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Vestiges of Transit

Path Dependence and the Modern City

Leah Brooks and Byron Lutz

December 2011, English

By the 1910's, Los Angeles had one of the largest urban rail networks in the world. Streetcars dominated urban transit and motivated building and investment. New streetcar construction ceased by 1922 and the system entered a long, slow decline, culminating with elimination in 1963. Does the modern metropolitan area still reflect vestiges of this fifty-year- extinct transport system? In other words, are metropolitan areas sufficiently malleable to allocate capital to current demands? We use data on the location of extinct streetcar routes in Los Angeles and data on modern-day land use at the level of the individual property to show that properties near streetcars are statistically significantly different from other similar properties as of 1999. Relative to properties in a small neighborhood farther from the extinct streetcar, properties closer to the extinct streetcar are more likely to be zoned less restrictively, to have more capital per unit of land, and to have higher land values.