Travel of TOD Residents in the San Francisco Bay Area: Examining the Impact of Affordable Housing


Legislation and public policies in California incentivize housing development near high-quality transit nodes to meet climate change and affordability goals. In general, transit-oriented development (TOD) encourages transit ridership and active travel while reducing the number and distance of car trips. BART has been active in encouraging affordable TOD in the region; the agency adopted a TOD policy in 2016 that aims to build 20,000 housing units on land it owns, 35 percent of which must be affordable to low and very low income households. As of July 2019, 2,555 total housing units were in BART’s TOD portfolio, 29 percent of which were affordable units.

BART and the Great Communities Collaborative commissioned a study of how residents in TOD housing travel compared to residents of other housing developments located more than a mile away from BART stations. BART has relied on the results of similar studies in the past to provide the data used in models that estimate ridership for TOD projects on BART property. In this study, the research team expanded the work to evaluate both the impact of TOD on BART ridership and to determine variations by income and time of day. A particular focus of this research was to understand the travel patterns of affordable housing residents in both location types—including how living in a TOD might change their access to opportunity—and the differences from market-rate households. In addition, the study explored change in travel over time in a subset of housing developments also studied in 1992 and 2003.

The research team surveyed 613 residents who lived in one of 62 market-rate or affordable housing developments containing at least 50 housing units. Developments were located either within a quarter mile of a BART station (TOD) or between one and two miles of a BART station (non-TOD). Questionnaires solicited data on the three main trips1 on a travel day, household car use, employment and commuting, BART travel, and reasons for residential location. The researchers compared results across both housing location (TOD or non-TOD) and affordability (market-rate or affordable). They also conducted focus groups with 61 low-income residents at six affordable housing developments to contextualize survey findings and to understand how living in a TOD affects their access to opportunity.

Study results indicate that the travel of TOD residents is generally consistent with the goals of BART’s TOD program: they drive less and take transit more frequently. Affordable housing residents shift some of their transit travel from bus to BART, though factors such as expensive nearby amenities, high travel costs, and inaccessible employment sites create regional accessibility challenges.

Jesus M. Barajas
Jesus M. Barajas
Assistant Professor of Environmental Science and Policy