Socially Equitable?

A closer look at the proposed DOLRT routing demonstrates that the intent does not align with the reality. The DOLRT project will not serve NC Central University (our nation’s first public African-American liberal arts college) or Durham Community College (an institution that provides affordable, technical and career education).  These educational resources strengthen our local business community with the wide reach of their programs, particularly offering accessible, low-cost acquisition of life and job skills to our citizens. The disconnect between DOLRT direct service to these educational and job opportunities does our community and local businesses a grave disservice.

“Transit today is, in almost all US markets, slower than driving. People who depend on transit can reach fewer jobs than those who have automobiles available. Some people use transit by choice, for instance to save money (if they need to pay for parking), and the rest without choice. In my opinion, it is more important to spend scarce public dollars to improve options for those without choices than to improve the choices for those who already have alternatives. Perhaps ideally we could do both, in practice, one comes at the expense of other.” David Levinson, Who benefits from other people’s transit use?, 5/13/2015

Ironically DOLRT advocates claim that the proposed DOLRT alignment helps low-income population, but include UNC and Duke University students thereby artificially inflating the low-income area statistics. These typically affluent students increasingly seek off-campus housing, further compounding the dwindling supply of affordable housing within the community.

Accelerating Gentrification?

Often transit advocates support their claim that light rail is economically progressive by alluding to its correlation to the development and sustainability of affordable housing near light rail stations that serve lower-income, transit dependent communities. However, recent demographic studies suggest otherwise.

In Los Angeles, the NAACP successfully sued the Metro Transit Authority for building light rail, arguing is was so expensive that the city was forced to cut bus service in minority neighborhoods, resulting in an overall decline in transit ridership.

In the mean time, Los Angeles median rent prices for one-bedroom units jumped 46% along Los Angeles’ new metro line.  “Previous studies across the country have noted how new public transit stops drive up nearby rental prices – we’re talkin’ 25-67% … Los Angeles may be especially susceptible to this type of increase, given we have the highest renter and lowest homeownership rate of all metropolitan areas in the country.”

Examining changes relative to areas not near light-rail or subway projects from 2000 to 2013, neighborhoods near those forms of transit are more associated with increases in white, college-educated, higher-income households and greater increases in the cost of rents. Conversely, neighborhoods near rail development are associated with greater losses in disadvantaged populations, including individuals with less than a high school diploma and lower-income households” according to a recent study from the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability.

Accelerated gentrification has had a dramatic impact in Philadelphia’s lower-income communities:

“Roughly a fifth (21 percent) of all residents who moved to a different area ended up in a neighborhood with a lower median income than where they were previously, and this share was higher for low-income movers from gentrifying neighborhoods in particular.

Moving to a lower-income neighborhood takes an additional toll on residents, with their credit risk scores declining by an average of 15 points after three years. Gentrification also increases housing costs, thereby pricing out low-income residents.”— The Closest Look Yet at Gentrification and Displacement (Philadelphia)

Recent demographic studies of Washington DC show that rail transit projects have accelerated gentrification of communities around  stations resulting in African-American, ethnic and lower-income residents being pushed away from the very facilities that were justified on their behalf. The studies demonstrated that a concentration of higher-income families, typically white between the ages of 25-35, now live in close proximity to the transit stations; while minority and low-income families have been driven away from light rail locations by ever increasing rents and into other low-cost communities. One of the unexpected consequences of light rail, as demonstrated in the recent studies, is its regressive housing outcome, despite the project having been ‘sold’ as progressive.

Below are excerpts from the recent Transit Access and Population Change: The Demographic Profiles of Rail-Accessible Neighborhoods in the Washington, DC Area by BRIAN McKENZIE, U.S CENSUS BUREAU, SOCIAL, ECONOMIC, AND HOUSING STATISTICS DIVISION, SEHSD WORKING PAPER NO. 2015-023 DECEMBER, 2015


Findings reveal that young adults, recent movers, white workers, highly educated workers and workers with high earnings all disproportionately live near rail stops in Washington and the five surrounding counties with at least one Metrorail stop.

… white workers are disproportionately represented in neighborhoods near rail stops. For the 2011-2013 period, 56 percent of workers living near rail stops were white, whereas 38.3 percent of workers who did not live near rail stops were white.

… a growing body of research examines displacement of low-income residents from transit-rich neighborhoods. One study examined the relationship between affordable housing and TOD, finding that barriers such as the high cost of land near rail stops present considerable challenges to developing and maintaining affordable housing within transit-rich neighborhoods. Another Washington, DC- based study found that the transportation-related savings associated with the most transit-rich neighborhoods are unlikely to offset the high cost of housing in these areas for low-income workers.

The Proportion of Black Workers Declined in Rail-Accessible Neighborhoods. The racial and ethnic makeup of the Washington, DC region has changed notably over the last decade, but shifts in the racial and ethnic composition of neighborhoods are disproportionately reflected within rail-accessible areas. Within Washington, DC, between 2006-2008 and 2011- 2013, the proportion of Black workers declined from 32.9 percent to 24.1 percent within rail- accessible blocks, whereas the proportion of all other groups either increased or did not experience a statistically significant change (Figure 5). The proportion of workers in rail- accessible neighborhoods who are Black is about half that of workers with no rail access who are Black in 2011-2013, at 24.1 percent and 47.3 percent.

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An influx of relatively young workers to Washington, DC has contributed to a decline in the median age from 34.6 years in 2000 to 33.8 years in 2013.

Within Washington and the surrounding areas, about four out of 10 workers living in a rail-accessible neighborhood were between ages 25 and 34 for the 2011-2013 period. Moreover, between 2006-2008 and 2011-2013, the proportion of workers in this age group increased at similar rates for Washington and the surrounding counties at about 8 percent. Neighborhoods without rail access have a more even distribution of workers across age groups, both in Washington and the surrounding area.

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