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Denver becomes hot 'TOD' market

In cities which have robust transit systems, there is a movement afoot (pun intended) to build walkable urban communities, known as transit-oriented development, or TOD.

From emerging auto-centric cities like Denver, Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Dallas, Houston and Atlanta, TOD is happening at lightning speed.

Developers, in conjunction with and support from local jurisdictions, are building properties with mixed use in mind, meaning high-density communities-within-communities that feature a mix of luxury apartments, townhomes and affordable housing, retail, office, hotels, cafes, breweries and more for people who want to live, work and play in the urban core and near employment centers.

TOD-at-Dayton-Station
Homes next to the Dayton Station on the Southeast Rail Line in Denver

According to a Caltrans Transportation study on the Travel Characteristics of Transit-Oriented Development in California, "Residents living near transit stations are around five times more likely to commute by transit as the average resident worker in the same city."

TOD a big deal

Meanwhile, the Denver metropolitan region continues to be one of the hottest TOD markets in the country. As RTD's FasTracks program builds out 122 miles of rail service and 18 miles of bus rapid transit, 57 new transit stations will be opening where TOD has either already occurred, is entering another expansion phase, or has the potential for development as stations are constructed.

The multiple TODs along RTD's transit lines have been planned and designed to create walkable and sustainable communities, which also help to reduce an individual's transportation costs and improve overall health with increased multi-modal activity, like bicycling or walking.

According to Bill Sirois, RTD's senior manager for TOD and planning, "RTD is proactively supporting TOD development around transit stations with the help of jurisdictional and private partnerships."

He said RTD is working with jurisdictions on planning and development of TODs and its shining example is the redevelopment of Denver Union Station, which has become the centerpiece of RTD's eight-county transit system.

Commuter-train-at-Union-Station
Commuter train at Union Station

Since opening of Union Station in 2014, more than $2 billion in public and private investment has resulted in new hotels, office buildings, retail space, medical and educational facilities and civic uses sprouting around the historic building.

The area has also boomed in construction with luxury apartments, grocery stores and more, all within walking distance of Union Station, the terminus of RTD's new commuter rail line, the University of Colorado A Line to Denver International Airport.

One area along the University of Colorado A Line with great potential for TOD is around the new 38th & Blake station and nearby RiNo, or River North, along Brighton Boulevard. This section's master plan calls for preserving RiNo's industrial character, while enhancing its role as an arts and entertainment district.

Premier TOD in the region on the horizon

Another key TOD under consideration is at 1-25 and Broadway, where RTD has one of its major light rail and bus stations. Nearby is the former Gates Rubber Company plant which was demolished to make way for a master planned TOD development. This 41-acre site has the potential to be one of the premier transit-oriented developments in the region. See the city of Denver's station area plan here.

Sirois adds that interest is accelerating for TODs along the University of Colorado A Line, as well as the new G Line—a commuter rail service which will connect Union Station with Arvada and Wheat Ridge, and the new B Line that will serve Westminster.

"Arvada and Westminster have made significant investments, both in acquiring property and in funding structured parking. This has allowed RTD to accelerate TOD at the Olde Town Arvada (G Line) and Westminster (B Line) stations. Arvada is already seeing its efforts pay off as new apartments are completed, a new hotel is under construction and new retail is springing up in Olde Town," he said.

Construction-at-Olde-Town-Arvada-Station
Construction at Olde Town Arvada Station. Photo: City of Arvada

New rail lines opening in 2016

RTD will open more new rail lines this year than any other major city in the U.S. Six to eight years ago, Sirois said, developers created a list of what they valued when it came to transit access. "I think TODs have moved up the list from a 'nice-to-have' to a 'need-to-have.'"

The FasTracks program is an integral investment in the region's future where currently 2.8 million people live. That number is expected to grow to 4.2 million by 2035. As RTD's multi-billion dollar investment in transit continues, TODs will offer these advantages:

  • Revitalize older downtowns and declining neighborhoods
  • Provide opportunities to build more affordable housing

Remarkably, the conversations and construction happening among cities, developers and public-private partnerships around new transit stations could ultimately lead to healthier communities and a higher quality of life.

Westminster-Station
The Westminster Station on the B Line will be a destination for families and friends to gather