Transit-oriented underdevelopment

According to a new study in Regional Science and Urban Economics, the Blue Line (aka Hiawatha light-rail) has failed to spur economic development in the areas surrounding LRT stops. The authors examined areas within one-half mile of LRT platforms and found that “neither construction nor operation of the line appears to affect land use change relative to the time before construction.” And one of the study’s authors told the Star Tribune, “The effects of light rail, at least through 2010 in Minneapolis, are very small, and are limited to industrial and single family parcels.”

There are countless examples across the country where rail lines have failed to spur meaningful transit-oriented development (TOD), from MARTA in Atlanta to the LYNX Line in Charlotte to Austin, Texas.

Ironically, even when development does take place in close proximity to rail stations, it is not necessarily new investment, but rather redistributed investment that likely would have taken place elsewhere. Moreover, when TOD takes place, the rail stations do not seem to be an important factor in that development. According to a paper by Daniel Chatman of UC-Berkeley in the Journal of the American Planning Association, “the lower auto ownership and use in TODs is not from the T (transit), or at least, not from the R (rail), but from lower on- and off-street parking availability; better bus service; smaller and rental housing; more jobs, residents, and stores within walking distance; proximity to downtown; and higher subregional employment density.” The takeaway, Chatman says, is “planners should broaden their efforts to develop dense, mixed-use, low-parking housing beyond rail station areas. This could be both more influential and less expensive than a development policy oriented around rail.”

Unfortunately, it is unlikely that rail enthusiasts and transit activists will take that advice to heart.

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