Transit-Oriented Development (TOD)
This page provides an overview of transit-oriented development (TOD) for local governments in Washington State, including useful resources and examples of local TOD plans and ordinances.
Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) creates dense, walkable, and mixed-use spaces near transit that support vibrant, sustainable, and equitable communities. A mix of uses, activities, and services allows TOD residents to commute to work, run errands, recreate, and meet basic needs without a car. A variety of moderate and higher density housing options located within easy walking distance from a centrally located transit station or transit corridor (about one-quarter mile, or a 10-minute walk distance) is typically part of the mix. Transit riders generally begin and end their trips by walking. As a result, safe, convenient, and attractive pedestrian networks that connect transit, residences, and other uses is a hallmark of TOD development. A well-designed bicycle system and associated facilities can increase the radius that people will travel to access transit. Public spaces and amenities, like plazas and parks, as well as quality building design are also important elements of TOD.
TOD is typically thought of in terms of light and heavy rail transit, but some communities also apply it to bus rapid transit (BRT), which is a bus-based public transportation system designed to have better capacity and reliability than a conventional bus system. Bus transit-oriented development (BTOD) is a particular type of TOD that has become quite common in practice, especially in cities where public transportation is provided primarily through a bus system instead of a metro or light rail system. BTOD projects are built at major nodes of a bus network and typically include housing units and commercial services.
Another related concept is transit-supportive development (TSD), which broadens TOD and acknowledges that not every community has the transit modes or development patterns that typically have been considered most appropriate for TOD. Compact, mixed-use development served by transit can support many community goals, including climate action and a sense of place. This page primarily covers TOD plans, studies, and codes; however, it also includes examples of BTOD and TSD.
Washington’s Growth Management Act establishes goals to be considered in the development of local comprehensive plans (see our comprehensive planning page for more information). These goals include compact growth, transportation options, housing affordable to all income levels, and a vibrant economy. TOD and TSD accomplish many of these goals through higher density, compact, mixed-use development.
In addition to statutes related to the GMA, RCW 43.21C.420 provides cities with population greater than 5,000 the authority to adopt optional comprehensive plan elements and development regulations that apply within specified subareas that are either:
- Designated as mixed-use or urban centers in a land use or transportation plan adopted by a regional transportation planning organization; or
- Within one-half mile of a major transit stop, and the subarea is zoned to have an average minimum density of 15 dwelling units or more per gross acre.
Examples of TOD/TSD Policies and Subarea Plans in Comprehensive Plans
Below are examples of comprehensive plans with related goals, policies, and subarea plans from local governments in Washington State.
- Anacortes Comprehensive Plan (2016) — Pages 17 and 18 note that new residential uses must feature transit-supportive densities of at least 15 dwelling units per gross acre in the Central Business District, Commercial, and Marine Mixed-Use land use designations.
- Kent Comprehensive Plan (2015) — See Policy T-5.4 regarding TOD opportunities. Page 38 includes a description of the city’s Transit-Oriented Community land use designation. Midway Subarea Plan/Downtown Subarea Action Plan Update are adopted by reference in the comprehensive plan.
- Kirkland Comprehensive Plan: Land Use Goals and Policies — Notes that Downtown Kirkland and Juanita Village embody the mixing of residential and commercial uses to create compact, walkable, transit-oriented communities.
- Seattle 2035 Comprehensive Plan (2020) — See CH-P6, NG-P14, and RB-P2 for policies related to TOD and TSD. The plan identifies six areas as ‘Urban Centers.’
- Shoreline Comprehensive Plan: Land Use Chapter — See LU III for a goal related to TSD and LU23 – LU46 for policies related to light rail station areas. Appendix B includes the 185th and 145th Street Station Subarea Plans.
- Tukwila Comprehensive Plan (2015) — See page 57 for an implementation strategy related TOD and page 170 for policies supporting TOD at the Tukwila International Boulevard (TIB) Station. Policy 13.5.6 supports transit-oriented uses in the vicinity of high-capacity transit stations.
To implement TOD and TSD policies, local governments have adopted related uses, standards, and design guidelines in their municipal codes. Also included among the samples are TOD-related plans, guidelines, and commissioned studies.
- Bellevue East Main Station Area Plan (2016) — Describes the vision for the East Main station area, which encompasses an area one-quarter to one-half mile outside the boundaries of the light rail station, as well as recommendations for achieving the vision.
- Issaquah Municipal Code Sec. 3.09.120 — Includes multifamily tax exemption requirements for the Tibbetts Valley TOD Targeted Area.
- Kenmore Municipal Code Ch. 18.29 — Outlines uses, standards, and other requirements for the TOD District Overlay.
- Kent Midway Design Guidelines (2012) — Applies to pedestrian-oriented places located around several Sound Transit light rail stations and establishes a flexible framework of design options for creating interesting and high-quality commercial, multi-family residential and public projects.
- Kirkland Zoning Code Ch. 30 — Includes requirements for certain uses within the Totem Lake Business District TOD zone.
- Mountlake Terrace Municipal Code Ch. 19.50 — Catalogues regulations and standards to implement a vision for the town center as a blend of attractive transit-oriented uses connected to the light rail transit station, civic campus, and surrounding neighborhoods.
- Seattle Northgate TOD - Urban Design Study (2012) — The goal is to help the community grow in a sustainable manner by focusing on: 1) building types, form, and character; 2) community assets; and 3) streets and other mobility connections.
- SeaTac Municipal Code Ch. 15.310 — Includes standards for implementing the Angle Lake Station Area as set forth in the SeaTac Comprehensive Plan by promoting TOD, diverse uses, and other goals.
- Spokane TOD Framework Study (2022) — Identifies recommendations for aligning policies, regulations, and investments in public infrastructure along Spokane’s current and future high-frequency transit corridors and includes plans for integrated TOD and multi-modal access within a portion of the rapid transit line.
- Sound Transit: TOD — Highlights partnerships with private and nonprofit developers to build TOD with affordable housing, retail, restaurants, offices, and community spaces.
- Everett Link Extension: Model Code Partnership Project - TOD Case Studies (2022) — Includes three primary components: case studies, vignettes, and resources. The case studies include six examples of TOD planning efforts across the country that are comparable to the Everett Link Extension project.
- Tumwater Municipal Code Ch. 18.21 — Includes regulations for the CBC Capitol Boulevard Community Zone District, which is envisioned to incrementally change from strip commercial development and other low-intensity or non-pedestrian-oriented uses into a mixed use, pedestrian-, auto- and transit-oriented corridor.
- Tukwila TOD Housing Strategies Plan (2021) — Tukwila received a grant through the HB 1923 Grant Program to develop this plan. It focuses on the areas surrounding the TIB LINK light rail station, with the goal of increasing residential building capacity and minimizing displacement of existing residents in the area.
- Vancouver Municipal Code Ch. 20.550 — Includes TOD-related densities, development regulations, and incentives.
- Chapel Hill (NC): North-South BRT TOD Framework — Documents two tasks: developing a TOD-place typology and assessing TOD readiness in the context of this typology and local conditions.
- Delaware Valley (PA) Regional Planning Commission: TOD — Offers a variety of resources to support TOD projects in the greater Philadelphia area, including Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority TOD Policy Research and Local Trip Generation Adjustments for TOD.
- Jacksonville (FL) Transportation Authority: TOD — Focuses on land development and redevelopment in areas adjacent to transit facilities such as Skyway stations, BRT stations, and intermodal stations.
- Madison (WI): TOD (2022) — Discusses the city’s plans for a TOD overlay zoning district to encourage denser development close to a planned BRT corridor.
- National Conference of State Legislatures: TOD in the States (2012) — Includes an overview, with case studies and sections on TOD-related federal and state support.
- Portland (OR) Metro: TOD Program — Includes TOD project profiles and related documents for projects funded through Metro’s TOD Program.
- Raleigh (NC): Equitable Development Around Transit — Describes the community’s priorities for equitable development near the city’s BRT lines. Includes an Equitable TOD Guidebook and additional resources.
- Phoenix (AZ): TOD — Covers TOD resources and current projects, including:
- Reinvent PHX — A collaborative partnership between the city and other partners to develop walkable, opportunity-rich communities connected to light rail.
- 19North TOD Policy Plan (2021) — Intended to provide community-driven guidance for redevelopment along the northernmost segment of an existing light rain line.
- Reconnecting America: Encouraging TOD - Case Studies of Tools that Work (2009) — Focuses on 10 tools frequently used by communities such as joint development, right-sizing parking, land assembly, and housing trust funds.
- Transit Oriented Denver (CO): TOD Strategic Plan (2014) — Contains both citywide, high-level policy recommendations and on the ground, station-level action items with the intent to foster implementation of TOD at rail stations and support the development of transit communities.
- Enterprise Community Partners and Low-Income Investment Fund: Filling the Financing Gap for Equitable TOD (2013) — Reviews existing financing tools (using four regions as examples), identifies systemic financing gaps, and recommends potential capital and/or policy solutions.
- Environmental Protection Agency: Infrastructure Financing Options for TOD (2013) — Addresses the challenges of funding TOD infrastructure and includes tools and strategies for funding and financing, as well as case studies and innovative models.
- Federal Transit Administration (FTA) — Offers links to helpful publications.
- Pilot Program for TOD Planning — Funds projects that integrate land use and transportation planning with a new fixed guideway or core capacity transit capital investment. View projects awarded to date (including four in Washington State).
- Value Capture Strategies Used for Transit — Discusses the relationship between transit and nearby property values, including what factors are likely to create the biggest value for transit-supportive land use policies.
- Center for Transit-Oriented Development: Papers and Publications — Includes publications that address topics ranging from creating complete communities through TOD, TOD and employment, and mixed income housing within TOD.
- Futurewise, GGLO, and Transportation Choices Coalition: Transit-Oriented Communities - A Blueprint for Washington State (2009) — Discusses TOD benefits with supporting evidence and performance measures of success.
- Puget Sound Regional Council
- Incorporating TOD Into Comprehensive Plans (2022) — Summarizes key TOD elements to consider in local planning for transit station areas.
- Transit Supportive Planning Toolkit: Guidance and Resources for Plan and Policy Development (2013) — Discusses strategies to strengthen the land use-transportation connection using successful Puget Sound area examples.
- Smart Growth America, FTA: TOD Technical Assistance Initiative — Provides assistance to support TOD and improve access to public transportation; includes customized resources (guidebooks, research papers, fact sheets, interactive tools, and videos).
- Transit Oriented Development Institute — Includes several useful reports covering topics such as street design, urban bikeway design, and station area planning.
- Victoria Transport Policy Institute — Offers a comprehensive compilation of resources, including a synthesis of prior research, case studies, and related technical topics.
- Washington State Department of Commerce: TOD Resources — Includes resources related to the TOD Implementation grant program, which facilitates TOD that leverages investments in high-capacity transit systems and plans for high-density residential development near transit. Additional information on Commerce's grant programs related to TOD, climate change, and missing middle housing can be found on the Planning for Housing and Growth Management Grants pages.
- Washington State Department of Transportation: Transportation Efficient Communities — Offers resources to help communities become more transportation-efficient, including sections on compact growth, and planning for all transportation modes.