TOD and equity: Supporting core ridership “drives” success

Transit-Oriented Development is growing in popularity. TOD’s appeal also brings the challenge of equity for both transit users and long-time neighborhood residents.  Many municipalities backing TOD are aware of the balance between rising real estate values and the need to not price moderate-income residents out of the neighborhood.  Without appropriate planning, this trend often forces low- and moderate-income residents—the very populations most dependent on transit and most critical for TOD success—to relocate.

TOD integrates transportation—typically rail or frequent bus service—with surrounding land uses. This integration is achieved through policies encouraging mixed-use, dense urban design, and complementary infrastructure investments, resulting in neighborhoods where residents and workers can get around without a car. Successful TODs benefit from a mix of uses meeting minimum densities, in addition to fostering a core community of transit riders that supports robust transit ridership. However, the very attractiveness of being close to transit may raise the value of property enough to push out those who need transit the most.

A recent study examining strategies for preserving or achieving equity in transit-rich neighborhoods considers strategies for managing change in these neighborhoods. These strategies focus on how to keep current and potential transit-oriented riders from being replaced by an influx of residents less likely to use transit for commuting.

“This … raises concerns both about equity, because core transit riders are predominantly people of color and/or low income, and about the success of new transit investments in attracting desired levels of ridership. But, as illustrated below and detailed in [the report], policy tools can be deployed to produce more equitable patterns of neighborhood change.”

news chartTransportation planners are developing programs and tools to plan TOD that provides robust transit service, fosters local commercial development, and successfully preserves housing opportunities across the socio-economic spectrum. The Federal Transit Administration, recognizing the challenge gentrification presents, recently revised New Starts and Small Starts grant applications to give additional points to projects that use inclusionary zoning, affordable housing trust funds, or give density bonuses.

A new planning tool and TOD rating system, developed by the Dukakis Center for Urban & Regional Policy at Northeastern University and dubbed eTOD, evaluates what it means to be an equitable TOD. As stated on their website, the tool,

“helps planners, policymakers, community groups and municipal officials make better decisions about equitable TOD planning and projects.

eTOD Score is composed of three sub scores, capturing measures of transit, orientation, and development:

  • Transit: focus on the availability, quality, and use of transit
  • Orientation: focus on “transit oriented neighbors” who make up the core of transit ridership
  • Development: focus on characteristics of development context in the nearby neighborhoods”

Quantifying what makes a TOD equitable is a complex task, and metrics to evaluate equity within TOD need additional development. Successful TODs possess shared traits like neighborhoods that foster transportation choices across modes and vibrant commercial districts that meet the daily needs of the residents. Successful TODs also address equity concerns and establish policies to bolster affordable housing so the very people key to a successful, vibrant transit service are able to remain in or locate to a TOD neighborhood.