Efficient Land Use: Transit-Oriented Developments

There are few projects more exciting for a site/civil engineer with a background in geo-environmental engineering, and a fondness for planning, than transit-oriented developments (TODs)—location-efficient projects that cluster mixed-use developments around transit facilities.

Overcoming Obstacles to Increase Public Transit Use

New Jersey boasts the second highest rate of transit commuting in the country, with about one-third of the population living within walking distance of a rail transit station.

Many neighborhoods around these stations are populated with tired properties ready for revitalization. Challenges of developing these properties typically include traffic, floodplains, wetlands, hazardous waste, historic resources, and concerned communities. I relish the opportunity to work through these obstacles and put forward a design that takes people out of their cars and on public transit—while being a financial success for the developer.

Prioritizing TOD Investments

With that in mind, I was excited to read the recent report, "Targeting Transit: Assessing Development Opportunities around New Jersey's Transit Stations," from New Jersey Future— a nonprofit organization promoting responsible land-use policies. The report studied each of the state's 243 transit stations and their surrounding neighborhoods then developed a database profile for each.

The report describes an analytic tool developed to prioritize TOD investments. This "360-degree" profile puts information such as transit service frequency, parking availability, demographics, and employment into a one-stop-shop database for real estate developers and local governments evaluating TOD projects.


Development Opportunities around New Jersey Transit Stations

I hope the report will be a catalyst for many smart TOD projects—office, residential, retail, and park-and-ride. Location-efficient projects require less land, infrastructure, and energy, yielding far-reaching benefits ranging from greenhouse gas reduction to vibrant, walkable downtowns.

The benefits are easy to see in Morristown, where I had the opportunity to work on a TOD earlier in my career. Opened in 2009, the Highlands at Morristown Station is situated across the street from a NJ TRANSIT rail station and boasts retail space, more than 225 residential units, and a 650-space parking garage.

Currently I'm involved with another project in Morristown—the Speedwell Redevelopment for Mill Creek Residential Trust, LLC. Phase I of the Speedwell Redevelopment is under construction.

Through both of the Morristown projects, I can practically taste the rewards of sustainable TOD activity—including one of my favorites from the New Jersey Future report, "freeing up commuters' time for other uses... (like) sleeping."