National Center for Sustainable Transportation

Is Los Angeles Becoming Transit Oriented?

Project Number


Project Summary

Over the past 20 years, local and regional governments in the Los Angeles metropolitan area have invested significant resources in building rail transit infrastructure that connects major employment centers. One goal of transit infrastructure is to catalyze the development of high density, mixed-use housing and commercial activity within walking distance of rail stations, referred to as Transit Oriented Development (TOD). This project examines the quantity, type, and mix of economic activity that has occurred around newly built rail stations in Los Angeles over the past 20 years. Specifically, have the number of jobs or the housing market characteristics changed near stations? We use establishment-level data on employment and property-level data on housing transactions to analyze changes in several employment and housing outcomes. Results suggest that new rail stations were located in areas that, prior to station opening, had unusually high employment density and mostly multifamily rental housing. There is no evidence of changes in employment density, housing sales volume, or new housing development within five years after station opening. Regressions suggest that a subset of stations saw increased employment density within five to ten years after opening. Case studies of zoning around selected stations indicate that prior land uses and changes after station opening varied considerably across station areas.

Project Status




Topic Area

Urban Mobility

P.I. Name & Address

Professor; Margaret and John Ferraro Chair in Effective Local Government; Senior Associate Dean for Research and Technology; Director, METRANS , Sol Price School of Public Policy
University of Southern California
650 Childs Way
Ralph and Goldy Lewis Hall (RGL) 216
Los Angeles, CA 90089-0626
United States

Funding Source

Haynes Foundation

Total Project Cost


Start and End Dates

1/1/2014 to 12/30/2015

Research Outcomes

The quantitative analysis indicates that areas selected for new stations had unusually high employment density and largely multifamily housing stock, prior to station opening, but did not experience significant gains in either employment or housing outcomes after stations opened. Descriptive statistics and regressions both indicate that station areas did not see employment growth or changes in the composition of employment within the first five years after stations opened. Regression results suggest that a small group of stations that opened between 1996 and 1999 saw significant employment gains between five and ten years after stations opened. It is unclear whether this reflects the time needed for land use patterns to adjust, or whether results are unique to the particular set of stations for which data on long-term outcomes are available.

Results also indicate that housing markets around station areas experienced no significant changes in sales volume, new housing development, or composition of sales after stations opened. For those stations with sufficient sales volume to analyze price changes, housing prices near stations increased by less than prices in control areas after stations opened. A limitation of our analysis is that data are not available on changes in rental housing markets near stations, although many stations are located in predominately renter-occupied neighborhoods. 

The three stations examined through qualitative case studies – Hollywood and Vine, Civic Center and Del Mar – illustrate the diversity of land uses and development histories around Los Angeles stations. Both the Hollywood and Vine and Del Mar stations are surrounded by a mixture of land uses, including relatively high density residential buildings and commercial  activity, such as shops and restaurants. Land around the Civic Center station is almost entirely occupied by public facilities (government office buildings and related uses), which do not permit residential or commercial development. The City of Pasadena undertook a substantial rezoning effort around the time that the Gold Line stations opened, creating a new specific plan around all three downtown stations that encouraged “urban density” mixed residential and commercial uses. In contrast, the City of Los Angeles did not consistently update zoning around all station areas during the study period, but did facilitate redevelopment efforts at selected stations. LA’s Community Reinvestment Agency (CRA) used eminent domain to help assemble land parcels near the Hollywood and Vine station, enabling the MTA and a private developer to undertake a large-scale redevelopment of the station area, resulting in new apartments, condominiums, a hotel, and substantial restaurant and retail space. Even with concerted efforts by public agencies, the redevelopment project took nearly eight years to complete. The Del Mar station has seen a limited amount of new residential and small-scale commercial development immediately adjacent to the station, consistent with the new specific plan. The primary change near the Civic Center station has been the recent development of Grand Avenue Park – a public sector rather than market-based investment. 

Impacts/Benefits of Implementation

Why has there been no consistent evidence of transit-oriented development around new MTA rail stations? Our analysis cannot definitely answer that question, but hints at several possible reasons. The share of Los Angeles households who commute by rail is relatively low, compared to cities with more established systems, and the rail network covers a very small share the county’s land area, so it is unclear to what extent new stations increase nearby land values. Because new station locations had high initial job and housing density, large-scale development near stations may require complex and costly land assembly. Both the qualitative and quantitative results suggest that new development patterns may take years, even decades, to emerge around the stations. Zoning restrictions on the type and density of allowed uses may also constrain development near some stations. While Pasadena adopted new, density-friendly zoning for all station areas at the time that service began, Los Angeles has at best allowed piecemeal rezoning or variances around selected stations.