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 panoramio.com.

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 panoramio.com.

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 panoramio.com.

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.

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About Dave Munson
This blog is about architecture, cities, and myself.

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