Transit Oriented Development as a Solution to Indian Cities

1. Introduction

Global trends suggest that the pace of urbanization, a shift in population from rural to urban residency, is growing. Considering the case of India itself, now competing with the fastest growing countries of the world, the urbanization level has grown from 17.29% in 1951 to 31.6% in 2011 (UD, 2017).

This brings up a need for accommodating more inhabitants and providing for their basic amenities, which in turn results into inevitable expansion of cities. This expansion, in many cases, is horizontal and unplanned. This unrestricted expansion of housing and commercial development, and even road infrastructure, is referred to as an urban sprawl. Even though urban sprawl may have a few pros such as increased local economic growth, there are immense amounts of drawbacks too; such as loss of agricultural capacity, higher taxes, increased runoff into rivers and lakes, harmful effects on human health, decrease in social capital and loss of natural habitats, wildlife and open space. Moreover, the odds of residents having inadequate access to infrastructure are higher, thus driving the city into auto-dependency, which in turn leads to a higher carbon footprint, hence making the urban growth rather unsustainable. 

Figure 1. The Philadelphia metropolitan region has developed unevenly, and land consumption has outpaced population growth. (Source :

To counter the issue of urban sprawl and its consequences, various cities are coming up with Mass Rapid Transit systems (MRTS), such as metro rails, BRTS etc. Insertion of such transit systems should account for its availability to all user groups, in terms of affordability and access. Hence, such insertion into an existing city results into Development Oriented Transit (DOT), but its accessibility and efficiency is still in debate. In case of developing cities, development is focused along the transit routes. This could lead into a Transit Oriented Development (TOD) or Transit adjacent development (TAD). A TAD is development that is physically near transit, in order to promote transit riding, but it fails to capitalize upon this proximity. A TAD lacks any functional connectivity to transit—be it land-use composition, means of station access, or site design. TOD is the opposite, it strives to capitalize on the land adjacent and up-to a one-quarter mile from the stop.

Transit Oriented Development (TOD)

TOD is a planned insertion into a city, and according to Calthorpe (Calthorpe, 1993), TODs are: "Mixed-use communit[ies] within an average 2,000-foot walking distance of a transit stop and a core commercial area. TODs mix residential, retail, office, open space, and public uses in a walkable environment, making it convenient for residents and employees to travel by transit, bicycle, foot or car."


Figure 2.

TOD is an urban design paradigm that has the potential to achieve urban competitiveness, environmental sustainability, and social equity. TOD is the key for low-carbon and compact development with mixed land uses and allows for optimized development along a transit corridor to maximize the return on investments. It strategically increases densities and places high-rises along the transit corridors to accommodate a wide variety of uses. Contrary to DOT, in TOD planning for the population is done in accordance to the transit systems. Typically, the transit stop or station is considered as the centre, around which a relatively dense development is planned such that it involves mixed-use residential and commercial areas. This density progressively reduces with distance. "TODs generally are located within a radius of 400 to 800 m from a transit stop, as this is considered to be an appropriate walking distance for pedestrians, which solves the last mile connectivity." (Dr. V. Devadas, 2015) It facilitates complete ease of access to the transit facility, thereby inducing people to prefer to walk and use public transportation over personal modes of transport. It results in the creation of compact, walkable and liveable communities with easy access to amenities and is centered around high quality mass transit stations.

Indian cities face a massive amount of issues such as severe congestion; deteriorating air quality due to increasing greenhouse gas emissions from the transport sector; increasing road accidents; and an exploding growth in the number of private vehicles. (Joshi, 2017) Moreover, the projected population is more than double in the next generation, calling for an immediate need to build efficient cities. There are several debates on the implementation of TOD in India. Cities in India have always had high densities, especially in the inner core areas. Additionally, the diversity of land use in these areas is also high, presenting an ideal case for TOD.

“The Government of India would encourage Transit Oriented Development (TOD) with increased [Floor Area Ratio] FAR along transit corridors with high density of population should form a part of planning” (Ministry of Urban Development 2014). (Joshi, 2017)

3.1 Key components of TOD

As per the policies followed in the master plan of Delhi, 2021 (Singh), the most essential of parameters to be followed in a TOD are:

3.1.1 Pedestrian and cycle-friendly environment

Improved pedestrian and cycle friendly streets would mean less of auto-dependency even for last mile connectivity, hence saving on travel costs and lessening road congestion. This would also cater to the population of the lower income groups and make public transport more accessible to them. Creating street-level activity and vibrant urban spaces making all streets and public spaces universally accessible are vital. Helsinki in Finland, hopes to make car ownership “obsolete” by 2025. The city intends to develop a network of dense, walkable and interconnected neighborhoods and prioritize active transport.

3.1.2 Connectivity                                                                                             

Disperse high traffic volumes of traffic over a network of streets rather than concentrating traffic on few major streets and junctions. Provide the shortest route to pedestrians and non-motorized modes to station as well as between individual buildings/complexes. Integrate infrastructure development and travel demand management (TDM) strategies.

3.1.3 Multi-modal interchange

Minimize travel time and cost for majority of commuters and provide multiple travel mode options with safety, affordability and accessibility. Minimize the number and time required for mode transfers. Prioritize pedestrians, public transport, intermediate Public Transport(IPT) and NMT modes over private modes in design and management of urban spaces.

3.1.4 High-density, mixed-income development

High density and mixed-use development along TOD corridors with interconnected street networks makes average trip lengths shorter, thus promoting walkability and use of non-motorized modes of transport, hence reducing travel costs.

3.2 Economical Benefits of TOD

Public money expenditure reduces due to reduced investments in infrastructure such as road expansions and other costs associated with low-density sprawl. Increased land revenues along transit corridors can in-turn be used for cross-subsidy and maintenance of public transport. (Singh) Lesser number of cars on the roads leads to lesser expenditure on an individual level. Increased level of ridership in public transport systems ensures financial sustainability of commercial enterprises near the stations, and also adds to the city revenue. (Joshi, 2017)


3.3 Social Benefits of TOD

A variety of high density, mixed-se, mixed-income housing and employment is made available within walkable distances. (Singh) There is an increased use of shared social infrastructure, thus improving community living. (Singh) 

4.1 Delhi, India: Transforming region and transportation

Unlike Curitiba, Delhi is an already existing development that is now rapidly growing and currently accounts for about 1500 land area. Increasing infrastructure such as highways has led to increased auto-dependency which in-turn lead to increased environmental and economic degradation. Since the late 1990’s, Delhi has invested heavily in Mass Rapid Transit systems - mainly the Metro Rail and a BRTS, that is now defunct, to reverse the traffic congestion and worsening air-quality. Post the metro investments, the development pattern in Delhi was subjected to either development oriented transit (DOT) or transit adjacent development (TAD). Recently, in 2015, the planning agency (Delhi Development Authority or DDA) made a conscious effort to develop a comprehensive Transit Oriented Development Policy to redevelop station areas and neighborhoods along the Metro corridors.

4.1.1 Context

With a population of over 16.7 million persons (Census,2011), Delhi stands as the second most populous urban area in the country after the Mumbai Metropolitan Region. From 1951 to 2001, Delhi has seen a decadal growth of 50% per decade, higher than any other urban area, much of this being in the city’s outer areas such as East Delhi, Noida, Ghaziabad and Gurgaon.

Figure 3. Urban growth of Delhi (NIUA, 2015) (Source: NIUA)

Public transportation is now less preferred due to the lack of connectivity (in particular to Metro stations), abundant subsidized parking options as well as a lack of safety for walkers, cyclists and women in the city. (Singh) This has consequently resulted in increased auto-dependency. "The problem has reached a state where it is feared that it might have an irreversible damage on our city fabric, its environment (twenty-one people die of respiratory diseases in the Capital everyday and vehicular emissions contribute to 70% of the air pollution in Delhi), the social structure and much more." (Singh).

4.1.3 Delhi Metro

Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) opened its first corridor between Shahdara in east Delhi and Tis Hazari in north Delhi on 25th December, 2002, and today, it has crossed the boundaries of Delhi to reach Noida and Ghaziabad (Uttar Pradesh) and Gurgaon (Haryana). It provided relief from the road congestion by accommodating the growing number of commuters along the existing corridors. Despite the operational success of the metro system in Delhi, this mass transit system is yet to infuse new service infrastructure and guide urban growth along the metro corridors.

4.1.4 Introducing TOD in Delhi

Delhi is looking at TOD as a solution to its mobility and air quality challenges, with the policy capturing the essential elements of mixed-use development, non-motorized transport and pedestrian priority, and encouraging a walk-to-work culture. Recognising the urgent need for Delhi to be prepared to receive huge in-migrations by 2021, the TOD Policy was created and approved by the Ministry of Urban Development on July 14, 2015. The norms will combine design, density and diversity to facilitate more people to live, work and seek entertainment along a well- connected and efficient mass transit system. The policy is still to be finalised. Delhi’s Transit Oriented Development Policy Draft of 2012 covers following key components:

Figure 4. Land Use Map of Delhi

Good pedestrian and cycling/NMT facilities are promoted to reduce dependence on motor vehicles for short trips and induce modal shift. The policy attempts to promote pedestrian activities and amenities for pedestrian, NMT and public transport with safety, convenience and universal accessibility.

The number and the time required for transfer between different modes, have to be minimised for maximum commuters. Reliable, frequent and affordable public transport systems across the city are to be ensured. Private parking are to be priced and limited appropriately to discourage private vehicle use in TOD catchment areas.

Densification through redevelopment and infill within existing urban areas is to be prioritised over development in urban extension. Underutilisation of FAR (below 3.0) is not permissible for any new or redevelopment projects. The policy also mentions that higher FAR would be an effective tool only for the redevelopment of low-density and/or dilapidated neighbourhoods existing along transit stations.

All projects and sites within TOD influence zones may have a mix of uses. At least 30% residential and 20% Commercial & Institutional use of FAR is mandatory in every new/redevelopment project within the Influence Zone.

To ensure efficient and optimum use of land, social amenities shall no longer be given to individual plots of land within the influence zone. Instead, they shall be allocated the required built-up area within planned redevelopment schemes as per Masterplan requirements. As for open Space requirements for the residential population, they may be provided on site.

4.1.5 Shortcomings

Integration of multi modal transport systems is poor. Feeder services are available only at selected stations and pedestrians and the NMT are amongst the most neglected ones. The metro terminals are situated outside the city boundary and act as development nodes, which in turn promoted the outward growth of the city, thus supporting sprawl.

4.3 Ahmedabad, India: An incremental approach to TOD

The TOD in Ahmedabad resulted with the existing BRTS system, Janmarg, and the proposed metro system acting as a catalyst. The proposed MRTS is intended to be a solution to the declining ridership on public transit. The TOD is planned with an objective to curb sprawl by promoting a compact city structure with higher densities in zones with good access to public transit. Ahmedabad demonstrates an incremental approach to the implementation of TOD. 

4.3.1 Context

Ahmedabad is the seventh largest metropolis in India, and the largest city in Gujarat with a population of 5.57 million in an area of 450 square kilometres (Registrar General of India 2011). It is located on the Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC), which in turn creates a large potential for investment, industrialisation and development.

Figure 5. Growth of Ahmedabad (1412 to 2012) (Source: HCP)

4.3.2 Ahmedabad Metro

Ahmedabad Metro is a rapid transit system for the cities of Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar and is under construction since March 2015 and being built by Gujarat Metro Rail Corporation (GMRC). Partial commercial operation of Phase-1 from Vastral Gam to Apparel Park on blue line was inaugurated on 4th March 2019 and is the 12th metro system in India to be operational.

4.3.3 Ahmedabad BRTS- Janmarg

It was inaugurated in October 2009, and the network expanded to 89 kilometres by December 2015 with daily ridership of 1,32,000 passengers. It is operated by Ahmedabad Janmarg Limited (AJL), a subsidiary of Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation. Phase-1 was between RTO-Pirana covering a distance of 12.5 km and open to public in 2009 while second phase, covering 84 km with additional 4 Km elevated corridors, was recently completed in 2014. The third phase is under progress. It was designed to connect recreational zones, educational zones and other important areas along the corridors.

Figure 6. BRTS route in Ahmedabad (Source: NIUA)

4.3.4 Introducing TOD in Ahmedabad

The MRTS corridor has an impact on the land-use and housing policies of the city, especially the regions under the Development Plan (DP). While the base FSI is 1.8, the Transit-Oriented Zone (TOZ, a 400m wide band around the BRT network and proposed metro rail) is allowed a higher FSI of 4 and the central business district in close proximity to the two networks is allowed a much higher FSI of 5.4. (Joshi, 2017) The current central business district (CBD) of the city will be shifted from the east bank of the Sabarmati river to the west bank, mainly to integrate the high density commercial area, the recreational area (provided by the waterfront) and the upcoming Metro corridor. The housing policy framed by the city corporation aims at integrating transportation facilities and commercial activities along the BRTS corridors. A stretch of low-income housing was proposed along the Sardar Patel (SP) Ring Road, about 16.5 km away from the city centre, and will be used for rehabilitating the city slum dwellers. The BRTS routes extended connectivity to these zones at the city’s periphery, thus providing affordable transportation modes to the residents.

Figure 7. Land Development Along BRTS Corridor (Source: NIUA)

Figure 8. Proposed BRT and Metro network in Ahmedabad 

4.3.5 Shortcomings

The capacity of BRTS to incorporate a radical shift from private to public transport is yet to be taken care of. Hitherto, there has been a shift of about 8% to public transport. User experiences suggest that the BRT system is yet to reach the fringe areas and internal pockets in the city. Slum redevelopment resulted in the working class population being located away from the CBD, increasing the trip length to commute to work. The proposal to extend BRT to the east part of the city poses a challenge for the city authorities to decongest and manage the existing high densities in the area.

Article by Maithreyi Nair:

Maithreyi is a architect from SMEF Brick School of Architecture, Pune, worked on undergraduate thesis project based on urban agriculture. Throughout her academic journey, she have focused on experimenting with different design philosophies and processes, as well as varied digital media, so as to broaden her knowledge on various possibilities of the design outcome. She determine it keeping in mind the eventual function and efficient performance of the space, in terms of the user and environment. Form, then follows, these parameters. She aim to keep experimenting on these lines and become better each time.


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