3 Steps to Successful Transit-Oriented Development

Cities looking to reduce their carbon footprint need to look closely at various cities' Transit-Orientated Development (TOD) plans -- and where they're already proving their worth.

The emerging and mature great cities of our times have one thing in common: high-density development along transit corridors. A few examples include Curitiba, which has integrated Bus Rapid Transit corridors; the Melbourne 2030 city plan, which seeks to approve the relationship between transport and land use; Calgary's TOD neighborhood, called The Bridges, in the community of Bridgeland-Riverside, which is inspiring similar forthcoming developments; and Johannesburg's Corridors of Freedom, which seeks to restructure the post-apartheid city.

Check out City of Calgary's video below on TOD:

Sprawled out cities, on the other hand, have long supported extensive road networks and highways, congested traffic flows, motor parking lots, shopping centers alongside highways, and low-density residential and commercial developments. These developments were based on the availability of cheap oil, major infrastructural developments, and ample available land.

There is a growing recognition that a new model is required to concentrate higher density development along transit corridors. While lower urban density increases private car dependence, higher density environments, of course, means shorter trip distances, since living, working, and playing is integrated.

An urban design perspective of a half-mile transit zone with higher density mixed-use development. (Source:  transit-oriented.com .)

An urban design perspective of a half-mile transit zone with higher density mixed-use development. (Source: transit-oriented.com.)

Dr. Lyle Wray, director of the Capitol Region Council of Governments in Hartford, Conn., was in Cape Town recently to visit a number of projects that form part of Cape Town as World Design Capital 2014. (Cape Town earned this distinction in October 2011, at the International Design Alliance Congress, held in Taipei.) Dr. Wray has been instrumental in a number of TOD projects in American cities over the past 25 years.

I had a chance to discuss a local TOD plan with him, and to gain insights from his experience. He recommended three key concepts to successful TOD.

  1. Get the plan right. A local Transit Orientated Development plan maximizes the public transport investment by responding with mixed-use land uses. A neighborhood in a TOD plan will typically have a central public transport interchange (train, bus, metro, or light rail) surrounded by higher density development, within a 10-minute walking distance (up to 1km) from the next interchange.
  2. Set up a community platform. Shared planning and public participation are critical in ensuring an inclusive TOD plan. Unless a strong community platform exists, gentrification could displace lower-income groups. Dr. Wray, in his book Results That Matter, proposes a new governance approach to monitoring results and improving decisionmaking. Other organizations such as Reconnecting America and the Centre for Transit-Orientated Development have advocated for links between transit systems and community development.
  3. Have long-term planning vision. The $957 million Central Corridor/Twin Cities TOD plan for a light-rail service covering 27 miles and connecting the downtowns of Saint Paul and Minneapolis via University and Washington avenues is now under construction. This project was conceived in 1984, but is only at implementation stage now. A long-term vision needs to guide the development of TOD plans, complete with land use, green belts, and socio-economic development plans. A low-carbon growth path needs to be a core building block in a successful TOD strategy.

Cape Town is a city with ambitions to compact growth and curtail urban sprawl. Learning from other cities' experiences in TOD will go a long way to inform a new priority for city growth managers and planners.


  1. This article first appeared on UBM Future Cities