Greater Greater Washington

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Inadequate transit, sprawl cut off workers from jobs

If there's a problem connecting workers with workplaces, it stands to reason that there's a problem connecting workplaces with workers. A new report from the Brookings Institution has teased out the subtleties of this side of the transit/jobs equation.


Transit access to employment is especially weak in the Midwest and South. Image from the Brookings Institution.

Last year, Brookings found that, on average, 70 percent of jobs in a metropolitan region are inaccessible to a typical resident via transit. Or at least, it would take over 90 minutes each way to get there.

This time around, Brookings looked at how large a pool of potential employees each employer has access to, assuming those employees would use transit to commute to work. And just as only 30 percent of jobs are accessible to most workers, only 27 percent of workers are accessible to most jobs, they found.

In terms of general access to transit, 70 percent of people in metropolitan areas live in neighborhoods that are served by transit and more than 75 percent of jobs are served by transit. Not surprisingly, the big divide is between suburban and urban locations within those metro areas. In cities, 95 percent of jobs are in transit-served neighborhoods, while in suburbs, only 64 percent of employers have transit service.

The Northeast and the West have better-connected job centers, while the Midwest and the South have more job sprawl and less transit access. In the Northeast, almost 100 percent of city-based employers can take advantage of transit. In southern suburbs, that figure falls to 52 percent.

"The suburbanization of jobs obstructs transit's ability to connect workers to opportunity and jobs to local labor pools," the report concludes. "As metro leaders continue to grapple with limited financial resources, it is critical for transit investment decisions to simultaneously address suburban coverage gaps as well as disconnected neighborhoods." The authors elaborate:

For example, consider the cases of San Jose and Richmond. Both metropolitan areas offer transit service to over 97 percent of city jobs. But while San Jose's suburban transit routes extend well beyond the city core, offering service to 84 percent of its suburban jobs, Richmond's suburban routes stop close to the municipal borders, offering service to only 29 percent of suburban jobs. The end result is that San Jose's overall transit coverage rate ranks fourth and Richmond's ranks 94th. And Richmond isn't the only metro that registers this extreme city/suburban dichotomy. Atlanta, Grand Rapids, and McAllen all show near-ubiquitous transit coverage in their primary cities and limited suburban coverage, pushing their overall coverage rates to the bottom quintile.

This report, like the last one, will likely invite observers to wonder whether it's incumbent on transit systems to undo their hub-and-spoke models and sprawl along with jobs using less efficient service patternsor whether the solution lies with addressing job sprawl itself. After all, why should struggling public transit systems condone and subsidize employers who chose not to locate near their workers?

Brookings provides a reminder that one way or another, there's a problem that needs fixing: Unemployment is stubbornly high, while in some places there's a shortage of skilled and educated workers. Clearly, there needs to be a better way to connect jobs and people.

After all, commutes have grown longer and longer over the years, and a continued dependence on single-occupancy vehicles is simply unsustainable. The report says:

The nation's average distance to work jumped from 9.9 miles in 1983 to 13.3 miles in 2009.6 Meanwhile, as solo drivers topped 74 percent of all commuters, the average number of hours wasted in traffic increased from 14 hours in 1982 to 34 hours in 2010.7 Just as importantly, there is still a sizable portion of Americans that confront longer commuting distances without a vehicle. The costs of owning and operating a vehicle are such that ten percent of American households in the nation's largest metro areas do not have access to a private vehicle.

Transit can be part of the solution to these problems, and can provide employers with a more reliable way to bring their workers in to work on time every day. But whose job is it to make sure more workplaces are on the transit map? Does the transit system have to build a new line every time some company opens up shop in the exurbs?

Brookings suggests that both public and private sector leaders need to take responsibility for enhancing transit accessibility to jobs. They should route transit to where the jobs are, including in the suburbs, and do a better job of collecting and analyzing data so they can make good decisions, the report says.

But those are all tasks for public officials. What responsibility should private employers take in addressing the accessibility crisis? By locating in a city, an employer will have access to an average of 38 percent of available workers. That same job in a suburb will have less than half the labor pool to choose job candidates from via transitjust 17 percent of the population.

That doesn't necessarily mean there's no transit stop near the employer. But if it's so far out in the suburban hinterland that it would take the average resident more than 90 minutes each way to get there, it doesn't countthat's too long a commute to reasonably ask anyone to undertake.

So in addition to its list of recommendations to public officials, Brookings should add one addressing employers: Locate where your labor pool is. Don't make them drive alone for 13.3 miles each way to get to work. You'll suck their souls and waste their money and end up with a less healthy, less reliable workforce that shows up in the morning with a fresh case of road rage (or road fatigue).

Sure, transit agencies need to make sure their expansions are keeping pace with development and that their service is staying relevant. But employers need to realize there are good job candidates out there without cars, and those people won't work at a place that's inaccessible to them.

Cross-posted at Streetsblog Capitol Hill.

Tanya Snyder is editor of Streetsblog Capitol Hill, which covers issues of national transportation policy. She previously covered Congress for Pacifica and public radio. She lives car-free in a transit-oriented and bike-friendly neighborhood of Washington, DC. 

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Chasing jobs with transit is the wrong way to go. Work trips were only 19% of all trips in 2009. Transit needs to provide a connected web of service among all activity centers - be they urban or suburban. We need to move away from hub and spoke sytems which fail to serve the majority of trips. A necessary step to increasing transit usage is making it available for the majority of trips.

by Paul on Jul 12, 2012 3:28 pm • linkreport

This is an important issue. When I didn't have a car many jobs were out of reach for me, especially those out in Northern Virginia. The commute was either too long or complicated that involved taking the Metro and buses, some of which ran only during rush hour. While I could manage pretty well within DD and even in some parts of Alexandria, Arlington, and Montgomery counties without a car, I couldn't farther out in the suburbs. The bottom line is that many jobs were just out of reach.

And even though she is too liberal for me, Barbara Ehrenreich addressed the subject in her book "Nickel and Dimed". She tries to manage in cities to get to jobs without a car; and, in many areas, because of the lack of decent public transportation, what would be usually a 15-20 minute drive takes much, much longer.

It also connects to the issue of welfare reform. Many jobs are out beyond the reach of public transportation, even in the DC area. Many low wage workers are cut off from jobs out in places like Herndon or Reston, where Metro has yet to reach. Or, in other far suburbs that do have bus service, the cost of commuting is so expensive that it really doesn't make sense to take a job that far away. A person making $300 per week isn't going to come out ahead taking a job out in the suburbs where the commuting cost can be $50.

by Rain17 on Jul 12, 2012 3:35 pm • linkreport

Good post, but not at all surprising. Transit access in the Southeast is a joke, even in the couple of cities that actually have mass transit systems such as Houston and Atlanta; Florida is an exception. Much of the Midwest isn't better either. The core problem is population density (specifically the lack of the same).

Consider: No major city south of Alexandria and north of Florida has a pop. density greater than 5,000/sq mi, while nearly every major city in the Northeast has density levels well over that, including DC (9,684/sq mi) and Baltimore (7,675/ sq mi). This fact alone heavily decreases the effectiveness of mass transit systems in terms of number of possible riders/mi. Add to this the fact that Southern state governments are dominated mostly by conservatives who are averse to spending money, especially on high $$$ transit systems, and don't value the environmental benefits of such systems.

by King Terrapin on Jul 12, 2012 3:52 pm • linkreport

Fully agree with you, King Terrapin, about southern states. For example Atlanta is a traffic nightmare, but the suburban counties repeatedly refuse to supporting funding MARTA. And efforts to create commuter rail have fallen flat over and over again. Republican state legislators from exurban and suburban Atlanta are extremely hostile to any form of public transportation.

by Rain17 on Jul 12, 2012 4:18 pm • linkreport

If it made sense for employers to locate their workplaces in more transit-accessible locations they would do so. People and jobs are sprawling because sprawl has big advantages over dense, compact development.

The complaint about the amount of time car commuters waste in traffic is especially bizarre given that transit commutes take on average more than twice as long as car commutes.

by Bertie on Jul 12, 2012 4:38 pm • linkreport

@Bertie:

People and jobs are sprawling because sprawl has big advantages over dense, compact development.

I think you mean because sprawl is much more heavily subsidized and otherwise encouraged by policy than dense, compact development.

by Gray on Jul 12, 2012 4:43 pm • linkreport

No, I don't mean that. Sprawl is not much more heavily subsidized and otherwise encouraged.

by Bertie on Jul 12, 2012 4:45 pm • linkreport

The complaint about the amount of time car commuters waste in traffic is especially bizarre given that transit commutes take on average more than twice as long as car commutes.

It really isn't. Transit commutes are often long because they are circuitous (in the case of buses) or have headway/equipment limitations.

by Vanmo96 on Jul 12, 2012 4:54 pm • linkreport

Transit commutes are often long because they are circuitous (in the case of buses) or have headway/equipment limitations.

Well, yes. That's one reason why transit commutes tend to take much longer than car commutes, despite the time car commuters spend in traffic. Expanding transit's share of commutes to suburban workplaces is likely to make this problem even worse, because suburbs are even harder to effectively serve with transit than urban centers.

by Bertie on Jul 12, 2012 5:01 pm • linkreport

Gee here's an idea...help low-income people buy and maintain cars!

by dcdriver on Jul 12, 2012 5:36 pm • linkreport

No, I don't mean that. Sprawl is not much more heavily subsidized and otherwise encouraged.

Well, obviously no one is going to convince you otherwise. It's like the people in W. MD and the Eastern Shore that are absolutely positive that they pay for everything in Baltimore and the DC suburbs and get absolutely nothing from the state. Or, on a national level, people in Alabama and Mississippi imagining that their hard earned dollars are supporting the shiftless folks in NY and SF.

In any case, there are advantages to locating in the burbs for some firms (and people). But, as the price of gas goes up, those advantages lessen, and eventually will go away completely. Although, of course, alot of people don't believe in Peak Oil, either. Some think that oil is just naturally replenished as it is used, and some think that the earth is filled with it like a giant Cadbury Egg.

by kinverson on Jul 12, 2012 7:37 pm • linkreport

Paul Mees in Transport for Suburbia ( http://books.google.com/books?id=D3K0FMVhcjsC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false ) tries to demonstrate that there is no meaningful correlation between density and transit ridership.

I can't speak for the southeast as I have never been there, but in the Midwest the new suburbs are surprisingly walkable. Sure, it ain't Midtown Manhattan, but sidewalks exist where needed, and bike lanes are becoming increasingly common. You could safely walk to the corner store or to the grocery store, and not leave a sidewalk or low-traffic street. Low ridership in the suburbs generally means that transit there sucks, not that the density is too low.

One trend of note is that I have noticed that cities west of the Mississippi tend to put more effort into basic sidewalk and bike lane infrastructure, while cities east of the Mississippi tend to be more cars-only. If walkability were an A-F metric, areas west of the Mississippi would be about a consistent "C" while areas east of the Mississippi would fluctuate between "A" for the old city centers to "F" for anything built after 1980.

Ames, Iowa, the magical transit friendly place where Democrats are always elected, cars are banned, and everyone lives in a tenement has a transit-boardings-per-capita on par with the Washington Metro Area. So much for the myth that you have to be old, large, or dense to have decent transit service. Compare the schedules for Ames ( http://www.cyride.com ) to the schedules in most other American communities of the same size and demographics. For one, Ames has fairly decent Sunday bus service despite only having 60,000 people.

by Zmapper on Jul 12, 2012 8:31 pm • linkreport

@dcdriver "Gee here's an idea...help low-income people buy and maintain cars!"

Why would we do that? Are we going to subsidise their gasoline and insurance as well? Putting more single-user vehicles on the road is not wise.

by Jack Love on Jul 12, 2012 8:58 pm • linkreport

btw, you should also tag this under "Sustainability".

by Jack Love on Jul 12, 2012 8:59 pm • linkreport

Why would we do that?

For the same reason we help them use buses and trains: to improve their mobility.

Putting more single-user vehicles on the road is not wise.

I'm not sure what "single-user vehicles" is supposed to mean. All or virtually all cars and light trucks can accommodate at least two users. But there's no basis for your assertion here anyway.

Well, obviously no one is going to convince you otherwise.

You could certainly convince me otherwise. But to do that, you'd have to present a comprehensive analysis based on verifiable empirical facts. Not just assertions backed up with anecdotes and guesses, which is all I ever see from proponents of the "suburbs are more subsidized than cities" meme.

by Bertie on Jul 12, 2012 9:21 pm • linkreport

Bertie,

There are plenty of facts out there, your unwillingness to read said material, or blatant disregard of it, does not make you right..

by Kyle-w on Jul 12, 2012 9:45 pm • linkreport

One of those yellow dots on the map is my hometown. Sad thing is, it wasn't always this way. I grew up in a post-war suburb. While the homes are large-ish (larger than most homes in a city core, but smaller than sprawly homes, generally between 1200 and 2000 sq. ft.), and mostly single-family, they are built fairly close together, taking advantage of front and rear yards and porches for a decent amount of outdoor space. The bounds of the "old city" are all within 2 miles of downtown, where the library still is, and banks, stores, schools, and the like used to be located. Main arterials also used to contain necessary services such as smaller grocery stores, doctor's offices, and restaurants, so that most people had quick access to the things they needed/wanted on an everyday basis, mostly on foot.

To supplement the services within walking distance, buses ran along the main arterials into downtown as well as into the nearby urban center. People could take the bus for major grocery shopping trips, to fancier department stores, and to work. My grandparents moved into this town in 1959, and didn't buy their first car until 1967. They never owned more than one car, despite the fact that my grandfather would take it to work, leaving shopping, entertainment, and school transportation for my mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother to be done on foot or by bus until he was abruptly laid off in 1979. Things could be accessed back then without a car, but things went downhill from there.

In the late 1960's, a "modern" mall was built on the outskirts of town, a little over 2 miles from the city center. Slowly, businesses downtown shuttered under the weight of competition from the mega-shopping complex. The neighborhood services hung on through most of the 80's, but while I was in high school in the 90's, most of these businesses shuttered as well. From my grandmother's home, you used to be able to, in my lifetime, walk to 2 cafes, 1 restaurant, a small grocery store, a pharmacy, 3 doctor's offices, a dentist, several professional services (a dry cleaner, a couple of insurance offices, a lawyer's office), and 3 churches. Today, there's still one insurance company hanging on. A massive liquor store has replaced the grocery store. The restaurant remains, but is now take-out only to cut overhead costs. 1 doctor remains in business, but he's getting up there and, my mom tells me, plans to close his office in the next year. Apparently he's inquired about selling his office, but there don't appear to be any options to continue using the building for commercial use. Everything else has closed. I get very sad seeing the cafe my grandpa would walk us to as kids for a milkshake decaying.

Bus service dried up, to the point that I was shocked to find the levels of service it provides today. While meager, they are better than I remember growing up in the 80's. Other transportation infrastructure was shuttered or devastated as well. The local regional airport spent several years without commercial service, and now hosts 6 weekly flights, 3 in, 3 out, all to Ft. Lauderdale only. I remember my dad taking Amtrak to conferences, the train no longer stops in town. I remember that service stopping in the 90's. In fact, one of my friends had her wedding reception in the beautiful, historic train station, where we could watch passenger trains that no one could board for 70 miles in either direction roll by. Drawn by larger plots and access to highways and the new shopping center of the mall, newer subdivisions on what used to be farmland have cropped up outside the "old city" boundaries. The residents of these developments are betrothed to their cars, as schools are out of reach walking, there is and never was any public transit in these areas, and, even though they are close to the new shopping center, 6-lane roads without sidewalks or crosswalks stand between the homes and the businesses. Even in the old city, where my mom still lives, I get funny looks for walking anywhere. My mom lives 1.5 blocks from the last remaining downtown grocery store, one evening while walking there to pick up a few odds and ends about 2 years ago, I was detained and questioned by the police, because apparently walking is now "suspicious behavior." They did NOT believe me that I was just walking to the grocery store, and I saw those cops hanging out in the parking lot when I finished my shopping and headed back home. They followed me to the grocery store for WALKING. For serious.

And now with a flagging economy and high gas prices, people are less mobile than ever. The population is aging, and it's harder for them to drive around. What's left of the regional transit authority puts WMATA to SHAME for the amount they spend on senior/disabled point-to-point transit services. When my mom broke her leg and was undergoing rehab, her insurance had to foot a hefty bill for private transit services to her rehab/doctor's appointments. The city has taken some steps to revitalize downtown, which is a step in the right direction, but with no transit services within the suburb, a more sprawly housing stock, limited parking in the downtown core, and a decidedly pro-driving attitude, it's not going very well. It's sad, because if they just looked back 50 years, they'd find the answer.

by Ms. D on Jul 12, 2012 9:48 pm • linkreport

@Bertie ... "single-user" means exactly that, a vehicle that contains one human being. I am well aware of the capacity of vehicles, but single-occupancy is far and away more common on the roads.

Putting more of them on the road is not wise in that roads are at and above capacity already. Where do the extra vehicles go? How do we build the additional lane-miles to accommodate the extra vehicles? You don't see the counter wisdom in that?

You also didn't answer the question of funding the operation of vehicles.

by Jack Love on Jul 12, 2012 9:53 pm • linkreport

Brookings provides a reminder that one way or another, there's a problem that needs fixing: Unemployment is stubbornly high, while in some places there's a shortage of skilled and educated workers. Clearly, there needs to be a better way to connect jobs and people.

Traditionally, this problem has been solved quite simply. People move to within what they consider a reasonable commute to their job. However, the housing crisis has temporarily put a wrench in that because people are underwater on their mortgages or otherwise unable to sell their house and move to where the jobs are. This situation will eventually resolve itself so I wouldn't make long term transpo infrastructure investments on the basis of trying to solve this problem.

The long term solution is for employers to move to more central areas so they can access a wider pool of specialized workers. We're seeing this trend play out, hence the substantially lower vacancies for urban properties vs. suburban ones and the concentration of new construction activity in urban areas.

by Falls Church on Jul 12, 2012 9:56 pm • linkreport

There are plenty of facts out there,

Show them to me, then. Show me this comprehensive analysis of subsidies -- public spending on transportation, housing, power/water/waste infrastructure, libraries, sports stadiums, civic centers, arts centers, court buildings, etc. -- demonstrating that suburbs are subsidized more than cities.

Insisting that "the facts are out there" but failing to actually produce them isn't likely to persuade anyone.

by Bertie on Jul 12, 2012 10:03 pm • linkreport

@Bertie ... "single-user" means exactly that, a vehicle that contains one human being. I am well aware of the capacity of vehicles, but single-occupancy is far and away more common on the roads.

The average occupancy of private automobiles (passenger cars and light trucks) is about 1.6. It's probably higher for vehicles owned by low-income households.

Putting more of them on the road is not wise in that roads are at and above capacity already.

No, some roads are at capacity some of the time. I have no idea why you think this means that putting more vehicles on the road is "not wise." By that bizarre argument, increasing transit ridership would also be unwise, since some buses and trains are sometimes at capacity.

by Bertie on Jul 12, 2012 10:14 pm • linkreport

The long term solution is for employers to move to more central areas so they can access a wider pool of specialized workers. We're seeing this trend play out, hence the substantially lower vacancies for urban properties vs. suburban ones and the concentration of new construction activity in urban areas.

On the contrary, the trend is the decentralization of jobs, as Brookings has previously documented in its reports on job sprawl

by Bertie on Jul 12, 2012 10:23 pm • linkreport

"The average occupancy of private automobiles (passenger cars and light trucks) is about 1.6. It's ***probably*** higher for vehicles owned by low-income households."

Your sources, please.

by Zmapper on Jul 12, 2012 11:10 pm • linkreport

I can "maybe" see the "give poor people cars" idea if it weren't for the fact that it's automobiles (especially older ones) that are a huge polluter and werent as constrained by the fact that you have to add lanes to have more cars. To do those either in a sustainable way would be just a big investment as would just upgrading our public transportation systems.

by Drumz on Jul 12, 2012 11:18 pm • linkreport

The National Household Travel Survey.

by Bertie on Jul 12, 2012 11:19 pm • linkreport

I can "maybe" see the "give poor people cars" idea if it weren't for the fact that it's automobiles (especially older ones) that are a huge polluter

Transit buses aren't any cleaner than the average automobile. A small car is almost certainly cleaner per passenger-mile than the average bus.

and werent as constrained by the fact that you have to add lanes to have more cars.

No you don't. There is an enormous amount of unused road capacity.

by Bertie on Jul 12, 2012 11:27 pm • linkreport

Please show where in the so called "National Household Travel Survey" your claimed statistic is.

by Zmapper on Jul 12, 2012 11:29 pm • linkreport

Please show where in the so called "National Household Travel Survey" your claimed statistic is.

National Household Travel Survey, Summary of Travel Trends, Page 33, Table 16. For the most recent survey (2009), average vehicle occupancy was 1.67.

http://nhts.ornl.gov/publications.shtml

by Bertie on Jul 12, 2012 11:50 pm • linkreport

Buses hold a lot more passengers than cars, of you're getting 20 mpg for one occupant of a car then the bus moving at 5mpg only needs 4 passengers to march that correct? And certainly even the most underperforming lines manage to have more than 4 riders. And as car engines get more efficient so can buses. Plus we also have things like trains which can move people as well.

And you need to qualify the unused road capacity statement, specifically for the Washington area, where is it and how do you reasonably expect to take advantage of it? Suggest more night shifts?

by Drumz on Jul 13, 2012 12:34 am • linkreport

Buses hold a lot more passengers than cars, of you're getting 20 mpg for one occupant of a car then the bus moving at 5mpg only needs 4 passengers to march that correct?

On average, private autos carry about 1.6 passengers and transit buses carry about 10 passengers. The Dept of Energy's Transportation Energy Data Book estimates that transit buses use about the same amount of energy per passenger-mile on average as autos.

And you need to qualify the unused road capacity statement, specifically for the Washington area, where is it

Everywhere. Are you seriously suggesting that there's even a single road in the Washington area, or anywhere else for that matter, that is always at capacity? Some roads are congested at some times of the day. Just as some buses and trains are full at some times of the day. Again, I have no idea why anyone woud think this is an argument against any increase in cars or transit riders.

by Bertie on Jul 13, 2012 12:53 am • linkreport

Bertie, the source you linked to me did not back up your claim that poor people use cars with a higher occupancy levels. Please try again.

by Zmapper on Jul 13, 2012 3:59 am • linkreport

@ Bertie,
"Some roads are congested at some times of the day. Just as some buses and trains are full at some times of the day. Again, I have no idea why anyone woud think this is an argument against any increase in cars or transit riders."

It would agree if I didn't know the meaning of the words "congested" and "full". A "congested" road is moving no-one, while a "full" train is carrying a whole lot of people. That's why Americans are choosing rail over cars. Not that they wouldn't rather cruise into town in thier convertable, it's just that they can't, and given the choice between sucking fumes or spending time with their children, more and more people are deciding with their pocket book. It's no longer an academic argument, it's an economic reality, if empirical evidence has any relevance to ones thinking.

The smart money in this area has been lining up to transit projects, whether that be the Silver Line in Tysons corner or the Purple line in MoCo burbs.
For an another excellent article on how auto dependant development is keeping businesses from getting the workers they need, look no further than this post on Huff Post: mindhttp://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/11/unemployment-problem-public-transportation_n_1660344.html

by Thayer-D on Jul 13, 2012 6:29 am • linkreport

Except that recognizing that a road isnt always congested isn't really a solution for the times it is. And even if the per passenger mpg is equal the bus is carrying more people in less space. I don't see how that's an indicator that buses are less efficient in that case.

by Drumz on Jul 13, 2012 7:56 am • linkreport

"No, I don't mean that. Sprawl is not much more heavily subsidized and otherwise encouraged."

This is actually 100% false.

by JJohnson5 on Jul 13, 2012 8:23 am • linkreport

[This comment has been deleted for violating the comment policy.]

by Kyle W on Jul 13, 2012 9:05 am • linkreport

You and only you are responsible for the opinions/facts you type/say. It is your responsibility to educate yourself, not mine, nor anyone elses. Ignorance of facts, or refusal to believe them does not make one right, just misinformed, or wrong, as it seems to be.

A claim that there is tons of unused road capacity (especially in the DC Metro area) has to be one of the most ridiculous things I have ever heard on this blog.

by Kyle W on Jul 13, 2012 9:16 am • linkreport

@ Bertie:Sprawl is not much more heavily subsidized and otherwise encouraged.

Yes it is:

Laws regulating the smallest permissable size of a dwelling—something like the rule against apartments smaller than 400 square feet in New York, or the very common rules in the suburbs mandating a minimum sized lot for a single-family home—are among the most straightword tools in the exclusionary zoning toolkit.

From:
http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2012/07/11/legalizing_small_apartments_.html

Claims that you can't find evidence supporting claims you don't like show a lack of looking. The above article is a casual news item found all over the web today. You have to open your eyes to find something. Keeping them shut does not mean the rest of the world does not move on.

by Jasper on Jul 13, 2012 9:29 am • linkreport

On the contrary, the trend is the decentralization of jobs, as Brookings has previously documented in its reports on job sprawl

The Brookings report you linked to indicated that jobs have decentralized between 1998 and 2006. I'd say the trend toward jobs centralizing has occured since 2006. I don't have the stats on that but I do know that real estate investment trusts that specialize in commercial property are all refocusing their portfolios on CBDs and away from suburbs. I can provide you plenty of evidence for that if you'd like.

by Falls Church on Jul 13, 2012 10:48 am • linkreport

There is an enormous amount of unused road capacity.

True but the unused road capacity doesn't connect people to the places they want to go at the times they want to get there. The unused road capacity on my cul de sac can't be put to economically productive use. Likewise, the unused road capacity on the beltway at 2am can't be used productively easily either.

by Falls Church on Jul 13, 2012 10:53 am • linkreport

Ignorance of facts, or refusal to believe them does not make one right, just misinformed, or wrong, as it seems to be.

Just bear in mind that ignorance and keeping yourself in an information bubble cuts both ways. Simply google "federal spending per capita urban suburban" and you'll see there are clearly two sides to the debate over who is subsidized more -- urban areas or suburban ones. The numbers can be cut in several legit ways to support both sides of this debate.

Just take a look at some of the studies on the first page of the referenced google search:

https://www.google.com/search?q=federal+spending+per+capita+urban+suburban&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a&channel=fflb

by Falls Church on Jul 13, 2012 11:03 am • linkreport

Bertie --

Here's one piece of evidence for my claim on the centralization of jobs. I emphasize this is just one data point but there are many others showing that REITs are making long lasting changes in portfolios and investment strategies toward CBDs and away from suburbs.

Fitch Ratings maintains a "stable" outlook for office REITs, although it points out a significant difference in operating fundamentals between CBD and suburban office properties...Fitch's office REIT outlook for 2011 is stable based on the sector's continued access to capital and improvements in liquidity. Further, improved balance sheets to some extent will offset challenging, but moderating, property market fundamentals.

That said, there is a clear bifurcation in property fundamentals between CBD and suburban office. Net effective rents and occupancy levels in most CBD markets appear to be bottoming, whereas properties in most suburban markets face continued weakness.

by Falls Church on Jul 13, 2012 11:09 am • linkreport

Bertie --

Something a little more recent:

CommonWealth REIT
Q1 2012 Earnings Call Transcript

"But two, there is a very different market out there for suburban office properties versus CBD office properties. There is not a high degree of demand for suburban properties the same way there is demand for CBD office properties. So, the supply-demand imbalance exists, but exists for certain segments of the market. I don't believe that it is. There are not a lot of buyers looking at suburban office properties. There are some and we are considering selling some, but there is not a lot of competition out there for that product."

by Falls Church on Jul 13, 2012 11:14 am • linkreport

Although, of course, alot of people don't believe in Peak Oil, either.Peak oil? Did someone seriously say peak oil? FYI, average US gas prices today are cheaper than 1 year ago and have only gone up 13% over the last 5 years! By the way, all the data on this is provided free of charge from the US Govt at the EIA website.

So putting that aside, the real issue here is that the poorest in society have the least amount of job options because they have the lowest levels of education and experience. Simply put, they can't pick and choose where to work. If there is a job that they can do for pay that they can accept, they have to take it. If its 50 miles away, so be it. Welcome to the reality of having very few choices.

That means that they can't afford to limit themselves to jobs near transit. To do that is simply economic suicide and a one-way ticket to the welfare state.

So, if the government is truly going to help these people in the short term, it needs to get them into cars (and in many cases pick up trucks or vans which are necessary for jobs in fields like construction).

Its a subsidy either way. You either help someone buy and maintain a car, and given them the one proven and most important tool for economic freedom, or you throw cash at them through TANF, SSI, unemployment, etc and wonder why the cycle of poverty continues.

by dcdriver on Jul 13, 2012 1:18 pm • linkreport

"Peak oil? Did someone seriously say peak oil? FYI, average US gas prices today are cheaper than 1 year ago and have only gone up 13% over the last 5 years! By the way, all the data on this is provided free of charge from the US Govt at the EIA website. "

in a time of 8.2 % ue and a devasting downturn in europe, gaslonine i sonly 13% over what is was BEFORE the recession, at a time when the price was close to historic highs. Damn, thats proof against peak oil all right.

We've finally found the way to keep gasoline cheap - global economic disaster.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jul 13, 2012 1:27 pm • linkreport

"So, if the government is truly going to help these people in the short term, it needs to get them into cars"'

such a program may be advisable in certain areas. The existence of such a program will mean that every job that moves near transit saves the govt money.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jul 13, 2012 1:29 pm • linkreport

@Bertie - On average, private autos carry about 1.6 passengers and transit buses carry about 10 passengers.

Regarding commutes: while the 2009 National Household Travel Survey does state that private autos carry 1.67 passengers when averaged across all purposes, the "To and From Work" passenger rate is actually 1.13 (page 33). The data does not say what you think it says in this instance, and is much closer to the figure that "74% of all commutes are solo drivers" provided by Brookings.

I did not find data to support your claim that "It's probably higher for vehicles owned by low-income households." Table 8 on Page 18 is the only one with a clear reference to income level, but it doesn't provide any distinct passenger-per-trip data I can see. Perhaps you can break it down for me.

by worthing on Jul 13, 2012 1:45 pm • linkreport

Jasper,

Claims that you can't find evidence supporting claims you don't like show a lack of looking.

That Slate piece doesn't even purport to be an analysis of subsidies for suburbs vs. cities at all, let alone the kind of comprehensive analysis that would be required to provide a serious answer to the question of which type of development is more subsidized.

by Bertie on Jul 13, 2012 4:29 pm • linkreport

Zmapper,

Bertie, the source you linked to me did not back up your claim that poor people use cars with a higher occupancy levels.

I didn't claim that poor people use cars with a higher occupancy level. I said they "probably" do. This is because low-income households are likely to have fewer workers than average households, and thus a lower share of commute trips, and because low-income households have an economic incentive to use their cars more efficiently. But it doesn't really matter to the point, anyway. The average occupancy of cars is 1.67, not 1. So evaluating car use as if cars have only a single occupant ("single-user vehicles") is bogus.

Thayer-d,

It would agree if I didn't know the meaning of the words "congested" and "full". A "congested" road is moving no-one,

No, a congested road is a road whose free-flow capacity has been exceeded. The vast majority of road congestion involves slower-moving traffic, not traffic that is at a standstill. Your comments seem to be full of these basic misunderstandings.

Falls Church,

The Brookings report you linked to indicated that jobs have decentralized between 1998 and 2006. I'd say the trend toward jobs centralizing has occured since 2006. I don't have the stats on that but I do know that real estate investment trusts that specialize in commercial property are all refocusing their portfolios on CBDs and away from suburbs.

I don't know why you think real estate investment trust behavior should be considered a reliable proxy for job movement. A more reliable proxy would be population movement, and Census data shows that urban populations have continued to decentralize since 2006. I would be very surprised if the long-standing trend of job sprawl had reversed. It might have slowed somewhat in the wake of the housing bubble, though.

by Bertie on Jul 13, 2012 4:49 pm • linkreport

Bertie, you said they "probably" do. Please back up that claim.

by Zmapper on Jul 13, 2012 4:51 pm • linkreport

Falls Church,

True but the unused road capacity doesn't connect people to the places they want to go at the times they want to get there.

Huh? How does the fact that SOME roads are congested SOME of the time, mean there's no excess capacity to "connect people to the places they want to go at the times they want to get there?" I have absolutely no idea why you think there would be no demand from additional car users to use any roads at any times except roads that are already congested.

Some buses are full some of the time. Do you therefore claim that there is no excess capacity on the bus system to "connect people to the places they want to go at the times they want to get there?" New bus users would only ever want to ride on buses that are already full, and not any other buses? Seriously?

by Bertie on Jul 13, 2012 5:03 pm • linkreport

worthing,

Regarding commutes: while the 2009 National Household Travel Survey does state that private autos carry 1.67 passengers when averaged across all purposes, the "To and From Work" passenger rate is actually 1.13 (page 33). The data does not say what you think it says in this instance,

No, it says exactly what I think it says. I have no idea why you think the only type of trip that matters is commutes. The discusion that led to this was about subsidizing cars for low-income people, not subsidizing cars for commutes only.

by Bertie on Jul 13, 2012 5:10 pm • linkreport

Although, of course, alot of people don't believe in Peak Oil, either

With good reason. New discoveries of unconventional reserves and new technologies for exploiting them have greatly increased estimates of economically recoverable reserves.

A recent study by the Harvard Kennedy School, for example, projects that global oil production may increase from its current 93 million barrels per day to 110 million barrels by 2020, and even higher beyond that.

We're also getting much better at converting oil into wealth. GDP per barrel has doubled over the past 30 years. Hybrid technologies and other advances in automobile efficiency allow cars to travel much greater distances per gallon of gas.

by Bertie on Jul 13, 2012 5:25 pm • linkreport

Did someone seriously say peak oil? FYI, average US gas prices today are cheaper than 1 year ago and have only gone up 13% over the last 5 years!

Sure, the best indication of the amount of fossil fuels left for our use it the price of gasoline in the last several years. Your comment seems like kind of an non sequiter. In any case, you yourself said: the poorest in society have ... the lowest levels of education and experience. This reminds me of something I read in maybe NatGeo, it was about conservationists trying to get local tribesmen to stop killing some severely endangered mammal. The conservationists said, "But if you kill all the (animals), there won't be any to eat anymore." The tribesmen just looked at them like they were crazy and replied, "There have always BEEN (animals), so obviously there will always BE (animals)." This is alot of peoples attitude towards oil. "How dare these educated elites try to tell us how the world works?"

We've finally found the way to keep gasoline cheap - global economic disaster. That is very true. Global Economic Disaster has led to LOWER oil prices. Unfortunately, I'm afraid that we will find out that, on the other hand, HIGHER oil prices will lead to Global Economic Disaster.

by kinverson on Jul 13, 2012 5:51 pm • linkreport

Although, of course, alot of people don't believe in Peak Oil, either. (I'm not putting this in italics b/c it was my comment yesterday)

With good reason. New discoveries of unconventional reserves and new technologies for exploiting them have greatly increased estimates of economically recoverable reserves.

I am not saying that we have already hit Peak Oil, no one can really know that at this point. There are certainly lots of deposits that we haven't found yet, but by almost by definition they are much harder to access. I wonder if you think that the Gulf BP spill was an acceptable hit to take in order to get more crude to Houston. We can look forward to more accidents like that, for the simple reason that it is easier to stop a spill in Saudi Arabia, or Azerbaijan, than it is miles down on the seafloor, whether it is in the Caribbean or the Arctic (Oh, and the pressure to open Antarctica to drilling is already starting).

Look, I know fuel efficiency is getting better, and thank God for that. But the Chinese and Indians (and many other countries) are using exponentially more energy. In any case, Peak Oil doesn't refer to having enough energy for today, or tomorrow, or even 20 years from now. It refers to the fact that there are finite reserves of fossil fuels on the planet, and that at some point, we will pass the halfway mark. Maybe we already have. So our best course of action is to make what we have last as long as possible.

We really eat oil. We use it to fertilize our fields, to cultivate and harvest our crops, and to bring the food from farm to field. We also use it to make uncountable types of plastics, rubber, etc. At this point, it's hard to imagine using anything but petroleum to fuel airplanes. Shipping generally uses the leftover, crudest oil as fuel, but it's still better than sailing ships. But we insist on using so much of what may be our most precious resource on driving, usually alone, in what are still pretty inefficient vehicles.

We are so dependent on oil as a nation, as a world, really, that most people just don't understand what would happen if our supply was drastically reduced (let alone cut off).

The more people in cities, or close in burbs, with access to transit, or just biking, or walking, the better. That is the major reason that I support urban development rather than suburban development. Oh, there's also the fact that in this area, most suburban/exurban development is on farmland that used to grow our food, so the fuel costs just get higher to get our groceries to us.

Anyway, I better stop before I really get going.

by kinverson on Jul 13, 2012 6:56 pm • linkreport

I am not saying that we have already hit Peak Oil, no one can really know that at this point.

The evidence suggests that we're nowhere near hitting "Peak Oil." Not only are there vast untapped deposits (and probably vast additional deposits we haven't even discovered yet), but our ability to extract oil and convert it to wealth keeps improving.

We can look forward to more accidents like [the Gulf BP spill].

All energy sources have environmental costs. Citing a cost of one particular source (risk of underwater oil spills) doesn't help us make a rational decision about energy policy. You have to look at the total mix of costs and benefits.

But the Chinese and Indians (and many other countries) are using exponentially more energy.

China and India are developing countries that are rapidly industrializing, so they have very high growth rates at present. Those growth rates will not continue indefinitely into the future. Naive extrapolations of historical patterns have been the cause of many failed predictions of resource shortages and other problems. See Thomas Malthus and the Club of Rome for some examples.

The more people in cities, or close in burbs, with access to transit, or just biking, or walking, the better.

There is no realistic prospect of achieving large-scale benefits through densification and substituting transit or biking or walking for car travel over any reasonable time frame. We've been sprawling and suburbanizing for sixty years. Our transportation system is overwhelmingly dominated by automobiles. We have trillions and trillions of dollars of sunk cost in low-density, car-oriented urban forms. We're not going to give that up and start living and getting around like people did a hundred years ago.

by Bertie on Jul 13, 2012 8:30 pm • linkreport

Bertie,
"No, a congested road is a road whose free-flow capacity has been exceeded. The vast majority of road congestion involves slower-moving traffic, not traffic that is at a standstill." And a full train is still moving people incredibly faster than a road "whose free-flow capacity has been exceeded."

"We have trillions and trillions of dollars of sunk cost in low-density, car-oriented urban forms. We're not going to give that up and start living and getting around like people did a hundred years ago." We have already given it up and started living and getting around like people did a hundred years ago. That train has already left the station.

by Thayer-D on Jul 13, 2012 9:39 pm • linkreport

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