Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Is TOD the New Black?

So says a paper in Brisbane. I think people put a lot of effort into TOD and sometimes they put too much pressure on them. Loading TOD up with affordable housing, infrastructure upgrades, transit upgrades, urban design, density, parking etc etc is more likely than not to kill good projects or make them scaled down from what they could be.

I'm worried about making TOD the answer to all of our problems. It's a PART of the solution but there are a lot of things that need to be done. As well, we need more transit if we're going to get more TOD. The more transit you have, the more ability more of the market has to get access to it which is always a good thing. Making high quality transit an exclusive good is never a smart bet.


serial catowner said...

Frankly, you have this entirely bassackwards. "Making high quality transit an exclusive good" is what happens if you simply build a transit line, allowing private investors to buy up the land, building pricey high-rises near stations and making the remaining land too expensive for other kinds of development.

Smart TOD bundles spending other agencies would be doing anyway into meaningful spending on transit lines and near stations. Streets and utilities routinely need upgrades and repairs- these should be part of the process of building a new transit line. Everywhere in America needs more low-income housing, and this should be included, both as requirements and funded units, in development near stations. Parking is needed for your park-and-ridership.

All of these things should work together to maximize the results of spending and improve revenues by increasing ridership.

People vote for transit because they understand that TOD occurs. They also vote against it because they distrust the type of TOD that will occur- they think that private investors will get a "windfall" from the city and use it to build skyscrapers that crowd out the lower and middle incomes. In the absence of proper planning, they're not far wrong there.

It's not TOD that's expensive, it's laissez-faire and the social disintegration and profiteering that go along with it. The answer is proper planning.hisci

Pantograph Trolleypole said...

Sure the answer is proper planning. But when does that ever happen? :) My point is that if we build more transit the demand for properties around stations won't be as high and the speculation not as volatile. We'll be able to achieve all these goals that we are setting out on a broader canvas rather than trying to get all the benefits out of one station area. Some places should have pricey high rises while other places should not. There are certain stations that need more affordable housing and others that can't support it. So yes planning before hand is how it should go, but its not always how it happens.

There's also an issue with the increment you're trying to get to. If you try putting down a TIF to capture value, it depends on what is there. You can only squeeze so much out of a lemon so If you have an empty lot, the value increases will be huge versus an already developed area with a single vacant parcel. That is what I'm worried about. In existing transit zones, the increment isn't that great and by piling on after the fact (which is what a lot of places do) we're just going to end up killing good projects.

And yes smart corridor planning blends together all of the issues you raise about bringing costs together. In fact I hope that this is one of the things that the FTA or MPO looks at when deciding on infrastructure. Is the investment being made with other investments? Is the project going to cost more because of infrastructure upgrade? Will it promote unsustainable sprawl infrastructure spending etc...

Alon Levy said...

If the city has a street grid, and is densely built, then it shouldn't be a problem. The walking radius of a station is at least 500 meters. With a square grid, that's 0.5 km^2 of developable land, which, at the densities common in New York and the transit-oriented parts of LA, means at least 20,000 people. If high-rises become profitable enough, and if zoning restrictions don't limit height too much, then make it 40,000 people. That's not exclusive - the rich are going to live closer to the stations, but even fairly poor people can live within reasonable walking distance.

Park and rides aren't going to make transit more accessible. At their densest, they displace about one person's worth of residences per car. For example, in Monaco, which has densely packed multilevel carparks, typically a family owns one car, and a building has 2-4 times as many residential floors as parking floors. At more typical densities, they displace multiple people per car.

serial catowner said...

I realize this is a very cosmopolitan blog, but it had certainly never occurred to me to compare Monaco with a typical US park-and-ride. Taking Seattle as an example, we obviously will not build a park-and-ride garage on Beacon Hill.

Beacon Hill, though, is a good example of the problems with not being TOD enough. Everyone there is worried about block-busting highrises because there is no real clear vision of how the area around the station will develop. Community groups are reflexively opposing development and the current model is still the arterial development zoning planned around the cars and buses.

IMHO most rail transit in America will develop where medium density already exists and, for a number of reasons, we need to build a lot of high density to achieve energy economy. Keeping a place at the table for low and middle income people can't be left to the "magic of the marketplace".

And you really want to rebuild the utilities under the streets you rebuild when you install rail. You don't want to come back ten years later to upgrade sewers or water lines or gas and electric utilities. This all implies a large and far-reaching public investment in new lines that demands a vigorous defense of the public interest.

As for the so-called TIF, I regard that as a sort of gimmick. Without ever mentioning it, tax revenues will rise wherever appraisals are regularly redone to reflect actual values. The TIF is just a talking point, and one that usually doesn't work that well in the face of determined opposition. An LID is a much better way of getting adjacent property owners to chip in on improvements that will increase the value of their property.

To me, TOD is a good way to get all the agencies on the same page, and, at the same time, put some boundaries on the vague anxieties of the NIMBYs, who are, more than anything else, haunted by the fear of the unknown. With TOD there shouldn't be a whole lot of unknown.