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Green TOD: Concept, Framework, and the Empirical Case Study of Austin, TX

Principal Investigator(s): Ming Zhang PhD

Project Partners: The University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture, Capital Metro, City of Austin

Research Project Funding:  $123,565

Project Start and End Date: Oct 1st, 2023 – September 30st, 2024

Project Description: Green TOD is a concept derived from marrying TOD (Transit-Oriented Development) to Green Urbanism. TOD promotes compact development aligning with transit stations and has been widely practiced around the world as an alternative to urban sprawl. The conventional TOD practice, however, may result in poor green performance associated with the promoted development patterns. Increased density and land use mixture as TOD has prescribed may help reduce energy use, waste production, and carbon emissions regionwide. Concentration of people, jobs, and activities (including traffic) on the other hand may led to increased intensity of and exposure to emissions and pollutions locally in TOD districts and corridors. The Green Urbanism practice can potentially help address the conventional TOD’s green inadequacies. Nevertheless, Green TOD has not been widely recognized and adopted, especially in the  US. Lack of Green TOD’s recognition and adoption can be attributed to three factors. First, the concept of Green TOD remains to be further clarified and substantiated going beyond simple juxtaposition of TOD and Green Urbanism terms and attributes. Second, there is lack of operational framework and metrics for Green TOD practice and performance assessment. Third, there are insufficient empirical knowledge and data needed for calibrating Green TOD parameters and performance assessment benchmarks. The proposed project aims to achieve three objectives corresponding to the above described three factors that contribute to limited Green TOD recognition and adoption in the existing research and practice. They include: 1) Clarify and substantiate Green TOD concept; 2) Develop an operational framework of and metrics for Green TOD; and 3) Test empirically Green TOD performance through Austin, TX case study.

US DOT Priorities: This project fits well within the US DOT Strategic Goals of Climate and Sustainability and Equity, aiming to develop an operational framework and a set of performance metrics for Green TOD implementation in American cities. This project also contributes to CCST’s Focus Area 4: VMT & GHG Reduction via Modal Shift and Changes in Travel Behavior.

Outputs: One final project report, 1 policy brief, 1 CCST Webinar presentation, 2 conference presentations, and 2 journal publications will be produced. In addition, the PI will be teaching a graduate-level course “Transit Oriented Development” in spring 2024. This project on Green TOD will be integrated with teaching, sharing the literature reviewed for the project with the students in the TOD class. The dataset used for this research will also be made available for the students to use for their course assignments and term projects. The course will have a final review for the students to present their term projects. The project collaborators/stakeholders will be invited to join the final review as external reviewers. 

In addition, the research team will develop operational Green TOD framework and metrics. The Green TOD operational framework will include metrics and narratives describing the indicators and data needed to derive or measure them.


The findings of this project offer tools, empirical knowledge, and performance metrics readily available to assess the extent to which specific strategies can help achieve the policy goals, for instance, the amount of carbon reduction and VMT decline.

The results of the project are expected to inform City of Austin and Capital Metro to enhance their ongoing TOD planning and implementation efforts. The Austin, TX-based project results are also transferable to other places, facilitating their transit agencies, municipal offices, and regional transportation agencies to advance their policies and practices to improve the quality of the living environment and tackle climate challenges.

The TOD course is expected to attract 10~15 graduate students from multiple disciplines, including community and regional planning, transportation, architecture, and public policy. PIs also anticipate two publications based on the project results will be included in the readings of graduate courses taught in other universities in the U.S and abroad. In addition, the publications will be cited by peers in transportation, planning, and related fields and professions.