Is a cup of coffee the difference between good and bad Transit Oriented Development?

The Del Mar Gold Line Station

The Del Mar Gold Line Station. It sure looks like TOD, but does it pass the coffee test? Photo by EPA Smart Growth.

Here’s something to ponder over your morning cup of joe: what makes good Transit Oriented Development (TOD)?

An article entitled ReThinking TOD set me on this train of thought. Alan Huynh, a professional transportation planner, notes that while the success of TOD’s are dependent on many different elements, it all comes down to one measure: walkability.

As Huynh so aptly puts it: “What’s the first thing someone does when they get off transit?  Walk.  You have to walk to a destination.”

Huynh has developed a simple but effective metric for measuring walkability: the coffee shop measure.

“Coffee shops are a good measure of how walkable an area is mainly because everyone walks to get their coffee.  Starbucks has intrinsic data measuring the effectiveness of the walk-in coffee v. the drive through coffee shop, and has created many more walk-in coffee stores rather than the drive through coffee shops.  By measuring the walking distance and time that exists between the closest coffee shop and station site, we can measure the walkability of the station.”

He brings his argument close to home by reviewing the effectiveness of our own Del Mar Gold Line Station. While Del Mar features tightly integrated residential development (literally on top of the station) and a pleasant plaza design, it lacks number of factors that Huynh requires for good TOD – including the all important coffee shop measure. There is a Coffee Bean nearby in Old Town Pasadena and a Starbucks on Fair Oaks — both a five to 10-minute walk from the station. Not good enough according to Huynh.

So as you sip your coffee this morning, I recommend checking out the article. Are there any examples of TOD in L.A. that do meet the coffee shop measure? The Wilshire/Vermont Red/Purple Line Station comes to mind, there’s a Coffee Bean integrated nicely into the plaza just outside the station portal. And what can be done for the ones, like Del Mar, that currently miss the mark?

25 replies

  1. Joel, you’re right. I remember just before the Gold Line was set to open, they made a last min name change from Old Pasadena to Memorial Park.

    I suspect the same reason why Metro ridership has never reached it’s full potential at Pico (not many know that means Staples/LA Live).


  2. How did my previous comment get translated to “no parking”. No, what we need is limited parking, not a significant abundance of it. The parking problem is that it drives the costs of the development too high, thus out-pricing the middle class tenant, who’d most likely take advantage of walkability areas. Build a 100 unit building, but only include 50 spots..unbundled. So, the renter/owner has the OPTION of paying for a spot, not mandating it by including the cost of the spot in rent. Imagine how much hudreds of dollars could be saved that could be used for other things (i.e. restaurants, coffees, retail, etc…). If people want to depend on the car for mobility, I would suggest places that are devoid of public transit infrastructure and investment…Orange County. Done.