Project at a Glance

Title: Incentives for trip reduction through housing location near California's rail transit stations

Principal Investigator / Author(s): Hall, Peter & Michael Bernick

Contractor: UC Berkeley

Contract Number: a032-185

Research Program Area: Economic Analysis

Topic Areas: Benefits, Impacts, Mobile Sources & Fuels


In the past few years, the idea of using rail transit stations as centers of development, particularly residential development, has attracted increasing attention from state legislators and state and local growth-management organizations. The logic is compelling: Data on transit-ridership show significantly higher than average transit ridership among commuters who can walk to stations. Further, development at rail transit stations offers an important way out of California's housing conundrum of the past decade: the desire of Californians for more housing, and the opposition of Californians to greater housing densities in existing neighborhoods.

Increased high density housing near rail has air quality benefits. The proximity to the rail stations allow the residents to walk to the stations in a short time thus encouraging increased rail transit use and reduce vehicle trips and miles traveled (VMT). The distance to the station is especially important because if a resident taking a train drives to the station, however short the distance, the emissions from the vehicle will be significant due the cold start emissions. Elimination of the trip is the significant air quality benefit.

However, despite the interest in transit-based development, the discussion of transit-based housing has been mainly theoretical. Absent has been hard data on such practical questions as "What are the experiences of housing near rail stations in California?" "Do persons who live near rail transit stations actually use rail transit for their commutes or recreation?" "What governmental incentives have increased high density developments near rail stations?" "Does the rental market provide incentives to locate near rail stations?"

To address these questions, researchers from the Transit/Residential Access Center of University of California, Berkeley identified major residential projects built or in the process of being built within one quarter of a mile (walking distance) of rail transit stations in and outside California. The research focused on relatively large housing developments of at least 50 units built near the stations of six major rail transit lines operating in California: the Bay Area Rapid Transit system (BART), CalTrain, Santa Clara Light Rail, San Diego Light Rail, Sacramento Light Rail and the Long Beach-Los Angeles Light Rail. The major non-California housing developments under study are located near three large urban areas' rail transit systems: Washington D.C., Atlanta and Portland.

Selected developments were surveyed by the project team. The team sent surveys to the developers and property managers. They followed the survey with site visits, transit ridership survey of the residents, and in-depth interviews with the developers to examine designs, densities, government incentives and financial viability of the housing developments near rail transit.

For questions regarding this research project, including available data and progress status, contact: Research Division staff at (916) 445-0753

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