Five Tips to Ensure TODs Spark Economic Development
By Matt Marquez
The dramatic rise in hybrid and work-from-home employment driven by new communications technologies, low unemployment rates, and the after-effects of the pandemic have redistributed many in America’s workforce across the nation. Forward-looking cities and counties, especially ones on a growth trajectory, see this shifting labor pool as an economic development opportunity to attract and retain business in their municipality and are making investments to embrace inbound workers and companies.
Because of the vital importance of ensuring smooth movement of people and goods, an increasing number of cities and counties are prioritizing their transportation infrastructure through investments in and support of transit-oriented developments (TODs) that create vibrant, livable communities that are safe and walkable, and located near high-quality bus and/or passenger train systems. This proximity to mass transit reduces the dependency on automobiles for mobility, lowers carbon emissions, and increases convenience for residents and workers.
TODs offer effective value-capture strategies that generate sustainable, long-term revenue streams that can help repay debt used to finance the upfront costs of building a transit center and surrounding infrastructure. According to the Federal Transit Administration (part of the U.S. Department of Transportation), studies show that transit projects increase nearby property values by 30 to 40 percent.
As cities and counties contemplate the pursuit of TODs as part of their revitalization or renewal planning, here are five tips to maximize its economic development impact:
1. Ensure True Multi-Modal Capabilities
Transit centers are most effective when they act as a hub for multiple modes of transportation that include bus, light and regular passenger rail service for short- and long-distance travel, access to the nearest airport, cab or on-demand car service (Lyft, Uber), shuttles for nearby employers or business districts, eco-friendly bikes or EV scooters, and walkability to nearby places of employment and/or attractions. Being close to arterial highway corridors is a major plus.
2. Locate Near Office and/or Industrial Districts
While this tip may seem obvious, the bigger point is – if a city or county does not have a branded or easily identifiable office or industrial district near a proposed transit center – it will need to develop one as part of its TOD plans. This effort can be as simple as a branding and marketing exercise for a preexisting area or as involved as going through the entitlement process followed by development and construction. Whether attracting or retaining business, corporate site selectors need a clear picture of a transit-oriented, mixed-use district that will promote growth and profitability, mobility for workers, and easy access to nearby amenities.
3. Provide Easy Access to Retail and Entertainment
Residents and visitors want fun places to go, more to do, and more ways to get there. They want to gather and socialize in lively centers; shopping areas; arts, culture, and entertainment venues; and sports arenas. A transit center should ideally provide walkable or shuttle access options to these attractions.
Proximity to retail destinations also will help cities and counties capture more of their residents and visitors’ purchases, thereby promoting local businesses.
4. Offer Plenty of Nearby, Affordable Housing Stock
Nearby access to diverse housing options at affordable prices is key to a TOD’s long-range prospects to cultivate walkable/bikeable neighborhoods. Many cities strategically master plan the communities around a transit center for residential and multi-use housing developments, then incentivize developers to create housing stock.
Also worth noting, many states have TOD housing programs that fund affordable housing developments within a close range (e.g., quarter mile) of transit stations and other such infrastructure improvements.
5. Commit to Sustainability
The environmental benefits of a proposed TOD should be researched and documented, including the anticipated removal of CO2 emissions, elimination of vehicle miles traveled, use of electrification, etc.
Also important, a city or county should articulate a sustainable, healthy approach to business and the community at large, including its master-planned neighborhoods, well-maintained roads, well-landscaped major corridors, natural open spaces, and other “people-first” design elements that offer an exceptional place for people to live, work, and play.
Properly visioned and implemented transit-oriented developments can have a transformational impact on a city or county’s economic development and long-term fiscal resiliency. By creating a transportation infrastructure that supports large population growth, promotes sustainability, and enables convenient mobility to and from the home, workplace, and local attractions, cities and counties will differentiate themselves over other locations with corporate site selectors and increase their business attraction and retention rates.
Matt Marquez is the Planning and Economic Development Director for the City of Rancho Cucamonga, a Southern California city with a population over 176,000. Currently developing “Cucamonga Station,” a multi-model transportation hub with connectivity to Ontario International Airport, the Los Angeles region and San Bernardino/Inland Empire via Metrolink commuter rail, and the HART District, a transit-oriented, mixed-use district. Cucamonga Station is the Southern California landing for the future Brightline West project, a privately funded, high-speed rail from Las Vegas to Southern California.