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Rating Calif. Transit Systems on Creating Greener, Walkable Neighborhoods

A Muni streetcar along the Embarcadero in San Francisco during the December holiday season. Credit: Luciano Mortula/iStockphoto.
A Muni streetcar along the Embarcadero in San Francisco during the December holiday season. Credit: Luciano Mortula/iStockphoto.
October 6, 2015

BERKELEY, Calif. – Encouraging Californians to use the state's light-rail systems instead of driving is being promoted as one way to combat climate change.

A report out today from UC Berkeley and the nonprofit Next 10 rates transit systems like the Metro in Los Angeles and BART in San Francisco, and finds that stations in downtown areas give California the most "bang for the buck" in terms of increasing ridership and fostering vibrant neighborhoods.

Ethan Elkind, associate director of the Climate Change and Business Research Initiative at UC Berkeley, is the report's lead author. He says proximity to transit stations in urban areas is a factor that needs to be considered.

"We have to think about walkability, proximity to amenities, affordability, number of jobs and households located there," he says. "Also the percentage of people in those areas, either employees or residents who actually use the transit system."

The report gave Muni and BART in the Bay Area a letter grade of B, which were the highest scores issued in the study. Los Angeles Metro Rail and Sacramento Regional Transit both got Cs, while San Diego Metropolitan Transit and Santa Clara VTA both scored a C-minus.

Elkind says the lowest-scoring transit hubs tend to be isolated park-and-ride type stations that draw suburban commuters, but are too far from jobs and housing to attract local riders.

"You probably don't need to provide rail service to those areas," he says. "What you could provide instead might be shuttle buses, or bus-only lanes. There's much cheaper ways of serving areas that don't have high demand and high walkability."

The report says communities with low-scoring transit hubs can take advantage of the existing infrastructure investment by making sure local zoning laws and other regulations encourage companies and real estate developers to locate projects in and around rail stations.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - CA