Transit Oriented Development: A Progress Report

I remember when Transit Oriented Development (TOD) was considered a fringe idea espoused by some academics in California. The Met Council’s Livable Communities Grant program, which offers incentives for TOD, helped change the attitude among municipalities. Now it’s mainstream and really taking off.

How much is detailed in a recent staff presentation to the Met Council, reproduced here. It uses 2003-2017 data from the Annual Building Permit Survey & Development Tracker.

The following tables break it down by transit route, but here are the surprising summary numbers for development along the existing and future LRT and BRT lines. They account for:

  • 43% of commercial development
  • 28% of public/institutional development
  • 44% of multi-family residential development

All in 2.4% of the region.

Number of Multifamily Residential Units Located Near Transit Stations, 2009-2017

Number of Multifamily Residential Units Located Near Transit Stations, 2009-2017


Multifamily Residential Units Permitted, 2009-2017

Multifamily Residential Units Permitted Along Transitways, 2009-2017


Commercial Development Permit Value, Near Transit Stations, 2003-2017

Commercial Development Permit Value, Near Transit Stations, 2003-2017


Value of Commercial Development, By Transitline, 2003-2017

Value of Commercial Development, By Transitline, 2003-2017


Value of Public Development Near Transit, 2003-2017

Value of Public Development Near Transit, 2003-2017


Overall Value of Public Development by Transitway, 2003-2017

Overall Value of Public Development by Transitway, 2003-2017


That’s what has happened to date. Here’s the distribution of projected future TOD development.

Future Planned Multi-Family Development By Transit Line

Future Planned Multi-Family Development By Transit Line


Value of All Future Planned Development, by Transit Line

Value of All Future Planned Development, by Transit Line


Aaron Isaacs

About Aaron Isaacs

Aaron retired in 2006 after 33 years as a planner and manager for Metro Transit, where he worked in route and schedule planning, operations, maintenance, transit facilities, light rail and traffic advantages for buses. He's an historian of transit, as a 40+ year volunteer with the Minnesota Streetcar Museum. He's co-author of Twin Cities by Trolley, The Streetcar Era in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and author of Twin Ports by Trolley on Duluth-Superior.

10 thoughts on “Transit Oriented Development: A Progress Report

    1. Scott Walters

      We’ll never know for sure. But I guarantee you there’s zero chance that Allianz Field would be almost finished where the catastrophe that was the Midway Center used to be without the Green Line. Zero.

      The Green Line is often maligned as a development driver, not a transit project. Well, if so, I couldn’t be happier about its performance. I’d much rather have a development driver than a transit project if this is how they all turn out. Anybody who thinks it’s anything but a smashing success isn’t paying attention. It’s the Twin Cities’ version of Clinton’s Ditch…the Erie Canal, America’s single most successful and transformational transportation project that was actually a real estate development project, ever.

  1. Trent

    This is a nice map to show where “real” transit corridors exist. Makes a lot more sense to pile on the development along these massive investments of transit then to follow every urban bus route the way Minneapolis 2040 lays it out with high density multi-family.

    1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

      Most Minneapolis transit corridors are zoned for “high density” but rather just regular ol’ neighborhood 4-6 story density.

    2. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

      I assume you included this comment in the Minneapolis 2040 plan to suggest the under-construction 21st St station on the Green Line extension be zoned for thousands of new residential units rather than ultra-low-density Interior 1 and Interior built forms.

  2. Alex SchieferdeckerAlex Schieferdecker

    Interesting data that lead to a lot of opportunity cost questions.

    How would these areas have grown without transit? (As Bill said. Clearly some areas like downtown Minneapolis or the University area would’ve done just fine, and those two areas account for the bulk of the development!)
    How would these areas have grown without TOD subsidies? (What has been the total cost of TOD grants so far, and would that money have been better spent on more service?)
    But for transit and subsidies, would the same amount of development have occurred (probably similar) and where would it have gone? (Idk!)

    These are hard questions to answer, but an easier question that this presentation does not tackle is to what extent this development is truly “transit oriented” vs “transit adjacent.” It’s all well and good to put development near transit, but what especially matters is whether the development actually pushes occupants towards using that transit. A lot of downtown development, for instance, is awash in parking. Thrivent is building a 700+ space lot just steps from the light rail, and the Fed is proposing an 800 space ramp within easy walking distance of a downtown station. I’d hardly call the Thrivent parking ramp with wrap-around apartments as TOD, but I’m sure it’s being counted here.

    Other developments, like The Link in Prospect Park, have TOD-like qualities, but the Fresh Thyme grocery store in that development turns its back on the LRT station and has customers enter through the parking lot.

    In the future, I hope we will see cities and Metro Transit fight harder for development that isn’t just nearby to transit, but actually encourages transit use by providing less parking, turning primary entrances to the stations, and making other improvements. TOD needs to be truly oriented towards transit riders, MSP is well past the point where it can and should demand more.

    1. Jack

      Fresh Thyme does have an entrance on University Avenue. There is also a raised deck on University for deli diners.

  3. Aaron IsaacsAaron Isaacs Post author

    It’s a matter of probabilities. If the development is–as you say–transit adjacent, people have the option to use transit. If it’s somewhere else (like Shakopee for example), there will be no transit ridership, period. So which is better?

    1. Alex SchieferdeckerAlex Schieferdecker

      I’m saying: if it’s transit adjacent but not transit oriented, then the promise of TOD is not being realized.

      If the Met Council and cities are going to go to the trouble of subsidizing development near transit, they have leverage, and they ought to insist on some things, like a lower ratio of parking and a higher standard of site plan.

  4. Andrew Evans

    There is something magical about trains, and dedicated transit lines. I’m not as read up as Aaron or others, but I know it’s come up before here and other articles.

    I’d make the argument that a lot of the development that started along the Blue Line was dependent on light rail. It was a little before my time here, but I can’t remember anything large going up around there in before the line existed, and since it’s been an explosion with new construction. Ironically enough, people are fine with walking a half mile to a station, maybe more, then another about that far to their destination. Again, something magical about rail.

    University seems to be much the same. I can’t remember much going on there before the Green Line went in. Other than maybe some odd artist apartments or something. Granted some of the boom we’re seeing has to do with old industrial space converted to retail or apartments, which seems independent of rail, but still, most of the new development has come after the line was in place.

    The counter to this, that maybe applies to University, is the boom uptown and lake street have seen in the past 10+ years. There, as far as I know, wasn’t a large investment in transit, and back then uptown wasn’t even that desirable of a place to live, and then somewhat slowly at first, everyone wanted to be there. Some of us blame the Edina kids and their parents money, but even so, it’s seen quite the transition.

    The same would go for just across the river in NE Mpls. Again, there doesn’t seem to be the transit investment, in fact it’s worse to drive and get around there now than before, but it’s seen quite a boom of development.

    Just IMO.

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