U of M Research Focuses on Perceptions of Transit Projects

By Yingling Fan, McKnight Land-Grant Assistant Professor and Andrew Guthrie, Research Fellow
University of Minnesota Humphrey School of Public Affairs
May 16, 2012

Major transit investments often improve access to surrounding neighborhoods and lead to reinvestment in those neighborhoods.  But these physical upgrades can also bring social change and community upheaval.  We were interested in learning more the perceptions and expectations of both residents and business owners in neighborhoods surrounding transit corridors.  Thanks to support from the Funders Collaborative and the Transitway Impacts Research Program, we set out to conduct two random-sampled surveys, one of residents and one of small business owners, in selected neighborhoods along Twin Cities transit corridors, including the existing Hiawatha LRT line,

  • The existing Northstar commuter rail line,
  • The planned Cedar Avenue BRT line, and
  • The planned Central Corridor LRT line (neighborhoods included Prospect Park in Minneapolis, along with Hamline-Midway, Thomas-Dale and Summit-University in Saint Paul) 

Survey of Residents
A random-sampled survey allowed the study to capture the full range of how station-area residents perceive neighborhood change, as well as how socioeconomic characteristics shape those perceptions, independent of media coverage. The questionnaire sorts respondents into those who see themselves gaining and losing from transit projects based on responses to key questions about overall past and future change in the neighborhood and specific impacts associated with the transit corridor.
We received 750 responses to the survey—195 from Central Corridor. Descriptive statistics and regression models lead to the following conclusions:

  • Residents of Central Corridor neighborhoods are generally optimistic about the trajectories of change in their neighborhoods and very optimistic about light rail.
  • Central Corridor residents were less likely than Hiawatha residents to perceive positive past impacts of transit development. However, this pattern disappears when it comes to perceived future transit corridor impacts.
  • African-Americans’ perceptions of light rail do not differ from others’, however, Asian urban respondents are less likely to have positive perceptions.
  • Current frequent transit users, transit-dependent residents, and residents with any experience of rail transit are more likely than other population groups to see their neighborhoods gaining from transit investments.
  • Residents expressed specific concerns over changes in neighborhood security, continued automotive access and pedestrian safety associated with transit corridors.
  • Residents also expected community development and placemaking benefits such as improved neighborhood retail and entertainment opportunities.

Survey of Businesses
Transitways can have profound impacts on nearby businesses. Following the completion of the resident survey, our research team conducted a similar survey of station-area businesses. The questionnaire used largely mirrors the questionnaire from the resident survey, again revolving around key questions that sort respondents into those who perceive gains and losses from transit projects.
160 businesses completed the randomly-sampled survey—40 per corridor. Descriptive statistics and regression models lead to the following conclusions:

  • Businesses are generally more positive about the future than the past.
  • Roughly 50% of Central Corridor businesses actually expect positive future impacts from light rail, but almost 40% expect negative impacts.
  • Nearly 80% of Central Corridor businesses have at least some concerns about short-term construction impacts.
  • Businesses with the lowest sales volumes, older businesses and automobile sales/service businesses tend to have more negative perceptions of transit corridor impacts.
  • Racial/nativity status divisions are powerful, but complex and inconsistent.
  • Belief that customers ride or will ride has a major, positive impact on perceptions.

Policy Implications

Although perceptions of transitways’ neighborhood impacts are generally positive, policy makers are encouraged to address variations in perceptions among residents and business owners. These variations call for targeted outreach efforts. Neighborhood security, continued automotive access and pedestrian safety issues are important focal points for outreach to community members with negative perceptions.   It is also important that outreach efforts engage community members who expect positive impacts to tap into a base of community support for transit improvements and strengthen links with the local community.  These outreach efforts may focus on community development, business attraction, and placemaking impacts of transitways.
People with experience of light rail tended to have strongly positive experiences. This finding underscores the importance of targeting non-users to build support. Current riders and the transit-dependent tend to have strong and positive perceptions of transit projects. These groups could also be a strong base of support for transitways if actively involved in the planning process.
The surveys also demonstrate a need for local community-sensitive station-area planning. Racial differences in perceptions especially highlight this need, as well as a need to involve minority communities. In addition, the results demonstrate that local communities requiring planning consideration and outreach efforts can be defined in multiple ways, including geography, cultural identity and time in the neighborhood.
To Learn More
The final report will appear in the coming months, entitled Assessing Neighborhood and Social Influences of Transit Corridors. Visit  http://www.cts.umn.edu/Research/featured/transitways/ for more about the study and CTS transit research.