The land around the majority of light rail stations has been zoned for retail, in accordance with the theory of Transit Oriented Development. The unintended consequence has been that development near transit stations has been auto-oriented, with single story retail and large parking lots.
Attempting to implement TOD outside of the context of a controlled and designed mega-project is extremely problematic. TOD is a designer’s solution antidote to sprawl, and it requires the implementation of all project elements simultaneously, to form a coherent whole, to be successful.
For the majority of transit stations, using TOD as a planning and development paradigm is inappropriate. A city is not a building writ large, or a district a single development writ large. Outside of the context of an integrated district-scale redevelopment plan, with a single master developer (private or public), development around transit is not TOD, and should not be treated as such.
To meet the necessary threshold for walkable neighborhood retail, residential density near transit stations needs to rise substantially. In most areas, where existing residential development consists of single family detached housing, raising the average density requires the addition of very high density residential development. Thus, planners should both permit and incentivize the development of very high density (elevator apartments, minimally). In theory, the necessary population to meet the threshold to support neighborhood retail is services should be provided by adjacent high density residential. Lacking that, a TOD cannot support pedestrian scale retail.
The financial underpinnings for residential density are provided by rapid transit with good access to regional employment. Without the accessibility premium, there is no demand to support the residential density. That accessibility premium exists: a) in the context of severe traffic congestion (where transit provides a significant time advantage over the personal automobile) or b) high parking costs near workplaces, so that transit represents a significant financial advantage.