If You Build It, They Will Ride: Expo Line Edition
In news that comes as no surprise to transit advocates, a USC study released this week shows that people who live near the Expo Line are driving less.
Angelenos who live near an Exposition Light Rail station dramatically reduced the number of miles they drove and tripled their rail ridership after the opening of the new rail line last year, a new USC study released Monday shows.
Residents living within a half-mile of the new station traveled 10 to 12 fewer miles daily by car – a 40 percent decrease – after the new rail line opened, according to the study.
That same group also tripled their rate of rail travel, from an average of one daily rail trip per household before the Expo Line opened to almost three daily household rail trips after it opened, according to the report.
The study also found that people living near the stations saw their carbon emissions go down by 30 percent while the amount of time they spent engaged in moderate or vigorous physical activity went up by 8 to 10 minutes a day. The effect on car usage and rail ridership was most pronounced near stations well served by connecting buses and where streets were not as wide.
This is worth keeping in mind as discussions fly about remaking the high speed rail route. The California High Speed Rail Authority has done many things right, and one of the most important was putting the stations in city centers, near population rather than away from them, in locations with good transit service (or in the case of Fresno and Bakersfield, locations with the right conditions for good transit service). HSR’s catchment area is much larger than a half mile, of course. But by building urban, city center stations the system can attract more riders, especially when those stations are themselves linked to connecting rail.
The Expo Line numbers are impressive given that the line is only half open, with construction moving quickly on the other half from Culver City to Santa Monica. Ultimately it will connect Union Station to the beach in Santa Monica in about 45 minutes. Eventually one will be able to go from downtown San Francisco to Santa Monica in about 3:30 (assuming you can get from the HSR platform to the Expo Line platform quickly!).
Californians are repeatedly showing that there is a huge demand in the state for passenger rail service. It’s time for the state to step up and fund even more of it, from new Metro Rail lines to the bullet trains that will connect the state.