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Access to Jobs by Public Transit Increases in Many U.S. Metropolitan Areas

BY ANDREW OWEN, Director, Accessibility Observatory, University of Minnesota
BRENDAN MURPHY, Lead Researcher, Accessibility Observatory, University of Minnesota
DAVID LEVINSON, Professor of Transport, School of Civil Engineering, University of Sydney

Annually updated research from the Accessibility Observatory at the University of Minnesota ranks 49 of the 50 largest (by population) metropolitan areas in the United States for connecting workers with jobs via public transit.

This year’s report—Access Across America: Transit 2016—presents detailed accessibility values for each of the 49 metropolitan areas, as well as detailed block-level color maps that illustrate the spatial patterns of accessibility within each area.

The new rankings, part of a national pooled-fund study that began in 2013, focus on accessibility, a measure that examines both land use and transportation systems. Accessibility measures how many destinations, such as jobs, can be reached in a given time.

Though rankings of the top 10 metro areas for job accessibility by public transit remain unchanged from the previous year, new data comparing changes within each of the 49 largest U.S. metros over one year helped researchers identify the places with the greatest increases in access to jobs by transit. Cincinnati and Charlotte improved more than 11 percent.

Seattle, which ranks eighth for job accessibility by transit, improved nearly 11 percent. In all, 36 of the 49 largest metros showed increases in job accessibility by transit.

The cities that make up the top 10 transit accessibility ranks all exhibit a combination of high-density land use and fast, frequent transit service. However, there is still significant variation within this group.

In New York, San Francisco, Washington and Chicago, fast heavy rail systems connect both urban and suburban areas with a highly employment-dense core. It is instructive to compare these cities to Atlanta, which has a similar but smaller rail system but a much more decentralized job and population distribution and lower ­accessibility.

Seattle and Denver both have rapidly expanding light rail systems, supported by extensive and frequent bus networks.

Though Portland, OR, is famous for its streetcar service, this covers only a small part of the city and operates mostly in mixed traffic with very little access to proprietary right-of-way, limiting its service speed. Its urban growth boundary, combined with frequent bus service throughout core areas and light rail connections to suburban areas, likely plays a more important role in providing high accessibility: by encouraging both residents and employers to locate in parts of the city already well served by public transit, each new resident enjoys high accessibility but imposes only a small marginal burden on the system’s existing resources.

This new data makes it possible to see the change from year to year in how well a metro area is facilitating access to jobs by transit. Transit is an essential transportation service for many Americans, and the Observatory directly compares the accessibility performance of America’s largest metropolitan areas.

Key factors affecting the rankings for any metro area include the number of jobs available and where they are located, the availability of transit service and population size, density and location. Better coordination of public transit service with the location of jobs and housing will improve job accessibility by transit.

The findings have a range of uses and implications. State DOTs, MPOs and public transit agencies can apply the evaluations to performance goals related to congestion, reliability and sustainability. In addition, detailed accessibility evaluation can help in selecting between project alternatives and prioritizing investments.

The research is sponsored by the National Accessibility Evaluation Pooled-Fund Study, a multi-year effort led by Minnesota DOT and supported by partners including FHWA and 11 additional state DOTs.

The Accessibility Observatory at the University of Minnesota is a leading resource for the research and application of accessibility-based transportation system evaluation. The Observatory is a program of the Center for Transportation Studies, a national leader in fostering innovation in transportation. Reprinted by permission.

Owen Murphy Levinson

Top Increases in Job Accessibility by Transit
  1.  Cincinnati  (+11.23%)
  2.  Charlotte  (+11.02%)
  3.  Orlando  (+10.83%)
  4.  Seattle  (+10.80%)
  5.  Providence  (+10.65%)
  6.  Phoenix  (+7.51%)
  7.  Riverside  (+6.59%)
  8.  Milwaukee  (+6.53%)
  9.  Hartford  (+6.44%)
10.  New Orleans  (+6.18%)

Top 10 Metro Areas for Job Accessibility by Transit
  1.  New York
  2.  San Francisco
  3.  Chicago
  4.  Washington
  5.  Los Angeles
  6.  Boston
  7.  Philadelphia
  8.  Seattle
  9.  San Jose
10.  Denver

"Commentary" features points of view from various sources to enhance readers' broad awareness of themes that affect public transportation.

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