Transit-oriented development, VMT, and induced gentrification

By Saumya Jain

In the last two decades, transit-oriented development (TOD) has become more than just a “jargony buzz phrase” and has caused the housing market to explode near transit hubs. Many cities are focusing their future development plans around transit connectivity, encouraging people to switch to more sustainable modes of transportation, and reduce overall household vehicle miles traveled (VMT). But what comes along with improved transit access and development is transit-oriented gentrification, forcing the displacement of many low-income residents by affluent households.

To understand the regional impacts of TOD on total household VMT, a recent California-based study looked at travel patterns of both the new residents of transit-oriented neighborhoods, as well as the households displaced due to gentrification. Using data from the National Household Travel Survey (NHTS) and the California Household Travel Survey (CHTS), the researchers found that, on average, higher income households drive more than lower income households, mostly for non-work trips. This is consistent with previous studies. They also found that when they moved closer to a well-connected transit station, higher income households show a greater decease in auto-use compared to middle or low-income households. But displacement of the latter from transit-accessible neighborhoods forces the lower-income household to drive more, thereby resulting in a very small decrease or no significant change in the regional VMT.

Through their results the researchers emphasize that transit-oriented gentrification alone cannot have a significant effect on regional VMT, but it greatly disadvantages low and middle-income families by forcing them away from opportunities. To see substantial decrease in VMT along with socially equitable development, the researchers suggest accompanying TOD with affordable housing policies, improved household and employment densities, first-last mile connections, and stringent parking regulations.

Saumya Jain is a Senior Associate at SSTI.