New EPA Report Highlights Benefits of Transit-Oriented Development

A new EPA report details why transit-oriented development (TOD)—areas designed to maximize accessibility and use of public transit—is beneficial to residents and the greater environment. Faced with an estimated 42-percent rise in population in the United States between 2010 and 2050, metropolitan centers around the country will soon see their population dynamics change. Already, almost every city in the country has had significant expansion in land area since 1950. Chicago is no exception: by 2040, the region will see an estimated 25-percent increase to approximately eleven million residents. With such population growth comes a need for more and better transportation options for residents and commuters.

The environmental price of urban sprawl and highway construction is often the destruction of key ecosystems like wetlands and streams, which provide homes to important species and benefits like clean water and recreational activities to people living nearby. Encouraging development in areas that are already urbanized, known as infill development, spares ecosystems and the services they provide. This is a major advantage of TOD—by designing attractive and easily navigable urban areas, people will be more willing to live in the city center instead of the surrounding suburban communities. The savings they experience in shorter, easier commutes and more convenient neighborhoods translate to savings for fragile and significant ecosystems.

In Chicago, an estimated 67 percent of the population growth expected by 2040 will be infill development. As a result, Chicago has a prime opportunity to undertake significant TOD projects to serve these new households, which would create construction jobs and reinvigorate disadvantaged neighborhoods.

Transit-oriented development translates to long-term economic and environmental benefits as well. In general, residents of areas with high population density tend to drive less. Doubling an area’s population density could reduce its residents’ vehicle use by five to twelve percent. Designing communities specifically to encourage public transit use, as with TOD, can create an even bigger impact: residents of areas with TOD are two to five times more likely to use transit for their commutes and general travels than residents of areas without TOD.

Residents and the environment both benefit from improved transit.

  • Drivers will face less congestion as fewer cars will be on the road.
  • All residents, especially those with respiratory health concerns, will benefit from improved air quality.
  • Fewer greenhouse gases from vehicle fuel combustion will enter the atmosphere, aiding in the fight against climate change.
  • Residents without cars will be able to travel to previously inaccessible job markets and recreational activities.
  • An extended transit network will create quick and reliable ways for those already living in suburban communities to commute to work or experience the city without depending on a car, saving them money on gas and time in traffic.

Investing in transit-oriented development now will create cities that are equipped to handle the coming population rise without severely harming important natural resources