TOD Without the T?

In this post from a few days ago, Eric Jaffe discusses a discovery made by Daniel Chatman at UC-Berkeley: that effective TOD (by his definition, development that reduces car trips) has very little to do with access to rail transit. A number of factors are more important, including “lower on- and off-street parking availability; better bus service; smaller and rental housing; more jobs, residents, and stores within walking distance; proximity to downtown; and higher subregional employment density.”

Jaffe calls this TOD without the T. I’m inclined to call it traditional development, or small towns, or simply urbanism, regardless of the size of settlement. By the same token, there can be T without the OD, in the form of park and rides or other underutilized transit opportunities. You can find both, as well as the entire TOD package, in Philadelphia’s western suburbs.

Ridley Park Station. T without OD. From

I ride SEPTA’s Wilmington Line to work every day, and on this line, you see a lot of the T without the OD. Most of the stations, while within the boundaries of first-ring suburbs, or even satellite towns such as Marcus Hook, these rail stations are largely divorced from high-density housing, retail, or other marks of TOD. Of all the stops on the line, only Chester and Wilmington feature anything more than parking lots and small sheds for stations (and a number of stops don’t even have these amenities).

Gay and High Streets in West Chester. From

North of this line, you can find West Chester, a great example of the OD without the T. West Chester is an interesting example of a place with a large population (college students) that is poor enough that many can’t afford cars, yet aren’t reliant on manufacturing or similar large land uses for basic sustenance. Since students have small families, if any at all, they can use smaller, denser housing. And since West Chester is an old, traditional community, it has retail uses mixed within its residences, and residences within its commercial core.

Plaza in Ardmore, on the Main Line. From

Further north, the older (and more well-off) communities of the Main Line are great examples of the whole TOD package. Though there are some glorified park and rides, the mainline has a string of small towns–Narberth, Ardmore, Haverford, Bryn Mawr, Radnor, Paoli, Malvern, Downingtown–with a full mix of uses and range of densities centered on their train stations.

An area can be very nice without access to rail transit, but they are out on their own and not part of a larger regional entity. West Chester, for instance, feels very cut off from Philadelphia when compared to the Main Line. This is the problem with many New Urbanist developments, where they are internally very walkable but if you want to go anywhere else you have to drive. TOD allows you to have walkable urbanism in the suburbs while still being linked to the advantages of the large city. Transit without the development allows you to access the city, but doesn’t give anyone a reason to come out to your town, so the relationship is very one-way. While walkable urbanism should be a goal regardless of regional issues, the TOD form is the best in regions where connectivity between cities is a major goal.


McCandless Crossing, or The Town Center is a Lie!


McCandless Crossing is a development in McCandless, Pennsylvania, which has been under construction for years and which will be implementing its fourth and final phase soon. Their website bills it as “a central, walkable, livable community that will synergize [sic] all the surrounding amenities with connectivity and by mixing uses.” This is a totally noble pursuit, but the design that the developers are proposing will not accomplish this goal. I want to discuss some ways that they could actually do it.Location-01First of all, is McCandless Crossing in the right location? My first thought was to undergo a McHargian analysis of land suitability for development.McHargThis shows that the location is just the wrong one for a dense, mixed-use development like a town center. The site is best suited for low-density housing development, as it is one of the few remaining stands of dense forest in the township.

My next thought was, wouldn’t it make sense for a town center to actually be near the center of town? I looked at intersections of major roads, and the intersection of McKnight Road and Ingomar Road is very close to the geographic center of the township, but it is a multi-level interchange. The closest street-level intersection is Perry Highway and Ingomar Road, which I think would not be a bad spot. There is a small commercial development there right now with way too much parking that could be better utilized through denser development. But my next though was, is it better to be near the geographic center or the population center? With that in mind, I undertook a density analysis.McCandless-02McCandless is overwhelmingly low density. That being said, the highest concentrations of people are along Perry Highway and Cumberland Road, adjacent to the North Allegheny Schools campus, Northland Library and the Community College of Allegheny County; and along Babcock Boulevard between Duncan Avenue and Cumberland Road, adjacent to La Roche University and UPMC Passavant Hospital. CombinedSo basically, there are at least three locations better than the chosen one for a town center for McCandless Township, with the best probably being either Perry Highway and Cumberland or Bigelow and Duncan. But let’s say that that isn’t an option and, for whatever reason, you want to develop your town center on the existing McCandless Crossing site. What would be the best way to approach it?

The first question for me seems to be whether or not you locate it astride McKnight Road or on just one side of the road. Doing it on both sides of McKnight was my first thought, as it would allow for more room for development and more access from either side of McKnight. The issue with that would be getting pedestrians across McKnight. It is a major highway that is not safe for people on foot, and people are used to blowing through there at high speed. There is no way to make a road both high speed and pedestrian friendly. The closest you could come is to turn McKnight Road into a boulevard.


McKnight Boulevard-01Although I do think that this would be in the best long-term interest of the township as it is forced to densify, for now, it would cause too much trouble. That leaves us with focusing development on one side of McKnight.


Calthorpe’s TOD concept, and it’s somewhat analogous Traditional Neighborhood Development, include the idea of creating a walkable Main Street that runs perpendicular to a major arterial. This allows for a measure of compromise between walkable urbanism and drivable suburbanism. A good example is Orenco Station outside of Portland, Oregon.OrencoOrenco Station has a mixed use Main Street along a public space axis that runs perpendicular to a major arterial. Parking for some of the anchor retailers faces the arterial so that there is easy vehicular access while it is still screened from the walkable neighborhood part of the development. I think it is very important to have the Main Street intersect with the arterial so that there is at least a hint of the walkable town center just off the road. This is the problem with Belmar; if you didn’t know there was a cool neighborhood behind it, all you would see is the suburban strip.Real Town Center Part DoneMy plan for McCandless Crossing would be to reorient all the anchors so that they gather around just a few large parking lots facing McKnight Road. The Main Street runs parallel and is lined with small shops on the ground floor and other uses (hotel, office, and residential) above. The small retail lines and softens the anchors to make them seem more walkable. The theater is important, because it can have lobbies on both sides so that people can both walk to it and drive to it. There is a little bit more residential than other upper floor compatible uses, so apartments are laid out around a public green.Real Town Center Full DoneAnother issue is that the plan as it is designed is a retail power center and not a true mixed use town center, the major distinction being that the retail is meant to be supported by regional drivers and not local walkers, and as such there is nowhere near enough residential to support it. I wanted to expand the proposed uses to create a real town center, including range of residential types that fades into the largely single-family context, so the residential steps down from apartments to townhouses to small homes.

McCandless needs a town center, and McCandless Crossing could well be it; they just need to totally change nearly everything about their site plan. It can still serve drivers and be a regional retail destination, but it doesn’t need to be suburban schlock that won’t age well or contribute to the future and betterment of the people of the township. With some slight modifications, McCandless Crossing can become a real town center and help McCandless become a real town, that actually is “a central, walkable, livable community that will synergize [sic] all the surrounding amenities with connectivity and by mixing uses.”

Spotlight on City Creek, Salt Lake City, Utah

City Creek is a recently completed, Mormon Church-funded development in the center of Salt Lake City. In some ways, it does a great job of bringing a facelift to parts of downtown Salt Lake City. In others, it really just feels like a big mall.

Uncharacteristically, I drove to City Creek, and my first experience with the development was the parking. The development has no surface parking; there are three levels of parking located directly under the three block development. In some locations the parking is accessed in the very center of the street. This actually does a great job of narrowing and calming Salt Lake’s infamously wide streets, and creates mid-block crossings on the long blocks of this city.

Part of what I thought was really interesting was how some parts of the development, especially along the outer edge, have not changed. Street improvements at West Temple and 100 South that predated the development are still there. A number of pre-existing buildings on Main Street are still there, and integrate fairly seamlessly with new construction. ZCMI, which was bought out by Macy’s a few years ago, has a great old building which has been lovingly restored and has a great street frontage.

Although there is plenty of parking, City Creek is very transit accessible. Salt Lake’s TRAX line comes north along Main Street and turns west along North Temple Street, with two stations adjacent to City Creek.

There have been significant improvements to the public realm. A small park has been installed at State Street and 100 South. Salt Lake’s wide streets give them the flexibility to create very wide sidewalks, and improvements range from simple trees and lights to significant seating areas with unique and beautiful seats, tables, and planters.

An interesting effect of the new development has been tangential street activity. I saw a handful of new food trucks in the area. On the other hand, there were more homeless people in the area than I was used to seeing in Salt Lake.

City Creek seems to have two sides: a street side, which has a real downtown major city feel; and an inner side, which despite a mix of uses really just feels like a mall. Between these areas are a series of transitional public spaces. These feature entrance markers that cleverly conceal ventilation for the underground parking and speakers that blast pop music, adding to the mall feel. The creek that the development is named for snakes throughout the area, with dramatic naturalistic features including rock outcroppings and native plants. Many of these areas feature fountains and sculptures, including my hated seagulls. There are many high-quality seating areas throughout.

What sort of puzzles me is that City Creek is not a single-use shopping area like a suburban mall; it features office uses and a whole lot of residential, including two new major residential towers. The central parts of two of the three blocks have nice squares built around public water features. But despite these features, it doesn’t feel like a mixed-use neighborhood; it feels like a mall.My favorite feature was a small corner of the development along Regent Street. As the street enters the development, it curves to the east and uphill, and becomes a shared use, curbless street, where bollards protect people from cars and lights cris-cross the right-of-way. The street is cozy, visually interesting, and generally very delightful.

City Creek is sort of two-faced: it does successfully contribute to a high-quality streetscape along the public rights-of-way of Salt Lake City, even calming traffic and activating pedestrian life; yet much of the development, especially on the block interiors, feels like just another mall. I had mixed feelings about it, but it could certainly be worse. And I thought it was funny that, despite the effort to make this a metropolitan development, things about it are still very Mormon:SIDENOTE: As I write this, the eye of Superstorm Sandy is passing near Philadelphia. I feel awful that I am here in Arizona while my friends, and especially my wife, are facing this storm back east. I just want to say to all my East Coast friends, family and readers, stay safe, and I look forward to rejoining you soon.

What developers and investors really think about transit « Price Tags

TOD in Denver. From

This post from Price Tags details what leaders in the field think about the future of transit and transit-oriented development. Long story short, they love it, and see it as the future of development. But John Cigna points out that “governments don’t have the money to build new light-rail lines and stations.” But, as the author points out, there never seems to be a limit for new road projects. “If urban regions really want to spur growth, they’d be laying rail,” they said. The author also quotes Christopher Leinberger, saying that rail is much, much more important than buses. I’ve talked before about the tech-sexiness of rail, and authorities such as William Lind say essentially that transit authorities shouldn’t even worry about buses.

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