Evaluation of the effect of rail intra-urban transit stations on neighborhood change

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Wyczalkowski, Christopher Kajetan
Esnard, Ann-Margaret
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Development of heavy rail intra-urban public transportation systems is an economically expensive policy tool for State and Local Governments that is often justified with the promise of economic development and neighborhood revitalization around station areas. However, the literature on the effects of rail intra-urban transit stations on neighborhoods is relatively thin, particularly on the socioeconomic effects. This quasi-experimental study evaluated the effect of heavy rail intra-urban transit stations on surrounding neighborhoods, using Atlanta, Georgia and its transit authority, the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA), as a case study. Atlanta is an expansive American city, with a large public transportation system, but low population density and no large-scale policies promoting growth around MARTA rail stations. The study period, 1970 to 2014, covers the entire period of MARTA’s existence – stations opened between 1979 and 2000. Neighborhood change was operationalized with a neighborhood change index (NCI), built on the Neighborhood Life-Cycle framework, with an adaptation that incorporates both the filtering (negative NCI) and gentrification (positive NCI) models of neighborhood change. The study differentiates between an initial effect of new MARTA rail stations, and a long-term effect. Control groups were formed using one and three mile buffers, as well as a matching strategy. Difference-in-difference (DID) models find very little evidence of a positive relationship of NCI with the opening of new MARTA rail stations. The economic recovery that began in 2010 is of special interest for housing research. To address this time-period this study utilized two models, with mixed results. The DID model suggested a negative effect of stations on the NCI. To control for selection bias in the 2010 to 2014 economic time-period, this study utilized propensity score matching to balance the treatment and control group on observed characteristics. A time and tract fixed effects model using the matched treatment and control groups found a significant positive effect of stations on neighborhood change. To test the long-term effect, a time and tract fixed effects model (1970-2014) with the NCI as the dependent variable found a positive NCI effect of MARTA stations on neighborhoods. Therefore, overall, positive neighborhood change (on the NCI scale) can be attributed to MARTA transit stations. Since 2002 MARTA ridership has slightly declined; therefore, the study concludes that given stagnant ridership, lack of supporting policy, and the finding of a positive relationship between MARTA transit stations and gentrification, the stations are a positive amenity, and are a significant contributor to neighborhood change. However, neighborhoods are heterogeneous on many dimensions, and the effect of rail intra-urban transit stations on neighborhoods may depend on the tract’s location, service characteristics, accessibility, and many other unobserved characteristics. Future research will supplement this methodology with additional data and compare the effect of intra-urban transit stations on neighborhood change in other cities to better address potential neighborhood heterogeneity.
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