Public Transit is the Future of Urbanization

Addison Scufsa

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On my last trip to Europe, I was impressed by many things: historic buildings, amazing food, great people, and more. But one of the most impressive things that made my life incredibly easy as a tourist was the almost overwhelming amount of public transportation. 

Whenever public transit is brought up here in the United States, it almost always leads back to Europe and how the US is much too spread out to make expensive transit options work like they do in Europe. It doesn’t matter if you are talking about a small bus line or a new light rail or subway system, “Americans would rather have more car lanes on highways and less potholes.” 

Not only is public transit actually useful for American cities, but it will soon become very valuable in an age of renewed urbanization. Cities are beginning to gain population across the US for the first time since the mid 1900’s. Minneapolis has led the charge here in the Twin Cities, increasing by over 40,000 people since 2010.

This change is a result of a combination of factors, but William Fry, a demographer at the Brookings Institute, says that it is likely due to the lower cost of city living compared to suburban living. In addition, millennials are more likely to be evenly split between the city and the suburbs than previous generations. 

Thanks to the increase in density, public transit will continue to become a more attractive option. With city living also comes a focus on constructing apartments with fewer and fewer parking spots, instead opting to locate themselves along rail and rapid bus lines here in the Twin Cities. Several mixed use apartment complexes in Eden Prairie are the center of the $8.6 billion dollars in new investments along existing and planned LRT lines, according to data from the Met Council. 

Mixed use apartments are the future of public transit investments, bringing commercial and residential destinations to riders only blocks away from major stops. The new Green on Fourth complex cost $56 million and is located directly near the Prospect Park stop on the Green Line, with construction contingent on the construction of the line. Focusing this much density around stops has long been the given reason for not building more train lines. 

This isn’t to say that public transit isn’t expensive or the best use of funds in every scenario. It only works when the density is sufficient and the cities involved are cooperative with the projects. Public transit also increases crime and homelessness along their lines if not policed properly as seen with the Chicago Transit Authority in recent years. Service must also be consistent enough for riders to make it their sole transportation source, one of the largest issues cited in surveys comparing the US transit to European or Asian transit. 

Here in the Twin Cities however, light rail in particular has been a huge economic generator, making back four times the initial amount back in new businesses and investments. Perhaps the most severely misunderstood part of public transit is the funding aspect. Most funding for projects come from the federal budget with over $700 million dollars of the Green Line funding coming from the Feds.

Ticket prices alone only recuperate around 30% percent of the operating costs, but the value comes from the investments into neighborhoods that otherwise wouldn’t have happened without the transit. Along with new investments, property values tend to increase at a much faster rate, benefiting those that live near the proposed lines. 

Public transit is one of the most misunderstood topics in political debates across America. The price and rider demographics scare those who are misinformed, playing on their unfounded fears. We are fighting a losing battle against the tides of urbanization. As long as the US refuses to invest in public transportation, the quality of living in urban areas will be less than that of Europe or Asia.