Reconnecting America People * Places * Possibility

Connecting Employment & Transit

Seattle's South Lake Union Streetcar

Seattle's South Lake Union Streetcar

Today the Center for Transit-Oriented Development released two papers on employment centers and thier relationship to transit. We'll cover the second paper on industries that locate near transit later. For now, let's focus on the first paper, "Transit-Oriented Development & Employment"

Recent regional planning attention on transit and development has been focused on residential densities needed to support transit. The destination side of the trip has not been recognized as an important driver in transit ridership. (See our featured topic page for papers on transit supportive density)  As the research adds up, we can no longer afford to ignore employment centers. With 60 percent of transit ridership coming from work trips, its important to understand how to grow employment centers as places and serve those places with local and rapid transit.

Over the last 60 years or so employment has been decentralizing in American cities at a steady rate.  Research by Glaeser/Kahn and Kneebone have shown that more employment is now located outside of a 3-mile radius of the central business district.  However the central city radius might be a bit simplistic.  Employment has leaped over the inner suburbs in a process of growth that saw "edge cities" mimic downtowns with taller buildings concentrated and then "boomburbs" that lined freeway interchanges on the suburban periphery. This created polycentric regions that can be categorized not just as urban and suburban but as compact or dispersed. 

And since more than half of all transit trips are work-related (pg 14), connecting these places and changing thier makeup is a surefire strategy for increasing ridership and creating more vibrant places.  Research by Barnes, Zupan/Pushkarev, and Brown/Thompson cited in the paper all show that transit's ridership increases if you're focused on connecting people with destinations.  But it's also important to remember that physical form, parking policy, and zoning codes are all important factors in determining whether people will ride transit.

In the CTOD paper, we look at the Phoenix region.  You can see that it has a lot of places outside downtown that surpass 10 workers per acre. 

Phoenix Employment Clusters

Regions all over the country look just like this.  As we learn more about these polycentric places and how they drive ridership and the development of places that produce fewer VMT, we might finally see some attention paid to these employment districts.

You can see more employment and transit maps in our maproom and our featured topic page has more than 40 research papers on employment and transit.