The Equity Factor

Three Simple Ways Transit Can Be Effective

A September study from the University of Minnesota explores lessons cities can learn about the impact of transit.

Projected job growth access from 2010 to 2030.

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Easy access to transportation can’t solve everything, but it’s certainly a harbinger of good for cities. We like to talk about how transit can directly affect a community at both the neighborhood level and throughout the larger metro area, and a study released this September — brought to our attention by the Star Tribune’s editorial board — explores transit’s potential effect on the economy and city dwellers.

The report is actually a synthesis of nine studies from the University of Minnesota’s Center for Transportation Studies. Funded by the McKnight Foundation, the research explores everything from mobility to job creation. We picked out three lessons that will give you ammo the next time you argue about the power of transit at a suburban dinner party.

1. Transit spurs economic growth

This is where economic impact studies like to throw around the term corridor, with good reason. Those corridors along new transitways often see explosive growth, which increases both an area’s housing stock and land values. There were 18 projects planned or started along the Green Line in the Twin Cities in 2012, costing a total of $275 million and boasting almost 2,300 housing units and more than 109,000 square feet of commercial and retail space. And that doesn’t even touch 2011, when 40 developments, estimated at $944 million, opened or broke ground.

2. Easy access to transit means more equity

Bill de Blasio’s lofty visions for a more equal New York notwithstanding, transportation gives low-wage workers better access to jobs they wouldn’t have otherwise. As you can see in the graph below, an expanded and easily accessible network of transit begets more opportunities. “TIRP researchers found that low-income workers see the benefits of transit access and have moved into neighborhood station areas along the Blue Line and in areas surrounding bus stops that offer a light-rail connection,” the authors wrote. The Blue Line made 14,000 low-wage jobs accessible within a 30-minute commute.

3. Mixed-use development is paramount

Think of it as diversifying a city’s portfolio. You want density along transitways, but you also want mixes of the land use so that residents have different routes, be it biking or walking. You can’t plop down luxury high rises everywhere. That means policymakers must work in concert with local greenways and think about affordable housing — with which the Twin Cities have been proactive — before you start rolling the first train down the tracks.

The Equity Factor is made possible with the support of the Surdna Foundation.

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Bill Bradley is a writer and reporter living in Brooklyn. His work has appeared in Deadspin, GQ, and Vanity Fair, among others.

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Tags: public transportationjobseconomic developmentequity factorlight railequitybill de blasio

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