Tag Archives: study

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.


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.


Sustainable Growth?

“Charlotte … perform(s) particularly bad. These systems do not have enough riders to produce the economies of scale that make transit provision by rail significantly less expensive than bus.” — UC Berkeley Urban Densities and Transit: A Multi-dimensional Perspective

While public transit is required to help accommodate the area’s population growth, the central question is what technology do we require to solve what problem? And when do you use one versus the other? So where rail transit might be economically sound by re-purposing along existing rail corridors surrounded by high-density populations, does it make sense to use rail transit all of the time? Is rail the only tool in the transit kit?

What really matters to transit-oriented development [TOD] outcomes?  According to the report, the #1 predictor is strong government support for redevelopment, while the #2 predictor is real estate market conditions.  The #3 predictor is the usefulness of the transit services — frequency, speed, and reliability as ensured by an exclusive right of way. Using rail vs bus technologies does not appear to matter much at all. — yes, great bus service can stimulate development!

There seems to be a continued LRT bias where advocates claim that LRT is the only way to support population growth using TOD (Transit Orient Developments) and that TOD has an inherent affinity for LRT over BRT. However, studies from the US GAO (BUS RAPID TRANSIT, Projects Improve Transit Service and Can Contribute to Economic Development) and a recent study of 21 North American transit corridors across 13 cities by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy suggests otherwise. The study concluded that strong government support for redevelopment and real estate market conditions were the primary drivers that drove successful TOD. The use of transit technologies (rail vs bus) did not matter at all.

Outside of the US, in cities like Curitiba, Brazil, and Guangzhou, China, there is copious evidence that BRT systems have successfully stimulated development. Curitiba’s early silver-standard BRT corridors, completed in the 1970s, were developed together with a master plan that concentrated development along them. The population growth along the corridor rate was 98% between 1980 and 1985, compared to an average citywide population growth rate of only 9.5%.

Many cities, therefore, consider investing in mass transit to stimulate the hoped-for development. Indeed, a good mass transit investment can be such a catalyst. Yet city planners and politicians, who do not always work closely with transportation professionals, commonly begin to view mass transit in and of itself as a silver-bullet solution for stimulating development. — ITDP study, More Development For Your Transit Dollar

The DOLRT study area projects 32% population growth. It is the lowest projection of the counties and regions in the study, suggesting that there are other population areas that are growing substantially FASTER than the DOLRT corridor.

Based on the Alternative Analysis, the corridor study area is projected by 2035 to have a population density of 4052 ppsm or people per square mile (231K / 57). Using 1/2 mile walk-up radius around each of the 17 proposed stations, approximately 68,000 people will be within walking distance of a station. The national average for public transportation utilization is 5% (Durham 3%). This suggests walk access will be approximately 6800 daily boardings (68K * 5% * 2) rather than the projected 12,180 by GoTriangle in 2040.


“It is broadly accepted that fairly dense urban development is an essential feature for a successful public transit system. Our analysis suggests that light-rail systems need around 30 people per gross acre … (for) cost-effective investments in the US … urban densities are the most critical factor in determining whether investments in guideway transit systems are cost effective” — UC Berkeley Urban Densities and Transit: A Multi-dimensional Perspective

So how much population density do we need to make light rail cost-effective?


Let’s do the math, there are 640 acres in one square mile. So that means we would require a density of 19,200 people per square mile. So with our current 3071 ppsm (175K / 57) along the DOLRT study corridor, that is 16% of the recommended population density. Or stated differently, we would have to reach a population of over 1 million people by 2040 (or today’s entire Wake county population) just within the 57 square mile study corridor.