Light Rail and Urban Development in the United States
October 06, 2017
For much of the second half of the 20th Century, cities in the United States developed by suburbanizing – wealthier families fled urban cores and settled in outlying areas, where the size of one’s house became a preeminent status symbol. Yet over the last few decades, these trends have reversed, at least among young, well-educated millennials. Between 2010 and 2015, in all but six of the country’s 33 largest metropolitan areas, population growth among educated millennials in core cities eclipsed that of their surrounding suburbs, with such populations in 13 cities growing at more than double the rate of their suburbs. 
By Jack Weisman
But younger people aren’t simply choosing to live downtown on their own. In many of the country’s fastest growing cities, investments in public transit have allowed their regions to capitalize on the urbanization of millennials and generate significant economic returns. Public transit ridership rose 37.5% between 1995 and 2014,  turning cities like Denver, Seattle, Portland, and Minneapolis, all of which invested heavily in light rail transit, into models of smart, modern urban growth.
Arguably, the most notable transit success story is Denver, which continues to expand its 23-year-old light rail system and reap the benefits of new investment. Denver has focused heavily on transit-oriented development, which seeks to develop areas around transit stations into commercial and residential hubs, boosted by easy access to transportation facilities. In Denver, entirely new neighborhoods have popped up around light rail stations, with large, modern apartment buildings providing mixed-income housing to new parts of the city. Denver is also hoping to leverage its light rail system to aid its burgeoning tech sector, bringing new jobs and economic activity to the city.  Throughout the city, property values have skyrocketed near rail stations, with some neighborhoods experiencing threefold increases in land value.  Moreover, these benefits are not limited to Denver – in Dallas, a sprawling, car-friendly metropolis in a conservative state, extensions to the Dallas Area Rapid Transit light rail system generated over $2 billion in economic activity in 2014 and 2015 alone. 
And light rail is not the only form of transit that has been shown to generate economic growth. Bus rapid transit, which takes advantage of the flexibility and low cost of a bus, yet requires the dedicated traffic lanes and frequent headways that makes rail transit so desirable, has been shown to be a valuable investment. Cleveland, Ohio’s Healthline bus rapid transit system, which connects the city’s academic and medical institutions with its downtown, is widely praised as a successful experiment in bus rapid transit. New commercial and residential developments along the Healthline corridor have turned a $50 million investment into an estimated $5.8 billion in economic development – a return of $114.54 for every dollar spent on the project.  The Healthline is a somewhat unique case, as a 2014 study by the American Public Transportation Association found that, for each dollar spent on transit, cities experience $3 in economic returns  – certainly a significant figure, but nowhere near the number achieved in Cleveland. Still, the Healthline demonstrates that the benefits of transit are not limited to large cities with populations used to using public transportation.
But any focus on urban development is accompanied by concerns relating to gentrification, and the displacement of those who previously lived in newly-popular areas around transit stations. In Washington, DC, the construction of a streetcar light rail line in 2016 has been criticized for promoting further gentrification in a city that is often cited as one of the country’s worst offenders. However, recent development in Minneapolis has made it clear that transit-oriented development can benefit, not displace, existing residents. Despite concerns that the Green Line light rail line would harm low-income residents along its route, developments along the line included new affordable housing units, funded by tax breaks and grants from the city government. Existing local restaurants have seen marked upticks in business, and many shops have received loans from the government to make up for any loss in business caused by construction.  Of course, Minneapolis is a single example, and many cities aren’t as willing to invest in limiting the harmful effects of gentrification. Still, Minneapolis demonstrates that, as long as transit systems are developed with their communities in mind, they can serve old and new residents alike.
While he was running for president in 2016, Donald Trump made repeated mention of a $1 trillion infrastructure plan, supposedly a massive investment in fixing the American roads, bridges, railroads, pipelines, and buildings that have fallen into disrepair over decades of apathy and underfunding.  While President Trump has done little to live up to the promises that candidate Trump made on the campaign trail, proposing a budget that slashes funding for the Department of Transportation and encourages significant privatization,  infrastructure remains an important issue, and one of few issues about which there exists bipartisan consensus on the need to prioritize new investment. The infrastructural needs of different communities can vary greatly, but in urban areas, investment in light rail and bus rapid transit is a proven tool for commercial and residential development, serving economically diverse communities.
Student Blog Disclaimer
The views expressed on the Student Blog are the author’s opinions and don’t necessarily represent the Penn Wharton Public Policy Initiative’s strategies, recommendations, or opinions.
 Pete Saunders, “Where Educated Millennials Are Moving,” Forbes, January 12, 2017. https://www.forbes.com/sites/petesaunders1/2017/01/12/where-educated-millennials-are-moving/#56309b8cd3cc.
 Keith Barry, “Why More Americans Are Riding Public Transit than Ever Before,” Wired, March 11, 2014. https://www.wired.com/2014/03/rising-mass-transit-ridership.
 Colin Woodward, “The Train That Saved Denver”, Politico, May 19, 2016. http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/05/what-works-denver-rail-system-growth-213905.
 Michelle Askeland, “Light Rail’s Impact on Office is Undeniable,” Colorado Real Estate Journal, March 16, 2016. http://crej.com/news/light-rails-impact-office-undeniable.
 Michael C. Caroll et al., “The Economic and Fiscal Impacts of Development near DART Stations,” Dallas Area Rapid Transit, May 11, 2017. http://www.dart.org/about/economicimpact.asp.
 Alison Grant, “Cleveland’s HealthLine Gives More Bang for the Buck than Other Transit Corridors, Study Finds,” Cleveland.com. http://www.cleveland.com/metro/index.ssf/2013/09/clevelands_healthline_gives_mo.html.
 Economic Impact of Public Transportation Investment,” American Public Transportation Association, May 2014. https://www.apta.com/resources/reportsandpublications/Documents/Economic-Impact-Public-Transportation-Investment-APTA.pdf.
 Steve Hargreaves and Dominic V Aratari, “How the Twin Cities Got Transit Right,” CNN, October 21, 2014. http://money.cnn.com/interactive/technology/minneapolis-light-rail/index.html.
 Missing: Donald Trump’s Trillion-Dollar Infrastructure Plan,” New York Times, February 27, 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/27/opinion/missing-donald-trumps-trillion-dollar-infrastructure-plan.html.
 Mark Niquette, “Democrats Rip Trump’s Infrastructure Plan as ‘Sleight of Hand’,” Bloomberg, May 24, 2017. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-05-24/democrats-rip-trump-s-infrastructure-plan-as-sleight-of-hand.
It is estimated that one individual organ, eye, and tissue donor can save up to 75 lives . Currently an average of 22 individuals die each day waiting to be matched for a transplant . Donated tissues and organs both have lifesaving potential, but unlike donated organs, donated tissue is also purchased by biotechnology and cosmetic companies for research purposes. Most donors, however, are not aware of the differences between organ and tissue donation, including how it is removed, used, and regulated . Even fewer are aware that by registering for organ donation, they have become tissue donors by default and that their tissues can be sold for up to $80,000 to profitable companies . In order to increase transparency and not lose informed consent of donors, registration for tissue donation and organ donation in the United States should be separate processes.
Google, Facebook, Twitter, Snap, Amazon, Microsoft, Apple — these companies have become household names, and the world today heavily relies on their services. To many, the benefits of cheap and easy connection to information are obvious, ranging from increased educational and career opportunities to an increased rate of technological innovation. However, as the pace of this progress accelerates, two distinct issues have remained concerning: the use of these technologies and access to them. The topic of this article mostly focuses on how people still lack access to the Internet. This lack of access to and of use of the Internet is known as the “digital divide.”
Leo drives a mid-2000s Acura TSX and arrives at the pickup point in front of a train station in Trenton, New Jersey. I’m headed home from New York City for the Thanksgiving holiday. Leo gives me a hand with my suitcase, and in under a minute, we’re off, driving Interstate 276 West most of the way there. The 26.66 mile trip takes 45 minutes. It costs me $34.68 on one of the most popular rideshare platforms, of which Leo receives about $25, minus the cost of gas, tolls, and vehicle mileage. Leo is a pretty talkative guy, and the subject turns to the various driving platforms, like Uber and Lyft. Leo is a young guy, and he tells me he’s one of the approximately 1 in 4 drivers who does not have health insurance.
Many young Americans leave home and never return. In particular, this trend can be seen in rural America. 1,350 counties “non-metro” counties have lost population since 2010. Since the mid 1990s, rural population growth has been significantly lower than urban areas. The movement of people has resulted in national economic growth, but there are consequences. Behind these numbers lie worrisome consequences.
Caffeine has been heralded as the world’s most popular drug. However, as more people want their coffees to go, the industry has failed to confront the waste from single-use cups. In the last two decades, the United Kingdom has seen a 400% increase in the number of coffee shops. The sheer volume of waste affects both the environment and the country’s waste management infrastructure . In the UK alone, people throw away 2.5 billion disposable coffee cups a year . The scope of this problem is magnified by the difficulty of recycling wax-lined paper (the most common material for coffee cups), with only 0.25% of these cups being reprocessed . In order to combat the growing practical and environmental effects of throwing away single-use cups, UK lawmakers have stepped in, and are considering instituting a “latte levy,” a new tax to influence on-the-go coffee drinkers.
Pharmaceutical drug price hikes have now become a common feature in American news. From Martin Shkreli’s infamous Daraprim price hike that saw a $737 increase to the chemotherapy drug Cosmogen that currently sells for $1,400 in the U.S. compared to $20-30 overseas, the problem is clearly systemic . Many important cancer drugs, including Gilead’s Sovaldi, Merck’s Keytruda, and Vertex’ Kalydeco all cost over $80,000 for a course of treatment . Often prices increase are unrelated to any new research and development done. There is a clear need to address such drastic drug price increases in order to prevent these dramatic hikes and create a more stable biopharmaceutical market.
The state of American infrastructure figures prominently in current national policy discussion, prompted by poor report cards, energized political campaigns, and recent executive initiatives. Severe underfunding of needed infrastructure projects has prompted proposals from both sides of the political aisle, with public-private partnerships (P3s) featuring prominently. This article evaluates and offers perspective on different types of P3s, examining their benefits and costs and the Trump administration’s plans.
Nuclear energy has the potential to assist nations in tackling climate change and sustain a rapidly growing world population. In the first part of this series on nuclear energy, I analyzed why nuclear energy is superior to other energy sources in achieving this end but also why current market forces prevent its growth. However, even if US legislators decided to pass legislation that aggressively expanded the country’s nuclear infrastructure, there are three primary non-market challenges with current U.S. policy, or lack thereof: a hostile public, the absence of a centralized nuclear waste disposal site, and concerns with proliferation and the imperilment of U.S. national security objectives. In order to responsibly expand nuclear energy capacities and prevent proliferation to hostile states, policy-makers have an obligation to address these issues. Not doing so may bear worse consequences than wantonly enlarging the United States’ atomic sector.
In 2015, Seattle legislators signed a bill to gradually increase the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour over several years. Businesses with fewer than 500 employees will still have until January of 2024 to deal with the full ramifications of the act. However, businesses that do not provide medical benefits and employ over 500 people were forced to pay their workers $15 dollars an hour starting this past January . Since then, two major studies have been published on the effects of the act, one concluding that it has had a positive effect on economic activity and employment and the other stating that it has made the labor market far too rigid.
Today private prisons house about 126,000 federal and state inmates . Orders issued under the Obama Administration to phase out the use of private prisons are now being reversed under the Trump Administration, which has caused some debates over the efficacy of private prisons to resurface. Chiefly, this reversal has sparked controversy over the economic benefits of private prisons in America, as the most avid dissidents highlight problems with the economic argument for private prisons and even moderate objectors point to inconclusive data as a poor indicator of their advantages.