the line continues to see increasing ridership. According to Joseph Shaffer, Director of Engineering & Project Development for the Cleveland RTA, “the diamond in the tiara in all the development is the Healthline.”

Development along Euclid Avenue in Cleveland

Development along Euclid Avenue in Cleveland (source)

While the initial transit investment encouraged residential and commercial growth, it has also increased ridership on the Healthline. Local developer Fred Geis explained, the transit project “gave companies a focal point for everyone to steer toward.” While the BRT system was being developed, a new zoning district was created to specifically cater to transit oriented development.

Infrastructure improvements such as BRT or light rail,  coupled with transit oriented development policies can realize the greatest economic benefit for residents, businesses, and visitors.

Written by Liz Treutel, Trans4M Fellow


2 Comments on “What is Transit Oriented Development?

  1. Pingback: Connecting Economic Development and Transportation at the Trans4M Meeting of the Whole | Transportation for Michigan

  2. Pingback: The go!pass – Encouraging Public Transit Ridership in Ann Arbor | Transportation for Michigan


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