As high-capacity transit expands across the region, new data shows transit communities are growing at double the rate of the region as a whole, according to the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC).
The PSRC defines “transit communities” as areas one-quarter to one-half mile away from current or future (by 2041) high-capacity transit such as light rail, bus rapid transit, or ferries. The data also shows residents who live in a transit community are twice as likely to commute to work using public transit as those who don’t.
“We know when transit is provided — especially the high-capacity transit, light rail, bus rapid transit — people are riding it,” said Michael Hubner, principal planner with the PSRC. “This region has led the country in annual gains in transit ridership among metro areas eight years in a row.”
In 2013, the PSRC, along with a coalition of agencies, developed a strategy to promote transit-oriented development that encourages compact, walkable communities linked by mass transit.
Hubner said the strategy set out three goals:
- attract residential and job growth to transit communities
- provide housing choices affordable to a full range of incomes near transit
- increase access to opportunity
Hubner gave attendees of Building Transit, Building Opportunity, a day-long conference organized by the PSRC, a sneak peek at a forthcoming study by the agency that tracks job and residential growth around 96 identified transit communities. The event focused on techniques used around the region to build transit-oriented development.
The PSRC found that between 2010 and 2016, over 60,000 residents — accounting for 21 percent of regional population growth — moved into a designated transit community. Today, 12 percent of the region’s housing is located a half mile or less from existing or planned high-capacity transit.
Nearly 100,000 jobs have come to transit communities across the region between 2010 and 2015, and now close to one-third of the region’s jobs are located within these areas, according to the PSRC.
As transit communities densify, the rising cost of housing is pricing out low-income renters. PSRC found that rents in transit communities were 10 percent higher, roughly $150 more per month, than the region’s average rent.
“Only 25 percent of market-rate rental households in station areas (transit communities) are affordable below 80 percent of area median income,” Hubner said. “That is much lower than it was five or six years ago when we last took a snapshot of the region. And it is less than the region as a whole, where nearly half of units are affordable at that income level.”
The keynote speaker at the event, Marilyn Strickland, mayor of Tacoma and Sound Transit board member, told the crowd that lack of access to reliable transportation is one of the top barriers keeping people in poverty.
“Transit is so vitally important, it’s not just about relieving congestion and the environment,” Strickland said. “It’s a conversation about equity, opportunity and inclusion. We must invest in transit if we want to deal with the disparities that we are seeing in our region.”