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Transit system planners should focus more on connecting major employment centers, according to a report released May 11 by the Center for Transit-Oriented Development.


Robert Steuteville

New Urban Network

A report, Transit-Oriented Development and Employment, makes the case that transit-oriented development (TOD) discourse has paid too little attention to major employment centers — instead concentrating on higher-density residential over retail.

Research shows that both transit ridership and quantity of real estate development around transit stations are closely related to the number of jobs within a half-mile radius of transit, the authors find. So, if new transit systems are built to serve as many riders as possible and promote TOD, connecting existing large employment centers is a very good strategy, the report concludes.

Where transit already serves such centers, investment should focus on making these centers more accessible “through enhanced station area planning and design, thereby making transit, walking, and biking more attractive transportation options.”

The report looked in detail at transit systems in Atlanta, Phoenix, and Minneapolis/St. Paul, and also drew on recent CTOD research in Denver and Charlotte. Since “real estate development is more likely to occur in station areas that are within close proximity to major employment centers,” focusing on such centers could also also foster mixed-use neighborhoods.

“Therefore, if transit is planned in a way that makes strong connections to significant employment centers, it can also promote residential TOD in places on the transit corridor where commercial uses are less likely to locate,” the authors point out. “Understanding this relationship between employment centers and residential TOD is an important part of the TOD equation.”

The authors stress that a shift in TOD focus to employment centers should not sacrifice placemaking and human-scale planning:

“An agenda for making suburban employment clusters viable transit destinations should include placemaking as a key strategy. Density and the mix of uses, typically regulated by zoning, are established in large part at the site scale. Higher densities, along with urban site design, contribute to a transit-oriented environment with features such as mid- and high-rise buildings covering a large percentage of their sites, parking that is in a structure and in limited supply, and buildings oriented directly to public streets with a continuous and gridded sidewalk network. These features characterize most areas large enough to create large job concentrations in order to enable productive transit use.”

If new transit systems are built to serve major employment centers, minor and developing centers can be served along the way, the authors point out.

“This is not to say that lower density employment areas should not be part of transit expansion plans, as they could serve other important regional mobility goals, and may over time become higher density activity centers. However, a strategy that connects the existing dense clusters of a region while trying to connect any number of other smaller, emerging, and less dense areas along the way may be the key to creating long-term sustainable transportation networks.”

One argument for serving major employment centers is increased access to jobs for the poor and others who don’t drive.

“A recent University of Minnesota study found that the Hiawatha light rail line in the Twin Cities region increased access to low wage jobs for residents of station areas by 50 percent, and by 25 percent in areas with direct, light-rail connecting bus routes.”