A growing volume of research is connecting more transportation options with benefits to local economies and quality of life for residents.
Researchers at the University of Colorado Denver analyzed the relationship between a city’s transportation system and its ability to weather drastic fluctuations in economic conditions. The cities with the most diverse array of transit options reported greater resiliency to dramatic shifts in the short and long term.
When predicting how a city would react to a sudden spike in gas prices, for example, the researchers discovered communities with specific characteristics were better prepared:
- Residents living close to where they work
- Compact street networks
- Extensive multi-modal infrastructure
Cities that have invested in walking, transit and biking infrastructure can undergo a shock to the economy better than cities with limited transportation options. Because a jump in gas prices would make driving to work unaffordable for many households, commuting via public transit would be key to resiliency and economic stability.
Furthermore, proximity to transit directly impacts individual and community vulnerability in the event of a shock. Thus, dense networks provide viable options when personal vehicles become too expensive.
In a study published in the Journal of Public Transportation, Todd Litman argues that people who live in cities with more public transit options and higher ridership enjoy a higher rate of safety. When comparing Vancouver’s fatality rates associated with transportation to those of most U.S. cities, Litman found Vancouver reported one-tenth the traffic fatality rate of car-dependent cities.
According to Litman, multi-modal public transportation systems reduce traffic fatalities, as well as lower crime rates. Many have a false perception of public transportation systems leading to an increase in crime and accidents or deaths. Increased transit-oriented developments, however, have been tied to drastic reduction in city crime rates. Litman recommends municipal leaders create public outreach campaigns that illustrate how safety is improved with more multimodal transit networks.
Moreover, Litman suggests taking a holistic approach to transit developments and expansions. Litman analyzed the performance of pro-transit policies that, when implemented together, offer greater impacts than if deployed as independent projects. See below:
Finally, Litman addresses the quality-of-life factor for residents living in a city with dense transportation networks. When more transit options are available, communities report:
- Increased economic opportunity for at-risk residents
- Reduced poverty concentration
- Increased urban services
- Reduced crime
- Increased perception of safety and social acceptability of urban living
When residents feel their public transit systems are safe, they become more responsible pedestrians and passengers. The infrastructure must first be constructed before these sentiments can be realized, Litman argues.
Once the multimodal networks are in place, municipal leaders should implement new transit safety narratives that focus on the savings and ease of use associated with options, as well passenger responsibility to maintain peace and safety.