Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

Commuting Market Share Is the Wrong Way to Judge Transit

It’s common to look at transit in terms of commuting market share. It’s understandable why we do this, since, among other things, it is easy to get the data.

But the generally low showing of transit on this metric I think misses the bigger picture. Chicago metro has a transit market share of 11.5%, for example. Firstly, this is a metro area statistic, so includes huge numbers of areas that aren’t even transit addressable. It’s hard for transit to win when it isn’t even present on the battlefield. In the city of Chicago itself, transit has 26.7% market share.

But remember, this is only for commuting. The real transportation benefit of transit is in the leverage it provides on other trips. Someone could live in my neighborhood – Lakeview – and conduct pretty much all of their daily business on foot. I actually don’t ride transit that much these days. But I make many daily trips on foot and rarely feel inclined to drive anywhere. There are plenty of cars on the street to be sure, but the density of pedestrians shows that there are tons of other trips going on that probably aren’t being counted in most surveys because they are non-commuting and unlike with transit passengers or cars, there hasn’t been much in the way of an effort made to quantify them. This trip leverage, by the way, is true even of people who drive to work – lots of folks do – and never ride the CTA. They can still walk to Walgreens, walk to Starbucks, walk to the neighborhood frozen custard stand, etc.

The point is that without the transit, the neighborhood would not exist in its current form, and its walkability would be significantly degraded.

Beyond the transportation benefits, which are substantial, transit is also arguably the single most important factor that gave Chicago a different trajectory than other Midwest cities, though other factors like Chicago always being bigger, richer, etc. certainly played a key role as well.

Because Chicago retained 360 degree transit access to downtown, including from the far suburbs, it could remain a viable business destination in an era of suburbanization and the automobile. New developments such as skyscrapers could be built in the Loop without any parking. This made it easier to assemble land and led to the enormous densities that fuel its urban energy because you didn’t need to have a footprint for a large attached parking structure. Contrast with smaller cities like Indianapolis, where new buildings were of the “box on a pedestal” type design where one skyscraper might consume an entire city block. This is rare in downtown Chicago outside of a few ill-conceived urban renewal era “skyscraper with plaza” style buildings.

With business vitality in the Loop, there was still reason for people to live in the city, there was still a base for shopping, restaurants, etc. All of this created a virtuous cycle that kept property values high. Even at its Rust Belt nadir, Chicago’s Loop was still doing fairly well and a strip of lakefront and other neighborhoods were in decent shape.

If for some reason Chicago had lost its formidable transit system in the way that so many other cities did, I have no doubt it would have followed a similar development pattern. In those places, even a history of dense urban neighborhoods couldn’t save them once the CBD declined as a major economic growth force and suburbanization took hold.

The same is true of most of the other cities that made it: Boston, New York, San Francisco, etc. Even LA has a very extensive bus network and DC has emerged with a powerful central core thanks to the exploding federal government and the relatively new metro system. Philly’s transit system didn’t save its downtown, but the city could be in a lot worse shape, that’s for sure.

So I think it is very clear that transit, in its service area, provides enormous value, transportation and otherwise, that isn’t fully reflected in commuting market share numbers.

41 Comments
Topics: Transportation
Cities: Chicago

41 Responses to “Commuting Market Share Is the Wrong Way to Judge Transit”

  1. Yes, I beat this drum constantly. Smaller and more suburban cities inevitably end up creating lots of peak-only specialised services, and have trouble growing their all-day network. The all-day network often looks like a poor investment in the short term, but in the long term it can influence the shape of the city, which is what matters.

  2. Everett says:

    Makes me think of Raj Patel’s book, “The Value of Nothing.” It seems that our current system is good at getting us to a certain point of societal development (consistent utilities, good housing, steady food supply, et al.), but then stalls before we get to the next level of evaluating the qualities of those systems (ecological sustainability, walkability, etc). Our particular strain of capitalism alone seems unable to make these value judgments.

    Just saying, modern economics are failing in many areas, not only transit.

  3. cdc guy says:

    Everett,

    Economics and markets are working fine: the market wants sprawling suburbs. The real issue for the points of view that you express is this: Progressive urbanists are outnumbered.

    Just scroll down to the last comment at this post.

    http://www.urbanophile.com/2010/07/13/randy-simes-cincinnatis-dramatic-multi-billion-dollar-riverfront-revitalization-nearly-complete/

  4. John says:

    Re: 360 degree transit access

    I feel like nit-picking. At least 90 degrees of the circle surrounding Chicago is water that doesn’t have (or need) transit access.

  5. Everett says:

    @cdc guy: I heartily disagree that markets are working fine. They are working to perpetuate a certain type of lifestyle. In the meantime, there are all sorts of costs and benefits that are being ignored.

    I don’t necessarily have anything against what form the American dream takes, whether it be a dense, urban neighborhood or a sprawling, exurban, gated subdivision of McMansions. My point is that invisible subsidies and delayed costs to American lifestyles needs to be brought out in the open and accounted for.

  6. Alon Levy says:

    Aaron: I don’t think Lakeview is the example you want it to be. It’s likely that most people who live in Lakeview do walk or take transit to work. After all, the neighborhood sits in the middle of Chicago’s busiest L line.

    Some statistical agencies do look at mode share among all trips, not just work trips – for example, in France and Japan. This tends to make cars look better and transit look worse. The explanation is that a lot of transit riders don’t list every single pedestrian trip they made. If you want to compare the usefulness of transit and highway widening, you should look at just peak-hour, peak-direction traffic, which you can find by looking at highway LOS classifications and peak-hour transit ridership statistics.

    The low ridership issue of smaller cities is different, and can be mitigated by cutting costs to bare minimum. It’s standard on German and Swiss regional rail lines, which achieve comparable operating costs to buses and carry several times as many people.

    CDC Guy: when polled, 30-50% of Americans say they want to live in walkable cities rather than suburbs. The fact that a random Internet troll thinks otherwise doesn’t make it true. (If you still don’t believe me that a dense urban middle class exists, ask me about the neighborhood I grew up in.)

    It takes a fair amount of denial to cite this comment in a thread about Lakeview, which is a stable, middle-class, dense urban neighborhood. According to the comment you’re plugging it shouldn’t exist.

  7. TLP says:

    Philly is no Boston or SF, but what’s wrong with the downtown?

  8. Des says:

    “New developments such as skyscrapers could be built in the Loop without any parking.”

    Aaron- I can’t speak for Chicago, but I would imagine that’s unlikely, not because it wouldn’t be marketable or feasible, but because the zoning bylaw/code would impose arbitrary minimum parking requirements (to be provided by the developer, or as payment in-lieu).

    Even in Vancouver, which has ambitions of being the world’s ‘greenest’ city, downtown hotels are obliged to provide (or pay in lieu for) one parking space per room. In Toronto recently, Council had to overrule planners who were refusing permission for a no-parking-included condo tower to proceed. http://www.thestar.com/article/696394

    So while you’re right about the idea and the practice of combining walkability and transit (with the result that transit mode share for journey to work isn’t the whole picture), nearly every city’s zoning bylaw/code mandates the provision of parking, whether or not its part of a development’s business plan.

    These rules are incredibly destructive, drive up costs for housing, office space, goods, and services, and provide a huge subsidy and encouragement to driving. They’re an incredibly persistent legacy of bad planning from the 1930s onwards, they’re arbitrary and only very rarely evidence-based, and they absolutely need to be changed.

    See http://shoup.bol.ucla.edu/ for more economic/planning analysis of the damage done by mandatory parking requirements than you can shake a stick at.

    Good reading, as always, thanks!

    -Des

  9. Alon Levy says:

    Des, I don’t know Chicago or Vancouver, but New York has a specific rule waiving all parking minimums in Manhattan south of East 96th and West 110th. In addition, in many other inner-urban neighborhoods, the zoning district waives parking minimums for small buildings.

  10. wkg in bham says:

    Alon – “If you still don’t believe me that a dense urban middle class exists, ask me about the neighborhood I grew up in.” I give. Tell us about it.

    Alon #2: RE “when polled, 30-50% of Americans say they want to live in walkable cities rather than suburbs.” I take poll results with a great deal of caution. I’d be one of the those who said “yes – I’d like to live in a…”. (Actually I’d rather live in a semi-dense/semi-walkable area) Who wouldn’t want to live in Manhatten or Georgetown or Coral Gables?

    But the fact is I don’t live in a dense/walkable area. I can’t afford it. The dense areas I could afford would be in parts of town that I would live in for free.

    I don’t think most people are stupid, evil or short-sighted, they’re (we’re) making what we think is the best choice among the options in front of us.

    I would like to see a posting on: by all reasoning, the economies due to higher density should result in lower costs and/or higher benifits than lower density living. It dosen’t seem to be the case in real life. Or it could be that I am misinformed.

  11. the urban politician says:

    In what way didn’t Philly’s transit system save its downtown?

    Its downtown, for the most part, is in just as good a shape as many of America’s other big city downtowns.

  12. cdc guy says:

    Alon, I don’t believe I’ve ever denied that there are more-dense (and walkable) “streetcar suburban” neighborhoods, even in otherwise sprawling metros.

    In fact, such places are my personal preference; I raised kids for 20 years where there were six neighboring houses within a 100 foot radius of my back door. Grade school was down the block (maybe 1000 feet). My father grew up in a similar suburb, and I grew up visiting my grandmother there.

    However, using your own citation against you, if only 30-50% of Americans want to live in walkable cities, then 50-70% of Americans want to live somewhere else. That’s a clear majority. It’s necessary, obviously, to recognize that my choice is NOT the majority choice in this case.

    I stand by my statement (the biggest “problem” is a shortage of progressive urbanists) and suggest that the “random troll” really isn’t random or a troll. He makes different choices than you or I, and more people make the same choices as him than you or I.

    Changing preferences (as I’ve written at length previously) may not be possible as it seems wired in to the descendants of American farmers and pioneers. As someone involved in restoration of urban neighborhoods, this is a daily professional and personal issue for me: how do we get people to live in rehabilitated city neighborhoods? Of my two children, one is a likely suburbanite and one is a likely urbanite, and these are young adults who grew up in a solid city neighborhood!

  13. cdc guy says:

    Not to beat a dead horse, but what IS wrong with Center City Philadelphia? I realize my knowledge is quite dated by now, but I did live there for four years without a car…

  14. Des says:

    Alon- Manhattan South of 96th Street would likely be a very very different place if off-street parking had been required for all projects built since 1950, or even 1980. This waiver is a very rare thing, to my knowledge (possibly San Francisco also has a similar practice) and, wouldn’t you know, so are CBDs of that calibre.

    Though downtown Vancouver’s certainly busy and the key hub of the region, it’s struggled to retain its share of regional employment and has seen very little office/commercial construction since the 1990s. Part of this is due to the nature of the Vancouver economy (smaller firms, few ‘prestige’ head offices). This is likely compounded by the City forcing office developers to build suburban amounts of capacity (floor space + parking) in an expensive location (CBD), where the parking isn’t really necessary (or even desirable) compared with suburban office parks, where getting enough land for floor space + parking is relatively much cheaper (and the parking is necessary). Of course, either way, surely it should be up to the developer and prospective tenants to decide how much parking to provide, rather than the planners…

  15. This is a great point but in order to prove those walking trips, what do people think is the best metric? I think the largest determinant of a certain part of the cities transit share is not the journey to work metric but rather the auto ownership metric in the census. Additionally, a combination of metrics and/or total VMT could tell a lot if we could get that odometer data.

    You might want to take a look at the following paper:

    http://www.cnt.org/repository/TOD-Potential-GHG-Emissions-Growth.FINAL.pdf

    Lots of Chicago oriented stuff here…

  16. west town ed says:

    An out-of-the-box thought: what if dense cities with good transportation systems such as Chicago (write about what you know) absorbed the pay-as-you-go car pools such as I-Go (?) or Zip Car into their automatic payment systems? Or even bought or started their own such systems? The idea is to use one card to pay for both the public vehicle and the semi-public private one.

    This thought is prompted by a few people I know who use the CTA (or a bike) for almost everything except their serious shopping expeditions.

    A not-of-the-box thought: there is nothing like outrageous parking fees to get people out of their cars. These fees have kept car commuters out of the Chicago Loop and now keep (thanks!) neighborhood shopkeepers and their employees from parking all day for just a few dollars outside their shops — now I actually can find a close-by spot for a quarter. A caveat: this is dependent, of course, on people wanting to go a location in the first place.

    Off subject maybe, maybe not… Anyone who wishes to disparage or encourage public transportation should look well beyond “commuting” to work.

  17. west town ed says:

    My comment seems to be ok, but I’m supposed to add something. Er, I have nothing to add.

  18. Lynn Stevens says:

    I commute by car to a suburb without transit, but at home in the city, I can do without driving at all. Most trips on foot, a few on rail.

    Chicago, for the most part, does not presently require parking downtown, and has parking maximums there.

    cdc guy: My opinion is that the most important thing we can do to live in the city is provide an excellent education system. Of my peers who move out of the city, it’s usually to provide better education for their children. The wealthy can stay and pay for private education; the poor have limited choice.

    With regard to economics doing just fine, economics assumes all other things being equal and that all have equal information and other premises that don’t often hold true.

    wkg: The challenge to showing the economies of high density is comparing apples and oranges. E.g., if live/work near transit, one can do without a car, which costs can be designated toward higher housing costs. How do you factor in time? loss of productivity? Federal dollars for roads serving fewer per capita? etc.

    I think we can all agree that this is complex stuff! and so it’s good to debate what we’re measuring. Thanks Aaron.

  19. Alon Levy says:

    The thing is, fewer than 30-50% of Americans actually live in walkable areas. It’s less than 10%, in total. Hence the pent-up demand, which raises rents. Then, if it’s going to be in high demand, you might as well build it to the standards of the richest buyers, locking new urban construction to luxury condos. Hence the complaints about walkable areas being too expensive, which they aren’t in cities that provide plenty of them. (Even New York has plenty of affordable middle-class dense neighborhoods, in Queens.)

    If poll results aren’t good enough for you, then look at election results. Americans often vote by very large majorities to tax themselves to build transit, even though American transit construction costs are far beyond what the Europeans would call a boondoggle. In many American cities, $20,000/rider projects pass ballots; in California, they passed with two-thirds majorities. Far from liking the status quo, Americans seem fed up with it. The only barrier is that due to political problems, transit is unaffordable in most of the US. Cut the cost to the more typical European level of about $7,000/rider, and the US will become more transit-oriented than Japan within 20 years.

    The section of North Tel Aviv I grew up in, the Old North, is like Lakeview, only traditionally much cheaper (it’s gentrifying now). It has a little more than 15,000 people per km^2, making it among the densest parts of Israel, and is one of the few parts of the urban areas that are walkable. Go too far east and the streets become wide and difficult to cross, and go too far north and they all become suburban-style arterials flanked by towers in parks, but in much of the Old North, the Streetsblog people could be happy. This isn’t a hipster or student ghetto – it’s full of families living in the same area for multiple decades (for example, my grandparents lived in the same apartment for 38 years). And it’s middle- and upper-middle class – not as rich as the Le Corbusier-style suburban projects further north, but still much richer than most of the country.

    The reason the other person is a troll isn’t that he’s pro-car. It’s that he calls anyone who doesn’t think Levittown is a utopia a child. It’s abusive and ignorant. It’s as if nothing in the world exists except urban slums, idyllic suburban bubbles, and hipster ghettos. I don’t expect everyone to have heard of the Old North, but similar (albeit more expensive) neighborhoods exist in the major cities of the US: Chicago’s North Side, West LA, big chunks of San Francisco, the entire inner half of New York. All of those regions have a few student ghettos embedded within, but are by and large stable middle-class neighborhoods (though with gentrification, they’re becoming more upper-class).

  20. cdc guy says:

    Alon, that’s the problem with desirable city neighborhoods in the US: they gentrify. Average house prices on the street where I lived for 20 years started in the (then-moderate) $100K range in the mid-80s, and had reached the $350K range 25 years later. That’s a pretty significant compound growth rate.

    While that would seem laughably low to anyone from almost anywhere else, 350-400K in that neighborhood typically gets one about 2,000-2,500 square feet on a quarter-acre lot in what amounts to an urban forest with incredible mature tree cover. (My lot had 13 mature trees.) Such a house would typically have upscale kitchens and baths today, something not true 25 years ago, and at least one major addition from the original footprint.

    The neighborhood is well-served by neighborhood grade schools (one public and two Catholic). This addresses Lynn Stevens’ point: middle class people can typically afford the Catholic schools, which are decent schools.

    Back to Aaron’s point: that particular neighborhood is relatively well-served (by Indianapolis standards) with bus service; two different lines ran within 1000 feet of my house. It is also well-served by bike-ped trails (two within a half-mile). Had I then worked where I do now, I would have been a bus commuter, as it’s not a significantly different trip by bus or by car; a handful of my neighbors got on and off the bus at my corner every day.

    Yes, Alon, every older major American city has such neighborhoods and I am grateful to have raised my kids in one. But the population of those neighborhoods is dwarfed by the population of the suburban tracts almost everywhere.

    My point (at great length): People vote with their money and their feet even more than they answer polls and vote in referenda. Wonderful as my old neighborhood was/is, more people every year moved to the ‘burbs…and no developers there thought there was any money in re-creating the neighborhood where I lived.

  21. cdc guy says:

    Alon, regarding the “troll”: he never mentioned Levittown nor did he assert it as utopia. He merely channeled the things that run in the American DNA: by and large, most Americans want open space around their homes. More people want that than want to live in a dense urban setting. I agree with him that this is a fact which is simple, obvious, and undisputable. I don’t like it, and I work to change it, but there it is.

    Lynn, when I learned economics (back in the dark ages), it was true: every point in a lecture and every explanation of a market started with “assume perfect information”. None of us then ever conceived of the information-overload society of today. We’re as close to “perfect information” as we’re ever going to get.

    Yet more recent studies have demonstrated that most people are not the “rational, economic man”, the other assumed constant of economic study. That is to say, people make different value decisions (in the economic sense) because they value (in the moral/emotional sense) different “externalities” differently. People will avoid the low-economic-cost option sometimes for what appear to be “irrational” reasons, but upon further study, they are rational and consistent with an individual (or group/psychographic) profile.

    However, understanding economics, economic behavior, differing values, and having a wealth of market information about EVERYTHING still doesn’t prevent mass stupidity and bubbles. So we will still get boom and bust cycles.

    Aaron, at the end of the day, new metrics that incorporate walking trips, combined trips, etc. will just correlate highly with activity density (which is to say the level of variety available at geographic points).

    For example, while it’s true that one must “drive everywhere” in many suburbs, in those same places it is often possible to drive one place to undertake many different activities. In the Philadelphia suburb where my parents live, they truly must drive to everything. But one nearby strip center has banks, grocery, hardware, State Liquor Store, a drycleaner, and restaurants; the Post Office is just off the route of the trip. So one four-mile round trip can take care of a week’s worth of errands.

    Since “drive everywhere” may not necessarily equate to “drive all the time”, a measure of “all time spent traveling, by residence location” is probably an important metric. That would get at the activity density of nearby places. I don’t think the current “walk-score” algorithms would capture it.

  22. Alon Levy says:

    No, he didn’t just say that most Americans prefer suburbs. He didn’t even just invoke the “American DNA” bit, which is essentialist and factually wrong (for one, American reformers had to force the working and middle classes out of the cities using redlining and urban renewal), but not condescending. He said that people who don’t want to drive are children.

    I’ve seen it more than once in those discussions: pro-suburb people don’t always find urban dwellers to be fully human. The troll on this blog has decided that people who don’t share his vision are juvenile. Another highway troll, who frequents the New York blogs, calls Asians and urban dwellers ants, with all the anti-individual connotations this entails. The trope of cities not being real America is common among Republicans, and has been for quite some time, ever since the late 19th century reformers decided that immigrants must be made to live in single-use tracts of single-family houses to become true Americans.

    Repeating the fact that more Americans live in the suburbs than in inner cities doesn’t say much about preferences. First, the crime and school quality issues ensure that where rich people live today is where some people will want to live tomorrow. In the US it happens to be the suburbs, in France the central cities. Second, there are serious government barriers to dense developments: poor transit planning, inner-ring suburbs that stick to low-density zoning to preserve property values, parking minimums. Third, again, there’s such a shortage of urban housing that developers have no interest in building anything other than luxury (on the same principle, the Concorde had no economy class, and neither do Singapore Airlines’ nonstop flights to New York). And fourth, much of the new dense construction is auto-oriented, which means it’s hard to balance higher rents with lower transportation costs, as is common in older walkable areas such as Queens.

  23. Thanks for the comments.

    Alon, I live in West Lakeview (the part without the view of the lake) and I’m always shocked by how many people drive to work. The garage of my building, for example, is completely empty during the day save for my car. East Lakeview is likely more transit commute oriented due to parking difficulties.

    Frankly, car free has lots its allure in Chicago. I don’t even want to do it like I used to. The attractions that I want to visit are now spread out over the city to a greater extent than when I was 22, and Chicago’s radial transit system makes it a PITA to get to a lot of them without a car. Also, it’s nice to be able to drive to Target, which I have to do since Chicago conveniently put most of the major retailers in strip malls on place like Elston Ave.

    People want a car to run errands, to ferry their kids around in, or even drive to work. But it is selective use and not the default use. I think this is the Chicago approach going forward for people with the means to purchase a car outside of the lakefront strip.

  24. ed, there is a already special fare card that offers i-Go/CTA integration. Also, the CTA, like transit systems around the world, wants to move away from proprietary fare media towards open payment mechanisms.

  25. As for Philly, perhaps I’m too down on it from remembering that burned out skyscraper downtown that sat there vacant for years. Is it still there?

    Central Philly is still in great shape by Midwest standards, but you rarely here Philadelphia mentioned in the list of global cities or major economic powerhouses.

  26. Alon, I’d be careful about reading too much into preference surveys. I’m more interested in revealed preference. I would also be skeptical of such surveys until I saw the methods questions. If someone asked, for example, whether I preferred a neighborhood where you could walk places to or one where you couldn’t, who would pick option B?

    Clearly, there’s a lack of quality product at a reasonable price in many cities and the real demand for urban living is likely higher than the actual population of people who live in urban areas. But how much of that demand there is, I wonder. Sure, there’s no lack of demand to live in NY or SF or places like that. But those are comparatively tiny in the scheme of overall national population.

  27. BrianTH says:

    When there are many artificial supply-side restrictions/interventions in play (e.g., policies relating to zoning, utilities, transportation, schools, and so forth), you can’t simply look at output for evidence of revealed demand-side preferences. But you can look at prices, and my understanding is that more-walkable neighborhoods carry an observable and significant price premium over otherwise comparable less-walkable neighborhoods in pretty much every significant metro area in the country. That indicates a broadly-distributed undersupply of housing in walkable neighborhoods, or in other words a broadly-distributed unfilled demand for such housing. Of course exactly how much more such housing you would need to provide in order to alleviate those conditions of undersupply/unfilled-demand is trickier to determine, but my point is that to my knowledge, there is no reason to think this issue is restricted to a small fraction of metro areas.

    By the way, the central part of Philly is quite vibrant. I suspect the primary reason people don’t talk about Philly all that much is that it somewhat lives in the shadow of NYC, and to some extent DC as well, at least with respect to national perceptions.

  28. Brian, a Mercedes S 500 has much higher prices than a Volkswagon Golf. Does that indicate pent up demand for the S-class, or something else?

    Also, there are many urban areas with extremely low prices. As the video said, in Cleveland you can “buy a house for the price of a VCR.”

  29. Alon Levy says:

    The polls are more sophisticated than you think, Aaron. They don’t ask just about walkability; they ask about contrasts between walkability and auto-friendliness, and about urban versus suburban living. It may also explicitly mention smaller dwelling size as a tradeoff, but I don’t remember right now.

  30. west town ed says:

    Although there have been many interesting side trips (so to speak) on this discussion including my own comment, the original question was whether the “commute to work” statistics accurately reflect the efficacy of public transportation.

    I am inclined to say no. More relevant to how you got to work would be (1) where do you live? (2) where is your job? And then (3) how do you get there?

    If you live in west Lakeview two blocks from the Brown Line and work in the Loop, at Wacker and Monroe then obviously you would be a fool not to use public transportation. On the other hand, if you lived near Willow and Halsted in Lincoln Park and work in Glenview, you would be a fool (or else a lot of time on your hands) not to drive.

    Two additional question might be: (1) Do you have a parking space where you live? and (2) How much does it cost you to park when you get to your job?

    I’m not sure how you would then arrive at a composite percentage that reflects the above but these are the questions that real working people face and should be, somehow, factored into the equation.

    An aside, I feel somewhat foolish for not knowing that the CTA and I-GO offered a common card to share both services. I say “somewhat” because I have since learned that they advertised extensively where it mattered most, in buses, trains and El platforms; but (and it’s a big one) is that I completely ignore all advertising on buses, trains and El platforms. Will that change? Nah…

  31. BrianTH says:

    The typical price of a Mercedes in the United States in part reflects the foolish premium some people place on certain car brands, but of course it also in part reflects the cost to manufacture and ship a Mercedes. But there is no particular reason to think walkable neighborhoods SHOULD cost more to develop–if anything they should cost less. So if they do cost more to develop, that is just an symptom of the aforementioned supply-side restrictions/interventions.

    As for general prices for housing in urban areas–that is why I specifically mentioned “otherwise comparable” neighborhoods. There is again no inherent reason why walkable areas should have worse-rated public schools, higher crime rates, or so on, but those sorts of factors will of course depress prices in urban areas. So you have to control for all that to evaluate the relative pricing. Again, my understanding is that any reasonable effort to do that yields consistent results across almost every metro area, meaning once you have isolated walkability, there is a clear price premium.

    Finally, it is true you can get houses in all sorts of neighborhoods for pretty cheap in Cleveland, at least by the standards of people living in most other metros of a comparable size or larger. But that doesn’t tell you whether there is a price premium for walkability in otherwise comparable neighborhoods in Cleveland. I suspect, without knowing, you would find that is true in Cleveland too.

  32. BrianTH says:

    FYI, here is a study of the sort I was recalling:

    http://atfiles.org/files/pdf/WalkingEconCEOsforCities.pdf

    After performing the sort of regression analysis I was just outlining, they found a significant price premium for walkability (as measured by Walk Score) in 13 of the 15 markets they studied. It also contains a brief review of some other similar or at least strongly related studies.

  33. David says:

    Aaron, I agree it’s a silly metric. Commute market share doesn’t measure the opportunity cost of not building transit.

    That said, DC is an interesting case study, because many of the walkable neighborhoods everyone’s moving to, especially Georgetown, Logan Circle, Adams-Morgan, and the rapidly up and coming H Street NE, aren’t near Metro stops. What Metro did is stop the city from being paved over with highways that might have been necessary if there was no subway.

    Also, look at Seattle. Queen Anne, Capitol Hill, Fremont, Ballard, West Seattle, U District – all very walkable, but no train service.

    Transit helps when it stops freeways from killing urban neighborhoods, but its connection to walkability is overrated.

  34. Aaron Brown says:

    Off-topic a bit, but I’m really surprised that you find it so hard to live car-free in Chicago, Aaron. While I agree that the hub-and-spoke system makes getting around in Chicago more difficult, West Lake View is pretty well served by the Brown Line and countless buses, so it shouldn’t be too hard to get wherever you want to go. It’s definitely not as easy as New York, but I have no troubles doing it myself. Have you just become less patient in your old(er) age?

    Also, good news is that you should be able to get to Target much more easily via transit, now that a new store has opened blocks away from the Wilson Red Line stop…

  35. Aaron, thanks for the comment. I could get around without a car, but why do it when I can drive easier for certain things? If I go to Target and stock up, I don’t want to haul back my booty on the L (assuming I physically even could for many things). Nor am I interested in an epic journey of over an hour to go to breakfast.

    I don’t actually think 100% car free is of overriding importance. If can do 85% or so of what I need conveniently otherwise, causing extreme pain to get the other 15% probably isn’t necessary. To me it is about not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.

  36. Alon Levy says:

    There’s one major advantage to 100% over 85%, and that’s the cost of owning a car. Unlike transit, cars incur most of their cost in depreciation; the marginal cost of driving is usually low.

    Where the perfect really is the enemy of the good is in other issues. First, commuter-oriented transit, such as regional rail and some subway lines, tends to get a lot of riders who own cars and drive to non-work destinations (that’s why transit has a higher mode share for work trips than for non-work trips). And second, on the neighborhood or city level, 100% car-free is completely pointless; transit-oriented major cities in the world usually get to 30-50% car-free, and then try to extend the transit-oriented zone deeper into the inner suburbs.

  37. Nathanael says:

    “by and large, most Americans want open space around their homes. More people want that than want to live in a dense urban setting. I agree with him that this is a fact which is simple, obvious, and undisputable.”

    Simply outright false. Check the studies. People want open space within walking distance of their homes (hence, Central Park in Manhattan); people who actually give a damn whether they personally have yards are a minority, albeit a large one.

  38. Nathanael says:

    “Finally, it is true you can get houses in all sorts of neighborhoods for pretty cheap in Cleveland, at least by the standards of people living in most other metros of a comparable size or larger. But that doesn’t tell you whether there is a price premium for walkability in otherwise comparable neighborhoods in Cleveland. I suspect, without knowing, you would find that is true in Cleveland too.”

    There is. Shaker Heights is still the toniest part of Cleveland.

  39. Nathanael says:

    “Alon, that’s the problem with desirable city neighborhoods in the US: they gentrify. ”

    Proof there are not enough of them to match demand.

    Why aren’t there enough to match demand? Zoning laws. Zoning laws often prohibit them from being *built*. Parking minimums are the worst.

  40. Nathanael says:

    “Wonderful as my old neighborhood was/is, more people every year moved to the ‘burbs…”

    In the 50s and 60s this was due to racism. Now it’s due to cost.

    “and no developers there thought there was any money in re-creating the neighborhood where I lived.”

    Yes, they did think there was money in it, but it had been made *illegal* by zoning laws. You really have no idea how bad the zoning laws are in most of the country, do you?

  41. Alon Levy says:

    Ugh… must you always resurrect old threads, Nathanael?

    But I’ll bite: often, the worst zoning laws for urbanity are not in the central city, but in its outer-urban neighborhoods and its inner suburbs. One of the reasons there’s so much developer pressure on the inner half of New York is that in the outer half it’s illegal to build densely, to say nothing of the suburbs. I believe the same is true in other Rust Belt cities: try proposing apartment blocks in the San Francisco Peninsula or Beverly Hills.

The Urban State of Mind: Meditations on the City is the first Urbanophile e-book, featuring provocative essays on the key issues facing our cities, including innovation, talent attraction and brain drain, global soft power, sustainability, economic development, and localism. Included are 28 carefully curated essays out of nearly 1,200 posts in the first seven years of the Urbanophile, plus 9 original pieces. It's great for anyone who cares about our cities.

Telestrian Data Terminal

about

A production of the Urbanophile, Telestrian is the fastest, easiest, and best way to access public data about cities and regions, with totally unique features like the ability to create thematic maps with no technical knowledge and easy to use place to place migration data. It's a great way to support the Urbanophile, but more importantly it can save you tons of time and deliver huge value and capabilities to you and your organization.

Try It For 30 Days Free!

About the Urbanophile

about

Aaron M. Renn is an opinion-leading urban analyst, consultant, speaker, and writer on a mission to help America’s cities thrive and find sustainable success in the 21st century.

Full Bio

Contact

Please email before connecting with me on LinkedIn if we don't already know each other.

 

Copyright © 2006-2014 Urbanophile, LLC, All Rights Reserved - Copyright Information