Research Rest-Stop │ Imagining a City Without Its Transit System

Every Wednesday, the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities (MOTU) highlights some interesting research related to or innovations in transportation, sustainability, or energy.

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Ever wonder what a city would be like without its public transportation system?

Well, wonder no more.

According to a recent Atlantic Cities article, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) has developed a study that looks at how Washington,D.C. would look if transit in the city did not exist. In looking at the benefits of transportation projects, the agency became interested in the true, broad-reaching benefits that the presence of public transit can have on a region.

In performing the analysis, WMATA worked to isolate the impacts of rail lines on economic development, property values, and other revenue sources located near transit stations. At the same time, it modeled what the region would be like without a transit system.

In WMATA’s first scenario, the transit system was removed but the current road infrastructure was kept in place. As a result of this change, the study found that people’s travel patterns tended to become more localized, as they were less likely to travel across the region to reach jobs or other major destinations.

In the second scenario, the transit system was again removed, but this time, new roads were added. The study found that, in order to maintain current congestion levels, the region would require roughly 15 more lanes to D.C.’s current beltway at a cost of $6 billion. In addition, in order to accommodate the masses of drivers commuting into the city, approximately 166 blocks of five-story parking garages would be needed to support spaces for all of these vehicles.

While the scenarios are far-fetched, they do their job in having us stop and think about what regions would be like without public transit systems. Without transit availability and options, this then impacts greenhouse gas emissions, open space, economic development, and congestion. The study pushes the idea of “alternatives,” and as Justin Antos, a WMATA transportation analyst notes, “Part of the study was to put in context the choices that our region faces in the future….”

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