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Thread: Problems of retail at TOD

  1. #1
    Dec 2006

    Problems of retail at TOD


    An article discussing the difficulties facing retail in TOD sites,
    Is it just this poor design or a systemic problem.

    In planning school we debated endlessly if the transit market would support retail.
    In the real world the answer seems to be a resounding no.

    The market for retail must exist, transit is only a amenity for successful retail projects.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian jmello's avatar
    Mar 2005
    Clayobyrne, CB
    I can say that if one looks at a historic-TOD city such as Boston or Philadelphia, one would see large-scale retail concentrated at the city center and large regional centers where many transit lines converge and a significant proportion of the population works. Smaller concentrations of local retail (i.e., bars, dry cleaners, barber shops, florists, coffee shops, drug stores, etc.) are concentrated in areas surrounding outer stations in mostly residential neighborhoods. A Home Depot or full-size Target would simply not work next to Savin Hill Station in Boston or Ellsworth-Federal Station in Philadelphia. They would work at Downtown Crossing or Market East Station.

    Furthermore, in the particular example cited above, I would argue that the amount of retail and civic space far overshadows the amount of adjacent walkable residential space (a key compenent in TOD retail and service demand). A development cannot simultaneously be a neighborhood TOD retail district and a regional auto-centered civic and retail center and still function properly.
    Last edited by jmello; 20 Dec 2006 at 12:33 PM.

  3. #3
    Feb 2004
    Residential is the key to a successful TOD. It sounds like the one in question only had 47 residential units. That is not enough. Retail can work, and does work, if there are people who use the station other than for a park and ride lot. The retail has to provide local, every day services. It amazes that they couldn't find a local coffee shop and turned down starbucks twice. Say what you will about Starbucks, but they are one of those businesses that seem to indicate a general retail upswing in an area. Like jmello said, there are plenty of examples of highly successful TOD developments all over the place. The retail cannot simply be the only egg in the basket.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
    Mar 2004
    Where the weak are killed and eaten.
    Quote Originally posted by jmello View post
    A Home Depot or full-size Target would simply not work next to Savin Hill Station in Boston or Ellsworth-Federal Station in Philadelphia. They would work at Downtown Crossing or Market East Station.

    Furthermore, in the particular example cited below, I would argue that the amount of retail and civic space far overshadows the amount of adjacent walkable residential space (a key compenent in TOD retail and service demand). A development cannot simultaneously be a neighborhood TOD retail district and a regional auto-centered civic and retail center and still function properly.
    I'd agree look at the K-mart that is suppported by downtown Philly. Its access to the trains is just the gravy (pick up some milk or martha stewart sheets on the way home from work).
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

  5. #5
    Cyburbian cdub's avatar
    Nov 2006
    Nashville, TN
    The article also mentions another major problem with TOD's - site programming. In most cases the Transit Authority has required that the transit stop be as easily accessible from parking as possible. This helps to kill any potential traffic to retail when the center acts more like a park and ride.

    If retail is used to line pedestrian links to the stop instead of being secondary, the retailers would probably see a lot more traffic. I also agree, though, that residential is a must needed component. It's tough to make TOD's work when you plunk it down in the middle of low density, unwalkable areas.

  6. #6
    Nov 2006
    This issue was discussed in great detail in a real estate development class I took in graduate school. My teacher contended that Transit-Oriented-Development (TOD) isn't a promoter of successful retail, even though there has been a lot of planning and investment for retail centered around transit. It’s as if developers believe that the people on busses and trains are going to get a magical and sudden urge for a Yankee Candle. He felt that TOD was a trend that will render itself unsuccessful over time.

    I tend to be more open-minded about the topic, and although I agree with my teacher that TOD cannot and will not be dependent upon transit alone, I submit that there does end up being a symbiotic relationship between the two. Instead of TOD’s serving transit, TOD’s, when done right, promote transit; and eventually, the TOD and transit itself create a functioning, vibrant package.

    The introduction and growth of the commuter and light rail system witnessed in places such as Salt Lake, Denver, and Albuquerque, requires a "hook" to get people to take notice of it and ultimately use it. This “hook” gets people comfortable with the concept of mass transit in an otherwise independent, one-driver-per-car world. Building trendy and marketable TOD’s, helps to sell the concept of mass transit to the public in areas where the concept needs to be sold the most: suburbia. After all it’s suburbia where most TOD’s take place. (After all, isn’t the urban core, one big TOD?)

    TOD's—with their boutiques, lofts, and neighborhood-scaled markets—provide people the best of both suburbia and urbania. They provide suburban dwellers the advantage and flavor of an urban lifestyle, and a sense of place among the drab, tasteless, sameness of suburbia. However, suburbia isn’t all that bad. Suburban dwellers have a quick escape to rural recreational endeavors and their communities have plenty of expedient, wide, uncongested streets. Perceived or actual, there is also a prevailing feeling that there is safety in suburbs. Sure, most suburban dwellers work in the crammed hustle-and-bustle of a major downtown, and most would intrinsically benefit from the conveniences of mass transit, old habits die hard. The US, especially the Western US suburban culture, has quite an independent spirit; and people might not be so quick to surrender their car in place of a communal ride to the city.

    When development occurs around transit stops, it tends to be denser and contain more of a diverse array of uses than the surrounding area. As an above poster mentioned, the retail needs to already be in demand or able to be supported by providing enough of a residential component within the TOD. However, the very uniqueness of the development, due to it’s heightened urban feel, will be known as a draw, an icon, a landmark in the community. The TOD becomes a micro-urban center, while at the same time becoming a comfort zone, a “third place” to the leery suburbanites. It’s an urban experience without leaving the neighborhood. I believe this will in effect prompt people to experience yet another urban element, the adjacent transit system. Developing a reliance on the retail, the would-be car driver may develop an emerging curiosity and reliance in the transit system; and will end up relying on that hub for living, shopping, recreating, and transportation.

    There has been a trend of people repopulating city cores, and the demand has caused rising prices making it difficult for some, especially the youth, to locate in the urban hub. Yet, living in a TOD, gives people an inexpensive alternative to the urban experience, and it affords people the ability to head to the downtown core with ease by the means of transit.

    In conclusion, though retail isn’t dependent on the transit; rather, it’s the other way around; the eventual result is that a package is created that sells an urban experience to an otherwise un-urban area in need of an identifying soul. Correctly planned, TOD’s may eventually be culturally preferred and accepted. After all, this is probably better over the typical sprawling superstores with no residences (or crosswalks) within two miles. TOD’s can be great dynamic tool to better city form.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian jresta's avatar
    Apr 2003
    Philadelphia, PA
    I don't understand the project at all, really. When people get off the train after a long day at work they just want to go home. Some of them literally run to their cars to try to beat everyone else out of the parking lot. Even if, by design, you funneled all of the commuters through your retail area you're not likely to see a big bump in sales. You might do a brisk coffee and donut business in the morning and you might also have a really successful take-out business (pizzeria, burgers, etc) for people who don't feel like cooking. Dry cleaning, and basically any other business where people drop-off and pick-up are businesses that have always done well at the commuter rail stations in NJ
    With the exception of a few stops on a few lines SEPTA stations are usually pretty desolate as far as retail is concerned.

    But back to this project . . . why, in a place with through the roof housing prices like San Francsico, would you have trouble selling a few hundred housing units within walking distance of a BART station? So aside from the mistakes they acknowleged in the article they also built the project backwards. People who live there are going to be the first to welcome and support the retail.

    No one who already lives in the suburbs is going to take a train to go shopping in another suburban town (unless they're too young or too old to drive) and no one who lives in San Francisco is going to take a (what? 40 minute) BART ride to go shopping in the suburbs.

    Philadelphia has a strong and growing retail core. Walnut St. has been the premier shopping street for awhile. The sneaker and beeper stores on Chestnut Street are losing out to places like West Elm and Mitchell Gold + Bob Wiliams. Market St. and the Gallery (home to the Kmart mentioned previously) are next.

    The reason is not just the growth in the wealthy and middle-class in Center City and beyond. It's because it's the center of both the regional rail and subway network. The center of a region of 6 million people. Market-Chestnut-Walnut are the three blocks south of the two busiest regional rail stations in the network with combined daily passenger counts around 80,000. Add in the dozen or so subway and trolley stops and the bus routes and you have about 300,000 people a day arriving via transit. Add the 100,000 peolpe who live within walking distance and then the people who drive in and that's substantial. Think office workers on their lunch break, city dwellers after work, suburbanites on the weekend and sometimes after work, and conventioneers who forgot to pack something. That's what keeps a retail and restaurant scene thriving.

    I would never expect to have a lively neighborhood retail environment (even for the suburbs) unless that neighborhood had at least 2000 people living within a 10 minute walk . . . and even then i would only expect it to support bare bones neighborhood retail and i certainly wouldn't expect people from more than 2 miles away to go there unless it was built as a regional retail center with the usual lifestyle center anchors.
    Indeed you can usually tell when the concepts of democracy and citizenship are weakening. There is an increase in the role of charity and in the worship of volunteerism. These represent the élite citizen's imitation of noblesse oblige; that is, of pretending to be aristocrats or oligarchs, as opposed to being citizens.

  8. #8
    In many cases, it's simple over-optimism about the market. Transit riders, unlike airplane passengers, don't dwell very long in the station area, and most TODs have a rather limited number of adjacent residential units. It really does take thousands of rooftops to support even rudimentary retail.

    Also, a design issue: too many TODs and lifestyle centers focus the retail along a cute Main Street parallel to the regional arterial, turning the retail's back onto the largest source of customers (those driving/riding buses on the arterial). This might work for a 1M sq. ft. regional center, but it won't work for <100K sq. ft. The "main street" should either *be* the arterial -- something many planners shy away from, since they don't want to deal with taming that beast -- or possibly a short street between the arterial and the station.

    BTW, the uptake of residential at Fruitvale (the example in NU News) was largely due to construction difficulties (as a mixed income development, it had very complicated financing with a lot of moving parts) and its unfavored-quarter location, not the intrinsic demand for TOD housing in the Bay Area.

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