Thursday, December 9

Transit Oriented (affordable) Development

In case you missed it, the Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern University dropped a bombshell of a report about Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) back in October. Key finding:

"Rising incomes in some gentrifying [Transit-Rich Neighborhoods] may be accompanied by an increase in wealthier households who are more likely to own and use private vehicles, and less likely to use transit for commuting, than lower-income households."
Ironically, they found that enhancing transit infrastructure can actually make ridership go down (and car ownership up) in the neighborhood it serves. That's a puzzling dilemma that deserves some attention.

TOD advocates have understood for a while that infrastructure and design need to be carefully coordinated to produce successful results. Just plop down a new station without changing any of the zoning codes in advance, and you're guaranteed to end up with a park and ride lot surrounded by much of the same 20th century stuff. There's transit, and there's development, but the orientation part is missing entirely.

Back in 2003, Patrick Seigman published a handy and oft-cited TOD checklist,"Is it Really TOD?"
"A true TOD will include most of the following:
  • The transit-oriented development lies within a five-minute walk of the transit stop, or about a quarter-mile from stop to edge. For major stations offering access to frequent high-speed service this catchment area may be extended to the measure of a 10-minute walk.
  • A balanced mix of uses generates 24-hour ridership. There are places to work, to live, to learn, to relax and to shop for daily needs.
  • A place-based zoning code generates buildings that shape and define memorable streets, squares, and plazas, while allowing uses to change easily over time.
  • The average block perimeter is limited to no more than 1,350 feet. This generates a fine-grained network of streets, dispersing traffic and allowing for the creation of quiet and intimate thoroughfares.
  • Minimum parking requirements are abolished.
  • Maximum parking requirements are instituted: For every 1,000 workers, no more than 500 spaces and as few as 10 spaces are provided.
  • Parking costs are "unbundled," and full market rates are charged for all parking spaces. The exception may be validated parking for shoppers.
  • Major stops provide BikeStations, offering free attended bicycle parking, repairs, and rentals. At minor stops, secure and fully enclosed bicycle parking is provided.
  • Transit service is fast, frequent, reliable, and comfortable, with a headway of 15 minutes or less.
  • Roadway space is allocated and traffic signals timed primarily for the convenience of walkers and cyclists.
  • Automobile level-of-service standards are met through congestion pricing measures, or disregarded entirely.
  • Traffic is calmed, with roads designed to limit speed to 30 mph on major streets and 20 mph on lesser streets."
But is there anything missing?

We're seeing that having a mix of incomes is not just a bonus policy goal, but something woven into the success of a TOD on it's own terms. On the one hand, attracting the professional class is realistically the only way to generate the capital needed to spur substantial redevelopment. But the service-sector workers are the ones who are more likely to forgo car ownership, use transit more frequently, and actually walk to work in that cool, mixed-use cafe. Both the urban design features the architects want and the return on investment the transit planners want depend on a healthy mix of incomes.

Many cities now seek to capture some of the value generated by their public infrastructure investment into land-banked supported affordable housing. Groups like Denver's Urban Land Conservancy carefully anticipate any market changes along transit corridors and grab some of the land before it becomes prohibitively expensive. Then innovative housing models, such as community land trusts, can be used to hold down the value of the land to a level affordable to low- to moderate-income households indefinitely. When these units are built they'll be doubly affordable, in both housing and transportation costs for the residents.

"Density, Diversity, and Design" is still the operative catchphrase, as long as by diversity we mean the people as well as the structures and uses.


Markie said...

High car ownership rates for TOD households is a direct result of supply and demand. How many TOD neighborhoods are out there? Very few compared to sprawling suburban projects. A lack of supply will cause market rates for TODs to rise, filtering middle and lower income households out of the mix while also leading developers to get as much $$ for their units as possible.

I believe that as TODs become more mainstream, a broader income mix will be seen in these projects, subsequently lowering car ownership rates.

Joe Martinez said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joe Martinez said...

Forcing a developer to build to parking minimums creates a price floor for the units, making the market inefficient. Deck parking ranges from $20K-$30K a space (fully loaded number hard and soft costs). If developers can not charge rents that meet their yield, the project is infeasible. Eliminating or drastically reducing parking minimums is a critical first step to affordable TOD. Also unbundling the cost of parking - i.e. if you want a space for your apartment, you pay separately for it, is also critical.

Eric Orozco said...

A great challenge for design is to put all the marbles into the non-vehicular side of the equation. Make 30% of household wealth irrelevant by literally designing it out of the equation.

Example: Let's assume that all you have is pedestrian, bike and transit access. How would you design a grocery store? How would you ensure that you could support it?

Let's design people...

Then we might have something that is transit oriented.

Daniel said...

I'm counting four different routes to housing affordability here. 1. Let supply increase so that it meets demand and prices reach equilibrium (Markie) 2. Reduce other artificial barriers to the market meeting demand efficiently (Joe) 3. Design for affordability in the first place (Eric) 4. Use public or philanthropic resources to maintain a stock of supported housing (myself).

My view is that 1, 2, and 3 are critically important. Incidentally, Eric, it's amazing how rare it is to hear about design features in political debates about affordable housing. Something as simple as building smaller units gets lost in the shuffle of debates over subsidies or market-based approaches.

But I'm becoming more convinced that all four approaches have a role to play. There will always be at least some segment of the population that, even with a perfectly unencumbered housing market, will still be priced out. I can't think of any other way to ensure that neighborhoods do not cluster by income without having at least some market interventions to hedge against the tide.

Eric Orozco said...

Design for TOD tends to be very oriented to the TOD itself. Part of the problem, Daniel, is that the developers' focus on the value-capture often stops right at the station. Literally. That's how the metrics are tabulated. And so developers, TOD-supportive planning departments, and financing specialists don't have in mind who is actually to benefit from the transit. They miss the critical insight, often, that a transit line represents a diversity of value-capturing connective assets for a very broad social spectrum.

For example, professionals depend on the transit to get to work downtown. Lower income groups depend on the same line to get to the service sector jobs, for which, to reach, they need to get downtown to reach the transit hub. They also just need, for example, to get to the main public library to get access to the internet. To get to a real grocery store in the burbs. Things as simple as that. The question is, how do you design a TOD so that it creates value for the overall line? How does it introduce a synergy that broadens the demand for the connective assets? If all social groups pay the same price for the transit asset, then the TOD should strive to be as "fair" in creating a value capture for all.

TOD financing needs a wholesale revamp, so now is a creative period for design. We should take advantage of the moment to rewrite the metrics, Daniel. No developer can do that DINK-ville TOD anymore with the Starbuckses on the ground floor. Now is an opportunity to rejigger the rules. To distend things a little. Poke it, jab it and test it.