Putting the “T” in TOD


Development of Phinney Flats in Seattle has been put on hold due to transit frequency issues. (Photo via Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections)

Seattle wants transit-oriented development. Will transit frequency issues get in the way?

Seattle, WA wants to encourage denser development in its designated “urban centers” and “urban villages”, neighborhood nodes targeted for growth in the city’s comprehensive plan. In these areas, the city has waived parking requirements for development within a quarter mile of transit — but transit frequency of 15-minute headways must be achieved.

According to a recent ruling, the buses along Route #5 in Seattle’s Phinney Ridge neighborhood were not frequent enough to justify waiving the parking requirements for a proposed 57-unit building. Though the route is scheduled for 15-minute headways, a neighborhood coalition hired a statistician to examine the route’s performance and found that the bus was missing its scheduled headway 38% of the time.

The proposed development still has life — it’s been sent back for permit review — but the dispute underscores the correlation between transit frequency and a TOD project’s ability to succeed.

Public transit must be “frequent, reliable, and comfortable” to increase ridership and decrease the need for parking in the surrounding developments. Effects of TOD on Housing, Parking, and Travel, a study completed by the Transit Cooperative Research Program and available at TODresources.org, highlights transit frequency as an important factor in promoting TOD-related ridership and motivating residents or employers to locate to TODs.

Though 15-minute headways are considered frequent by U.S. standards, routes with shorter wait times are better able to increase ridership, especially when in competition with ride-hailing apps. Technologies such as transit signal priority, off-board fare payment, and queue jumps could also cut down on bottlenecks on the #5 route, according to The Urbanist, a local Seattle blog.

TOD communities can offer convenient and equitable access to education, jobs, affordable housing, and neighborhood services and amenities; underlying these factors, quality transit service is critical to setting TOD projects up for success.

Recent TOD news

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