Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

It’s not about TOD

with 3 comments

I came across a blog post this morning that I was simply going to tweet or facebook. But then an idea occurred to me – I should use that blog as a template for something about here.

Richard Layman is “an urban/commercial district revitalization and transportation/mobility advocate and consultant, based in Washington, DC.” What he espouses – in this article and in general – is something I have been advocating here. He says: “While I am based in and write about Washington, DC issues, I try to write so that “universal lessons” are evident in the entries.” I don’t know about all the entries – I will probably go back and check them out – but this one certainly struck a chord.

What matters isn’t “transit oriented development”: what really matters is compact development and integrating transportation and land use

I don’t like using the term “transit oriented development” or TOD, even though it is always on the tongue of planners, elected officials, and enlightened developers.

For one, it’s not “transit” or “transit oriented development” per se that matters, it’s the integration of transportation and land use.

For another, it’s about compact development.

And generally, with compact development, it also becomes a matter of place and placemaking and quality of life, because compact development also means “mixed use” or the mixing of uses–residential, office, commercial, retail, public and civic–in ways that as David Engwicht would say, facilitates exchange while reducing the need to travel.

Just because you build something next to a transit station doesn’t mean that you’ll somehow miraculously change the community

I don’t know that “transit oriented development” is always “on the tongues planners, elected officials, and enlightened developers” . Indeed just sometimes might not be such a bad thing – but he is right, in that when terms like this do get thrown around they become “sound bites” and devoid of real meaning. I am afraid that “Smart Growth” has gone the same way, “sustainable transportation” never did mean anything and even though LEED certification might have been better than what came before, by leaving out location (the most important consideration in real estate) it became pointless.

TOD has also become a bit of a red rag around here, because it is often spoken of at the same time as the idea that the transit provider should also be the real estate developer. That idea is very familiar to people from Hong Kong, but is really quite unusual anywhere else, and has its own balance of costs and benefits that I do not want to go further with here.

Layman has two principles

1.  [There has to be] a transit network that is useful to the kinds of market segments you claim to want to reach.

In other words, if you have some transit lines and stations but they aren’t well situated to take people from where they are to where they want to go then there is no value to locating by the stations.

This is very much the problem of Greater Vancouver. The rapid transit lines serve downtown – but many of the jobs are elsewhere, often in the suburbs and not in the regional centres (designated or otherwise) but mostly in office parks at freeway exits.

The take up of the Canada Line was much faster than expected – but I think that revealed simply that it was not big enough. It was undersized for what was there already, and is certainly going to be very expensive to expand if more TOD takes place. It’s not that I have any personal animosity about tall towers next to Marine Drive station. It’s just that there is lots of empty industrial space around there, and the trains are already full – northbound and southbound. It reminds me a bit of the Canary Wharf situation. All that was planned was the Docklands Light Railway – and it opened just before Canary Wharf did. So there was a short period of obvious mismatch – and then work started on the Jubilee Line extension – conventional deep level subway (or “Heavy” Rail I suppose). There is also nothing in the plans now to better utilize the CP line along Kent Avenue – though there was an idea, quickly dicarded, that it might be useful as an extension to an alternate to the Evergreen Line. Since the currently forested land south of Marine Drive and west of Boundary is going to be redeveloped at comparatively high density, some consideration of transit might have been a really good idea.

For much of the region (outside of the Vancouver, North Richmond, a tiny bit of North Surrey, Burnaby and New Westminster served by rapid transit) there aren’t any options other than infrequent and unreliable buses. And until that gets much better, no-one can talk credibly about TOD here. And it is even harder in places where transit is promised (Port Moody, Coquitlam) but has not yet been delivered – and where it is a dim image portrayed only in long range “plans”. There is a huge credibility gap. And it is not helped at all by the current open squabbling over the Evergreen Line and future sources of revenue for transit expansion.

2. The land use around the station [must be] planned for compact development/urban mobility and spatial patterns.

Layman does a tour of the Metro DC area pointing out what is missing from current plans. I can think of a few odd spots of compact development – some of them (like Joyce Collingwood) happily close to a transit station. I can think of a lot more low density, car oriented places where the planners are still firmly wedded to the “guidelines” of parking spaces and more lanes of traffic that were out of date when they were written in the fifties and seem more irrelevant as every day passes. I am sure that if you look around what is being built in your neighbourhood it will be very similar. There does seem to have a been a distinct shift of attitude in the Vancouver Engineering department – and pockets of hope in places like Port Moody and North Vancouver. The Millennium Line does now appear to be a catalyst for change – but Burnaby is still focussed on what was once “Big Bend” but is now “Big Box”. At one time, developers were deterred from going on to green space by the insistence on development in the regional centres first – which is how Metrotown got going. That no longer seems to be the case. But maybe the commenters will set me straight. They usually do. In fact I am going to throw open this as a challenge. Have a look at what Layman says about developments in DC and then in the comments below write about what is happening here. Ideally at transit stations but not exclusively – because we simply do not have enough for everyone. And since it isn’t TRANSIT oriented perhaps that doesn’t matter. Are there showplaces around here where there is integration of transportation and land use and compact development? Even if the only transit is now an infrequent community shuttle. Or are we only doing the soft shoe shuffle – mouthing the words of sustainability but in reality doing what we have always done?

Written by Stephen Rees

June 7, 2011 at 12:31 pm

3 Responses

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  1. We are looking at a “slam dunk” string of TODs… the original neighbourhoods or quartiers in our region, laid out between Hastings Townsite and Gastown. The “transit corridor” is Hastings Street where there is currently a B-line and a 99-foot R.O.W.

    But, Hastings was platted one quartier-width away from the CPR (or the Burrard shore line, take your pick). And for its full length, it also developed to the south for about the width of another quartier (1/2 a mile). So, there is this extruded TOD of historic urbanization that measures about 1 mile from Burrard Inlet, that has Hastings running through it like an urban spine.

    At 15,000 pop per quartier, about 150,000 could call this place home. Currently, I put the numbers at about 27,000. Yes, a lot of it is zoned industrial, but that begs the question: shouldn’t we zone today according to TOD principles, and give priority to mixed residential where a healthy amount of new industry might still locate? The CBD is still the main employer.

    [Whether we call it TOD or something else really doesn’t matter, its “good” urbanism any way you slice it].

    The “historic trail” is a vital generator of candidate sites because it follows urban patterns developed for walking. So, the BCE to Chilliwack is a ripe opportunity for LRT and for intensification around the stations. As is Brunette Road on the north bank of the Fraser River connecting from Braid Station to points east along the path followed by dairy wagons delivering product to New Westminster in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.

    Like Vancouver, these areas are typically industrial zoning that is currently under used. Great opportunities all.

    Lewis N. Villegas

    June 8, 2011 at 11:07 pm

  2. Agreed that “transit” can be anything from bus to subway to commuter rail
    – and that the built density should relate to the transit carrying capacity.
    King Edward Village (Knight & Kingsway) strikes me as an oddity in that it is high density, but is only served by buses (i.e. opportunitistic development of a previously consolidated [Safeway] site because the City is too scared to upzone single family areas closer to SkyTrain stations).
    Other higher density areas such as the Carling-O’Keefe Lands (@ Arbutus) are close to the Broadway buses, but are really waiting for the Broadway-UBC Line or utilization of the Arbutus RoW for a streetcar or LRT in the distant future.
    And you can plan and plan but if the carrying capacity doesn’t materialize, then you may be stuck with high density and inferior infrastructure (as Port Moody and Coquitlam are cliaiming with delays to the Evergreen Line).


    June 9, 2011 at 1:45 pm

  3. […] Stephen Rees: It's Not About TOD […]

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