Case Studies - Transit Oriented Development (TOD)

View case studies conducted on the Transit Oriented Development (TOD) module.

Canton, Massachusetts: Suburban Case Study

Canton, Massachusetts

The town of Canton, Massachusetts, is located 18 miles southwest of Boston. Two commuter rail stations provide daily service to Back Bay and South Stations in Boston. The Canton Center station is located in the downtown business district within walking distance of retail shops, offices, and the center of government.

In the late 1990s, hoping to economically revitalize the town center, the town developed a vision plan and action strategy for the revitalization of Canton Center. The plan identified the Canton Center commuter rail station as a key catalyst for downtown redevelopment.

Zoning for TOD

The revitalization strategy led to the adoption of the Canton Center Economic Opportunity District Bylaw. The town created several components of the bylaw to directly encourage transit oriented development and better connect the station itself to the downtown. Details of the new bylaw include:

  • increased allowable densities to one unit per 2000 sq. ft unit and 3000 sq. ft of commercial development per 10,000 square feet of land area
  • encouraged mixing residential and commercial uses
  • shared parking for two or more uses that can demonstrate different peak demand

Creating a Pedestrian-Friendly Environment

In an effort to enhance connections between the downtown and the train station, the town issued a request for proposals for a streetscape improvement project in the overlay district. It will include:

  • brick sidewalks
  • new signage
  • historic traffic lights
  • enhanced pedestrian crossings
  • planting areas
  • recessed curbing and public parks
  • seating areas

The state awarded Canton a $1.86 million PWED grant to finance the project.

Walkway from train station to condominium development
Walkway from train station to condominium development

Concentration of Mixed Uses around Transit

The zoning proved to be the catalyst for a constant stream of new housing development in the downtown, concentrated around the transit station. Since 2000, five new housing developments totaling 207 new residential units have been built within a five minute walk of the train station.

Ground floor retail with housing above, across from station
Ground floor retail with housing above, across from station

Concord, Massachusetts: Suburban Case Study

Historic Development Trends

The Town of Concord is located 15 miles west of Boston. The Concord Center station is located about 1/3 mile from the historic business center of Concord, which today is recognized as a major tourist destination. The station serves commuters heading to jobs in Boston as well as tourists headed to historic sites in Concord.

Planning for Transit-Oriented Development

In 1987 the Town prepared a long range plan intended to direct development in Concord. The long range plan identified the Concord Center station as an important node for future higher density commercial and residential development.

The Concord Common TOD

The resulting Concord Common development comprises three mixed use buildings with retail space, office space, a 180 seat restaurant, and 20 rental apartments. The Town strongly urged the developer to include 2 affordable units at the site, although the final agreement required that he provide four affordable units at another location in the Town, allowing all the units at the station to be rented at market rates. The zoning required 146 parking spaces for the mix of uses proposed. However, the developer negotiated a reduction of 20 spaces by demonstrating that shared parking could be successful in meeting demand. The project included 15 spaces dedicated to commuter parking.

Landscaped island in the parking lot at Concord Common
Landscaped island in the parking lot at Concord Common

Open Space and Pedestrian Amenities

The Planning Board negotiated a reduction in the impervious lot area from 2.15 acres to 1.93 acres, and the inclusion of a landscaped garden area for residents. The developer also agreed to provide a landscaped pathway from Sudbury Road to the platform, creating a pleasant pedestrian accessway.

Restaurant and retail uses in the historic Concord Center station building
Restaurant and retail uses in the historic Concord Center station building

Reuse of a Historic Train Station and Adjacent Supporting Uses

The old station building represents a stunning example of historic train stations of the mid-1800s. The building has been meticulously preserved and now houses an upscale general store on the ground floor and a sit down restaurant on the second floor.

With thoughtful planning and attention to the market, the Town of Concord successfully transformed the Concord Center commuter rail station into a center of retail, office, restaurant and residential activity. Through early intervention and persistent negotiations with the developer, the Town has achieved a model TOD at its historic train station.

Somerville, Massachusetts: Urban Case Study

Davis Square, Somerville, Massachusetts

Davis Square has long been the primary commercial center in Somerville. Davis Square is a vibrant urban center that boasts a mix of retail, office, institutional, residential and entertainment uses. Through careful planning and land assembly, the City integrated redevelopment of existing structures with new development of over 170,000 square feet of office and retail space, as well as new multi-family housing.

A Transit Oriented Revitalization

In 1970, the MBTA began planning the extension of the Red Line from Harvard Square north to Arlington, with the original plans bypassing Somerville entirely. Recognizing that a Red Line station could act as a catalyst for the revitalization of Davis Square, a group of Somerville residents, businesspersons, and city officials began a campaign to reroute the Red Line through Somerville with a stop in Davis Square. This early foresight by the community commenced a long public planning process to revitalize Davis Square using the Red Line station as the cornerstone of their effort.

The success of this TOD can be traced to several factors:

  1. The community came together in the early planning stages of the Red Line expansion program and created a partnership between residents, businesses and public officials that remains in place today. 
  2. The City established a Davis Square Task Force, which developed the Davis Square Action Plan, a document that continues to guide development in the Square. The Action Plan addressed building reuse and demolition, streetscape and facade improvements, pedestrian amenities, parking, traffic, and land use.
  3. The City designated a redevelopment area within the square that allowed for property acquisition and clearance, infrastructure improvements, and some public control over new private development within the area. A Design Review Overlay District helps ensure that redevelopment and new construction blends in with the existing built environment and encourages pedestrian activity.

Multiple Stakeholders for an Integrated Approach

The City also worked diligently with state and federal agencies to package grants to finance civic improvements throughout the square. These included:

  • Streetscape improvements such as street and sidewalk reconstruction, street lighting, fencing and plantings, funded through the Federal Highway Administration's Urban Systems Program.
  • The utilization of Community Development Block Grants to finance a storefront and façade improvement program, which was later continued by a local bank and is now entirely market driven with no public funding.
  • Designation of the Square as a Commercial Area Revitalization District (CARD), which allowed the use of industrial revenue bonds for infrastructure and building improvements.
  • The use of Urban Development Action Grant money for planning and site development for the 100,000 square feet Buena Vista office and retail complex.
  • The development of elderly housing and new parking for businesses.
  • Renovations to existing parks and the creation of new parks with the assistance of the MBTA and the Massachusetts Highway Department.
  • The reuse of old freight railroad right-of-way for bicycle and pedestrian pathways connecting to the Alewife T station, and the Minuteman bike path.
  • Extensive public art in the T station and on public plazas adjacent to the two station entrances, paid for through the state percent-for-art funds program. This program allows 1% of station development costs to be used for public art.

To further encourage pedestrian activity and discourage auto usage in the square, the City convinced the T to provide commuter parking at the station. Pedestrian safety has been improved through:

  • neck-downs
  • pedestrian safety islands
  • clearly marked brick crosswalks
  • signage
  • pedestrian signalization

 Factors implemented to improve pedestrian experience include:

  • benches
  • trash receptacles
  • street lighting
  • plantings
  • public art
  • sidewalk materials
  • public spaces
  • bicycle storage facilities at the station entrances provided by the T