Where You Live Determines Whether You Use Transit

Transportation choice in America is largely a product of where one lives, which is both directly and indirectly dependent upon core values and attitudes.

This is a major finding in TransitCenter’s Who’s on Board: The 2014 Mobility Attitudes Survey, and it supports the idea that transportation and land use are inextricably linked.

While there is a high demand for quality public transportation nationwide, such infrastructure is often missing in the places where Americans currently live. The findings support the idea that there is an unmet demand for mixed-use, walkable urban places – called WalkUPs, a term coined by Christopher Leinberger, chair of George Washington University’s Center for Real Estate and Urban Analysis.

Fifty-eight percent of respondents to TransitCenter’s survey consider their ideal neighborhood to contain “a mix of houses, shops, and businesses,” though not necessarily located in the urban core. Only 39 percent of the respondents currently live in that ideal type of neighborhood.

Americans, in fact, are much more likely to live in the type of neighborhood they grew up in.

The report is further evidence that Americans are growing out of love with sprawl, and bolsters research performed by Leinberger, who has said that at current rates of production, it will take 20-plus years to satisfy the demand for WalkUPs.

“Traditional cities” such as Washington D.C. and New York City have the greatest share of transit users and commuters, followed by the West Coast cities, where 31 percent of people under 30 use public transit at least once a week.

Americans who reside in mixed-use neighborhoods are far more likely to use public transit than those who live in residential-only (suburban) neighborhoods.

In other words, TransitCenter’s research suggests that most people will abandon their automobiles not when enticed onto public transit, but rather once they move to a mixed-use, urban, environment.

The report finds a connection between core values of Americans – who they are as people – and where they choose to live. Values also inform how they choose to travel.

The values positively correlated with likelihood to take transit include those toward:

  • community and urbanism,
  • productivity and connection, and
  • the environment.

The attitudes positively correlated with likelihood to take transit include:

  • a preference for social environments,
  • a preference to try new things,
  • a desire to be productive while traveling,
  • having grown up taking transit (although see here for an interesting juxtaposition in the findings), and
  • a dislike for driving.

The greatest indicator of transit usage, though, is neighborhood type. Meeting the pent-up demand for mixed-use neighborhoods, and enticing people to move to them, suggests the report, will have the biggest influence on transit usage.


Regarding this survey, David Bragdon, executive director of TransitCenter, said, “These findings provide concrete evidence of what many of us in the transit field have long suspected: there is a desire for reliable, quality transportation in communities across all regions of the U.S., and among riders of all ages, backgrounds and financial status.”

Bragdon said, “Unfortunately, this desire is largely going unmet, to the detriment of many local economies. To serve – and attract – residents and workforces today and in the future, cities need to unite land use and transit planning to form comprehensive, innovative infrastructures that can support this demand.”

Splash photo and story photo by the author.

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