A Driving Factor in Moving to Opportunity

Evelyn Blumenberg and Gregory Pierce

In 1992, the US Congress authorized the Moving to Opportunity (MTO) housing voucher program to operate in five large metropolitan areas: Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York. The MTO program represented a radical departure from standard housing assistance programs, which clustered participants in very poor neighborhoods that offered few opportunities. Running counter to previous policy, MTO used an experimental framework to assess how moving households on assistance to low-poverty neighborhoods can affect their employment, education, and household income. Under the program, residents were randomly assigned into three groups. The first group received housing vouchers that could be used only in neighborhoods with poverty rates under 10 percent. The second group received similar housing vouchers but with no neighborhood restrictions. The third group did not receive vouchers but remained eligible for public housing and other social programs.

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Robert Cervero

As a transportation researcher, I sometimes get asked what falls into the Census’s “other” category of how people get to work—hoverboarding, rollerblading, kayaking? In Ottawa, three percent of commuters ice-skate to work in winter months. In other cities, notably big, dense ones with awful traffic and jam-packed subways, an increasingly popular way to commute is running. Lacing up running shoes and hoofing it to work is arguably the most active form of active transport and helps meet the Surgeon General’s recommended 30 or more minutes of physical activity per day. Combining two things we need to do—exercising and getting to work—can pay off. Research shows active commuters cut their odds of obesity by 50 percent.

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Going Mental: Everyday Travel and the Cognitive Map

Andrew Mondschein, Evelyn Blumenberg, and Brian D. Taylor

How do you get to work? Do you have a preferred route to your favorite restaurant? To the nearest hospital? To Disneyland? If you know—or think you know—the answers to any of these questions, then your cognitive map is at work. Humans rely on mental maps to store knowledge of places and routes in order to engage in travel and activities. People use their cognitive maps to decide where to go and how to get there. But accessibility research has largely ignored this essential aspect of travel behavior, despite the fact that a trip won’t happen without prior knowledge of a destination and potential routes to it. As cities become larger and more dispersed, good information about opportunities and travel systems is more important than ever. Download the PDF.

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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Transportation, Jobs, and Economic Growth

Martin Wachs

American politicians are bitterly divided on many matters of public policy, yet they seem to agree that spending on transportation programs creates jobs and thus constitutes a path out of the nation's long and deep recession. Infrastructure investments are prescribed to stimulate the economy in the short term by creating construction employment, and to foster longer-term economic growth by making the transportation system more efficient and reliable. Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, rural and urban elected officials—all seek funding for roads and transit projects in their districts, asserting repeatedly that these expenditures will create jobs. President Obama vigorously sought to create jobs through transportation spending in the recent economic stimulus package. This seemed familiar: in 1991, when signing the historic Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA), President George H.W. Bush stated that the value of the bill "is summed up by three words: jobs, jobs, jobs."

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Restricting New Infrastructure: Bad for Business in California?

Karen Chapple and Carrie Makarewicz

Planners throughout California are preparing to implement SB 375, a law that requires metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) to consider the impact of land use decisions on climate change, and requires that future planning decisions reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Among other provisions, the bill encourages municipalities and developers to concentrate infrastructure and development in urban areas or close to public transit hubs in order to reduce vehicle use. The bill also includes a number of provisions to better coordinate the provision of housing and transportation infrastructure. SB 375 could have profound effects on California’s cities. If MPOs and local governments change their housing, transportation, and land use plans in response to the law, then infrastructure funds, private investment, and housing will likely be steered into more compact patterns, and development will occur primarily in places where it already exists.

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California’s Housing Problem

Cynthia Kroll and Krute Singa

California’s Department of Finance predicts that by 2030 the state’s population will reach fifty million people—twelve million more than today. This will result in an estimated 2.7 million new households in the state. How should the state allocate resources to house the new population, and how will choices made today affect the state’s economic, social, and environmental performance in the future? In many urban centers, low-and-moderate income households live with home prices and rents that far outstrip basic affordability standards. California has faced two housing-related issues for decades: cost and location. In many urban centers, low-and-moderate income households live with home prices and rents that far outstrip basic affordability standards. Even upper income households pay more for housing relative to their income in California than in most other parts of the US. And what new affordable housing there is has largely been added in nonurban places and at urban peripheries, resulting in steadily increasing traffic congestion and commute times in the state’s urban areas.

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Transit and Contracts: What’s Best for Drivers?

Songju Kim and Martin Wachs

Throughout its history, most public transit has been provided by private companies. During the second half of the twentieth century, however, things changed. Transit came gradually into public ownership as revenues from fares no longer covered costs and operators faced bankruptcy. Local, state, and federal subsidies kept transit afloat in most metropolitan areas. In reaction to steadily increasing subsidies and rising operating costs, many said transit services should be contracted out to private operators. Margaret Thatcher had made great strides toward privatizing transit in Britain, and there were calls for adopting similar strategies in the US. Proponents argued that private operation would be more efficient and less costly, while opponents said that private operators would save money simply by paying workers less than public operators and providing inferior benefits. Actual data were hard to come by, and both sides used dueling studies to prove opposite conclusions based on competing ideological commitments rather than actual data. It is still not completely clear whether privately operated transit service is more efficient than publicly run services.

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As Jobs Sprawl, Whither The Commute?

Randall Crane and Daniel G. Chatman

The most transparent trend in metropolitan areas is the decentralization of jobs and housing into the suburbs and beyond. Scholars blame sprawl for many things, ranging from car-generated air pollution to commute-induced social alienation. But what do we know about its effects on travel behavior? According to conventional wisdom, people are driving farther to work these days—but supporting evidence is thin. It’s not clear whether homes and jobs are growing farther apart or closer, nor which industries and occupations are dispersing most or least. Here we tackle one key unanswered question: How does job sprawl affect average commute length?

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THE ACCESS ALMANAC: Transportation Costs And Economic Opportunity Among The Poor

Evelyn Blumenberg

A widely cited report says transportation costs are increasing and comprise a much larger share of expenditures in lower-than in higher-income households. The report, Transportation Costs and the American Dream, published by the Surface Transportation Policy Project in 2001, blames automobiles and says that rising transportation costs are hindering home ownership. However, the facts do not support this conclusion. Expenditure data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’s (BLS) Consumer Expenditure Survey reveal that low-income households actually spend slightly less than high-income households on transportation, a pattern that has held since the early 1980s. Figure 1 shows the distribution of expenditures for all households and compares them with households in the bottom income quintile. The graph shows transportation expenses are, indeed, a significant expenditure for everyone, but that low-income households spend a slightly smaller percentage on transportation than all households (and a higher percentage on housing).

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