Transportation, Class and Housing: Making the Connections

If you’re interested in transportation policy (and we know you are!) it can sometimes seem as if all the problems plaguing America have their root there. Today, we have a reminder from Streetsblog Network member Cap’n Transit that not even transportation can cure all ills. But we also have some very hopeful news from columnist Neal Peirce on the Oregonian’s website about the blossoming connection between transportation and urban policy at the federal level (H/T to Portland Transport).

First, Cap’n Transit: 

00129tgq.jpgI’m a firm believer in equal opportunity in all areas, including transportation. The concept of "transportation for all"
that I’m working out is a way of getting there. The question is how
much you can accomplish with transportation. Unequal opportunity
permeates our entire lives (see the invisible knapsack, or the kittehs may make for easier reading). We can’t solve this problem with just transportation.

…But just as [transit] …can’t shoulder the
entire burden for clean air, energy sustainability, safety and
community, it also can’t create a classless society all by itself. 

Up until now, of course, government has not done a great job of using transit to create social equity even to the extent that it is possible to do so. Peirce reports on how that may be changing:

Two of President Obama’s Cabinet secretaries — Shaun Donovan of
Housing and Urban Development and Ray LaHood of Transportation — are
promising to make their bureaucracies work together. And not just in
stuffy interdepartmental meetings in Washington, but in crafting their
programs as they impact communities nationwide. …

HUD funds have traditionally gone for public or affordable housing with
little regard to whether it was located accessible to public transit or
jobs. Conversely, major road or transit projects have received federal
transportation assistance with an apparently blind eye to whether they
connect working class people to jobs or serve housing projects.…

The Cabinet secretaries said they’re launching a "Sustainable
Communities Initiative" with a joint fund to encourage, through a
competitive process, metro regions to develop integrated housing, land
use and transportation plans, focused also on energy savings and
greenhouse gas reduction.

Want more? Check out Transportation for America‘s recent "webinar" on housing and transportation, which brought together experts on transit-oriented development to discuss how transportation policy can transform communities.

  • this is an interesting topic . . usually the more livable places are also the more the expensive ones (either because they become desirable and hence drive up demand, or the reverse where only well to do areas get the attention & results), and I don’t think that aspect is discussed enough.

    For example, if everyone is suburbs and exurbs woke up tomorrow and said “you know what, these streetsblog people are right – i’m giving up my car & moving to the city” … what would that do to our housing situation? how would the demand for affordable housing then play out?

  • Oscar that’s just not a realistic situation.

  • To answer Oscar’s question: in NYC, a massive influx of ex-suburbanites and ex-ex-urbanites would certainly put enormous strain on housing costs and infrastructure. However, in most cities across the country (other than the largest and most densely populated), such an influx would do the city a world of good. Look at all the cities upstate and in the rust belt that are suffering from population loss (e.g., Buffalo, Detroit)–they have plenty of housing to go (some of it very nice) to go around. Entire walkable and transit-oriented communities and cities could be revitalized if the infrastructure were restored and people lived in them again.

  • vnm

    Here in NYC, speaking in very round terms, it would mean something on the order magnitude of a 50% increase in the population, an influx of 4 million people into a city of 8 million. Obviously, the value of urban housing would rise significantly. That would be good for condo and co-op owners and landlords but bad in the short term for market-rate renters, and, to a much lesser extent, those on rent stabilization. Empty lots lying fallow in the Bronx and East New York that supported apartment buildings that burned down in 1960s-1970s era of “planned shrinkage”/suburban growth would be reactivated for high density housing. This is already happening in both of those places thanks to Shaun Donovan’s New Housing Marketplace plan.

    Subway lines like the 4, 5 and 6 that are already at maximum capacity could not handle any additional riders, so growth would gravitate to those lines that are not at maximum capacity, like the N, Q, R and W (if the State Senate lets the W survive). Growth would also occur near the commuter rail stations, all of which, with appropriate investment, could handle large increases. As the Regional Rail Working Group describes the Long Island Rail Road, Metro-North and NJ Transit: The sleeping giants of metropolitan mobility.

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