Rapid Transit and Gentrification: How are they related?

In the last installment in this series, we talked about how the Berkeley Hyperloop Team is seeking to develop a socially-conscious plan of action for integrating a Hyperloop system into California.  One of the main considerations of this plan was how to ensure that a Hyperloop system does not contribute to the growing gentrification and urban displacement of low-income communities within San Francisco. In this article, we’ll take a bit of a deeper look into how new transit systems affect the neighborhoods in which they are introduced.  

In fact, the research out there on this topic is pretty slim, and some of the results can seem contradictory. In a study of Canadian cities, it was found that two out of three studied showed gentrification trends in the areas surrounding transit stops; the third city, Vancouver, actually showed the opposite trend [1]! It’s hard to determine what, exactly, causes these discrepancies; so many competing factors can play a part.  Intuitively, it seems to make sense that low-income neighborhoods would be well served by the construction of a mass transit station in the area.  It would allow for accessible and affordable transportation to other areas of the city.  However, this isn’t always the case; often, the introduction of a mass transit station causes housing prices and rents in the immediate vicinity to increase, sometimes very significantly [2]; and this can cause the low-income citizens of the area to be driven out by rising costs; certainly not an ideal situation.  How can the trend of gentrification around mass transit stations be mitigated?

An intriguing study by Matthew Kahn et al. found that gentrification tended to increase around stations with a “Walk and Ride” designation, but actually decreased around new stations designated “Park and Ride.”  What’s the difference?  Walk and Ride stations are intended to be used by people who will walk directly to the transit station from home or work.  Park and Ride stations, in contrast, have designated parking lots so that users of mass transit can drive to the station, park and leave their car there while they take the transit service to their final destination.  Obviously, users of the Walk and Ride stations are more likely to live in the immediate area of the station, whereas Park and Ride users could feasibly live quite far from the station [2]. This will somewhat dilute the rising-prices trend around the stations, as wealthy commuters now have a greater area in which to live.  This is an intriguing finding, but not necessarily clear-cut. Park and Ride stations tend to decrease the quality of living of the neighborhoods in which they’re introduced, and are often met with resistance when proposed. They also require a lot of land and money in order to build them – something that may be problematic in urban areas of San Francisco. Park and Ride stations, therefore, tend to be built more often in suburban areas, and may be viable to consider as way-stops on the Hyperloop system between San Francisco and Los Angeles. However, they will certainly not address the most pressing issue: how to implement deep-urban Hyperloop stops without inciting a trend of urban displacement.   

Article Sources

[1] Grube-Cavers, Annelise, and Zachary Patterson. "Urban rapid rail transit and gentrification in Canadian urban centres: A survival analysis approach." Urban Studies (2014): 0042098014524287.

[2] Pollack, Stephanie, Barry Bluestone, and Chase Billingham. "Demographic change, diversity and displacement in newly transit-rich neighborhoods."Transportation Research Board 90th Annual Meeting. No. 11-3567. 2011.

[3] Kahn, Matthew E. "Gentrification Trends in New Transit‐Oriented Communities: Evidence from 14 Cities That Expanded and Built Rail Transit Systems." Real Estate Economics 35.2 (2007): 155-182.