In urban planning, transit-oriented development (TOD) is a type of urban development that maximizes the amount of residential, business and leisure space within walking distance of public transport. It promotes a symbiotic relationship between dense, compact urban form and public transport use. In doing so, TOD aims to increase public transport ridership by reducing the use of private cars and by promoting sustainable urban growth.

TOD typically includes a central transit stop (such as a train station, or light rail or bus stop) surrounded by a high-density mixed-use area, with lower-density areas spreading out from this center. TOD is also typically designed to be more walkable than other built-up areas, by using smaller block sizes and reducing the land area dedicated to automobiles.

The densest areas of TOD are normally located within a radius of 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 mile (400 to 800 m) around
the central transit stop, as this is considered to be an appropriate scale for pedestrians, thus solving the last
mile problem.

One criticism of transit-oriented development is that it has the potential to spur gentrification in low-income areas. In some cases, TOD can raise the housing costs of formerly affordable neighborhoods, pushing low- and moderate-income residents farther away from jobs and transit. When this happens, TOD projects can disrupt low-income neighborhoods.

“Transit Oriented Development as an approach to combat traffic congestion and protect the environment has caught on all across the country. The trick for real estate developers has always been identifying the hot transportation system. Today, highways are out; urban transit systems are in.” -The Urban Land Institute (ULI)

Why TOD?

DEFINITION: The State of Maryland defines TOD as dense, mixed-use, deliberately planned
development within a half-mile of existing or planned transit stations that is designed to maximize the
use of transit, walking and bicycling and is supported by state and local government.

Beneficial characteristics of TOD include:

  • Increased options for walking and cycling, especially welcome in congested areas. A 2009 study of Portland, Oregon (“Transit Oriented Development” by the Victoria Transportation Policy Institute) shows that residents in a TOD use transit four to 10 times more, walk three to four times more, and bike one to two times more than those who live in other areas.
  • Maximized return on public investment. An increase in ridership results in more revenue for the transit provider, which provides the public with greater return on investment.
  • Reduced air pollution and energy consumption. As more trips are made without vehicles, TOD improves air quality and reduces energy consumption. People who live, work and/or shop in TODs drive 20-40 percent less and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2.5 to 3.7 tons per year per household.
  • Reduced infrastructure costs. Compact development is generally associated with infrastructure costs that are 5-25 percent less than those for dispersed development.
  • Reduced land consumption for development. Built in a compact and high-density pattern, TOD uses less land than conventional, low-density, dispersed development. It helps reduce pressure to develop farmland and other resource lands.
  • Economic development catalyst. As a part of a regional development framework, TOD can re-define where and how economic activity will occur and help community revitalization efforts. It boosts local and state tax revenues.
  • Enhanced quality of life for residents. By increasing pedestrian travel and emphasizing public space, TOD improves the opportunities for personal interaction. TOD increases safety for pedestrians and bicyclists, helps reduce aggressive driving and enhances sense of community.
  • Expands housing choices. TOD includes varied types of housing, which appeal to a wide range of residents who may favor alternative modes of transportation, such as homes on smaller lots, condominiums, town homes, and apartments.