Research Desk
The Importance of Transit Infrastructure
As Marin County works to expand its economy, transit infrastructure will be a critical focus of investment and development. Research is increasingly linking the geography of transit nodes to the growth of new networks of business activity. The introduction of transit infrastructure not only connects labor forces more efficiently, but also encourages economic diversity among the types of businesses that open up (Source 11: Chatman et al., 2016; Song et al., 2012).
Numerous case studies have shown transit’s role in fostering growth in retail and service industries, mainly by driving a greater volume of foot traffic to downtown neighborhoods and commercial districts. For example, one transit interventions in New York saw a 77% increase in retail revenue for a neigbhorhood with the addition of a single new bus route (Source 16, 17). The presence of public transit allows for greater density of movement across wider expanses of the city. It also decreases the amount of lost time that possible consumers spend ‘in transit’ when they are moving through congestion, as is often the case for more car-oriented cities.
Studies have also linked the presence of transit infrastructure with growth in more knowledge-oriented, high income industries such as in tech, healthcare, and financial services (Source). In the current age of abundant job choice for knowledge workers, lifestyle concerns such as commute become dealbreakers. More robust public transit means lower commute times, which means fewer barriers to attracting top talent. And few barriers to attracting talent makes a location attractive to new businesses.
Aside from the impact of commute times on employer-employee matching, studies have also found a strong relationship between lower single-person automobile usage and increased economic activity on the city level. This is understood to be because many smaller and medium-size businesses rely on weekly or daily delivery and the removal of single-person automobiles reduces congestion.
The heavy concentration of commercial office zones within a small area in San Francisco has resulted in areas with heavy road congestion and abundance of single passenger car trips
Investments into more large-scale urban transit systems increases the exchange of individuals between cities, which has been shown to be a key mechanism for increased industry productivity and growth (Source 23). As a city’s regional network physically opens up through a wider array of transit connections, the city’s potential labor market not only grows, thereby increasing the pool of skilled workers and the overall competitiveness of the industries’ hiring practices, but these industries are also more easily able to create business ties with other cities in the region, and expand the geographic reach of their operations (Source 24).
The daily commuter movement flows show how certain suburban cities are effectively employee feeders for the three major urban centers in the Bay Area (San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose)
Perhaps more subtly, there have been studies linking the creation of social networks, and how social networks, trust and social ties fostered by face-to-face contact and relationship building are important components of contemporary business success, especially for firms in industries that require strong interpersonal client relationships (Source 21: Gordon and McCann, 2000; Nelson, 2005; Storper and Venables, 2004)). The creation of these social networks and the overall social embeddedness of businesses is especially significant for the creation of small and medium enterprises, who often both gather their workers and customers from the surrounding population and rely on local networks and personal contacts to survive (Source 28: Robinson et al., 2004; Stam, 2007). Overall, there are a variety of ways that these knowledge spillovers contribute to the larger regional economy, but in general, there have been a great deal of studies linking these broader knowledge networks with more diverse, innovative economic systems, which also prevent negative shocks from permanently damaging the regional economy (Source 30: Frenken et al., 2007; Jacobs, 1967).
Transit-oriented development on a low-level urban planning scale also plays an important role in decreasing the physical frictions within a city, “decreasing congestion, automobile pollution, traffic deaths and other negative externalities associated with suburban environments” (Source: Brueckner, 2000; Ewing, 1997). A decrease of cars on the roads also leads to a decrease in the number of traffic accidents, which altogether, costs the U.S. economy an average 3 billion USD per year (Source 14).
As Marin County plans for a more robust economic future, the San Rafael city council has passed a range of policies which support investment into economic-oriented transit planning, such as Policy H-15, which focuses specifically on infilling near transit nodes. By increasing the density of both residential and commercial spaces surrounding the Priority Development Area of the San Rafael Transit Center, and connecting SMART rail service directly to San Rafael’s Downtown, the city plans to not only enhance the local economy and encourage business growth, but also increase the overall social vitality of the city’s center.
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