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Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) Program


One of VTA's Strategic Plan goals is to integrate transportation and land use planning. To accomplish this goal, VTA's Transit-Oriented Development Program was established. This program strives to intensify and diversify land uses and enhance pedestrian circulation at appropriate locations.

Land use authority rests with the cities and County. VTA has formed partnerships with local jurisdictions to implement the TOD Program and ensure that transit-oriented development occurs. Several cities have amended their zoning codes and regulations to include provisions for transit supportive land uses at existing and planned rail stations. VTA provides expertise and resources on how to achieve transit friendly development. The expected result of these planning efforts is better communities that offer people real transportation choices.

One of the major challenges facing Santa Clara County today is maintaining its quality of life. As population and jobs keep growing, so does traffic congestion. Traffic congestion threatens everything from our ability to attract and retain the new employers that fuel our economy, to the air we breathe and water we drink. As traffic continues to worsen, the community looks to the VTA to provide effective transportation solutions. In response, VTA has developed an ambitious transit expansion plan (see map below). However, the success of transit is determined, in large part, by what happens around major transit stops. Transit-oriented development (TOD) is the primary tool used to transform station areas.

What is Transit Oriented Development?

‚ÄčTOD is characterized by a mix of uses within a 2,000 foot (5-minute) walking distance of a transit stop. Building walkable neighborhoods around transit stations provides large numbers of people with easy access to the light rail system as well as connections with other public transportation.

In TOD neighborhoods, the design, configuration, diversity and intensity of uses emphasize a pedestrian-oriented environment and makes transit use more convenient. These neighborhoods ideally include retail, office, open space and community uses, and provide residents with a sense of place. TOD encourages people to walk to transit, to shopping, or to run errands.

The development of these cohesive neighborhoods not only supports transit, but illustrates how transit can support land-use planning. Cities throughout the Bay Area and Santa Clara County are pursuing goals to reduce sprawl and make more efficient use of taxpayer supported city services. Rail transit supports these goals by providing a focal point for housing, shopping and job growth within existing urban service areas. The provision of high frequency rail and bus transit at rail stations helps to relieve congestion on streets and highways.

The link between transportation and land use is illustrated by a survey conducted by the Silicon Valley Manufacturing Group and VTA. The survey explores the effect of light rail on the transportation choices of people living in station areas. The survey indicates that those who live near rail stations use bus and rail transit much more often than the Countywide average — over five times as often 

These are the four main elements of VTA's TOD Program:

  1. Station Area Planning
  2. Joint Development
  3. Development Review
  4. Outreach and Education efforts

Station Area Planning

There are three elements in station area planning. The first is VTA's station area planning for specific sites along existing and planned rail lines. The second includes participating in efforts by cities to stimulate transit-oriented development near rail stations. The third element consists of maintaining a list of high priority TOD sites.

VTA Station Area Planning

Station area planning combines land use and rail planning efforts from the initial planning through construction of a rail line. It was successfully applied to the Tasman West Line and is being used for future rail lines. Station area planning begins with studies of population, land use data, employment, development potential and pedestrian access within station areas.

As design of the rail project proceeds, concept plans are developed for selected station areas in partnership with the cities. Concept plans show how land use and urban design considerations can be applied to develop transit ridership. Although each concept plan is prepared for a specific site with unique market and public policy conditions, each offers important lessons that can be applied to similar station areas within the system.

City Station Area Planning

Photo of Whisman Station Platform with light rail tracks in the foreground

In addition to station area planning efforts by VTA, several cities have undertakn their own initiatives to encourage rail use. They have developed innovative programs and plans to stimulate transit-oriented development and improved pedestrian access around rail stations

TOD Priority Sites

A list of sites is monitored to help track key sites that are high priority opportunities for TOD. This database provides information about project proposals, background information and current status. VTA communicates with local cities as development proposals move forward on these priority sites.

Joint Development

VTA has implemented nationally recognized joint development projects that serve as models for the type of development that promotes transit and pedestrian use. Located on VTA-owned land, they are designed to allow residents and employees easy access to transit. The program's goals are to increase transit ridership, generate revenue, and enhance the station area environment. Current projects include: the Tamien Child Care Center, Almaden Lake Village Housing and Ohlone-Chynoweth Mixed-Use Project. These projects are described in further detail in their respective TOD Program fact sheets, available from VTA's Planning Department.

Development Review

VTA established the Development Review Program in 1995. This Program is a coordinated effort between the cities and VTA, in which cities refer projects to VTA for comment during the project approval process. As part of the Program, over 500 development projects are now reviewed annually to ensure compatibility with existing and proposed transit services. In addition, large projects are reviewed for their impact on the entire transportation system. After a comprehensive review, VTA submits recommendations to the city for project conditions or mitigation measures.

Outreach and Education

VTA staff use various forums to advocate for transit-oriented development, station area planning and land use/transportation integration, ranging from participation in local planning efforts to representing VTA's TOD Program at conferences, seminars and conventions. In addition, TOD Program staff produce a variety of educational materials geared to diverse audiences that include public and private entities on local, regional and national levels. The TOD Program also sponsors tours to showcase the best examples of transit-oriented development and station-area planning in Santa Clara County.


Santa Clara County is realizing the benefits of coordinating land use and transportation planning. Transit-oriented development along the existing Caltrain and light rail lines is taking hold. Additional planning for additional rail lines is well underway, and mixed-use, transit friendly development will be in place by the time these new lines begin operation.

Through partnerships between VTA and the cities, transit-oriented developments will continue to emerge along existing and future rail lines. In the long run, this coordinated effort will further guarantee the rail system's success and make the Santa Clara Valley a more attractive place to live and work.

For more information regarding transit-oriented development and station area planning, please call (408) 321-7575.

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