Leveraging Federal Funding for Transit Accessibility

Just 8 percent of U.S. households live near “high-quality transit.” How can federal infrastructure spending help fill this gap?

1 minute read

January 17, 2023, 9:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Blue and yellow light rail train pulling into outdoor station in St. Paul, MInnesota

Aaron of L.A. Photography / St. Paul light rail train

The Urban Institute’s Yonah Freemark assesses the potential of transit funding allocated in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), which could help agencies bring public transit to more than the 8 percent of U.S. households that currently live near “high-quality transit.”

Freemark’s research on transit accessibility found that this percentage grew from a low of 5 percent in the 1990s, but that U.S. accessibility is far below that of other countries such as Canada, England, or France. “That’s one reason the average resident of France and the United Kingdom takes almost four times as many (PDF) transit trips annually as the average US resident,” Freemark explains.

Freemark describes planned transit projects in Minneapolis and Seattle, the cities with the most robust plans for their IIJA dollars. “When selecting projects for funding from IIJA, US Department of Transportation officials could consider how much investments may increase transit access to a higher share of the population, especially if those projects can improve accessibility to employment and other needs for people of color and residents with low incomes.” Freemark also advises linking transit plans with land use policy reform that encourages transit-oriented development (TOD) and investing in areas with high population density and poor transit access.

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