Does New Public Transit Increase Gentrification and Lower Ridership?


click on image to enlarge. Credit: Dukakis Center
Smart Planet points us to a report (PDF here) from Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern University that concludes that new transit can lead to gentrification.

My first response was well, duh, isn't that the point? It has always been a rule in real estate development that investment follows infrastructure; if you build good transit and fix roads, people will come. Density will increase. Taxbase will improve. Is this not the return on investment that planners want? Is this not a good thing?

Apparently some think not, because there are unintended consequences.
All those things that I would have thought were good come from investment in transit. The study shows, summarized by Smart Planet:


  • For 64 percent of the neighborhoods around the new rail stations in the study (that's 27 of 42 total), population grew more quickly than the rest of the metro area.

  • 55 percent of those neighborhoods showed a "dramatic" increase in housing production.

  • 62 percent of those neighborhoods showed a faster increase in owner-occupied units than the rest of the metro area.

  • 50 percent of those neighborhoods showed an increase in the proportion of non-Hispanic white households relative to the rest of the metro area. (The other half showed no change or a decrease.)

  • 62 percent of those neighborhoods showed an increase in median household income; 60 percent showed a boost in the proportion of households with incomes of more than $100,000.

  • Perhaps most tellingly, 74 percent of the neighborhoods showed rents that increased faster than the rest of the metro area. A full 88 percent had a relative boost in median housing values, too.


But in America, if you have money, you drive. Poor people take transit. So if you gentrify a neighbourhood and displace the people who use transit a lot (predominantly poor and black) and replace them with wealthier people who have cars, transit use actually goes down. The report says:

Some of the newly transit- rich neighborhoods, the research reveals how a new transit station can set in motion a cycle of unintended consequences in which core transit users--such as renters and low income households--are priced out in favor of higher-income, car- owning residents who are less likely to use public transit for commuting.

It seems counter-intuitive that people would move to an area because of an investment in transit and then drive, but hey, it's America. It also is counter-intuitive to think that the investment and upgrading that comes from gentrification is not a good thing, but the report points out that poor people, who benefit most from transit, can be displaced and have to move further from the transit that is their only option.

In the end, the report makes some solid recommendations to get the best of both worlds. They advocate incentives to build affordable housing, reduced parking requirements (so people who move there have fewer cars) and other incentives to get people out of their cars and onto transit.

But ultimately the answer is to make the United States like almost every other civilized country: install good clean transit that is affordable and comfortable, and stop subsidizing the car, the roads and the parking. In most of the world there is no stigma to transit and the ethnicity of the riders pretty much mirrors the ethnic mix of the cities it runs through. Transit is for everyone.

More on Transit:
The Future of Transit: Everyone Gets A Lift, Even Pigeons
How Portland Mastered the Art of Transit-Oriented Development (Video)
New Study Shows Mass Transit is Green and Healthy
NHTS Survey: Driving = Down. Transit, Walking and Cycling = Up

Tags: Transportation | Urban Life