Saturday, September 3, 2011

some policy wonkery

the brookings institution just put out this transit analysis.  it's worth a read if the general topic of transit policy interests you.  i know for most, it don't, so the main takeaways are there are a lot of transit riders in l.a., they are well-served by the various transit agencies in both coverage and service frequency and the average commute-time could use some improvement.  the details follow.

l.a. ain't really known for its transit commuters.  and yet, "Metro areas with a high number of transit commuters, such as Los Angeles, Honolulu, and Philadelphia, also stand out for having small per capita carbon emissions due to transportation compared with more car-dependent areas such as Nashville and Oklahoma City."  it's official, l.a. has lots of transit users.  i'd want some independent verification of the carbon emissions thing, but l.a. is no longer in the "more car-dependent" category.

as the city that created sprawl, there's a pretty strong notion that it's hard to find a bus or train stop in l.a., but that notion is just plain wrong.  "Transit coverage is highest in Western metro areas such as Honolulu and Los Angeles, and lowest in Southern metro areas such as Chattanooga and Greenville."  in fact, l.a. ranks second in both coverage and service frequency.  in the above map (click to enlarge), dark blue means there is coverage, light blue means there isn't.  i had to break it up by income (low on the left, high on the right) to avoid a solid mass of dark blue.  mid income isn't shown, so not all areas are represented.

what l.a. could improve upon, however, is trip time.  out of 100 metro areas, l.a.'s 25.6% is ranked 69th in percentage of jobs accessible in under 90 minutes.  in the above map (click to enlarge), dark areas can be reached within 30 minutes and light areas can be reached in under 90 minutes.  everything in between takes from 30-75 minutes. the left map uses downtown as a starting location (gray box, union station roughly).  the right uses the westside as a starting location (santa monica and the 405 roughly).

despite l.a.'s 69th place ranking, based on sheer number of jobs the average worker has access to within a 90 minute transit commute, l.a. is second.  in other words, a lot of jobs are really far, but there is no shortage of jobs that are really close.  also, despite l.a.'s seemingly low ranking, "Notably, Chicago and Philadelphia—home to two of the oldest and best-known transit networks nationwide—rank lower on job access via transit than Houston and Los Angeles, both of which are known as auto-dominated metro areas."

one last little tidbit from the report: "Only one of 64 transit agencies surveyed recently reported that it has not had to reduce service or increase fares in response to larger fiscal challenges."  there's been a lot of noise about mta doing this, but it seems budgetary pressures are being felt all around.

one last little tidbit for the nerds: "To make the full range of data behind this report more accessible and actionable, Brookings developed an online tool that enables users to examine the detailed results of this analysis."  i found it at, where i generated all of the maps in this post.

of course, this is just one study and its particular idiosyncrasies are going to bias the conclusions some way, some how.  one addition i would like to see is "transit effectiveness," something along the lines of the ratio of average commute time driving alone in a car to average commute time on transit.  nonetheless, it's good to have some validation that the l.a. transit system actually performs as well as i've been telling everyone.

i know i've had a lot of news/policy posts of late, crowding out my usual "things you probably wouldn't see anywhere but the train" posts.  but i've got a soft spot for abstract policy discussions, so all i can do is hope the wonkery didn't put too many people to sleep.

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