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Outreach Tools

This summary describes a selection of key best practices relating to community engagement for transit-oriented development.  While similar to engagement during other urban planning processes, transit-oriented development includes unique challenges and opportunities when it comes to how, where, and when to carry out community engagement in your community.  Key challenges may include: reaching out to a full range of stakeholders, such as people who do not currently live in the area but will visit or move there if the TOD were to happen, or being able to describe TOD in a way that focuses on the benefits rather than its negative impacts.  Key opportunities may include: an active and vocal constituency that is aware of the TOD project and transit system and has clear opinions, or the expanded set of resources that are available to you through private sector partners (i.e. developers).  Best practices included here were identified through the study team’s experience in developing transit-supportive plans and policy documents, the input received from interviews with local city representatives, research, and case study review.

Best Practices

1) Craft a Clear Outreach Plan

Craft a clear outreach plan . Develop a plan that establishes a schedule for meetings, workshops, pilots, presentations, newsletters, eblasts, social media presence, mobile messaging and all outreach processes to maintain an even and sustained presence. The Outreach Plan should lay out the goals for the project and identify why particular outreach methods were chosen, referencing developers’ forums, community visioning, charrettes, walking audits, etc. It can also contain a project brand and tagline, stakeholder lists, methods to reach non-traditional audiences, and a decision-making process diagram.

  • a. Example: Los Angeles New Community Plan for the South Los Angeles Area (SLA) . The City of Los Angeles Department of City Planning developed a detailed and clear plan for conducting outreach as part of the development and adoption of the new community plan. The outreach plan was tailored to the community and focused on garnering participation from the entire community. The approach included over 100 neighborhood council meetings, focus groups, outreach to faith-based groups, as well as advocates for affordable housing and healthy communities.
  • b. Additional Resource: Complete Housing Toolkit . The Puget Sound Regional Council provides an overview of the desirable elements of a community outreach plan.

2) Use Defensible Data

Use Defensible Data . Root project direction in quantifiable and defensible data that represents community sentiment. This will protect you against arguments about a biased process, as you will have real numbers to fall back on to explain choices and decisions. Make sure that this data is integrated into the decision-making process.

  • c. Example: Minneapolis Stadium Village University Avenue Station Area Plan . The City of Minneapolis, in collaboration with the University of Minnesota and Hennepin County, created the Stadium Village University Avenue Station Area Plan for their light rail corridor project. The project kicked off with a public meeting that drew approximately 70 attendants and an online survey that gathered 450 responses. The city used the findings to determine their plan focus and priorities.

3) Use Multiple Modes of Communication

Use multiple modes of communication to get project information out and to gather information. This will extend your reach and make sure everyone feels heard. Key stakeholders will receive TOD information regarding benefits and mitigation measures for issues of concern, i.e. density, parking, traffic, noise, home devaluation, and stakeholders will have access to up-to-date information on the project and its progress. Furthermore, long term support will be coalesced, since people were involved early on and consistently. Outreach efforts should begin with one-on-one meetings with key stakeholders and community leaders. Goal-setting and “Big Picture” scoping with the community should take place early on to build relationships and partnerships. After the initial phases of public outreach efforts there should be mid-size information meetings with groups who share like interests. This will help identify specific needs in the community and where tradeoffs may need to be made. Throughout the project, keep stakeholders in the information loop and conduct large public meetings at critical milestones. Provide more engagement tools for young people and those unable to attend meetings, i.e. live streaming of meetings.

  • d. Example 1: Oakland Downtown Circulation Study . The Alameda County Transportation Commission, City of Oakland, and the City of Alameda are working together on a Comprehensive Circulation Study for Downtown Oakland. The study, which will propose transportation projects within several neighborhoods near BART stations, included several public outreach elements such as a public charrette, walking tours in two of the neighborhoods, a merchants’ meeting, a Project Stakeholder Group, a website, and a hosted digital survey. The walking tours were organized by community members and they gathered key stakeholders in the two neighborhoods. The Project Stakeholder Group draws from community groups including Asian Health Services, Bike East Bay, Chinatown Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Oakland BID, Jack London Improvement District, Public Advocates, SPUR Oakland, Transport Oakland, and Walk Oakland Bike Oakland.
  • e. Example 2: Minneapolis Stadium Village University Avenue Station Area Plan . The City of Minneapolis used public meetings held at different times during the day, an online survey, steering committees, email updates that reached over 10,000 stakeholders, a report on the local evening news, articles in local newspapers, and staffing at other community meetings to spread information about the project. At each meeting, planners were sure to include members from different community groups.

4) New Technologies in the Outreach Process

Along with the more traditional methods of outreach, including workshops, community meetings, and hearings, consider using emerging and digital technologies, such as mobile apps, virtual open-houses, live chat sessions, and community comment forums. These methods can help to extend the reach of your transit-oriented outreach, for example by connecting you with people who are unable to attend a workshop in-person (or live along a future transit line, outside of your usual area of influence), or by integrating polling and social media to document and blast information out about your project. This section contains references to applications and websites you might find helpful. Metro does not endorse any particular website or resource, rather the intention is to let you know the range of available platforms, which can help strengthen your outreach approach.

Browsing websites like NextDoor , which allow neighbors to connect and share ideas, will allow you to keep your finger on the pulse of community in the areas where your transit project sits. Websites like and Citizen Investor , can help you engage your constituency in budgeting and investing for transit-oriented projects. Some of these websites engage constituencies directly in the decision-making process, while others let you gauge the overall interests and values of your community relating to budgeting. Several map-based tools make it possible for people to leave comments on a map, for example CrowdMap or Community Remarks , which would be especially helpful for a transit area-level planning project, such as a Specific Plan or Transit-Oriented Plan. Applications like Textizen allow you to send, receive, and analyze questions through text messages, while more web-oriented platforms like Crowdbrite , Neighborland , and MindMixer help you craft websites and portals for community engagement, including forums, areas for leaving feedback, and areas to get project information. Poll Everywhere , will allow you to create a poll that people can answer on their mobile devices, so you can imagine encouraging people to fill out a poll while riding transit or in-the-field at the site of a proposed or existing transit-oriented development.

5) Use Visualization Tools to Show the Benefits

Use Visualization Tools to Show the Benefits. Many people are afraid of new transit-supportive development because they do not know what it looks like or how it could improve the area. One simple, yet effective tool, is to graphically illustrate what the project or plan will look like once it is built. There are multiple tools to achieve this including: photosimulations (using Photoshop to superimpose improvements on a photo of the existing area), renderings (hand or computer sketches of the future of the area), and visual preference surveys (using existing photos of built projects in other locations to visually show what a project will look like).

  • f. Example. Vision Lennox . The Los Angeles County Department of Regional Planning undertook a community planning process to develop a shared vision for the future of the Lennox community. Using a highly collaborative and participatory process, County staff hosted a series of interactive workshops and meetings with community stakeholders to develop a vision document and poster plan. This plan expressed the long-term goals and aspirations of the community related to land-use, transportation, and economic revitalization. The team used photosimulations to show how Hawthorne Boulevard could transform from an auto-oriented corridor into a mixed use, pedestrian-oriented and transit-supportive environment.

Visual Preference Survey

6) Make it Fun

Make it Fun. Go beyond the traditional methods to engage stakeholders in fun ways. Using action-oriented, pilot, and in-the-field outreach makes it not only easier for people to digest dense planning topics, but allows you to revise, test, and fix ideas. It also casts a wider net because everyday citizens are encouraged to participate, not just the people who typically attend public meeting.

  • g. Example: City of Santa Monica’s Michigan Avenue Neighborhood Greenway . The City used a “tactical” installation in the street to test out potential Greenway improvements along Michigan Avenue for a half day. The installation was coupled with a street festival with outdoor music, free food for those who participated, biking tours, and arts and community activities. While not explicitly TOD-related, the lessons applied from this project apply to TOD projects as well. Getting people to see, feel, and experience potential improvements helps move the project forward.
  • h. Additional Resource: Planning By Doing . Describes action-oriented planning goals, steps, and processes.

7) Reframe the Discussion

Reframe the discussion away from the idea of “density” and toward a focus on the improved lifestyle. This includes walkability, pleasant street life, good urban design, and eyes-on-the-street for safety. Have statistics relating to potential benefits in your back pocket, for example those relating to reduced individual transportation costs, reduction in governmental spending, and reductions in greenhouse gases. Identify particular sources of community pride and community concerns relating to the transit or related development. Typical concerns may include: loss of neighborhood character (perceived small town vs urban character); differing community visions for the future; fear of increased density; and parking and traffic concerns. Initial messaging should show that TOD can improve lifestyle and the economic health of a community. Provide TOD “branding” and templates for on-going, brief “TOD-benefits laden” messages. You can get these statistics and messages from internal resources, communications and public relations consultants, and from a variety of sources and compendiums that exist online. Messages can take the form of handouts, glossaries of TOD benefits, newsletters, social media blasts, mobile messaging, FAQ handouts, and Fact or Fiction quizzes. Make sure these materials are geared toward the lay-person. Raise awareness that quiet neighborhoods can remain peaceful through design criteria and planning regulations, while entertainment and dining opportunities can also be enhanced. Educate young people that they can remain in their communities and take the train to work thereby helping to revitalize older communities.

  • a. Example: San Leandro BART TOD Planning . The Center for Community Innovation at UC Berkeley tested out presentations and brochures that showcased carefully selected images showing attractive building design and landscaping to residents during TOD Planning for San Leandro around the San Leandro Crossings and found that focus groups liked the architecture shown, despite the fact that it was “high-density.” Community members liked buildings with particular characteristics relevant to the local content and those that showed lively active street fronts because they could imagine the lifestyle that the TOD would bring, rather than only focusing on the size and height of buildings.
  • b. Additional Resource: Measure the Benefits of Transit Oriented Development . Discusses the benefits of TOD in New Jersey around 8 train stations, relating to metrics like travel behavior, civic engagement, health benefits, and property values.
  • c. Additional Resource: Comprehensive Evaluation of Transit Oriented Development Benefits . Planetizen article about the impact of TOD on mode shift and other TOD benefits and provides links to additional resources.
  • d. Additional Resource: Communicating the Benefits of TOD (Case Studies) . Looks at the impact of the City of Evanston’s Transit-Oriented Redevelopment and the Hudson Bergen Light Rail Transit System.
  • e. Additional Resource: Transit-Oriented Development: Moving from Rhetoric to Reality . Describes how TOD can help address traffic congestion, air pollution, long commute time, and shortage of affordable housing.

8) Build Coalitions and Identify Project Champions

Build Coalitions that bring expertise, guide the decision making process, and help to more effectively engage stakeholders. Coalitions can be grassroots, volunteer, or staffed organizations. Some of the activities that transit-related coalitions can do, are consensus building, visioning, public education, advocacy, supporting or opposing certain development projects, and research. Local coalitions often help with direct outreach for specific TOD projects.

  • i. Example: The Transit Coalition, Southern California. The Transit Coalition is a grassroots advocacy organization that performs outreach and educates people about mobility alternatives. One of the Coalitions visions for 2020 is increased transit-oriented development. As one example of their TOD-related work, for a proposed new development, the Casden-Sepulveda Development, they advocated against the project to the City of Los Angeles because it was not transit-friendly enough, even though it was located near the Exposition/ Sepulveda Light Rail Station. They recommended less parking and less auto-orientation in the project’s design.
  • j. Additional Resource: Improving Outreach for Transportation Projects by Use of Citizen Coalitions . Describes how coalitions can be used effectively for positive impact on transportation and TOD-related projects.
  • k. Additional Resource: Strength in Numbers: A Guide to Building Community Coalitions . Discusses the formation, governance, structure, operation, and funding for community collations.

Finding Project Champions

Finding a project champion in the local community – beyond local politicians– helps assure that people perceive your project as a civic project, one that is aligned with community interests rather than imposed from the top down. It also encourages a project’s longevity despite inevitable changes in political leadership or project management on the municipal side, over the life of a project. Project champions can be local clergy, landowners, leaders of community groups, or other well-known public figures in a particular community. When considering a project champion, choose someone who:

  • is known for bring people together, rather than dividing a community
  • has solid relationships with people in his or her community, ideally relationships that span socio-economic classes, professions, and political beliefs
  • is able to speak articulately about the issues at hand

The role of a project champion is to participate in community events, bring people together, perform social networking, seek partnerships, and rally support. Because they are so connected on the community level, they can head problems off at the pass. If they see that people are very concerned about densification or traffic, for example, they can relay this information to you and/or provide concerned citizens with one-on-one attention and dialogue before the issue gets out of hand. Empower your project champion with facts and figures that support the plan, and give them the help that they need to run community forums and host community dialogues.

9) Make it Personal

Make it Personal. Include real-world narratives, case studies, and personal stories about how people have been positively impacted by TOD and transit in other communities. Expand the narrative and goals for TOD to include the needs and preferences of families, children, people with disabilities, multiple-income levels, and others. It is particularly important to ensure that TOD planning meets the needs of all members of the community. For many people, TOD can be associated with young urban professionals and empty nesters, and planners should counteract this association by accounting for other groups that are part of the community now or who will be in the future. Widening the net of who is included, will make for a more-friendly project, a “complete community” that will attract new populations and help retain existing populations. Think about organizing a TOD tour or peer to peer forums, i.e., community leaders to community leaders, councilmembers to councilmember, so people can see and feel first-hand the impact of TOD. As two examples: first, in South Gate, stakeholder messages were delivered by peers for example mom-to-mom and neighbor-to-neighbor. Second, in La Verne, planning staff, commissioners, and council members took field trips to TOD projects underway, for example to Portland and Vancouver.

  • l. Example: City of Long Beach’s Sidewalk Stories, Downtown and TOD Pedestrian Master Plan . The City is preparing a TOD Pedestrian Master Plan with a grant from LA Metro, which provides policies, guidelines, and standards to ensure best practices for pedestrian design and to identify catalytic infrastructural projects. After their first community outreach session, which consisted of an outdoor festival with temporary street improvements, interactive activities, and pop-up retail, the City held “Sidewalk Stories”. The event invited community members, local stakeholders, residents, property owners and visitors to share their personal stories of walking on the streets, sidewalks, and alleys of Long Beach. A survey at the event gathered community feedback. The personal stories, coupled with the temporary installations in the first round of outreach makes people connect personally with the ideas in the Plan.
  • m. Additional Resource: Families and Transit-Oriented Development . Lays out steps for creating TODs that are supportive of families.

10) Address Equity and Displacement Concerns

Address equity and displacement concerns. In order to adequately address equity and displacement concerns, engage all residents in the development process to make sure that the TOD meets their needs and interests. Work directly with Community Based Organizations who have longstanding relationships and trust within their community.

  • n. Example: Denver Transit-Oriented Development initiative . Partnerships with Community Based Organizations were central to their process. The organizations allowed the City to fill in gaps where they feel short and did not have deep enough relationships within the community. Specifically, the Community Based Organizations encouraged residents to get involved in the development process.
  • o. Additional Resource: A Guide to Community-Drive Transit Oriented Development Planning . Trust South LA’s summary of their participatory approach to outreach during the development of Rolland Curtis Gardens in a transit-rich neighborhood. Can be used as a helpful guide for others crafting their own process.

Additional Resource: Effective Practices in Community Engagement for Equitable Transit-Oriented Development . Presents best practices in community engagement around equitable transit-oriented development.