Poster: Rail Transit: Residential Land Use Impacts

Monday, May 8, 2017 | 1:30 p.m. - 2:30 p.m.

Boston's rail transit extensions in the 1970s and 1980s show evidence that improved access to rail transit is associated with increased density of housing stock. The effects take decades to be reflected, an important consideration for project assessment.

While the importance of rail transit in creating dense, livable places may seem self-evident to many urban planners, there is actually a great discrepancy between two schools of thought. Some advocate transit oriented development and the expansion of rail transit systems as a solution to a variety of urban ills, including housing issues, while others remain skeptical, recognizing that there are benefits from having an existing system, but rarely recommending the construction of new rail transit systems. This poster examines the impacts of the extensions of the MBTA Red and Orange Lines in Boston during the 1970s and 1980s to add to this conversation by analyzing the changes in the residential nature of neighborhoods around new transit stations in the decades after they were built.

Boston is a particularly relevant place for this inquiry for a number of reasons. Its rail transit system has undergone several phases of development, including the opening of the first underground subway line in the United States in 1897. The most recent major phase of development was the realignment of the northern and southern stretches Orange Line and extension of the Red Line to Alewife and to Braintree, all of which occurred as a part of a nationwide wave of transit construction in the latter half of the twentieth century. Today, Boston has once again been engaged in a debate around an extension to the Green Line, making this an opportune time to assess the lessons that can be learned from past efforts. In this context, there is evidence that improved access to rail transit does indeed generate some increased residential density, particularly with respect to the physical housing stock and especially when considered over a long time frame (twenty years and more). By examining the evidence, we can help further situate the discussion around transit in Boston and beyond.

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Paul Lillehaugen , New York , NY (see bio)