Density, Diversity, & Design

Metro Green Line on University Ave.High-quality and convenient transit depends upon high levels of ridership. High demand for transit depends upon on regional development patterns, real estate markets, and urban design that support transit.

Density is critical for the transit system because it concentrates trip origins or destinations so that sharing rides becomes practical as well as economical. A diversity of land uses at destinations means that transit can serve multiple purposes (employment, shopping, and recreation), increasing the system’s efficiency and its convenience for transit riders. The design and orientation of buildings and public spaces matters so that walking is not only safe but rewarding.

Dense residential area.The Transit Markets section explains how density, car ownership, and the interconnectedness of the local street system result in different Transit Market Areas. Development density in one location is not likely to significantly change a Transit Market Area. However, density near existing transit service can generally build support for increased frequencies, hours of operation, and amenities. 

Density Appropriate to Context

The appropriateness and feasibility of density varies from community to community. Density in the right locations can help improve transportation options for the region. Additional employment in existing regional job concentrations served by transit, for example, will usually result in higher transit ridership than a project built elsewhere. Similarly, residents of higher-density housing are more likely to use transit if they can easily
walk to transit. 

St. Louis Park, Wooddale Flats. This moderate density residential development on Wooddale Avenue near Excelsior Boulevard adds density but at a scale that respects the adjoining single-family neighborhood.Because of the region’s significant investments in transitways, the 2040 Transportation Policy Plan (TPP) includes new residential density requirements for communities with transitways. Density requirements apply only to areas identified for new development or redevelopment within ½ mile of a transit station (or within ¼ mile for Rapid Bus stations like the A Line).

Density requirements are averages and vary by type of transitway and community designation. These new requirements apply to comprehensive plans due in 2018. The Transit Station Area Fact Sheet (forthcoming) provides more information.

Centers of Activity

The TPP also includes new policy on activity levels within ½-mile of station areas along transitways. Activity levels refer to the number of people, jobs, students, and visitors in a station area. The TPP includes a guideline of 7,000 people, jobs, and students. This is a benchmark related to the cost-effectiveness of the transit investment. The Density and Activity near Transit Factsheet explains how to apply this regional policy in local
station area plans and comprehensive plans. Many station areas
already surpass this threshold, and all communities should plan
to eventually reach or surpass this benchmark.

Downtown Minneapolis, Mill District. Building bulk and height transition from East Town (background) to the Mill District (foreground).Resources:

We Can Help!

Comprehensive planning requirements for transit station areas

Contact your Sector Representative 

Transit routes and system planning

Contact Metro Transit Service Planners (click for regional map of contacts)

A diversity of land uses near transit can make using transit or walking more convenient by serving multiple purposes. Retail and commercial services along a transit rider’s walking route add value and convenience. The mix of uses will vary depending upon a community’s vision for TOD, market demand, and the availability of tools and resources to implement plans. Planners should consider the following characteristics of land use near transit.

Use and Scale

Communities should consider the type and scale of uses near transit, and how those uses might change over time. Stores and services along walking and bicycling routes can improve the quality of life for people who walk, bike, or use transit. They also increase the convenience of using transit on a regular basis. For example, transit riders may be able to pick up groceries for that evening’s dinner, pick up children from daycare, or meet co-workers after work. Land uses, such as car washes, that do not benefit regular transit riders and people who walk should be located in other parts of the community that are not well-served by transit.

Communities should consider what locations are most important for retail and keep in mind that the scale of buildings and uses matter as much as the mix of land uses. Outside of the downtowns, retail uses cannot depend solely upon customers using transit and walking. Because of this, smaller-scale uses are better suited to TOD than big-box retail that would require large amounts of surface parking. Regulating the use, scale, and form of development will help ensure that retail contributes to an area becoming more walkable.

Vertical Versus Horizontal Mixed Use

A vertical mix of uses near transit makes efficient use of land. Vertical uses including housing and businesses bring residents near both transit and local businesses. Residential uses above ground-floor commercial, however, can be difficult to finance. Depending on market conditions, communities may require using ground-floor space for commercial purposes. In other situations, they may require ground-floor space that can be easily adapted to commercial uses if market conditions change. Where retail use is not a priority, communities may only want to ensure that the ground floor has active uses and spaces that are visible from the street (e.g., lobbies, waiting areas, etc.).

Communities should also consider the long-term role of single-story commercial uses. Low-density commercial uses may be future opportunities for multi-story residential, office, or mixed-use buildings. On the other hand, communities may choose to support the development of new stand-alone commercial uses. If this kind of investment is made to catalyze other development, the impact on walkability should be considered

Case studies:

Buildings create a sense of enclosure, and trees provide shade along the sidewalk for pedestrians.TOD design principles emphasize the pedestrian and creating a walkable environment that supports transit use. They apply to any area where cities want to minimize the impact of automobiles on the safety and desirability of walking. The most effective results come from applying these principles together, not separately.

Sense of Enclosure for Pedestrians

One principle is that buildings should create a sense of enclosure for pedestrians. This is similar to the ways that walls create rooms and hallways providing order and a sense of security. To accomplish this, cities can establish minimum and maximum setbacks for new buildings, or they can prescribe “build-to” lines. Where a parcel faces two rights-of-way, the building should face both streets.

Buildings should be set back in ways that provide enough room for walking, streetscape, and outdoor furnishings like planters and sidewalk seating. For new development, cities should require that all off-street parking, as well as loading areas, be located behind or to the side of a building. Cities should limit the amount of street frontage that parking uses. Planners should also understand how streets and rights-of-way may change over time so that they can determine how development should relate to the street.

Uninterrupted Walking Routes

Another principle is that site plans for new developments should not conflict with primary walking routes. For the convenience of pedestrians, a building should include a main entrance that fronts, or is closely connected to, the sidewalk. For pedestrian safety, the number of driveways should be minimized and located on secondary streets rather than those designated as primary walking routes. Major building renovations and parking lot reconstruction provide opportunities for cities to apply TOD design principles.

Active Ground Floors

A third principle is that building uses on the ground floor should be “activated” along walking routes and within commercial districts. Activity on the ground floor of buildings serves a number of related purposes. Pedestrians can benefit from convenient retail or services. Active ground floors create a more visually engaging environment for pedestrians as they walk by. Finally, creating visual links between active ground floor uses and the sidewalk contributes to the safety of the pedestrian who may be alone on the street. Active ground floors could include lobbies, waiting areas, or other spaces that are used for gathering, meeting, or waiting.

Site Planning Along Transit

If development happens on streets that are served by Metro Transit, cities can consult with Metro Transit’s Urban Design group for feedback on how site plans might impact bus stops, transit customers, and bus operations (i.e., stopping, merging, turning, etc.). Metro Transit regularly reviews site plans with the City of Minneapolis, and Metro Transit encourages other cities to consult with us when planning development along transit routes or reviewing development prospects.


We Can Help!

Site plans along Metro Transit routes

Carol Hejl, Landscape Architect
Metro Transit – Planning and Urban Design
[email protected]

Minneapolis, Uptown. Public art and plazas add value for both residents and businesses in this growing center of activity served by transit and trails.Placemaking creates places that attract people and bring residents and visitors together. The building blocks of placemaking include buildings, streets, sidewalks, parks, patios, plazas, as well as activities. Placemaking puts these things together in a way that creates comfortable, engaging, and satisfying environments. Placemaking is part of planning, and it is especially vital for TOD.

Placemaking as Investment

Placemaking helps attract private investment. Transit riders experience their communities on foot and want a safe and positive experience.  People in the market for higher-density development need and expect the access and mobility that transit provides, but are also looking for quality public open space, amenities, and public activity. 

Public art, plazas, and open spaces are important to communities, but especially in areas where people walk and take transit.

Placemaking in Different Contexts

Cities plan for public spaces in different contexts. This includes reinforcing and retrofitting developed areas, master planning for greenfield or large-scale redevelopment, and making changes in locations that currently have few spaces as public amenities. Planners should evaluate existing conditions and help their cities identify potential improvements to improve the sense of place. This evaluation should address both publicly owned spaces as well as publicly accessible private spaces accessible to the public.

Questions for Planners

Some of the central questions planners ask about placemaking include:

  • Does the space, or the space created by a development, add value to a location (e.g., views, shade, sitting areas), and do people feel a sense of pride and ownership in the space?

  • Is the space functional (e.g., stormwater management), does it have a purpose (e.g. public events), and is it enjoyable to look at?

  • Is the space used enough to make people feel secure and is it visible from surrounding uses?

  • Is the space adaptable to changing seasons and different community needs?

  • Do plans identify reliable and ongoing sources of revenue to maintain and/or improve the space?

A blank wall is transformed into a mosaic that reflects the community.Cities plan for public spaces in different circumstances. This includes reinforcing and retrofitting developed areas, master planning for greenfield or large-scale redevelopment, and making changes in locations with few amenities in public spaces. Planners should develop their placemaking expertise so that they can evaluate existing conditions and help cities identify potential improvements to improve the sense of place.

Case Studies:

  • Central Park, Bloomington Central Station, METRO Blue Line (COMING SOON)
  • The ARTery, Hopkins, METRO Green Line Extension (COMING SOON)
  • Cottageville Park, Hopkins, METRO Green Line Extension (COMING SOON)
  • Heart of the City, Burnsville, METRO Orange Line (COMING SOON)


We Can Help!

Technical assistance and referrals on placemaking

Ryan Kelley, Senior Planner
Metropolitan Council - Livable Communities Program
[email protected]


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