Transit-oriented development aims to provide a mix of housing, employment, retail and recreation within walking distance of each other, with a train station located at the center of it all.
Transit-oriented development, or TOD, aims to provide a mix of housing, employment, retail and recreation within walking distance of each other, with a train station located at the center of it all. It aims to promote a healthy lifestyle and produce a vibrant community; for an area as congested with traffic as Connecticut and the northeast, TOD without question could bring with it a number of benefits.
Northeastern commuters struggle with crumbling road infrastructure and terrible traffic congestion. Even commuter rail is currently problematic, as the “last mile” is a challenge. What’s more, many towns lack adequate parking and the wait times can stretch for years. By locating development around train stations, there is a seamless connection between home and work.
At the outset, some of the advantages of TOD are:
With employment options within the development and direct access to mass transit (which eliminates the “last mile” issue), people have a better work/home connection.
With TOD, stores/restaurants/recreational facilities are all within walking/bicycling distance. With a dedicated non-automobile infrastructure, it is convenient and safe for residents to move around the development easily.
With high density housing, public spaces and recreational facilities all located in close proximity, as well as walkable neighborhoods to encourage interaction, a sense of community is fostered with TOD.
Lastly, with affordable housing—and less reliance on automobiles—congestion gets further relieved and communities can become even more welcoming. Higher density housing can also serve to help prevent sprawl, which would be one more benefit.
For a nearby example, Connecticut only needs to look 100 miles to its south at Hudson Yards in New York City. A massive project, Hudson Yards includes more than 18 million square feet of commercial and residential space (more than 100 shops, restaurants, 4,000 apartments, affordable housing, 14 acres of public space, a public school and hotel). On a smaller scale, there is a suburban project in Oak Lawn, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, that is another example of a TOD that has paid dividends. Suburban projects tend to reimagine suburban life to make them more walkable and train-centric instead of relying on cars.
In order to get there, however, Connecticut will need to do more than simply add thousands of additional riders onto the trains—we have a badly outdated commuter rail system here, and this is not a solution. Connecticut needs to update its trains and tracks to improve speeds and handle additional capacity; only then can it begin to truly consider taking advantage of what TOD has to offer.
Because railroad stations are so integral to TOD, it is essential that rail service be reliable, efficient and comfortable. If the experience is inferior to the status quo, there will be little incentive for people to embrace this lifestyle. Density and design are keys to success for any TOD; at its heart TOD is a partnership between developers, the government and in many cases the rail authority. All of them need to be invested in the project for it to be successful.