Ready. Transit. Go: Lining up development to meet current and future transportation demands

By Mary Ebeling

Minneapolis-St. Paul has big plans. The Twin Cities have set a goal to develop 14 transit ways by 2030 in an effort to transform the future transportation infrastructure and development patterns there. These transit ways will need to carry a high number of riders to remain financially viable, and that means Transit Oriented Development will be necessary for the success of this program. Developers and business owners are interested in TOD. Millennials are demanding TOD. However, there appears to be a serious disconnect between current local ordinances and policies and what is required to encourage the level of TOD necessary to achieve regional transportation plans and satisfy young professionals entering the workforce who want different choices from those of their parents and grandparents.

A recent study by the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota considers the perspective of developers and business leaders interested in developing TOD sites in the Twin Cities. The study finds that there is an unmet demand for TOD and other walkable, multimodal transportation infrastructure. However, encouraging walkable, transit-oriented neighborhoods will require the different actors involved—developers, business owners, and municipalities—to work together to develop a new suite of policies, zoning codes, and other ordinances that will foster this type of development.

A recent post by Tanya Snyder in Streetsblog deftly breaks down the necessary actions for achieving success. Snyder notes, for example, the importance of educating employers about the advantages of site location near transit. She also points out that many employers are torn between meeting the needs of older, car-dependent staff members and the new, young talent that seeks walkability, not drivability. There is also the imperative of transit access for worksites employing primarily lower income workers. It also is important to educate developers on how density can create “affordability by design,” and how they can market units based on the Housing + Transportation Affordability Index developed by the Center for Neighborhood Technology.

There are developers and business owners who would provide the desired TODs, and there are many job- and home-seekers who would gladly fill up residential units in a new TOD or a dense, mixed-use development. The demands of the millennials to change transportation infrastructure is well documented. These demands make it essential to reduce barriers to these types of development. Barriers such as outdated zoning codes, local ordinances mandating low densities, and minimum parking requirements need to be changed to allow TOD. Developers and businesses also find this environment appealing, but they will not pursue a project site if it is too costly or difficult. They also want certainty that the proposed transit service will actually be built. The new study lays out how the Twin Cities can attract and facilitate these desired developments.

Mary Ebeling is a Transportation Policy Analyst at SSTI.