DENVER – What is transit-oriented development? Is it right for me?
Over the last 20 years many cities have introduced or expanded their mass transit systems to provide an alternative to automobile transportation. Express bus lines and light rail are two examples we have seen in Colorado of the effort to shift people from driving to riding.
Transit-oriented development (TOD) is a style of community development that combines housing, office, retail and other amenities into a walkable neighborhood within a short (generally less than half a mile) distance of quality public transportation.
Research by the Center for Transit-Oriented Development shows that by 2030 nearly a quarter of all US households looking to rent or to buy are likely to want higher-density housing near transit. The Urban Land Institute has also noted the changing real estate market: ULI’s annual “Emerging Trends in Real Estate” report has ranked locations near transit as a best bet for investors five years in a row.
Living in a TOD has many benefits to both the city and the people who choose to live there. For the city, TODs reduce traffic and, thereby, air pollution. The increased ridership on public transportation that comes from TODs adds revenue through fares. The potential exists for increased property values and taxes as TODs establish themselves and expand.
TODs can have a significant impact on employment. When less than half of the available jobs in an area are not accessible by public transportation, workers who cannot afford a car are at a severe disadvantage in finding employment to support themselves and their families. TODs often have a mix of housing, including affordable options, which makes them attractive to less mobile parts of the workforce.
For those who choose to live in TODs, they can enjoy a more walkable and healthy lifestyle. Freed of the expenses of driving everywhere, TOD dwellers may have more household income available for other purposes. And traveling to and from work or school from a TOD is likely to save time over driving in many cities.
A survey conducted in 2015 by the Chicago Transit Authority found that the top three reasons people choose to live in TODs are (1) safety, (2) access to transit and (3) walkability of the area. And who are those people? Generally they are either younger (e.g., Generation Y and Millennials) or older, empty-nesters. TOD living is not for everyone, particularly “traditional families” who require more space.
The density of TODs, which is what makes them affordable and all-inclusive, won’t appeal to everyone. Restaurants and other amenities will be within walking distance, but they may be more crowded than in suburban areas. Schools in the area may have fuller classrooms. TOD living isn’t about backyards and tending to a garden, it’s about a more urban, shared environment.
Ask your Realtor® if TOD is right for you. Visit a few locations to get a feel for the lifestyle and ride the train or bus to see if you enjoy getting to work or the theater downtown that way.
By Saul F. Rosenthal, for the Colorado Association of Realtors