Article: Planning has evolved in transit-oriented development

by Cynthia Kurtz, Correspondent

I had the pleasure of being part of the Urban Land Institute Los Angeles (ULI) 2011 Transit Oriented Development summit last week.

I have always been impressed with the quality of the programming ULI offers at their events. If you haven’t heard of ULI, they are a nonprofit organization that has been serving the land use and real estate community for 75 years.

Today, they operate 65 District Councils throughout Southeast Asia, Japan, Canada, South Africa, South America, Europe and the U.S. Their mission is to provide leadership in the responsible use of land and in creating and sustaining thriving communities worldwide.

I was invited to the summit to speak about what is important in planning for developments around light-rail transit stations, usually called Transit Oriented Developments or TODs. I had the opportunity to work on light-rail projects in Portland, Ore., and in Pasadena on Phase 1 of the Gold Line Light Rail project.

The Portland line opened in the late 1980s and Phase 1 of the Gold Line in 2003 so it has been a few years since I have had to think about transit planning and we all know many things have changed in the world of development since then.

In Portland and Pasadena the focus was on residential and retail uses “clustered” close to the stations. Given what has happened to financing for residential and retail developments over the past five years, what are the plans and prospects for transit-oriented development today?

To find out, I called some of the city officials who are planning their rail station developments for the Gold Line Phase 2 extension to find out what has changed in their thinking. They quickly confirmed that things are different.

Today, urban planners are listening more closely to the development community and letting the markets lead in determining what uses make economic sense. They are trying to be as flexible as possible about the commercial uses that are allowed.

And they are thinking terms of larger areas around the stations. Employing shuttles and other means for riders to reach their destinations needs to play an important role in new TODs.

Not surprising, but even more interesting, are the totally new ideas being tried like using mobile phone apps to alert riders about when the next train or connecting bus will arrive.

Riders need to be connected to the station not just by the land uses but by technology. It is a whole new world from the early days of the Gold Line.

I came away from the Summit and the discussions with our San Gabriel Valley cities thinking that transit, especially light rail, is once again becoming an integral part of the transportation system in Southern California. Even more amazing, we are beginning to become more sophisticated transit riders, a trend that will grow as the number of riders increase – currently nearly 32,000 per day on the Gold Line.

One more note on ULI. They will sponsor an amazing tour of the Ratkovich Company’s $50 million redevelopment of Howard Hughes’ legendary Spruce Goose Hanger in Playa Vista on June 9 at 5:30 p.m. The Ratkovich Company also owns The Alhambra here in the San Gabriel Valley. To register for the tour, go to

Cynthia Kurtz is the president and CEO of the San Gabriel Valley Economic Partnership. She can be reached at

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