The Hiawatha light-rail transit (LRT) line began operations in 2004. How has the line affected transit ridership and walking among nearby residents? To get an understanding, U of M researchers conducted a case study of one section of the line in south Minneapolis. The study, led by Jason Cao, assistant professor in the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, focused on a four-station, 3.8-mile residential section in the middle of the 12-mile Hiawatha line. Cao and his research assistant, Jessica Schoner, compared the section with four control corridors (two urban, two suburban) with similar demographics. The urban corridors resemble the Hiawatha Corridor in terms of built environment and transit access (via comparable bus service); the suburban corridors have curvier roadways and typically require park-and-ride for transit access. The researchers mailed 6,000 surveys to a random sample of residences in the four control corridors and to residences within a half-mile of the four stations in the Hiawatha Corridor. From their analysis, the researchers drew conclusions in three areas:
Residential preferences of Hiawatha residents
- In choosing where to live, good transit service and job accessibility are important factors for residents of all areas–both urban and suburban–ranking behind only housing affordability and neighborhood safety and ahead of more than 20 other factors such as high-quality schools.
- Hiawatha Corridor residents have a stronger preference for transit access and quality than residents of the urban control corridors.
Impacts of the Hiawatha line on transit use
- Transit use among residents who already lived in the Hiawatha Corridor when the LRT line opened increased substantially for both work and non-work travel–a clear ridership bonus from the line.
- Transit use by residents who moved into the Hiawatha Corridor after the line opened is similar to that of residents in the urban control areas.
- Residents in the Hiawatha Corridor use transit three to four times more often than suburban residents do.
The Hiawatha line, the built environment, and pedestrian travel
- Residents walk to stores more frequently if their homes are near commercial areas and their neighborhoods have adequate population density and a continuous street grid.
- Residents walk for recreation more frequently if there is a continuous street grid, but population density and proximity to stores are not significant factors.
- Residents along the Hiawatha line, which has a frequently interrupted street grid, walk for shopping or recreation at the same frequency as bus riders–LRT did not have a distinct measurable impact on walking.
“This study helps confirm the region’s transitway investment plan, which seeks to better align transit and land-use planning with the development of sustainable communities,” says Metro Transit General Manager Brian Lamb. “It also reinforces that people do make location choices based on transit-related characteristics.”
The research was funded by the Transitway Impacts Research Program (TIRP).
Reprinted from the CTS Catalyst, May 2013.