TransitCenter and the Center for Neighborhood Technology released a nifty little tool last week that allows you to gauge how well-connected any spot in the United States is by public transit. Plug in an address, and the All Transit database culls together information on access to jobs, number of commuters, workers near transit, and other curious factoids.
I haven’t dug into the data too deeply, but I did run the numbers on a few Texas cities just to see how Dallas’ public transit system stacks up. Leaving aside all the usual moaning and groaning over Dallas’ sub-par transit system, Dallas actually has the best performing public transit system in Texas according to the All Transit tool, with an overall performance score of 6.8. Houston comes in second with a 6.2, while Austin (5.5) and San Antonio (5.7) live up to their reputations as transit-challenged cities.
What does it all mean? Well, according to All Transit, in Dallas there are 184,017 jobs within a 30-minute transit commute of downtown, and 786,452 jobs located within a half-mile of a transit spot. You can drill down into those numbers and see what kinds of jobs are close to transit, and how much people earn. Click over to a heat map that shows where the most connected parts of the city are. Most interestingly, you can click a box to see where low income housing tax credit properties are located on the map. All too often, these low income properties appear to be clustered in pockets that aren’t as well connected to transit as nearby areas. That overlay of low income housing on top of the public transit map is both the most illuminating aspect of All Transit, as well as the place where the tool’s usefulness begins to break down for me.
All Transit offers a quick way to show how different cities and neighborhoods in cities stack up, and the ratings general match with general perception of which American cities have decent public transit (places like Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, all have scores in the 9’s). But it is one thing to count the number of jobs located near a rail and bus station, and another to tell if the transit system is actually connecting the people who rely on transit to the jobs they need. As the low income housing map suggests, there is a more complicated story of connectivity, opportunity, and inequitable mobility hidden beneath the numbers.
That said, one thing I noticed when looking at other cities’ data is that places with high scores all generally had a high ratio of jobs within a 30-minute commute to jobs located within a 1/2 mile of transit. This appears to be a good baseline indicator of whether or not a transit system is useful. It suggests that improving a public transit system would mean increasing the number of jobs within a 30-minute commute average for households.
That’s where the story of Dallas’ relative public transit success begins to really break down. All Transit tells us that while Dallas is middle-of-the-road compared to most American cities, it is doing pretty well with public transit when compared to other Texas cities. But will Dallas be able to improve its public transit system? I’m not so sure.
Let’s look at that public transit heat map again. Notice how some of the corridors with poor access to public transit — like the Dallas North Tollway or anything north of the Plano border (Frisco receives a 0.1 rating) — are actually the places where the region is experiencing the greatest amount job growth. In other words, if improving public transit means increasing the number of jobs that are within short commuting distances to workers, then Dallas seems to be growing in such a way that will only increase the commuting distance to new jobs. It all suggests that because of the way the region is growing, improving on that public transit mediocrity is going to be extremely difficult.