Transit-Oriented Development Rating Systems

Developing and Validating Rating Systems
For Equitable Transit-Oriented Development

The Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern University and the Center for Transit-Oriented Development (CTOD) are partnering, with the support of the Barr Foundation, to develop a “rating system” for equitable transit-oriented development.  This project is scheduled to be completed by November 2012.

One promising strategy for reducing transportation sector greenhouse gas emissions in Massachusetts is creating regulatory frameworks that support collaboration among transit agencies, cities and towns and not-for-profit and for-profit developers to create great transit neighborhoods in the more than 250 station areas served by the MBTA.   But despite a wealth of opportunities, TOD in metropolitan Boston has proceeded far too slowly, in part because TOD often requires supportive and proactive public policies and investments that overcome higher up front costs in land acquisition, construction or other infrastructure improvements.

State and local government cannot, however, be supportive unless there is agreement on what constitutes effective, equitable TOD that is worthy of public sector support.  Without a recognized definition of what constitutes a high quality transit-oriented project or neighborhood, Massachusetts agencies and municipalities will be hobbled in their efforts to prioritize and incentivize the creation of such places.   As the LEED rating systems for green buildings and neighborhoods have done, the proposed “rating system” for equitable transit-oriented development would provide the requisite definition and could therefore catalyze rapid policy change in support of both specific transit-oriented development projects and broader initiatives to plan and improve transit-rich neighborhoods.

The proposed project will build on the best work done to date by CTOD and others in defining what constitutes effective and TOD, particularly CTOD’s Performance-Based TOD Typology, while simultaneously ensuring that considerations of equity are built into the rating system based on work done by the Dukakis Center and others to better understand the equity implications of development around transit stations.  The rating system will be designed to reward attributes of transit neighborhoods and TOD projects that have been demonstrated to reduce driving, increase transit use and promote equity.

This work will be conducted in three phases:

  • Development of Draft Rating Systems:  The existing CTOD typology and database will be analyzed and validated by using actual data on Vehicle Miles Travelled within station areas and on boardings at metropolitan Boston fixed guideway transit stations as well as in a number of high-frequency bus corridors.  The project partners are in the process of establishing an Advisory Committee of local and state stakeholders from the transportation, housing, planning, equity and municipal sectors to obtain input on the proposed structure of the rating system and on how equity can best be incorporated.  This work will be used to develop two draft rating systems, one at a neighborhood scale and one at a project scale.
  • Development and Testing of Pilot Rating Systems:  The Dukakis Center and CTOD will then convene local and state transportation, housing, planning, equity and municipal stakeholders to “ground truth” the draft rating systems, incorporating their perspectives and ensuring that the final project will meet their needs.  With this feedback the draft rating systems will be revised into “pilot” versions.  Working with the Advisory Committee, CTOD and the Dukakis Center will identify 2-3 neighborhoods and 2-3 specific TOD projects against which to test the pilot versions of rating systems.  This process will include stakeholder meetings in each community with a pilot neighborhood in order to collect the data necessary to complete the rating process and obtain additional feedback on the utility and user-friendliness of the pilot versions of the rating systems.
  • Release of Final Rating Systems and Policy Report: Using the data and perspectives learned from the neighborhood and project pilots, the rating systems will be finalized.  To the extent possible, the final versions will propose scoring criteria appropriate for qualifying for different levels of government incentive programs. The final rating systems will be released in the fall of 2012 along with a policy report which summarizes key findings from the focus groups and convenings about how the rating systems can be linked with new policy initiatives to promote TOD.  The final report will identify next steps for using the rating systems to advance effective and equitable TOD in greater Boston and beyond.

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