Studies show that residential transit-oriented development (TOD) works in suburbs


Among the many reasons why local governments in the Washington metropolitan area should be correcting the serious shortage of housing in transit-oriented developments (TOD’s) is that predominantly residential TOD development has thrived in many suburban areas, as well as cities—including in the Washington, DC, area. 

Success stories in suburbs across the United States 

A recent report by the Center for Transit-Oriented Development (CTOD) discusses flourishing new development patterns within a half-mile of three new light rail lines. Two of those development patterns are predominantly residential. (CTOD, Rails to Real Estate 2 (March 2011), posted at: Specifically, CTOD discusses:


  • Minneapolis (Minnesota)—Hiawatha Line light rail corridor, which links downtown Minneapolis with suburban Bloomington.  That 12.3-mile line opened in 2004. About 86 percent of the 6.7 million square feet (sf) of development along it from 2003-2009 was residential. (Id. at 3, Fig. 1-1; 72, Table 6-2)  The other 14 percent of development was “commercial,” a category that includes office, retail, hotel, and industrial development.  
  • Denver (Colorado)—Southeast Corridor light rail line, which links central Denver to several communities to the southeast including the Denver Technology Center (a major employment center and focus of recent job growth). (Id. at 5) That 19.1-mile line opened in 2006. About 68 percent of the ­nearly 7.8 million square feet (sf) of development along that line between 2004 and 2009 was residential. The other 32 percent was commercial. (Id. at 7, 72, Table 6-2)
  •  Charlotte (North Carolina)—Blue Line, which links central Charlotte with points south. That 9.1-mile line opened in 2007.  About 54 percent of the 9.75 million sf of development along that line from 2005 to 2009 was residential, and the other 46 percent was commercial. (Id. at 7, 72, Table 6-2)  


The Charlotte Blue Line development actually was predominantly commercial—because it generally takes much more square footage to house workers than to provide offices or other workplaces for them. The average amount of floor space in a new residential unit is about 1,200-1,250 sf, whereas the average space per worker in office buildings has been 250-300 sf. (Most recent commercial development in metropolitan areas has been for offices.) For retail workers, the average is between 400-450 sf; for industrial workers, about 450 sf; and for hotel workers, between 670-750 sf.


 So, “balanced development,” between residential and non-residential development, generally means providing much more square footage for residential than for non-residential development.  


A high percentage of TOD’s are predominantly residential. CTOD has documented numerous other suburban success stories. E.g., CTOD, Performance-Based Transit-Oriented Development Typology Guidebook 47-49 (Oak Park, IL), 50-53 (West Irving, TX) (2010), posted at: course, CTOD also has documented numerous  residential TOD success stories in cities, too.

Success stories in Washington suburbs

Predominantly residential TOD has a successful track record In the Washington metropolitan area, both in urban and suburban locations, as CTOD and others have documented.  Examples such as the Courthouse and Clarendon stations on the Metrorail (commuter rail) Orange Line in Arlington, Virginia, merit attention by planners for future TOD's. 


The areas within a half-mile of the Courthouse and Clarendon stations had a jobs-housing units ratio below 1.6:1 as of 2009. (It is estimated that before the recent recession, there was an average of 1.6 workers per housing unit in the Washington region.) See Robert Brosnan, 40 Years of Transit Oriented Development, p. 45 (May 15, 2010) (presentation to Reston Task Force; posted at: (totals for office jobs and residential units within one-half mile of Arlington Orange Line stations).  The overall jobs-housing units ratio for the Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor (which contains the Courthouse, Clarendon, and other Arlington Orange Line stations) was 3.44:1, as of 2009.


The Silver Line Corridor from Tysons Corner to eastern Loudoun County so far has been planned for  even predominantly commercial development overall. There appears to be no reason why Silver Line stations generally could not plan for balanced residential and nonresidential development, to prevent more and more new workers having to live far away and pay an increasing percentage of their incomes for housing costs.


Montgomery County, MD, is aiming for a 2.05:1 overall jobs-households ratio for its Red Line Metrorail station areas. John A. Carter, Planning at Metro Stations: Case Studies and Lessons Learned, p. 26 (Montgomery County, MD, Urban Design and Preservation Division, May 18, 2010) (presented to Reston Task Force, Feb. 23, 2010); posted at That report counsels planners to “focus on housing for all” and “balance jobs and housing.” Id. at 23-25. Local planners should take advantage of the opportunities TOD presents to decrease the area’s serious housing shortage.