Overcoming barriers to transit-oriented development

A study by University of Minnesota researchers Yingling Fan and Andrew Guthrie looked into barriers to private sector development in transit-oriented sites. While transit-oriented development (TOD) is in demand, barriers could be reduced further through reform of land-use regulations, the researchers say.

"Multifamily residential developers, redevelopment specialists, and large corporate office tenants have a strong interest in transit-accessible sites, but single-use zoning, low maximum-density regulations, and high minimum-parking ratios are significant hurdles," say the researchers.

University researchers conducted interviews with 24 central-city and suburban developers, 3 real estate brokers, and 16 business leaders in the Twin Cities to learn whether and to what degree transit factored into their current and future site-location decisions.

By 2030, a network of 14 connected transit corridors is planned for the Minneapolis–St. Paul metropolitan region. The success of this network hinges on ridership from nearby housing and businesses. It depends, in other words on TOD. Here is the summary of the findings, in bullet-points:

• Interviews with businesses and developers revealed pent-up demand for transit-oriented development (TOD) in the Twin Cities metropolitan region.• Regulatory and cost barriers, combined with the uncertainty of transit expansion, inhibit the market from responding to this demand for TOD.

• Developers view transportation access as highly important when selecting sites but will sacrifice transit access if a transit-oriented site is more expensive or presents more complex regulatory hurdles than traditional auto-oriented design.

• Employers say that providing a great work location is critical to recruiting highly skilled young professionals who are likely to desire—or demand—urban living and access to transit.

• Multiple participants say efforts to make transit-accessible housing affordable by design rather than by subsidy are crucial to promoting mixed-income neighborhoods in station areas. 

Furthermore, employers who might consider a move to transit-oriented locations are focused on existing employees with a strong connection to driving. "However, as younger professionals succeed baby boomers in the workforce, demand for walkable neighborhoods with access to transit will play an increasing role in TOD," the researchers note. 

Multiple developers told researchers that for affordable housing to be financially feasible, it needs to be “affordable by design” (through increased height and density limits and reduced parking ratios) rather than by public subsidy. Several participants also said that transit access itself—by dramatically reducing household transportation costs—makes all TOD housing inherently more affordable.

Fan and Guthrie recommend increased communication and collaboration between the public sector and private developers who have expressed an interest in TOD. These groups include multifamily residential developers, redevelopment specialists, large corporations, startups and other small, innovative employers, and employers of low-wage workers.

For more in-depth coverage: 

Subscribe to Better! Cities & Towns to read all of the articles (print+online) on implementation of greener, stronger, cities and towns.

• Get the August 2013 issue. Topics: Walkability but hold the red tape, Tactical approach leads to grand vision, Why young adults are returning to the city, Major TOD in Long Island, The largest traditional neighborhood development, Three steps to downtown renaissance, Dialing in your zoning, Cincinnati adopts code reform, Review: Charter of the New Urbanism, Second Edition, Review: Visions of Seaside, Review: The Just Right Home, Rainwater-in-Context, URBANISM+2030

• Get New Urbanism: Best Practices Guide, packed with more than 800 informative photos, plans, tables, and other illustrations, this book is the best single guide to implementing better cities and towns.