Transit oriented development and retail: Is variation in success explained by a gap between theory and practice?

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

mode - tram/light rail, land use - transit oriented development, land use - urban density, land use - urban design, land use - planning, infrastructure - station, place - cbd, place - urban


Transit-oriented development, Retail, Light rail, Spatial analysis


Central to the concept of Transit Oriented Development (TOD) is a retail core situated around stations. However, successful retail near light rail transit stations has been elusive. Despite significant implications for land use, transportation, and economic development planning, little research exists to explain the gap between TOD concept and reality. We hypothesize that the density, diversity, and design characteristics central to the theory of TODs drive retail success. We implement a TOD Index proposed in the literature to score 474 light rail station areas in 11 metropolitan areas according to the presence and magnitude of those density, diversity, and design characteristics. A series of robustly-developed multilevel models support our hypothesis: TOD Index scores significantly predict station area retail employment, ceteris paribus. An evaluation of its subcomponents individually (block size, which relates to walkability; land use mix; and activity density) suggests activity density may be the driving force in this relationship. Our research works to move the conversation away from an assumption that transit stations and retail naturally co-exist and toward more intentional station area design choices demonstrated to drive retail employment.


Permission to publish the abstract has been given by Elsevier, copyright remains with them.


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