The Next Great Economic Generator

The US needs a major economic generator to escape the bad economy and add value to suburban single family housing like the Federal Highway act of 1956. One possible example is the California high speed light rail that will connect the urban areas of Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The highway act was the catalyst for the post WWII suburbs by supplying valuable jobs and sparking single family homebuilding. The proposed high speed light rail in California could be such a catalyst. Instead of sparking a single family housing boom like the federal highway act, it will create value by increasing value to existing suburban housing along its path. This value will be created from building density around the light rail stops in the form of transit oriented development (TOD). Single family homes will drop from 62% of the total homes in the state to just over half with adding multifamily housing, thus making single family housing stock more affordable.

The light rail will promote sustainability.  The percentage of developed land will decrease as well as preserving prime farmland in the central valley and natural habitats in the coastal regions. More density means smaller yards to irrigate and less landscape in parking lots to water. The water saved will average 3.4 million feet of water per acre which would equal the irrigation of 5 million acres of farmland. Average vehicles miles per household will be reduced by 40% which would equal to 18.6 million vehicles. Also, there would be less runoff from parking lots, less air pollution, more walking, and save fossil fuel.

A study from the South Bay area of Los Angeles County looked at eight neighborhoods composed of two types, pedestrian oriented centers and auto oriented corridors. These studies suggest that “nearby destinations” are a key factor in neighborhood walkability. Auto oriented corridors that had more destinations in the middle of them promoted more walking trips ,fewer driving trips, and more likely to have a larger percentage of total trips within the corridor. These studies support that TOD density and other retail destinations surrounding the light rail could be such a destination that will promote walkability and add value to suburban homes.

In conclusion, the California high speed light rail is a no brainer in terms of being the new economic generator of jobs, promote density, create value for suburban homes, and contribute to sustainability. The only problem with this strategy is that it may not impact suburban homes outside the light rail area nearly as much. Perhaps similar strategies could work for other states to connect urban areas similar to Northern and Southern California.

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