Friday, October 23, 2009

TOD works

By Ariel

If there is a problem with planning in general (and there are surely more than one) then it is the fact that plans or developments themselves cannot quickly respond to the market feedback. When New Coke debuted and sales plummeted, Coca Cola had very clear feedback, and could tell if its product “worked.” It took decades for planners to realize that Corbusian ‘plinths in a park’ didn’t work. As Professor Michael Larice often notes, there are no “post occupancy studies” of plans.

Recently The Oregonian featured an article titled Residents of transit-oriented Orenco Station still driving cars to work. The author notes:
"About two out of three Orenco residents drive to work in cars, slightly less than some other suburbs but hardly the car-free utopia many idealists expect of the transit-oriented area. Even as the neighborhood has grown closer, block by block, to the MAX light rail station"
At first glance this “post occupancy study” would suggest that transit oriented development does not work.

However, no matter how damning the headline or lead sentence may be generally one can find far more interesting data further along in a report. For one, it would appear that most people who live in Orenco tend to:
"...walk to shopping and use mass transit for nonwork trips – to the zoo or symphony, for example – at rates that beat other suburban communities… Orenco residents are five times as likely as [nearby neighborhood] residents to walk to shops and stores more than five times a week."
As Jennifer Dill director of the Oregon Transportation Research and Education Consortium notes, only 20% of trips are journeys to work trips. The fact that their journey to work (JTW) still exhibit high car mode share is a function of where they are going. After all, every trip is determined by origin and destination, and if the origin is walkable but the destination isn’t, well, you will simply have to drive there. That is clearly evident when people in Orenco prefer to move around their neighborhood via foot and bike but still drive to work.

Ultimately this a reminder that any single TOD is only as effective as the entire region around it. TOD is not about specific projects here or there, but the rules by which we allow our entire region to be built.

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