MNTRC Newsletter Vol 20, Issue 2: Fall 2013

Measuring benefits of transit-oriented development (TOD)

Robert B. Noland, PhD, Director, Voorhees Transportation Center

Rutgers News – A team of researchers at Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center (VTC) at Rutgers University led by Prof. Robert Noland, PhD, will soon be completing work on a two-year study “Measuring the Benefits of Transit-Oriented Development.” This study provides an overview of the beneficial impacts of transit-oriented development (TOD) – compact, mixed-use pedestrian land uses within walking distance of transit stations. These benefits can lead to more vibrant and healthier communities and provide personal benefits to those who wish to live in TODs and near stations.

Cranford (NJ) Crossing

Cranford (NJ) Crossing, with rentals above ground-floor retail. Shown are TOD (left), with Cranford Station behind buildings on the right.

Source: Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center.

Goal to decrease automobile use

A major goal of TOD is to direct land development to where public transit and infrastructure already exist. The expectation is that transit ridership will increase and auto use will decrease as the convenience of transit leads it to become the mode of choice. Increased transit ridership and decreased auto use are generally accepted as public benefits. They result in reduced air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, traffic congestion and accidents, as well as increased physical activity if walking trips increase with associated health benefits. Other benefits that may accrue to individuals, households, and communities include a more stable economic base and a better sense of community.

1,629 households surveyed

The objective was to document and assess the benefits gained by implementing a TOD strategy through both qualitative and quantitative approaches. To do so, the team collected and examined data from key informant interviews, focus groups of those living near four stations, and a mail and online survey of 1,629 households near eight stations in New Jersey. Additionally. researchers conducted case studies of three communities that have adopted a TOD strategy.

TOD findings positive

Professionals and decision makers in New Jersey strongly support TODs and see this as a way to rejuvenate communities and benefit the residents of those communities. Those whom the team interviewed also support TOD.

Pedestrian bridge.

Gateway Center, with condos, rentals, and office above the ground-floor retail. Shown is the pedestrian bridge connecting the TOD to the New Brunswick (NJ) Train Station.

Source: Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center.

Focus group participants offered broad support for development near stations. These residents appreciated the rejuvenation that TOD has brought their communities, the access to transit, and the ability to walk in their downtown areas. They held mixed opinions about the retail component of some projects because they thought that most of the retail was focused on entertainment and not on basic needs. They also were concerned about increased traffic endangering pedestrians.
Researchers found that residents living within a half-mile of a station are more likely to walk and to take public transit more frequently than those who live from one-half to two miles from a station. They also drive less. This finding holds when controlling for various attitudes toward one’s neighborhood, demographic factors such as income and age, vehicle ownership, how long one has lived in their current residence, and features of the built environment.

Health improved; property values increased

Results show that being close to a station enhances residential property values, while controlling for other factors that influence valuations. TOD can also be used as a way to increase the diversity of housing choices in a community as smaller units, or more affordable units, mitigate the impact of any increase in property values.
Based on self-reported health information, researchers found that those living near stations reported fewer incidences of a heart condition or diabetes than those living further from the station. Both of these conditions are associated with lack of physical activity.
Casualties from traffic crashes are less frequent near rail or light-rail stations. Pedestrian casualties are less frequent in areas with more population density. Bicycle casualties are higher near stations, perhaps due to more bicycling activity.

“Travel time” cost can be higher with transit

Out-of-pocket expenses associated with using transit are less than those associated with driving. Travel time costs, however, are higher for transit except for those boarding in lower-income communities. This is due to a methodology that bases the value of time on average wages. Total costs of using transit are lower for those boarding at Broad St (Newark) and Plainfield and also at New Brunswick.

Researchers analyzed the impact of shifting population to be closer to the station using a regional travel demand model. If more people lived near transit stations, regional congestion would be reduced, and more people would take transit.