Is Transit-Oriented Development Affordable for Low- and Moderate-income Households (in Terms of Housing and Transportation)?

The Transit-Oriented Development Institute defines transit-oriented development (TOD) as “compact, walkable, pedestrian-oriented, mixed-use communities centered around highquality train systems.” The Metropolitan Transportation Commission of the Bay Area defines a transit-oriented community (TOC) as: “Transit-oriented communities (TOCs) enable people to access and use transit more often for more types of trips by centering housing, jobs, services, and shopping around public transit. They are places where people of all ages, abilities, income levels, and racial and ethnic backgrounds can live, work, and thrive.” Stantec combines the two: “Anchored by public transportation, transit-oriented development (TOD) is a key component to supporting compact, walkable, healthier communities which contribute to greater quality of life for residents. But what happens when development is centered around people? We get transit-oriented communities (TOC).” We found only one place on the internet where TOD and TOC were explicitly distinguished from one another, and it isn’t very helpful: “TOD is a forest of towers beside a transit station,” says Matti Siemiatycki, a professor with Toronto Metropolitan University's School of Cities. “TOC is exceptional places that people want to spend time in.” Siemiatycki says the difference can be boiled down to three ingredients: density, diversity, and design.” (In reality, very few of the TODs look anything like ‘a forest of towers beside a transit station’. And if they do, they are 2 located in places that in general look like ‘forest of towers’ – New York City’s Hudson Yards or Boston’s North Station. So we are left to make the distinction ourselves. TODs by standard definition are dense, mixed use, pedestrian-oriented developments and redevelopments centered around and in close proximity to transit stations. They are the epidemy of the D variables, density, land use diversity, pedestrian-oriented design, and short distance to transit. They constitute the core of TOCs, which extend beyond walking distances of transit stations, are often less dense, mixed, and pedestrian-friendly than the TODs at their cores, and thus generate fewer transit trips. Take Vineyard TOD and TOC in our home urbanized area of Salt Lake City, located in Utah County. The development area right around the FrontRunner Station is designated a TOD. This extends about one quarter mile from the station. The rest of the Vineyard Town Center is further from the station and less dense and mixed in terms of its land uses. By some definition, the whole thing might constitute a TOC. Whatever definition one uses, TOCs are made up of TODs and other land uses such as single-family neighborhoods that benefit in some sense from proximity to transit, perhaps accessed in a first mile, last mile (FMLM) sense via walking, bikes, park-and-ride, e-scooters, and other forms of micromobility. CETOC, as the name implies, is taking the broader view of transit-orientation as a community scaled phenomenon. In the many subsequent years of CETOC funding and research, CETOC projects may want to look at the impacts of transit stations on areas outside the immediate station areas or TODs since these areas are often well-served by other modes, including feeder buses. But at the heart of the whole discussion of TOCs, in regions other than those with the legacy rail systems such as New York and Chicago (that, arguably, are entire TOCs in their own right), are TODs. And from our research on TODs in 10 regions, at the heart of TODs are development and redevelopment projects in very close proximity to rail stations, much closer than a half or even a quarter mile of stations. In our home region, all of the action now is adjacent to or within a block or two of rail stations. East Village in Sandy, Fairbourne Station in West Valley City, the Novi TOD at Jordan Valley Station, Fireclay in Murray City, and many others are examples of emerging TODs immediately proximate to stations. Indeed, it seems as though every locality in this region with a rail station is planning (under state law) for a TOD, town center, or downtown immediately around the station. We see a similar tendency across the country – transit agencies and cities create TOD policies, implement TOD zoning and zoning overlays, develop TOD plans and have lists of TODs that have been already completed or are currently being planned for on their sites. To stress the importance of diversity and affordability, TOD is sometimes preceded by an E for Equitable (ETOD). TOCs have been studied by ourselves and others using ½ mile buffers around stations. While referred to as TODs, these station areas seem (by their scale) more equivalent to TOCs. Park, K., Ewing, R., Scheer, B.C., & Khan, S.S.A. (2018). Travel Behavior in TODs vs. non-TODs: Using Cluster Analysis and Propensity Score Matching. Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board. 3 Renne, J. L., Tolford, T., Hamidi, S., & Ewing, R. (2016). The Cost and Affordability Paradox of Transit-Oriented Development: A Comparison of Housing and Transportation Costs Across Transit-Oriented Development, Hybrid and Transit-Adjacent Development Station Typologies. Housing Policy Debate, 26(4-5), 819-834. In the former article, we found that after controlling for residential self-selection, the result shows that a TOD/TOC motivates its residents to walk more and take transit more while driving less. In the latter article, we found that whereas TODs/TOCs are more expensive places to buy or rent housing, they are more affordable than hybrids and TADs (transit adjacent developments) because the lower cost of transportation offsets housing costs. There is no reason to repeat these studies as part of this proposed CETOC project. So without taking a broader view of TOCs (1/4 mile or 1/2 mile buffers), which can wait until the next round of CETOC funding, this project chooses to focus on what may be the best case of TOD, that is, the case with the highest transit and walk mode shares. These are TODs right next to rail stations that meet multiple criteria. Earlier research by the same authors found that these exemplary TODs generate about half the vehicle trips, require about half the parking, and have as many as 70 percent of their trips by modes other than automobiles as compared to suburban development generally. Ewing, R., Tian, G., Park, K., Stinger, P., & Proffitt, D. (2019). Comparative Case Studies: Trip and Parking Generation at Orenco Station TOD, Portland Region and Station Park TAD, Salt Lake City Region. Cities, 87, 48-59. Ewing, R., Tian, G., Lyons, T., & Terzano, K. (2017). Trip and Parking Generation at Transit-Oriented Developments: Five US Case Studies. Landscape and Urban Planning, 160, 69-78. Ewing, R., Tian, G., Lyons, T., & Terzano, K. (2017). Trip and Parking Generation at Transit-Oriented Developments: Five US Case Studies. Landscape and Urban Planning, 160, 69-78. Hamidi, S., Etminani-Ghasrodashti, R., Kang, S., & Ewing, R. (2020). Institute of Transportation Engineers Guidelines versus Actual Trip and Parking Generation for a Transit-Oriented Development in an Auto-Oriented Region. Transportation Research Record, 0361198120935112. This proposed study explores the role of transit-oriented development (TOD) in producing affordable housing and building inclusive communities. Through interviews with transit operators, city planning agencies, and MPOs, we have already identified 102 TODs on 207 rail lines in 26 regions that meet eight criteria. Another 150+ TODs in these same regions meet all criteria and are in planning or under development. In fact, more TODs are currently in planning or under contraction than have been built to date. Clearly, this is not an unimportant or insignificant form of development in rail served regions. These TODs form the nuclei of TOCs, as we have defined them. The first three criteria used to select TODs for this study are consistent with the definition above and elsewhere, dating back to Peter Calthorpe’s original concept of TOD circa 1990 and including Robert Cervero’s definition of TOD in Transit Cooperative Research Program 4 (TCRP) Project H-27, "Transit-Oriented Development: State of the Practice and Future Benefits" of 2004. For this and earlier trip and parking generation studies, TODs are defined as: (1) dense (with mid-rise or higher multifamily housing), (2) mixed use (with residential, retail, entertainment, and sometime office uses in the same development), and (3) pedestrian-friendly (with streets built for pedestrians as well as autos and transit and with public spaces). We have added four additional criteria to maximize the utility of the sample and data. TODs must be: (4) adjacent to transit (literally abutting or within one block —transit passengers spill out into the TOD), (5) built after a high-quality transit line was constructed or proposed (and hence with a parking supply that reflects the availability of high-quality transit), (6) fully developed or nearly so (to realize their full potential), and (7) with self-contained parking (so we can estimate parking supply and demand) Nearly all of our TODs were also master planned. Understanding the relationship between TOD and housing affordability requires accounting for two dimensions of affordability: the potential cost savings of living in a transit-accessible, mixed-use, and walkable location and the willingness of people to pay a housing premium for that benefit. This tradeoff has led to a push to consider both the cost of housing and transportation (H+T) in determining housing affordability. In an ongoing study, the faculty in this consortium has compiled a complete (100%) inventory of TODs adjacent to rail stations in the U.S. and investigated the H (housing cost) component of location affordability. Using apartment rental data for all 102 TODs, the study has found that market rate housing at TODs is generally affordable for moderate-income households, those earning between 80 and 100 percent of area median income (AMI). Indeed, only 20 percent of the apartments are affordable to low-income households (but only those earning between 60 and 80 percent of AMI), using HUD standards. This number includes naturally occurring affordable housing (NOAH) and designated, deed-restricted affordable housing (DAH). The greater number of apartments in these TODs are priced and advertised as “luxury” apartments with ample parking, occupied by renters who are not naturally transit users. Incorporating deed restricted affordable housing (or low-income housing) units into a TOD project, or any project as a matter of fact, requires significant amount of effort during the planning phase. In many instances it requires securing dedicated funding or many sources of such funding which takes up to two years. In all instances it means planning for dedicated low-income units. It is virtually impossible to incorporate dedicated affordable housing units 5 into finished projects. This and the fact that a great number of TODs are currently being planned for and built best illustrate the need for projects like ours. Building upon housing costs from the ongoing study, this project will integrate transportation costs for these exemplary TODs (102 of them) to determine if the combination of H+T is affordable at 45 percent of household income for households at different income levels. Transportation cost for current TOD residents will be computed in three ways. (1) For seven TODs in our earlier sample (the seven in the four peer reviewed articles cited above), we have already counted vehicles coming and going from TODs, counted people coming and going, counted parked cars at various intervals during the day and night, and conducted intercept surveys to determine modes of transportation used by residents. This allows us to calculate vehicle ownership and transit use for residents, two main components of transportation costs. Vehicle ownership per household can be computed from the nighttime parking counts divided by the number of dwelling units. VMT will be computed from vehicle counts and four-step model outputs for their respective traffic analysis zones. (2) For all 102 TODs in our sample, we will directly extract transportation costs using HUD’s Location Affordability Index (LAI). The LAI provides estimates of household housing and transportation costs at the neighborhood level along with constituent data on the built environment and demographics. The HUD site provides access to data as well as comprehensive documentation of how the LAI was developed and updated. (3) Most importantly, for all 102 TODs in our sample, our team is planning to leverage StreetLight Data and their capabilities to deliver data and analyses about commuting behavior and patterns near Transit Oriented Developments across the country. This will minimize costs related to project travel and on-site work. StreetLight aggregates multiple big data sources and distills them into usable analyses including Traffic volumes, Origin / Destinations Studies, commuting patterns, Vehicle Miles traveled along with the ability to connect certain analyses to demographic data. All this data is key to completing this study.

  • Supplemental Notes:
    • Funding: $120,000 USDOT; $60,000 Matching


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  • Status: Active
  • Funding: $180000
  • Contract Numbers:


  • Sponsor Organizations:

    Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology

    University Transportation Centers Program
    Department of Transportation
    Washington, DC  United States  20590
  • Managing Organizations:

    Center for Equitable Transit-Oriented Communities (CETOC)

    University of New Orleans
    New Orleans, LA  United States 
  • Project Managers:

    Kline, Robin

    Tian, Guang

  • Performing Organizations:

    University of Utah, Salt Lake City

    City & Metropolitan Planning
    201 South Presidents Circle
    Salt Lake City, UT  United States  84112
  • Principal Investigators:

    Ewing, Reid

  • Start Date: 20231001
  • Expected Completion Date: 20241031
  • Actual Completion Date: 0
  • USDOT Program: University Transportation Centers Program

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01900211
  • Record Type: Research project
  • Source Agency: Center for Equitable Transit-Oriented Communities (CETOC)
  • Contract Numbers: 69A3552348337
  • Files: RIP
  • Created Date: Nov 20 2023 4:27PM