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May 16, 2008 1:16 PM

Professor addresses TOD myths

Dr. John L. Renne, an assistant professor of Urban Planning and Transportation Studies at the University of New Orleans, says that despite what some people believe, transit oriented developments can help protect the rural and suburban nature of communities surrounding Denver.

Tenet # 1 - TODs do nothing to curb sprawl

TOD is not the silver bullet, but its part of the solution.
Let me give you an analogy.
A person that weighs 300 lbs. and is on the verge of a heart attack cannot solve their problems with just taking a few magic pills.
They must change their lifestyle by exercising, a change in diet, and possible some medicine.
Our cities are unhealthy.
Transit and TOD are an important part of the solution, but they are not a panacea. Many studies, books and articles discuss the importance of how TOD is an integral part of the solution. Two nonprofits, Reconnecting America (http://www.reconnectingamerica.org) and Smart Growth America (http://www.smartgrowthamerica.org) provide excellent resources on the topic.

Tenet # 2 - TODs are not the wave of the future

Emerging Trends in Real Estate, published jointly by the Urban Land Institute and PriceWaterhouseCoopers rated TOD (mixed use, walkable, and transit served neighborhoods) as the top real estate prospect for the future for the past 5 years because TODs "appreciate faster in up-markets and hold value better in down-markets". The statistics show this to be the case in Denver an across the United States.
National Public Radio just did a big story on how home prices are falling fastest in suburbs while home prices near central cities and near transit lines are holding their value or appreciating during this down-cycle.
They also did another story about how many Americans are turning to transit during this fuel crunch; buses and trains are full and demand for transit is growing.
The demand to live in TODs in the United States far outweighs the supply. My research has found that the demand for TOD is about 30 percent of the overall population but the current supply is less than 2 percent. With increasing gas prices, you can begin to understand why people would want to live closer to train stations, so they can walk, bike, and use transit as an alternative to driving.
Tenet # 3 - Nonpolluting electric and hydrogen-powered vehicles will make TOD unnecessary in the future.
Even if cars could run on air with no negative by-products, TODs are still needed because of traffic. Remember, FasTracks was passed in 2004 by the majority of Denver voters because traffic is so bad.
Environmentally sensitive cars will do nothing to ease traffic, especially considering Denver will grow from 2.6 million people to 3.9 million people by 2030.
Moreover, seniors over age 60 will more than double, comprising 25 percent of the overall population. If TODs are not built, you can expect complete gridlock across Denver.
You need European-style developments (ie. TODs) around Denver's train stations, otherwise, you will be sitting in traffic with the 1.3 million new people that are coming to your region. Also, what are you going to do when you get to the age that you can no longer drive?
Many studies show that the isolation of seniors in car-dependent neighborhoods is a big problem and will only worsen in the future.
AAPR is now promoting TOD as a needed alternative so that seniors can have mobility options as they age. TODs encourage a healthier lifestyle by allowing for residents to get more active transport (ie. walking and biking) in their daily routine.
Studies show this to be part of the reason that Europeans live longer and spend less on health care per capita than Americans.
Tenet # 4 - Low-density needs to be protected because of the strong community it creates
If you want to preserve the rural and suburban nature of communities around Denver, you should advocate for TOD.
If you do not promote development near transit, then where will it go? Your suburbs and rural communities will become denser and you will lose the character that you are trying to protect.
TOD is part of a growth management strategy that can be summarized as:
1. Funnel new growth near transit corridors
2. Enact policies that prevent density in the suburbs and rural communities
Growth is going to happen.
The question is where do you want the 1.3 million new people to go. They can continue to clog the already congested streets and highways or they can be directed to new developments that will get them out of their cars.
This will benefit you when you get in your car and get on the highway.

Dr. John L Renne has been researching TODs for more than 10 years. He has led TOD studies for governments across the United States and Australia, including two studies for the Transportation Research Board of the National Academies. He earned his Bachelor and Master degrees in Urban Planning at the University of Colorado and his PhD at Rutgers University. Dr. Renne is currently an assistant professor in urban planning and transportation studies at the University of New Orleans and the CEO of The TOD Group.


  • May 24, 2008

    9:18 AM

    John Zeger writes:

    John Renne commits the typical "smart growth" fallacy in myopically stating that "growth is going to happen" so we had been get on with the business of densifying and cramming as many people as we can into small areas without any regard for other factors such as where resources such as water are to going to come from to supply the needs of all these people, not to mention what it will do to community character and people's quality of life. People like Renne should get their head out of the sand and acknowledge that growth can be controlled as scores of communities in North America like Boulder, CO have successfully done and that residents have more options that just urban cramming.

  • May 27, 2008

    3:10 PM

    ARK writes:

    Boulder capped residential construction, but this just pushed growth into neighboring towns such as Superior. The U.S. 36 Corridor exploded with development. Meanwhile, Boulder jobs continued to grow, leading to a daily tide of 9 to 5 commuters, increasing the overall traffic on area highways.

    A better strategy would have been to build TOD nodes that blunted the outward sprawl and increased walking and transit use instead of driving.

    Growth is not just net in-migration. "Natural increase" results from plain old fertility.

  • October 5, 2008

    7:49 PM

    John Zeger writes:

    I would respond to ARK that rather than having Boulder densify and destroy its community, nearby municipalities should also implement growth controls. Furthermore, Boulder should stabilize its economy rather than encouraging employment growth.

  • December 11, 2009

    10:12 AM

    Size Zero writes:

    Hi there, I found your blog via Google and your post looks very interesting for me.

  • November 26, 2011

    2:58 AM

    Florinda Cuneo writes:

    Where do you think you'll go with this concept now?

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