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September / October 2006

Around the Region, the Transit-Centered Lifestyle
Is Catching On

Hayward BART

This townhome complex is part of a vibrant transit village that has sprouted around the Hayward BART station.
(Photo: Noah Berger)

 (Photo: Peter Beeler)

 (Photo: Noah Berger)

 (Photo: Arlene Finger)

 (Photo: Arlene Finger)
TOD is revitalizing the urban core and restoring a sense of place to nondescript landscapes — while encouraging transit ridership. Shown here are TOD projects in San Jose, Oakland and Richmond.

Creating Transit Villages Where People Will Want to Live, Work, Shop and Spend Time

To see what the buzz surrounding transit-oriented development — or TOD — is all about, hop on BART and get off in downtown Hayward. A few short steps from the BART/AC Transit station, you’ll see Hayward’s contemporary City Hall and a series of two- and three-story townhouse complexes that have transformed a BART parking lot and other underused parcels into an attractive — and convenient — new neighborhood with eateries, a supermarket, a range of services and attractive open spaces.

In pockets around the region, TOD is leaping off the pages of planning textbooks and manifesting in the real world. The transit-oriented lifestyle is catching on with road warriors weary of tediously long car commutes, newcomers to the local job market who don’t want the pain, hassle and expense of owning a car, young families looking to get a foothold in the Bay Area’s pricey housing market, empty-nesters, and senior citizens ready to turn in their car keys.

From Vallejo and Santa Rosa in the North Bay to San Jose in the South Bay, and San Francisco in the West Bay to Oakland and Pleasant Hill in the East Bay, TOD is combating long commutes and traffic, revitalizing neighborhoods, and fostering a more convenient lifestyle while also addressing the region’s chronic housing shortage, particularly in the realm of affordable housing. By clustering apartments, townhomes and condos in the vicinity of existing and planned public transit hubs, cities, developers and the many community groups involved in the local planning process are aiming to shift development patterns toward a more environmentally friendly and sustainable model that makes owning a car — or a second car — optional instead of essential.

A recent survey of residents of the Hayward transit village shows that the TOD concept is paying off: 38 percent of the respondents said they use BART or AC Transit for their commute, six times the rate among the general Hayward population (per the 2000 U.S. Census). And well over half of the respondents indicated that downtown Hayward is their primary shopping destination for their daily needs, with nearly 88 percent saying they visit downtown grocery stores at least once a week.

Susan Daluddung, Hayward’s recently hired director of Community and Economic Development, has bought into the transit lifestyle, literally — she can see her new loft-style condo from her City Hall office. A longtime proponent of smart growth and transit-oriented development, she decided to “walk the talk.” “It’s not just that it’s convenient to live by my office and BART. I’m doing my part to make a lighter footprint on the land, and improve the environment,” she said.

To some degree, market forces and the region’s inexorable growth in population are driving the transit-oriented lifestyle. But MTC is working with the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and other partner agencies to boost the phenomenon to the next level with several governmental initiatives.

In July of 2005, the Commission adopted a landmark Transit-Oriented Development Policy that applies to $11 billion in new transit extensions slated to be built with the help of regional discretionary funds over the next 25 years. The first of its kind by any regional agency in the country, the policy sets a minimum number of housing units for major new transit investments, with more capital-intensive modes requiring a higher number of housing units. Affordable units get a bonus for the purpose of meeting the corridor housing goals.

At the same time, the Commission is helping communities and transit agencies comply with the new standards by means of a Station Area Planning Grant Program, which in its pilot cycle gave out eight grants totaling $2.8 million. The goal is to develop plans for vibrant, mixed-use transit villages at new rail, bus and ferry hubs. “We’re envisioning these as places where people will want to live, work, shop and spend time,” said Senior Planner James Corless, who spearheads MTC’s TOD program.

Meanwhile, the regional “Focusing Our Vision” effort (sponsored by ABAG and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District together with MTC) is looking at the larger picture, and exploring how to intensify densities around transit hubs and transit corridors, and foster infill development across the board. By October 2007, Focusing Our Vision will culminate in the designation of a set of priority areas for infill development, as well as priority conservation areas (mostly open space), up and down the region.

“Many of those priority development areas will likely be at existing transit stations and will complement MTC’s TOD Policy for the new transit lines,” said Ted Droettboom, who is coordinating the effort on behalf of the three sponsoring agencies.
— Brenda Kahn