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Hiawatha Light Rail --Benefits Confirmed!

04/06/2010

From Dave Van Hattum, Policy and Advocacy Program Manager

For years, Transit for Livable Communities and other transit advocates have touted the many benefits of investment in light rail, commuter rail, and bus rapid transit, collectively referred to as transitways.

Since the Hiawatha Light-Rail line opened in 2004, ridership has been astounding– 30,000 passengers per day, which is 50% above projections. Thanks to recent research from the University of Minnesota Center for Transportation Studies, we now have local evidence of the broad benefits of investment in light rail transit (LRT). These benefits include increased property values, greater access to jobs --especially for low-wage workers--and increases in regional accessibility.

Property values for single family homes within ½  mile of south Minneapolis LRT stations are on average $5,000 higher (i.e. than similar properties in a control group) based on research by Prof. Ed Goetz. The total value of these property value increases – for just a segment of the LRT between the Cedar Riverside Station and the VA Medical Center Station, was nearly $50 million --$29.4 million for single family homes and $18.4 million for multi-family homes since 2004. All of these increases occurred on the western side of the LRT line, highlighting both the challenges and opportunities for future redevelopment. On the eastern side of the line, redevelopment is made trickier by current industrial use and the four lane highway separating the train from adjacent neighborhoods.

Access to low-wage jobs has increased substantially with the LRT, based on both the ease of travel on the train and the decision of employers to locate near LRT transit stations. Research by Prof. Ying Ling Fan found that more than 2,000 new low-wage jobs were created near downtown Minneapolis Hiawatha LRT stations. This is particularly noteworthy given that the Met Council reports overall negative job growth for the region (including the two downtowns) during a similar time period.

Finally, Research by Prof. Jason Cao indicates that the Hiawatha Line is used by residents from across the metro region. Unlike most bus corridors, the Hiawatha LRT attracts users from an area far beyond the corridor itself. The LRT is convenient and cuts down travel time. Ridership is high because of investments in large park and ride facilities, extensive feeder bus connections, and the fact that major destinations are conveniently served at both ends of the line. At the same time, LRT users are willing to walk a significant distance to access the train—37% of those who walk to the LRT walk more than a ¼ - mile.

The broad merits of investment in LRT are now well established by extensive national and local data. All of the benefits described above will grow considerably larger when a system of transitways is completed.  Going forward, transit advocates will continue to inform policymakers and the general public about these benefits—and what is needed to build a 21st-century transit system in the Twin Cities. More investment is needed both to implement new transitways and to expand the bus system. At the same time, local officials need to alter land use regulations to capture the broadest possible economic benefits from transitway investments, while also maintaining local character, housing affordability and quality of life in neighboring communities.

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