NOT SURPRISINGLY, RESIDENTS in areas well served by public transit drive less.
Driving less means fewer greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions, which is good for a warming planet. But what if there’s a way to boost this benefit to mitigate climate change?
An information item included in the agenda for the meeting on Friday (September 12) of Metro Vancouver’s housing committee gives some direction. It’s a summary of a report with a self-explanatory title: “Why Creating and Preserving Affordable Homes Near Transit Is a Highly Effective Climate Protection Strategy”.
The full report can be found on the website of the two U.S. nonprofits behind it, the California Housing Partnership Corporation and TransForm. The paper cites analysis of data provided by 36,000 households in three types of locations in California: transit-oriented, areas with less frequent transit, and not transit-oriented (those more than a half-mile away from transit or that don’t get as much transit service as the first two categories).
It also uses five income categories: extremely low income, very low income, low income, moderate income, and higher income.
The 16-page report notes that households in transit-oriented areas use transit three to four times more than those in other areas.
Although that is to be expected, the paper points to a much higher “transit trip bonus” from extremely low income and very low income households in transit-oriented neighbourhoods. That is, they take transit 50 percent more than their neighbours in the higher income brackets. This finding has implications for how policy should be geared toward residential development in transit nodes.
The paper notes soaring demand from high-income households for luxury apartments near public transit in California. However, there is little private interest in developing homes for low-income families in transit-oriented areas.
The situation may be similar here in Metro Vancouver. Although current and future transit locations are attractive sites for development, housing prices in general are beyond the reach of many working families.
The report also draws a model wherein public investments are made in affordable homes in transit-oriented locations. With 10 percent of revenues from California’s auction of GHG cap-and-trade allowances, the state could build—over a period of three fiscal years—“15,000 transit-connected homes that would remove 105,000,000 miles of vehicle travel per year”.
“Over the 55-year estimated life of these buildings, this equates to eliminating 5.7 billion miles of driving off of California roads,” the paper states. “That equates to over 1.58 million metric tons of GHG reductions, even with cleaner cars and fuels anticipated.”
The paper also suggests providing additional incentives to developers for more GHG-reducing measures in projects in transit-oriented locations. Topping these measures is housing more extremely and very low income families. Another is for developers to provide free transit passes.
According to the report, developers can also be encouraged to create space for bike-sharing and provide amenities like bicycle-repair stations and “pedestrian trunks to support walking to shopping”.
Relaxation of parking requirements for developments in transit-oriented areas may also be a good incentive for developers.
The report cites a prototypical example of an approximately three-hectare site with an original plan to build 875 units in six-storey buildings and a parking requirement of 1.65 spaces per unit. By designating the entire development as “affordable” for extremely low income households, the parking can be reduced to less than one space per unit, allowing the developer to add 146 units. The paper also notes an interesting detail, which is that “contrary to popular perception, lower-income households have relatively high car ownership when they lack access to transit.”
“This finding is significant because it indicates the large financial savings that lower income households can accrue by being able to avoid vehicle ownership by living near transit,” the report notes. “Transportation costs, primarily those associated with vehicle purchase, maintenance and operations, are the second highest household cost after housing.”
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