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HomeEditorial teamTransit-oriented development: the best way to keep cities accessible and liveable?

Transit-oriented development: the best way to keep cities accessible and liveable?

It is a development you see more and more often: transit-oriented development, or TOD. This type of development refers to new neighbourhoods, office centres or city sub-centres built around public transport stops or hubs. Additionally, redevelopment projects in cities are less car-oriented and are planned around existing and new public transportation links. Also, the implementation of easy-to-fulfill active transportation modes like walking and cycling is high on the agenda. 

The essence of TOD is that the starting- or endpoint of a trip — or both — are located in the vicinity of a bus, (light)rail or metro station, therefore enabling the traveller to travel the largest part of their journey on public transport. As a result, less road capacity will be necessary to accommodate all trips and, therefore, fewer roads are needed.

There are quite some advantages of TOD. The effect of a lower demand for roads allows using the space that is no longer dedicated to car traffic in a way that is beneficial for the surrounding area, rather than being an obstruction between the different parts. Additionally, the presence of fewer cars in cities has several benefits for the liveability: fewer roads mean more room for people, bikes and green space, and fewer cars will reduce traffic congestions and lower emission of ‘local’ pollutants like nitrogen and particulate matter. The Netherlands, where almost all public transport nowadays is electric-powered and biking is the primary mode of commuting, would especially benefit from reducing the use of cars and increasing the use of public transport. 

Those are some benefits for inhabitants of cities, but cities themselves also can benefit from TOD. When houses are centred around a certain spot, in the case of TOD around a public transport stop, the activities and movements in that area are also more centred. Therefore, cities have to place fewer (but larger) public facilities and utilities as their coverage includes far more people than in, for instance, a suburb with large single-family homes, which takes up a large plot of land. Services like garbage disposal can also operate more efficiently this way. 

A diagram depicting a transit-oriented neighborhood and a street designed around public transportation, pedestrians, and cyclists. Credit: Transformative Urban Mobility Initiative

Contrary to how urban planners might make it seem, TOD is not something new but rather a return to old habits; before cars were around, nearly all important cities had public transport services like a streetcar or tram network and coaches. Back then, cities were much more compact than they are today, as the people relied on this public transport and their bikes to go from A to B. Together with the introduction of the first cars, the emergence of suburbs was experienced. As people were not bound to public transport or their bikes for their travels anymore, they could afford to leave the inner cities and live in neighbourhoods further away from their daily activity spaces. This is particularly noticeable in the United States, where almost every city has suburbs as far as the eye can see.

However, especially in Europe, where most cities are older than in the US and have a sizeable inner city with public transport, several factors came into play that together led to a renewed interest in TOD. Starting with environmental issues, commuting every day by car emits a lot of pollution, especially if the number of vehicles on the road results in congestion during the morning or evening commute (which happens quite often, frankly). Furthermore, with rising housing prices (it already happened a decade ago, but they are exploding nowadays), people that work in the Randstad, for example, tend to live further away from major urban areas as the housing prices are lower. This results in more and longer commutes, which both negatively affects the amount of free time one has and the congestion on the roads.

When the TOD principle is coming into play in the design and construction of new neighbourhoods, using one or more public transport options would become a very attractive option for the eventual inhabitants. Cities and regions are starting to understand the benefits of transit-oriented development; Amsterdam has even stated it in its municipal development plans: at least 50% of the new houses should be built within 1200 metres of a public transport hub. Where this is not realistic, the city has stated that in its plans that new houses should be located within ten minutes of biking from a hub. Hopefully, the result for residents of Amsterdam and its surrounding areas will be faster commuting times, fewer cars on the road and less pollution in dense urban areas, increasing the liveability. 

TOD can help cities to ease their traffic and make it a better place to live in for their inhabitants. It is not the only solution or way to go on to achieve fully sustainable and highly liveable cities. However, TOD certainly can play an important role in that journey!

Thijs van Soest
Thijs van Soest
Hi, I am Thijs! Since September 2018, I have been part of Girugten, and I am the current Chairman of the Editorial Team. I am following the MSc Real Estate Studies. My main interests are infrastructure, transport planning and real estate, but I also write about other subjects.
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