Making the most of commuter rail stations


The Regional Plan Association explores the untapped potential for affordable homes and neighborhoods near transit in the NY-NJ-CT metropolitan area. (Photo credit: Regional Plan Association)

Commuter rail stations throughout the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut metropolitan region offer convenient access to quality, high-paying jobs. Yet the land immediately surrounding many of these stations is still underutilized with low-density development, according to a new report from the Regional Plan Association (RPA).

For example, if developed, existing parking lots surrounding commuter rail stations that are within a 45-minute commute of Manhattan could support the construction of over 250,000 much needed housing units. In New Jersey, 47 percent of 18-34 year olds live with their parents due in part to high housing costs, the highest rate in the country. The addition of transit-oriented development in jobs-accessible areas would help reduce the pressure on the housing market, create economic opportunity, and offer lifestyle choices sought by millennials and seniors alike.

One of the biggest barriers to this type of development is zoning. Over 50 percent (140 of 264) of commuter rail stations outside of NYC that could support TOD have restrictive zoning codes that limit or prohibit multi-family development close to the stations. RPA also found that the restrictions are typically greater in wealthy and white neighborhoods. Even within New York City proper, there are over six square miles of land within walking distance of transit where multifamily housing is prohibited altogether.

The report’s recommended solutions include proactive zoning, support for suburban transit service, coordination of growth and infrastructure, inclusionary housing policies, and greater financing tools for more urban development. But the most interesting and potentially easily replicable solution that RPA offers is to take a regional inventory of available land, along with the restrictions that prevent development in quality job accessible areas.

Selected reports in the library offer guidance on conducting regional assessments of land. The TOD Standard, by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, gives a rating system for creating quality station areas. The Performance-Based TOD Typology Guidebook, by the Center for Transit-Oriented Development, helps planners measure a number of different station area attributes and measure them against other stations around the country. And finally, Oriented Toward Equity: A Rating System for Equitable TOD by the Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy gives measurement standards and practices for building equitable TOD.

Recent TOD news

Here are a few things that have been happening this week with TOD projects across the country: