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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Transit-Oriented Development in San Diego County: Incrementally Implementing a Comprehensive Idea


While transit-oriented development (TOD) has become an increasingly popular planning idea, very few studies have examined how localities plan for and implement transit oriented projects. This paper helps fill that gap by studying the TOD implementation process near stations on the oldest of the current generation of light rail lines – the San Diego Trolley. Interviews with planning directors in the region, supplemented by zoning data, archival research, and inspection of station-area land use, all suggest that TOD is a niche market in the region. There are several barriers which have constrained TOD implementation in San Diego County. TOD projects have been pursued most aggressively in cases where those barriers are less severe or do not apply. Overall, we argue that each city, while being sympathetic to regional rail goals, works within a framework of local goals and constraints. The net result is regional TOD implementation which resembles the incremental model of policy-making first popularized by Lindblom (1959). One implication of this is that a comprehensive reshaping of station-area land use will, at best, take years to be realized.

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