TDM Program Improves Transportation Choices and Cuts Costs | Wells + Associates

Nicholas Kosar

How Transportation Demand Management (TDM) can add value to Transit-Oriented Development (TOD)

Modera Avenir Place is a mixed-use, transit-oriented development (TOD) located in the largely suburban, residential neighborhood of Merrifield in Fairfax County, Virginia. With the help of a Transportation Demand Management (TDM) program, developer Mill Creek Residential enhanced the accessibility of its site, saved millions of dollars in parking construction costs, and gained a competitive advantage over peer developments.

How did Mill Creek accomplish this?

Transit-Oriented Development Amidst Car-Oriented Parking Rules

In 2016 Mill Creek Residential developed the mixed-use community, Modera Avenir Place that is comprised of a 628-home apartment community alongside 125,000 square feet of retail, including a Harris Teeter grocery store. It was one of the first mixed-use developments of its kind in Northern Virginia, where local zoning regulations were somewhat out of step with the unique qualities of TOD. Although the project was developed adjacent to a WMATA Metrorail station, the community was still subject to parking requirements more appropriate for an auto-dominant suburban setting.

Although Modera Avenir Place was a TOD and approved for higher density development, the minimum Code requirement at the time of its approval was still 1.6 parking spaces per dwelling,” explains Kevin Fellin, a transportation engineer and Principal at Wells + Associates.

The developers struck a deal with Fairfax County: if they established a robust TDM program that provided ongoing programming and incentives to reduce residents’ reliance on cars, then they would not have to build so much parking.

Sure, much of Merrifield and broader Northern Virginia is suburban and most people use a car to get around. But the location of Modera Avenir Place featured a wide range of non-automobile transportation choices. For example:

  • The Dunn Loring-Merrifield Metro Station adjacent to Modera Avenir Place provides access to the entire DC metro region via Metrorail as well as Metrobus
  • The location is also served by numerous Fairfax Connector routes, Fairfax County’s bus service
  • A Capital Bikeshare station now serves the Dunn-Loring Metro Station
  • New bike lanes and bike paths were recently incorporated into the neighborhood, and
  • The 45-mile bicycle and pedestrian Washington & Old Dominion (W&OD) Trail passes nearby.

Despite the multimodal characteristics of the location, per zoning requirements, Modera Avenir Place was still required to build 1.6 parking spaces per apartment home, a standard more appropriate for buildings only served by roads, not train stations. According to Peter Melmed, Managing Director at Mill Creek, “The zoning requirements at the time of development required us to create more residential parking spaces than we needed.”

Fellin explains that due to this requirement, “Modera Avenir Place applied for and was granted a parking reduction to provide fewer spaces than Code.”

Mill Creek knew many Modera Avenir Place residents would use the train and ride buses to commute to work and to get around in general. In fact, residents were interested in living at the community for its many transit options. However, just because the options exist does not mean people will use them. Mill Creek struck a deal with Fairfax County: if they established a robust TDM program that provided ongoing programming and incentives to reduce residents’ reliance on cars, then they would not have to build so much parking.

As part of the entitlement process, the county agreed to lower the parking requirement for the residential portion of the development from 1,005 spaces down to 860 spaces for 628 residential units (1.3 spaces per apartment home). 

Expand Transportation Options and Educate Tenants with a TDM Program

Mill Creek hired Wells + Associates to craft a custom TDM program for the Modera Avenir Place apartment community, “Go Modera Avenir Place,” to ensure that residents would have easy access to non-auto transportation options. 

Dunn Loring Station Capital Bikeshare
The Capital Bikeshare station at Dunn Loring Merrifield Metro is just one of many transportation resources available to residents in the Merrifield region of Fairfax County.

“Many people drive because it is the only option they know about. We find that in order for people to change their travel behavior from driving to another transportation choice they must be aware of what other realistic and convenient choices are available to them and they must be motivated to try those choices through incentives,” explains Justin Schor, principal of TDM Planning and Market Research at Wells + Associates.

Wells + Associates serves as residents’ personal transportation concierge—like a travel agent for your everyday trips. For most people, getting to and from work is the most important, and often the most onerous, traveling they do. In addition to providing a custom travel information website (www.goavenirplace.com), Wells + Associates is on-call to provide residents with custom commute planning.

Lydia Shackelford, senior associate and manager of the Go Modera Avenir Place program at Wells + Associates, explains, “We provide personalized commute planning—we help identify the transportation choices that best align with people’s work schedules and lifestyles, all while ensuring they get to work quickly and efficiently.”

Go Modera Avenir Place also engages residents in fun and creative ways, including transportation-themed events like Bike-to-Work Day and Try Transit Week challenges, as well as other events to familiarize residents with the TDM program, its offerings, and residents’ various travel options.

Even when a community offers many available transportation options, people may not be aware of how they work and if certain modes can align with their schedule. One way to make transportation not just more accessible but more likely to be used by residents is to provide real-time transit information so they can see at a glance what transportation options are available at any given moment. Electronic screens in the lobbies of Modera Avenir Place display real-time travel information for transportation services connected to the site, including Metrorail and bus information, travel times with real-time traffic information to key locations throughout the region, and nearby Uber and Lyft availability.

Sharita Harper, General Manager for Avenir Place, says “In fact, the real-time information has proven to be one of the residents’ favorite amenities—the ability to quickly and easily see what transportation options they have right when they need it has taken the guess-work out of getting around the city.”

Results: Millions in Savings + Residents Get Top-Notch Transportation Service

Creating a TDM program helped maximize Modera Avenir Place’s best asset—its close proximity to the Dunn-Loring Metro Station—as well as take advantage of new and lesser-known bike lanes and paths nearby. Not only was money saved by not constructing 145 additional parking spaces, but the TDM program made commuting a more convenient, hassle-free experience for residents.

The TDM program has been a win-win for the community and its residents.:

  • Savings of $3,625,000 through reduced parking costs
  • Residents using alternative transportation options grew by 17% in four years
  • Residents report that the TDM program is a building amenity they appreciate
  • A large percentage of residents participate in TDM programs like personal commute planning

The initial annual budget for Modera Avenir Place’s TDM program was $125,000—a fraction of the cost of building parking (3 percent, to be exact). Once the program was up and running, the savings only increased: the cost of ongoing operations reduced to less than a quarter of its startup costs.

Jennifer Kosiak, Mill Creek Area Vice President of Property Management, says the lower ratio effectively right-sized the building’s parking. “Our residents have not needed the parking that would have otherwise been required—by providing them with transportation support through our TDM program, they use a wide range of transportation options beyond cars.” According to Harper, most residents of Modera Avenir Place commute into work using Metrorail.

By pursuing TDM, Mill Creek was able to maximize the site’s existing assets and provide residents with a multi-modal experience unmatched by similar residential locations. Mill Creek created a thriving community and a more convenient experience for its residents, all while saving money.

Prospective residents are drawn to the walkability of the site, including the ability to walk to Metrorail for longer trips. “When we take prospective residents on a tour of our community, we always ask them why they are interested in Modera Avenir Place; the top responses are typically the proximity to the Metro and grocery store, as well as the ability to walk to other retail,” says Harper.

Transportation Demand Management provides both immediate and long-term savings—a TDM program costs substantially less than constructing parking and those costs go down as the program gets underway. With Wells + Associates as a long-term partner, the TDM program at Modera Avenir Place has ensured its residential parking is more than sufficient. In the meantime, Modera Avenir Place enjoys a reputation as a highly connected building that supports the busy lifestyles of its residents.