Monday, April 11, 2016
John R. Nolon
Distinguished Professor of Law, Pace Law School
Counsel, Land Use Law Center
Transit Oriented Development
Transit Oriented Development, or TOD, is a modern zoning imperative with exceptional potential to reduce GHG emissions. According to the Presidential Climate Action Project, “[t]he greatest potential for reducing greenhouse gas emissions…is to reduce vehicle miles traveled—the miles Americans drive each year.”
TOD land use plans and zoning encourage mixed use, compact development in transit neighborhoods. They locate housing and jobs near transit stops and significantly reduce the number and distance of vehicle trips. Encouraging land use patterns that house and employ more people in urban, transit-connected areas will cause a significant reduction in VMT, while placing households in smaller, more energy efficient homes and offices will further reduce fossil fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.
Transportation Efficient Development, or TED, is TOD’s country cousin. TOD and TED have many relatives. They bracket a profusion of terms that describe the rapidly increasing focus on reducing VMT through zoning. The terminology used is varied. Some authors write about “transit supportive” or “transit ready” development, or “transportation efficient” land use patterns. Others refer to “transit friendly zoning,” “station area planning,” “transportation demand management,” “traditional neighborhood development,” “planned unit development,” “development-oriented transit,” “transit supportive urban design,” “transit station communities,” “transit focused development,” and “transit villages.”
These terms encompass many different geographical contexts, populations, densities, and transportation modalities. Any attempt to describe a single approach is subject to a host of exceptions, but some common principles can be articulated to highlight the legal underpinnings of this important subject and to explain why zoning matters.
When neighorhood density is increased for both residential and commercial uses, the distance between origin and destination is shorter and walking, bicycling, and mass transit services are more feasible. In order for increased densities to be tolerated, standards requiring attractive building, landscape, and streetscape design must be employed.
The successful development of transit stations and rail and bus lines is dependent upon land use densities and mixed uses. There must be a large enough number of commuters in a relevant area to provide a base level of ridership. In addition, ridership must be sufficiently diverse to ensure that people are traveling to work, to shop, to seek entertainment, and to go home at various times during the day, thereby increasing the cost efficiency of the transit system.
Local land use plans and zoning, which determine population density and building uses, control how much the population will increase over time in a certain area, and what transportation needs new people will have. This, in turn, dictates the demand for various types of transportation services. Locally, this planning is done at the neighborhood level and should be guided by objectives contained in the city’s comprehensive plan. To make transit systems feasible, land use planning among localities in a transportation region must be coordinated with transportation planning and development, which occurs under federal programs in urban areas at the metropolitan-area scale.
Many state enabling statutes require or encourage local governments to include a transportation element in their comprehensive plans. Increasingly, these transportation elements have incorporated planning strategies intended to encourage people to drive less and to walk, bicycle, and use mass transportation more frequently.
Arizona’s planning enabling statute, for example, requires cities with more than 50,000 people to prepare a bike transportation element as part of their comprehensive plan. Nevada’s enabling legislation supports planning for mass transit, bicycle, and pedestrian infrastructure. This statute encourages local planning to include a transit element that “[s]how[s] a proposed multimodal system of transit lines, including mass transit, streetcar, motorcoach and trolley coach lines, paths for bicycles and pedestrians, satellite parking and related facilities.”
Even where communities are not currently served by transit systems, they can create compact, mixed use neighborhoods that reduce car trips and miles traveled. Zoning controls in TED zones can limit the size of housing units and combine retail, office, and residential land uses, putting services, shops, and jobs in closer proximity to homes. Zoning can also require new construction to meet energy standards and further reduce GHG emissions.
Communities not yet served by transit can design one or more priority growth districts and create overlay zones for them that allow greater densities and more land uses than permitted in the underlying zoning districts. By clustering development strategically, these growing localities position themselves for future service by commuter rail or bus rapid transit, thereby becoming “transit ready.”
Suburban areas that adopt higher-density, mixed-use zoning will find it easier politically to adopt strong environmental protection ordinances applicable to the land outside high-density zones. Where state law permits, density bonuses may be provided in TED zones and cash contributions made by developers in exchange. This money can be used to purchase development rights from landowners in sensitive environmental areas outside the higher-density zone, areas that mitigate climate change through sequestration. This balance between development and conservation can be accomplished within TOD areas as well – highlighting again zoning’s ability to create sustainable settlement patterns and to mitigate climate change.
For more information, see John R. Nolon, Land Use for Energy Conservation and Sustainable Development: A New Path Toward Climate Change Mitigation, 27 Fla. State J. of Land Use & Envtl. L. 1, 25-31 (2012).
Links to previous posts in the Zoning Centennial’s Series:
Part 8: Regionalism and ‘Wistful Hoping’
Part 11: Designing Density
Part 12: Green Infrastructure
Part 12B: Land Use and Energy Conservation