Friday, April 16, 2010

Grading Transit Oriented Development: A Ten-Category Preliminary Metric

Wilshire/Vermont station, my local TOD.

Recent conversations on Streetsblog LA about what really counts as Transit Oriented Development (TOD) have gotten me to think hard about what my ideal is, and how I could compare different projects to suggest improvements to developers and the cities that give them permission to build.

I'm going to put a system out there as a kind of preliminary draft. I'm not married to it, but I do want to get feedback on it and explain the kind of things I'm looking for in a good TOD.

My scale, in which higher scores are better, is out of 100 points based on ten categories: transit proximity, density, mixed land uses, walkability (proximity), walkability (sidewalk upgrades and traffic calming), limited car parking, pay to park (if car parking is included), bike parking, affordability, and integrated open space.

Transit Proximity (10 points) - We can't forget the basics. If it isn't close to some form of frequent-service transit, it isn't a quality TOD.
Metric - the project is within a quarter mile of a rail or bus line with service at least every 20 minutes during the day (5 pts.). The project is within a quarter mile of a rail line with service at least every 10 minutes during the day (10 pts.).

(10 points) - The more people there are near transit, other things equal, the more potential riders there are. This also helps to support integrated mixed land uses, like stores. The number of stories is a rough approximation for density.
Metric - # of stories: <3 (0 pts.), 3-5 (5 pts.), 6+ (10 pts.).

Mixed Land Uses (10 points) - This makes the TOD more of a destination worth traveling to and helps with walkability.
Metric - 1 land use on site (0 points), 2 land uses on site (5 points), 3+ land uses on site, (10 points).

Proximity for Walkability (10 points) - The TOD should help people who live in it to walk to things and should also be a source of new destinations for the people who already live in its neighborhood.
Metric - the area's Walk Score is improved by: 0 or less (0 pts.), 1-10 (5 pts.), 11+ (10 pts.). If the walk score is already above 90 and doesn't fall give 10 pts.

Sidewalk Upgrades and Traffic Calming for Walkability (10 points) - Physical improvements to the walking environment are important too.
Metric - The project pays for one of the following: street trees, sidewalk repair, sidewalk widening or something similar near the site (5 pts.). The project pays for some traffic calming measure such as a speed bump or road narrowing (5 pts.).

Limited Car Parking (10 points) - TODs should discourage automobile use at the same time that they encourage transit use, walking and cycling.
Metric - No off-street parking (10 pts.). Off-street parking exists but in quantities lower than typically required (5 pts.). Off-street parking exists at or in excess of the typical minimum parking requirement (if such a requirement exists) (0 points).

Drivers Pay Directly to Park (10 points) - if car parking exists at a TOD, drivers should pay for it directly. It should not be included in the price of anything else, especially housing.
Metric - No off-street parking (10 pts.). Drivers pay for their own parking (10 pts.). Parking is partially subsidized through validation (5 pts.). Parking is included in the price of other things (0 pts.).

Bike Parking (10 points) - Since TODs discourage car use, they should encourage the use of alternatives of all kinds, including bicycles.
Metric - each apartment has at least one off-street secure bike parking space and each store has at least three bike parking spaces (10 pts.). Any amount of bike parking exists on site which can accommodate at least 25 bicycles (5 pts.). Fewer than 25 bicycles can be locked on site (0 pts.).

Affordability (10 points) - This will be highly location specific. Los Angeles has a huge affordable housing problem.
Metric - At least 25% of units are made available to people making at or below 80% of the area median income (AMI) on an affordable basis (30% of income) (10 pts.). 10-24% of units are made available to people making at or below 80% of AMI (5 pts.). Fewer than 10% are (0 pts.).

Open Space (10 points) - Density can and should be open, for both the sake of human happiness and potential watershed benefits.
Metric - the site includes a public or semi-public courtyard or large (at least 3 meters) setback (10 pts.).

Enjoy, and please, let me know what you think.


  1. I like this idea. However, proximity to transit should be given a much more significant share of points. Perhaps 50 or more out of 100. Otherwise, a building could score very high on this scale while being nowhere near any form of transit.

  2. Yeah, I think you're right. Round 2 will probably give proximity to transit more weight.

  3. This is a fantastic metric, thanks. The cities of El Sereno, South Pasadena & others fighting the proposed MTA 710 freeway "gap closure" (to connect the I-710 to the 210, current idea being to tunnel underneath those areas) need to update our counter-proposal of multi-mode low-build with specific and detailed elements like this.

    MTA claims that their project will reduce trafffic congestion on the highways and local city streets, but what they really want is to give truck traffic from the Ports of LA and Long Beach a more direct path to the CA central valley and transportation hubs north and east of the SGV.

    They are grabbing at Measure R money that could instead go to mass transit, pushing legislation that would eliminate CEQA protections, and jumping on the Mayor's 30/10 effort to speed up project starts.

    We need more positive alternates like this to counter with.

  4. @ Judy

    Thanks, very kind of you. Don't get me started on that 710 tunnel :) Measure R definitely has a dark side. Hopefully people will wake up and demand that more port freight be shipped by rail. I still hold out hope that we can hold the line on freeway expansions, and develop quality transit service, walkable neighborhoods and bike friendly streets as meaningful alternatives to the status quo.

  5. I like the metric alot. A few comments:

    It seems that your "Transit Proximity" metric isn't really measuring proximity to transit but rather the type of transit service the project is near. If the project is near decent bus service, it gets 5 pts., if near high frequency rail, 10 pts. I think this is an important thing to include, but would be better labeled "Quality of Transit Service" or something like that.

    Since this is a metric evaluating TOD, it shouldn't also try to measure weather or not a project really is "TOD" or not, because then you are measuring two different things. I would add a requirement that a project must be within a quarter mile of a transit stop in order for this metric to be applicable. This would address the issue raised by the first commenter.

    Your Density metric assumes building height translates into density, which isn't always true. A three story building which occupies an entire parcel can have greater density than a 6 story surrounded by a huge parking lot. Why not use measures which more directly measure density, such as net residential density or a jobs/population per acre combo measure?

  6. @ Jacobean

    I think you've got some good ideas there, particularly a pass/fail for being within a quarter mile and changing that category to transit quality.

    In a more formal write up I'd use a measure like dwelling units or square feet of commercial space per acre. For the sake of comprehensibility I often use the rough shorthand of number of stories.

    What I really mean is, if we're talking about buildings on lots of identical size, that cover identical percentages of the lot, and identical buildings except for height, the taller buildings accommodate more density. I wish I could find a better way of saying that :)

    Maybe there should also be a pass/fail for surface parking. If any exists, it's not a TOD . . .