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. 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.

  2. 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).

  3. Bob: Del Mar station may not physically be far from Old Town or Paseo Colorado. But as an outsider (and occasional transit visitor to Pasadena), I can tell you that it feels much farther than that.

    The name of the station, “Del Mar”, doesn’t suggest that it’s close to Old Town Pasadena at all, and there is no signage pointing the way for transit riders. One station exit faces south (the wrong way), and the other exit is a meandering path leading to the middle of an extremely long block of Raymond Avenue. There is no direct pedestrian access to Arroyo Parkway, and the block itself is way too long (it could benefit from a pedestrian extension of Cordova or Dayton Street through the block).

    Yes, the station has a mixed-use development on site, and that’s great. But it lacks good connections to the nearby neighborhoods, including to Colorado Boulevard. Yes, there is a perception problem, but the fault lies with poor choices in land use and urban design, along with a name that does its best to disassociate itself from Old Town Pasadena.

  4. I think some here may be missing the point. The issue isn’t that transit riders need or buy more coffee before or after their trip. The issue is that coffee houses and transit stations both tend to thrive in areas that attract pedestrians. They both “like” to be in the center of places that are walkable.

    Therefore, when designing the area around a station, design it so that it could attract a coffeehouse. Think about what it would take to get people to go there. You need a critical mass of people (residents, workers, or tourists), a pleasant street environment (trees, low crime), and good connections to the surrounding neighborhoods. Whether or not a coffeehouse actually moves in is beside the point.

  5. Yes! The MTA should consider on having a Transit Oriented Development at Artesia Station on the blue line.

  6. Portland’s Tri-Met allows you to take your coffee onboard, making light rail even friendlier to commuter multitasking. You can read, drink coffee and be driven at the same time. It’s like a chauffeur driving you in a Siemens limo. I wonder if the possibility of having your coffee on the train doesn’t make up for increase in travel time some riders my experience.

    I would also point out that many of Portland’s light rail stations that have nothing in the way of TOD at least have a coffee cart or coffee/pastery stand on the platform.

  7. The Del Mar station is an interesting case. It’s a few hundred feet south of one of the most walkable bits of the LA region. This may actually discourage coffee shops in the short term, as they’re already too numerous on Colorado.

    A new coffee shop on Green just went bust a few months ago. Ditto the cheese-steak sandwich shop inside the station’s commercial space.

    The area is full of commercial “deserts”– the park, Castle Green, apartments and self-storage companies that cut it off from Old Town and nearby commercial islands.

    There is a decent strip mall just across the street to the South which will probably be a better anchor for commuter services than the Orange.

  8. It’s ironic that you and the article’s author are using the Del Mar station as an example. The station has parking — not free but inexpensive for those riding Metro. It’s within 2 1/2 blocks of Old Town Pasadena and another block to Paseo Colorado (less than 1/2 a mile). It’s a block from a Whole Foods. It had a Philly Cheese Steak establishment on the station plaza that went out of business, presumably because of the lack of business. Yes, the apartments are expensive — what apartment in downtown Pasadena isn’t? Or any other upscale area? As a TOD, Del Mar may not be a perfect station but it’s a long way from the negative way in which it has been portrayed.

  9. As much as i love coffee, when you have someplace to go and want your coffee before the trip, it’s not like you can bring coffee on the train anyway

  10. The walkscore, which tells you what level of services are available within walking distance, is a good quick way to tell if a TOD is near anything ( It’s not perfect but it tells you a lot. Del Mar scores a blazing 97 (out of 100), while La Brea at Exposition garners a respectable, but not superlative 71. These numbers will change over time as new businesses (hopefully) go in, but it gives you a good sense of how things are at the moment.

  11. I can understand the idea of providing less parking for the TOD inhabitants – to a point – 1 space per unit seems reasonable, given that they have alternatives, especially for commuting. But I become very dismayed with the idea of not providing public parking. It is very instructive to overlay a map of Los Angeles over an identically scaled map of Manhattan. Good rapid transit will never, ever saturate our city to the extent that the “last mile” is provided for. Multi-modal transit is key to the future of Los Angeles, and that includes providing reasonably priced parking at rapid transit stations.

  12. Coffee is not the true test. It’s what Carter mentioned…the availiabilty of parking. If parking is significant, bundled with rent (if apt complex or office lease), and either cheap ($2 cheap like H/H) or free…what’s the point of taking Metro rail or bus? Please cut the down the amount of parking at TOD’s. I heard there is a 10% reduction of parking requirements, but even that is low. Not everyone needs to drive. Otherwise, we create these mostrosities of buildings, that need so much space that small, reasonably priced, affordable, dense and compact housing is unachievable.

    • LAofAnaheim:

      Let’s consider this though: limited parking, but also limited walkable amenities. Does that make good TOD? In my opinion it just creates a transit oriented island (or prison?). You don’t want to have to take transit to get coffee, or shop for basics – those should be walkable with in the TOD.

      Here’s a personal example. I live in Downtown L.A. My apartment is quite literally surrounded by a sea of surface parking lots. But, I also have a Ralphs, coffee shop, a few casual restaurants, a couple bars all within a two block radius. It makes it really easy not to own a car (or be tempted to) despite the plethora of parking. Of course, of those lots were replaced with even more useful uses, all the better.

  13. My North Hollywood stop passes this test — there’s a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf right across the street. Maybe a minute’s walk.

    Now if only I was allowed take my morning cup of coffee with me on the subway…

  14. Can we get to the basic? Accessibility instead of restaurant, expensive apartment, coffee, and yes parking lots.
    The problem is lack of access to anywhere
    Talking about TOD. I like the one in DC. I went to the Pentagon City and Crystal city station. The apartments are right above the shopping complexes. The shopping center is right by the station. Pentagon City Mall is 3 story mall. Crystal city is a maze of shopping center. For the first timer, people may get lost. I also saw small offices in Crystal City. Apartments in both areas are not cheap. However, people have option to take rails/buses to DC, Maryland or VA.
    What about LA? Except arrogant designs. I go to Pasadena all the time. There are some TOD. Very pricey, its like people who could afford 2 ferrari could live there. There is one fancy apartment right by memorial Park. How to get to shopping in old town. Walk 10minutes. most people probably drive. El Paseo is within 10 minute walking distance. You have to walk 10minute (and cross couple streets) to get to the stations. El Paseo, and it meets the coffee requirement and has a small grocery store. Sierra Madre, same thing, expensive apartment
    TOD in LA means living in fancy apartment. If you feel like, you walk 10 minutes to shop. Work, most likely people drive because our transits don’t go anywhere

  15. From that station, I’d go to Whole Foods for coffee.

    After exiting the 7th/Metro station this morning on my way to a meeting (from the Hope Street exit… I was looking for Flower, but somehow missed it), I passed a coffee shop, and then Famima, an upscale convenience store that also sells hot coffee, within the block.

  16. I think there is a coffee shop near or adjacent to just about every one of the unopened Expo Line stations except for the Culver City station at Robertson. My Expo Line station at Jefferson/La Cienega especially with a Starbucks at the northeast corner along with some other restaurants, then further south at the next major street, Rodeo, Target and a gang of others.

  17. Nice article, Fred! I’d add that good TOD shouldn’t have a bunch of free or cheap parking, or parking that’s bundled with rent. Those tend to put a big thumb on the scale for owning and using a car, which is counter-productive for a good TOD project.

    • I think you can Robb. But I reading the article it seems Huynh takes issue with the “sit-down” nature of La Grande Orange. But you’re right, a cup of coffee is a cup of coffee. Of course, does that change Del Mar’s rating – or is it still too insular?

      Fred Camino
      Contributor, The Source