Reconnecting America People * Places * Possibility

The Asian TOD

[This is the first in what we hope is a large series of expert blogs on TOD highlighting work and research that experts are doing in the field.  Today's post is by Dr. Ming Zhang who is an Associate Professor in the School of Community and Regional Planning at the University of Texas at Austin.  Dr. Zhang specializes in urban transportation planning, transportation impacts on land use, urban form and travel behavior, GIS applications in urban and transportation planning, and land use/transportation issues in developing countries.]

Is TOD relevant to Asian cities where development density is already high, land use mixture is a common practice, and the share of transit use is ten times higher than in the United States? If so, how can TOD principles apply to Asian cities? Conversely, what can be learned from the Asian experience for American TODs in developing around transit? With these questions in mind, I conducted case study of Hong Kong, Tokyo, Seoul, Taipei, and mainland Chinese cities of Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen in the past few years.

From the case study I concluded that TOD should be further promoted in Asian cities, for two reasons. First, car ownership and car uses, although still low relative to the US, are on the rise. The newly developed areas in many fast-growing Asian cities are becoming increasingly car-oriented and hostile to pedestrians and cyclists. Second, major cities throughout Asia have seen booming development of rapid transit systems. Yet, not all of them have done well integrating the transit with surrounding functions. Many stations and their nearby land uses situate adjacent to each other without synergetic connections, leaving much of the high-density dysfunctional. TOD provides a useful framework to address the issues.

From the best practice of developing around transit in the case study cities, I developed a framework of five attributes for TOD in Asian cities.

1. Differentiated Density

What is emphasized here is not necessarily the absolute level of density. Instead, the focus is on the differential in density between the locations inside and outside the TOD.  Differentiated Density depicts a density profile upward-sloping towards the station. As the distance from the station decreases, density increases. In urban area density may be already high. Development within the urban TOD should be even higher. In suburban communities where density may be relative low, density in the suburban TOD should be higher than its surrounding areas. Emphasizing density differential rather than density itself makes the density principle of TOD context-free. TOD is applicable to both low and high density context. Taipei provides density bonus through TOD Zoning.

2. Dockized District

The second attribute of Asian TOD concerns the spatial extent of TOD. The TOD district generally refers to a circle centered at the transit station with a radius of one quarter-mile (approximately 400 meters). An underlying behavioral principle is that TOD district should be defined by people’s willingness to walk. The willingness to walk however is strongly affected by factors affecting walking, for example, perceived safety, security, architectural interest, pedestrian-scale lighting and amenities, and presence of other pedestrians. Altering these walking LOS (level of service) factors would modify people’s willingness to walk, hence the spatial delineation of TOD district.

Dockized District for TOD borrows ideas from port design in water or air transportation, where walkways are well integrated with shopping malls, exhibition space, or business centers. These functions not only provide services to passengers but also help reduce psychological distances to the station. Hong Kong offers a fine example with many such TOD districts.

3. Delicate Design

The word ‘delicate’ is used here to stress the importance of high standards and fine details of environmental design in the TOD area. Most frequently pedestrian friendliness is emphasized for the physical setting near the transit station. TOD design, however, should go beyond and above pedestrian access.

A TOD is expected to offer multiple characteristics: a desirable neighborhood to live, an efficient point for local and regional access, and a window for transit and place marketing. High design standards should apply to vehicles, platforms, exit/entrance spaces, scheduling synchronization of feeder modes, station facilities, and landscape and buildings in the entire TOD district. Details determine quality. Best practice can be found in Hong Kong, Tokyo, Seoul, and Taipei.
4. Diverse Destination

This attribute concerns the functional composition of TOD at the station, the transit corridor, and the regional scale. Mixed use has been discussed in the literature mostly at the station scale, which is largely achieved in Asian cities, but less discussed at the corridor and the regional scale. Diverse Destination means that citizens have easy access by transit to various urban services and functions corridor and region wide if they choose to live in a TOD district.

The concept of Job-Housing Balance plays a key role. The balance should be maintained within each commuting shed along the transit corridor. Such a balance is maintained with ‘right’ types of jobs matching the right types of housing (wages rates and housing prices or rents) in a 30-45 minutes commuting distance by transit. Shanghai and Shenzhen have planned multiple TOD corridors and network.

5. Distributed Dividends 

The last attribute of Asian TOD concerns transit’s financial sustainability. In most Asian cities transit operations are financially unsustainable as they have to obtain double subsidies from the government. First, the government has to subsidize transit construction because the capital cost is usually too high for the transit agency to pay. Second, in most cases, the farebox revenue does not provide enough income to cover transit operating costs. Hence, to maintain sufficient transit services, the government has to subsidize again the transit for operation.

However, public investments in transit services improve accessibility of the land in the vicinity of transit stations. Capitalization of the transit accessibility effect leads to increase in property values. The idea of Distributed Dividends is to recapture part or all of the increased property values and redistribute them between the public and the private sector. Examples of successful value capture practice are found in Hong Kong and Tokyo.


Zhang, M. 2007. The Chinese edition of Transit-Oriented Development. Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board of the National Academies 2038:120–127.

Zhang, M. 2006. The Asian Experience of Transit-Oriented Development. Research report, Cambridge, MA: Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.