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.
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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.
Picture this: you’re tired of the spam in your inbox, so you download a new app for your browser that blocks it. While downloading, the Terms of Agreement pop up, and you click ‘Agree’ – because why wouldn’t you? Unbeknownst to you, while you are now enjoying your spam-free email, the Slice Technologies app is analyzing your emails for purchase receipts and selling this anonymized data to hedge funds. Is that an invasion of privacy? Not quite, as you agreed to the terms. But why would hedge funds, and other investment advisers, want this information? Well, with this kind of alternative data, investment firms can make much more accurate predictions about a company’s sales revenue and its health. This new world of alternative data poses incredible alpha-creating potential for investment advisers, as well as new legal concerns for the courts and regulators.
American law enforcement agencies are advocating that technology companies be forced to compromise the encryption used in their products, to facilitate ongoing investigations. Encryption is the computational tool used to protect every American’s digital communications and data from eavesdropping and tampering, and it plays a vital role in our economy and national security. A misguided attempt to weaken encryption would only damage our national interests, both with respect to economic wellbeing and business security. Hackers and foreign nations will target the introduced weaknesses, domestic firms’ ability to build and export security innovations will decrease, and the American competitive advantage in the technology sector will be lessened.
The legacy of the Silk Road is acting as inspiration for what President Xi Jinping calls the “project of the century.” Yi dai yi lu, or “One Belt One Road” (OBOR), is Xi’s signature foreign policy enterprise: a commitment of more than $1 trillion for Chinese development banks to invest in a sweeping Eurasian and African infrastructure initiative. OBOR operates both as a result of recent economic trends in China and as a milestone in Chinese foreign policy. The plan creates an outlet for Chinese products which are outgrowing domestic demand, but also has significant geopolitical potential. This article will examine OBOR and its consequences on Chinese partnerships across Eurasia and Africa and also how the results of this project relate to US foreign policy.
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Land-use regulation usually comes in the form of permits or codes, and is intended “to ensure [that] private use of land resources [is] aligned with policy standards.” In other words, it is a way for the government to control how certain privately-owned areas are used. There are clear benefits associated with these permits and codes – for instance, they may help ensure the preservation of a particularly historic area of a town. That said, land regulation also triggers some economic collateral concerns that are often overlooked, such as lost business profits and a widening income gap.
The 2000 presidential election posed countless issues, including butterfly ballots, partially punched cards, four to six million lost votes, and outraged citizens across the political spectrum. These issues led California Institute of Technology president David Baltimore and Massachusetts Institute of Technology president Charles Vest to approach the election technology failure more scientifically. With a team of computer scientists, mechanical engineers, and political scientists, they reimagined—and reengineered—the election process. Although Baltimore and Vest pioneered advancements in the election process, the reliability of voting infrastructure today still remains questionable. As we approach the upcoming election cycle this Fall, policy and technology experts must come together to rectify a failing system.
Despite a modest decline in private vehicle ownership in the last four years, many Americans still employ cars as their primary mode of transportation. Comparisons among census trends in the past few decades indicate that private vehicles amassed popularity among American households following more extensive car-centric city planning beginning in the early 1960s.
At the end of the last century, the digital revolution ushered in technological advancements that most consumers would not want to live without. Information and communication technology (ICT), such as computers, cell phones and the Internet, have proliferated worldwide entering our homes, offices and classrooms.  However, while the expansion of this technology has been impressive, it has not been even. At both the national and global levels, access to ICT is still far from universal and its disparity reflects and exacerbates the inequalities that exist offline. According to the International Telecommunications Union, the Internet user gender gap was as high as 31% in some developing countries and 12% globally in 2016.  As ICT becomes increasingly important, those left behind face growing socioeconomic barriers. This is what is known as the digital divide. People unfamiliar or unable to access ICTs are disadvantaged when trying to enter higher paid jobs, join solidarity networks, utilize educational information and accrue cultural capital.
Kaylee Heffelfinger of Arizona and Shahriar Jabbari of California had sued Wells Fargo for opening seven unauthorized bank accounts in their names, but their lawsuits were dismissed due to analogous mandatory arbitration clauses. Their cases were part of a larger scandal in which Wells Fargo opened at least 3.5 million unauthorized accounts on behalf of their customers but then astonishingly held those customers to the mandatory arbitration clauses they had signed for their legitimate accounts. Given the harm that mandatory arbitration may cause consumers, it is critical for policymakers to consider the implications of mandatory arbitration.
In June of 2016, former Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter removed one of the final barriers to military service by announcing new rules that would allow transgender individuals to openly serve in the military. Prior to this, transgender people would have been discharged or otherwise separated from the military just for their gender under Department of Defense Instruction (DODI) 6130.03: Medical Standards for Appointment, Enlistment, or Induction in the Military Services. Just one year later, in July 2017, President Donald Trump tweeted that the U.S. “will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. military” because the military “must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgenders in the military would entail”.