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Suburban Poverty and the Transit Connection

Today on the Streetsblog Network,
Yonah Freemark of The
Transport Politic
looks at the new Brookings
report on suburban poverty levels and the connection to
future transportation planning in those regions. Freemark, who recently
wrote about how the city of Paris is extending its transit
infrastructure to its traditionally lower-income suburbs, points out
that the challenges to transit in American suburbs are greater. The
infrastructure of American suburbs, as well as the governmental planning
mechanisms, present significant challenges to reducing automobile
dependence -- a dependence that weighs especially heavily on people with
low incomes. Freemark writes:

212413348_bc6fd150ea.jpgTransit in American suburbs faces
challenges. (Photo: richpix via

Thus far, few metropolitan areas have responded
adequately to the
transportation concerns that will progressively manifest themselves;
while central-city-oriented transit networks are promoted vigorously,
the concerns of suburbs are sidelined (including by this site). This
condition seems unlikely to improve, with few metropolitan areas
actually planning as a region, unlike Paris, where
transportation planning and financing is conducted from the regional

There are major differences between the U.S. and France: American
suburbs are incredibly sprawled-out, which means that high-quality,
high-capacity transit would be both inefficient and inappropriate in
most places. Indeed, U.S.
poverty can increasingly be defined as a car-dependent one

— which means that expecting to address transportation needs of the
least well-off in the suburbs through better public transportation will
be a failure in the short-term. This also means, unfortunately, that
policies that increase costs of driving will fall directly on a large
number of the working poor.

The development of a more equitable and sustainable
system demands an intense effort to densify and pedestrianize the same
suburbs that are rapidly becoming economically diverse. We cannot
continue allowing — and often subsidizing — people to live in isolated
cul-de-sac neighborhoods completely inaccessible to anything by
anything but a private automobiles. We must construct new town centers
in suburban communities with essential services and mixed-income
housing accessible via transit to urban cores. The current trends,
enforced by local, state, and national planning decisions, are
producing a lower class that spends far too much on private

It’s a reckless course barreling straight towards increasing

More from around the network:
takes a jab at creative-class promoter Richard Florida and his
prescriptions for struggling cities. Cyclelicious
tips a hat to the legacy of Donald
's classic book, "Livable Streets." And the Missouri
Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation
reports on a study showing that
helmet laws discourage cycling.

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