HIP Tool: Transit Oriented Development Overlays

Transit oriented development, or TOD, refers to residential and commercial centers designed to maximize access by transit and non-motorized transportation. A TOD overlay is a floating zone that implements an array of development regulations that support transit usage and create a vibrant neighborhood around a transit station. Usually, the overlay zone extends a “walkable” distance around the station, depending on the type of transit amenity and size of the center. TOD overlays implement some or all of the following characteristics:

  • Mixed uses. Land uses are mixed and may include shops, job centers, restaurants, public services such as schools and community centers, and a variety of housing choices including housing that is affordable to households across the income spectrum.
  • Affordable housing. Mixed-income housing affordable to a range of income, household sizes, and types.
  • Compact development. Development around station areas is compact, with medium to high densities.
  • Neighborhood center. Transit station areas are complemented by concentrations of business, civic and cultural activities that support vibrant street life.
  • Parking management. Parking around transit station areas is limited and requirements are reduced.
  • Pedestrian and bicycle friendly design. Streets around transit station areas encourage walking and bicycling.


What issues do TOD overlays address?

Overlays permit the residential forms and density, mix of uses and access to transit and amenities required for compact, mixed-use development within existing urban areas.

Creating mixed-use, walkable activity centers. Zoning was created to segregate land uses. TOD overlays work to reverse flaws of the traditional zoning model by allowing different but compatible uses, such as retail, office, and dense residential development to match unmet demand for new development near high-capacity transit nodes and in transit corridors. TOD overlays also work to promote walkability and compact form by restricting auto-oriented forms, like “drive-thrus” and superblocks. People who live and work within the TOD overlay boundaries are able to walk to neighborhood amenities, reducing automobile-dependency and transportation costs, improve public health, and creating a lively pedestrian environment. Transit oriented developments are an important component of urban centers.

Leveraging investments in transit by supporting transit and non-motorized travel. TOD supports transit investments by bringing potential riders closer to transit facilities and increasing ridership. People who live in a TOD community are more likely to commute by transit than other residents; in addition, TOD can significantly reduce per capita motor vehicle travel. This occurs as trips to and from the TOD shift to transit, and transit stations serve as a catalyst for higher density, mixed-use, walkable neighborhoods. Residents of these neighborhoods tend to own fewer cars, drive less, and use transit more than in other locations.

Increasing housing variety and affordability. TOD overlays allow increases in density and floor area ratio that promote dense residential development. Mixing uses allows these forms of housing to develop in commercial centers where the underlying zoning would not otherwise permit. Siting housing near transit, employment, services, and amenities can reduce transportation and time costs, making life within the overlay boundaries more affordable. Apart from the cost of housing itself, transportation costs constitute the second greatest expenditure for households. By pairing housing and transportation through TOD, lower-income households can live more affordably with reduced transportation costs.

Where are TOD overlays most applicable?

An overlay could be applied to the area surrounding a variety of high-capacity transit nodes and corridors, from a neighborhood bus transfer center to a commuter rail station. The size of the district and degree of development intensity permitted by the district will be tied to the size of the transit center. Urban centers are often served by transit hubs and make great places to apply TOD overlays.

Tool Profile

Focus Areas

  • Urban Center
  • Transit Oriented Development

Project Types

  • Multifamily
  • Ownership
  • Rental
  • Market Rate

Affordability Level

  • 80 to 120% AMI
  • Less than 80% AMI

Housing Goal

  • Diversity