At Lincoln House December 2013

Looking at LA's Expo Line

New research supported by the Lincoln Institute shows how light rail attracts riders who want to live close to stations and end up driving less. Residents living near Exposition Light Rail stations in Los Angeles drove 10 to 12 fewer miles daily - a 40 percent decrease - and tripled trips on the rail line after it opened last year, according to the study.

The research is posted as a working paper, The Exposition Light Rail Study: Before-After Opening Travel Impacts and New Resident Sample Preliminary Analysis, and emerged out of the Lincoln Institute's continuing interest in infrastructure financing and the link between transportation and land use.

"Los Angeles has made a large commitment to rail transit, and this study is the best evidence to date that persons near rail lines are driving less," said lead author Marlon Boarnet, a professor with the USC Price School of Public Policy. "People have been wondering if anyone will change their travel habits in the wake of more rail transit, and this says the answer is clearly yes."

The findings represent the first experimental study of the effects of a new rail line in Los Angeles. The study's authors followed more than 200 households over seven-day periods in fall 2011, before the Expo Line's initial opening, and after the rail line opened in fall 2012. The households were split into two groups: people who live within a half-mile of an Expo Line station, and those who live farther than that distance from a station. The researchers asked participants to track their travel by recording daily odometer readings for all vehicles and logging trips by mode of travel. About half of the participants also carried a GPS device and accelerometer to measure their travel and physical activity.

"This is the first before-after evaluation of a major rail transit line in Los Angeles," said study co-author Doug Houston, assistant professor of Planning, Policy & Design at the University of California, Irvine. "The results suggest that regional plans to target household and job growth towards dense, high quality transit areas are headed in the right direction and could be associated with sizeable reductions in vehicle-related air pollution."

Among other findings:

  • Residents living near Expo Line stations produced about 30 percent less carbon emissions from their vehicles after the opening of the rail line than did residents living farther from the stations.
  • Those living near the Expo Line stations who were the least physically active before the line's opening increased their moderate or vigorous physical activity by 8 to 10 minutes per day, as compared to those living farther away.
  • The impact of the Expo Line on driving and rail ridership was largest near stations with more bus lines and on streets with fewer traffic lanes.

In 2008, Los Angeles residents approved Measure R, which is projected to raise $40 billion over the next 30 years to fund more than a dozen rail and rapid transit projects. The first phase of the Expo Line opened in April and June 2012 connecting downtown to Culver City and is currently being extended to Santa Monica. Average daily ridership on the Expo Line numbered 27,603 people in October, up from 21,382 a year earlier, according to Metro.

The research is available at this USC website, and was covered this week by The Source, CurbedLA, and the Los Angeles Times.

Taxing times for cities

Nearly 30 state legislators from the six New England states participated in a daylong seminar on current issues in state and local taxation at Lincoln House last week, with presentations by ten experts from government, academia, and think tanks.

Mark Skidmore, a Lincoln Institute visiting fellow from Michigan State University, looked at the role of the property tax in Detroit's fiscal crisis, noting how the recent collapse in housing prices has not been reflected in Detroit's assessments, leading to massively inflated assessments. In 2010, the sale price for an average home in Detroit was only $7,000, but that home would be taxed as if it were worth $50,000 to $60,000. In addition, the state's assessment cap has resulted in huge variations in effective tax rates for homes with identical values based on when they were purchased. The inflated assessments and horizontal inequities have undermined the property tax's perceived fairness, which has contributed to the city's 50 percent property tax delinquency rate.

Visiting fellow Andrew Reschovsky discussed the factors that will impact the long-term future of the property tax. Public support for funding public education may diminish as the country becomes older and more diverse. A declining share of households with school age children cuts both ways - it could diminish support for taxes used to fund education, but also spreads the cost of educating each student across more taxpayers. Cuts in state and federal aid, growing pension and healthcare costs, and the difficulty of replacing property tax revenues with other local sources are all factors that could increase property taxes in the future.

Keynote speaker Jeffrey Carr, president of Economic and Policy Resources, Inc. gave an overview of recent U.S. economic performance and a five-year forecast. Overall his outlook is positive for the next three years, with growth returning to normal rates. Household debt relative to disposable income is at its lowest level since the early 1980s, the stock market has reached new highs, and the housing market is returning to normal. There will, however, be a slower return to normal for the labor market, which has increasingly become the norm in recent recoveries. Federal fiscal policy has been a big drag on the economy, but the Ryan-Murray budget agreement is an important step away from budget brinksmanship in Washington, he said, which could have significant impacts on consumer confidence and get businesses to invest more in expanding operations.

Keynote speaker Jeffrey Carr, president of Economic and Policy Resources, Inc. gave an overview of recent U.S. economic performance and a five-year forecast. Overall his outlook is positive for the next three years, with growth returning to normal rates. Household debt relative to disposable income is at its lowest level since the early 1980s, the stock market has reached new highs, and the housing market is returning to normal. There will, however, be a slower return to normal for the labor market, which has increasingly become the norm in recent recoveries. Federal fiscal policy has been a big drag on the economy, but the Ryan-Murray budget agreement is an important step away from budget brinksmanship in Washington, he said, which could have significant impacts on consumer confidence and get businesses to invest more in expanding operations.

State debt affordability was the topic for both Jennifer Weiner (Federal Reserve Bank of Boston) and Scott Jordan (Massachusetts Executive Office of Administration and Finance), with Weiner focusing on the pros and cons of different ways of measuring affordability and Jordan touching on striking the balance between making the investments needed to maintain public infrastructure and keeping debt service payments affordable. Edith Brashares from the U.S. Treasury Department talked about proposals to move away from the federal government's traditional way of subsidizing infrastructure through tax-exempt municipal bonds in favor of more efficient tax-credit bonds. Visiting fellow Richard England discussed use value assessment of rural land and reforms to make these programs more cost-effective.

Interstate tax competition was the focus of the final session. Cristobal Young (Stanford University) presented evidence that differences in state income taxes have little impact on millionaire migration; David Agrawal (University of Georgia) showed that sales tax differentials between neighboring jurisdictions do impact cross-border shopping; and Ranjana Madhusudhan (New Jersey Department of Treasury) presented data on a 50 percent decline in New Jersey's casino tax revenues since a 2006 peak, which coincided with substantial expansions in legalized gambling in surrounding states.

PowerPoint slides for all presentations are available here.

New year, new media

The Lincoln Institute Publications team continues to make strides in all things digital. Nineteen print titles are available for downloading at the Amazon Kindle store, including recent ebooks such as Land in Conflict, by Sean Nolon, Ona Ferguson, and Pat Field, and Financing Metropolitan Governments in Developing Countries, edited by Roy W. Bahl, Johannes F. Linn, and Deborah L. Wetzel. At present, the bestselling ebook title is Planet of Cities, by Shlomo Angel.

The subject of China is well-covered in digital format, with three books available: China's Local Public Finance in Transition, China's Environmental Policy and Urban Development, and China's Housing Reform and Outcomes, all edited by Joyce Yanyun Man. Planning, housing, and climate change are also hot topics, with Resilient Coastal City Regions by Edward J. Blakely, Regional Planning in America edited by Armando Carbonell, The Community Land Trust Reader by John Davis, and Working Across Boundaries by Matthew J. McKinney all available in the Kindle store.

The quarterly journal Land Lines is also going mobile next spring in English and Spanish for these Apple iOS6 and Android phones and tablets: iPad, iPhone, Samsung Galaxy SII, Samsung Galaxy SIII, LG Nexus 4, Kindle Fire, and Google Nexus 7. Readers will be able to download new issues and read them offline, with responsive, enlargeable type designed for an optimal reading experience on mobile devices. Land Lines issues and articles will still be available as downloadable PDFs, and the price for all formats remains the same - free.

In January 2014, the Lincoln Institute will release its most popular title - Julie Campoli's Made for Walking - as a state-of-the-art, interactive Inkling enhanced ebook. Through the Inkling platform, readers will be able to virtually explore Made for Walking's 12 pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods through interactive guided tours and watch an embedded video. Details on this initiative will be announced in the New Year.

Odds & Ends

Stars on parade: Fellow Peter Pollock's participation in the panel "Frederick Law Olmsted and the American City," part of the symposium sponsored by the National Association for Olmsted Parks at the National Building Museum in the fall, is now posted on video; James Follain, co-author of the Policy Focus Report Preventing Housing Price Bubbles: Lessons from the 2006-2012 Bust, conducted a webinar yesterday detailing his recommendations for regionally based credit adjustments; and Solly Angel, author of Planet of Cities, appeared with UN-HABITAT director Joan Clos earlier this month at New York University, as part of his continuing examination of worldwide urban expansion ... Visualizing Density was ranked No. 38 in the Top 100 Books on City-Making listing sponsored by Planetizen ... The LA Expo Line research was one among several recently posted working papers, including: Getting Right-of-Way Right: Landowner Compensation for Electric Power Transmission Rights-of-Way by Allison Berry; Planning and the Climate Change in the Caribbean by Michel Frojmovic, Jennifer Graeff, and Asad Mohammed; and Estimation of Airport Infrastructure Capitalization for Land Value Capture Purposes: An Analysis of Denver and Atlanta, by Jeffrey P. Cohen, Cletus C. Coughlin, David A. Lopez, and John M. Clapp ... Happy Holidays from all of us at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.

— ANTHONY FLINT, Lincoln Institute of Land Policy

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