A new University of Minnesota study looking at the number of jobs accessible by transit in 46 of America's largest metros ranks the Twin Cities 13th, but it doesn't account for the Green Line, Andrew Owen, director of the U's Accessibility Observatory and lead researcher for the project, tells us.
"All of the data across all the cities [comes from] January 29 or as close to it as possible, so it doesn't include the Green Line," he says. "Within the next month we're preparing to release a report that compares the accessibility data in the current report with a new calculation that includes the Green Line, a map that shows where and by how accessibility was changed as a result of the Green Line, and supporting bus schedule changes."
Asked if he anticipates the new calculation will push the Twin Cities up the ranks, Owen replies, "It's possible it might."
"We're very, very close, a couple thousand jobs behind [12th-place Milwaukee], and so it's possible it'll change that," he continues. "It'll be interesting to see."
Regarding what his research so far has indicated regarding the Green Line's impact, Owen replies, "We're seeing benefits of that project that are actually a decent distance away from the line itself because it gives people in the surrounding neighborhoods the ability to use the local bus service and transfer to rail service. That complements the network of bus services."
"There's been a lot of discussion about travel times, about the Green Line and how long it takes," he continues. "But one thing that is true about the Green Line relative to the bus service it replaced, basically the [Route] 50 and 16, is that travel times are actually more reliable even when they take more time than we wish them to, which is true of every transit system. Train travel times are more predictable than bus."
The Accessibility Observatory's website describes the study as "the most detailed evaluation to date of access to jobs by transit, and it allows for a direct comparison of the transit accessibility performance of America's largest metropolitan areas."
"Rankings were determined by a weighted average of accessibility, giving a higher weight to closer jobs," the site continues. "The calculations include all components of a transit journey, including 'last mile' access and egress walking segments and transfers."
Below is a screengrab of the jobs-transit map for the Twin Cities. To view an interactive version, go here and click on Minneapolis:
And here's the ranking of the top 20 metros:
We asked Owen what surprised him about the rankings. He quickly cited the relatively high position of Milwaukee, a city that doesn't have rail service outside of Amtrak.
(For more, click to page two.)
Milwaukee "is a bus-only system, but it's a very strong bus system," Owen says. "It's a frequent and very gridded bus network, so you tend to not have to wait very long for your transfer in all different parts of metro instead of just the central business district."
Owen also discussed how geography impacts how many jobs in a particular metro are accessible by rail. In Bay Area cities like San Jose or San Francisco, greater density leads to more accessibility, while sprawling metros like Dallas, Phoenix, and Atlanta tend not to be as well served.
"Atlanta has a very famous rail system that was built in the same round of federal funding as the D.C. Metro and BART [the Bay Area's train system], but Atlanta doesn't perform very well in the transit access ranking," Owen says. "It does have a heavy rail system, but it also has a very spread out, sprawled out development pattern, so it's hard to be served well by transit."
As far as the public policy implications of his research go, Owen says, "These results really drive home that it's not about how much transit you build... It's about putting it in the right place and making sure your land use supports successful transit systems."
"Land use and transportation are a single system and if we make investments that only consider one half of the equation, we're probably not making the best investment," he adds.