Can Public Transportation Increase Economic Efficiency?

Matthew Drennan and Charles Brecher

In theory, public investments in mass transit can make urban economies more efficient by enhancing employers’ access to a larger labor pool at lower transport costs. Moreover, as first explained by Alfred Marshall, the concentration of economic activities in urban areas yields efficiency gains due to agglomeration economies. That is, each firm produces advantages that are shared by all firms located in the same area. The concentration of many businesses can thus produce many such external benefits. Can public transportation increase agglomeration economies?

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Retrofitting the Suburbs to Increase Walking

Marlon G. Boarnet , Kenneth Joh, Walter Siembab, William Fulton, and Mai Thi Nguyen

During the last half of the 20th century, cities and towns across America were built primarily for one transportation mode: the automobile. Much of this development occurred on the urban periphery, creating the suburbs that are now home to more Americans than either traditional central cities or small towns. Today, while federal transportation policies and urban planners have shifted toward promoting a more multimodal form of development, the legacy of the postwar era remains: thousands of suburban neighborhoods poorly served by any mode of transportation other than the automobile.

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What Density Doesn’t Tell Us About Sprawl

Eric Eidlin

Sprawl has no single definition. Many people, however, tend to think of "sprawling" cities as places where people make most of their trips by car, and non-sprawling cities as places where people are more likely to walk, cycle, or take transit. This is why Los Angeles, which has more vehicles per square mile than any other urbanized area, and where transit accounts for only two percent of the region's overall trips, is considered sprawling, while the New York urbanized area is not. We also know (or think we know) that places where people frequently walk, cycle, or take transit tend to have high population densities, and for this reason we tend to view low density as a proxy for sprawl. But as it turns out, the Los Angeles urbanized area—which in both myth and fact is very car-oriented—is also very dense. In fact, Los Angeles has been the densest urbanized area in the United States since the 1980s, denser even than New York and San Francisco.

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Vibrant Sidewalks in the United States: Re-integrating Walking and a Quintessential Social Realm

Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris and Renia Ehrenfeucht

As a transportation mode, walking is healthy for individuals and beneficial for the environment. Fifteen years ago, the US Surgeon General highlighted the importance of walking for exercise as a means of combating obesity, diabetes, and other diseases. Since then, a wealth of studies published in public health and medical journals have extolled the virtues of walking. Moved by concerns about climate change, energy, and congestion, transportation planners now view walking as an inexpensive and enjoyable activity that could replace short auto trips, thus reducing congestion and fossil fuel consumption. Yet despite the general consensus that walking brings many benefits, policymakers still aren’t sure how to increase the amount of walking people actually do. One of the most obvious approaches is to improve pedestrian infrastructure. Walking is harder in places without good sidewalks, and the sidewalks in many cities are in terrible disrepair. Many other places have no sidewalks at all. But good sidewalks, while important, will not by themselves lead to more walking. Changes in the built environment are a necessary but not sufficient condition for a pedestrian-friendly city.

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TOD and Carsharing: A Natural Marriage

Robert Cervero

Transit oriented development (TOD) is arguably the most cogent and acceptable form of smart growth. Almost everyone "gets" TOD. Politicians, professionals, and lay citizens alike understand that if there is any logical place to promote compact, mixed-use development, it is around transit stations. The benefits of TOD are largely borne out by empirical evidence. People who live near rail transit stops in the US have much higher rates of transit use than the typical resident of a rail-served region. In California, surveys show that residents who live near a transit station use transit for their commutes at a rate four to five times higher than residents of the same region who don’t live near stations. This pattern has held steady over time. In the case of the Pleasant Hill BART station, for instance, 47 percent of station-area residents took transit to work in 1993. Ten years later, in 2003, the share was 44 percent.

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Elizabeth Deakin

Transportation planners and engineers often focus on specific areas of expertise, such as particular modes of transport, or air quality effects of transportation. Increasingly, however, Californians are reminded that such focused specializations, while valuable, are insufficient by themselves. Current efforts to meet stringent greenhouse gas reduction targets while accommodating growth and counteracting economic downturn show just how complex and interconnected urban development issues are. The emerging paradigm is one that integrates transportation planning into a broader metropolitan development strategy.

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Integrating Infrastructure Planning: The Role Of Schools

Deborah L. McKoy, Jeffrey M. Vincent, and Carrie Makarewicz

California sits at an historic moment. The state’s policymakers and voters have aggressively ramped up their investment in public school buildings, providing more than $35 billion in state funds in the form of general obligation bonds to modernize existing schools and build new ones since 1998. Additionally, the California Strategic Growth Plan won voter approval and in 2006 state leaders began the first phase of a comprehensive twenty-year plan to upgrade critical infrastructure. The plan calls for spending $211 billion through 2016—with $42 billion in bonds already approved—on transportation, water systems, public safety, housing, the judiciary, and education facilities. By including public schools as one of six key pieces of critical infrastructure, state officials and voters recognized the importance of school facilities in shaping California’s growth and prosperity. Ongoing school construction investment, coupled with the new, broader infrastructure investment, creates a strategic opportunity for California to improve the way it plans, funds, constructs, modernizes, and operates its schools, and to make school planning an integral part of community and regional development, rather than an isolated endeavor.

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Transportation Infrastructure And Sustainable Development: New Planning Approaches For Urban Growth

Marlon G. Boarnet

As California's population expands to fifty million people over the next two decades, urban infrastructure will be under immense pressure. Partly in anticipation of growth, and partly to catch up after years of neglected investment, in 2006 California voters approved bond measures for transportation, affordable housing, education, disaster preparedness, flood prevention, and water projects. Most experts expect that even more funding will be needed to meet future needs. How can these funds best be spent to accommodate growth and avoid stressing California’s environmental, fiscal, and social resources? In particular, how can we use the next round of transportation investment to help us plan for a more sustainable future?

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California’s Growth: An Uncertain Future

Michael B. Teitz

Few things are sadder than the sight of a friend in the grip of undernourishment, addiction, and delusion. That beloved friend is California— undernourished in what is necessary for its collective health, addicted to the consumption of public services, delusional about the necessity to pay for them. The word “crisis” is used far too frequently in public discourse, but it is hard to avoid the conclusion that California is now facing a serious crisis. The dimensions of that crisis go far beyond the range of the papers in this—and the next—issue of ACCESS: inadequate health care and insurance, a failing K-12 public school system, an under-funded and over-stressed higher education system, a public fiscal system that seems to be in permanent structural deficit with a form of governance full of incentives to keep it that way, and the likelihood of a recession. To all these, we may add the prospect of millions more added to the population, housing prices that are still far above the US median even with the current real estate collapse, insufficient and undermaintained infrastructure, water shortages exacerbated by climate change, and urban development that is inefficient and unhealthy.

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