Mobility for Whom? Transit Equity in the Unaffordable City
McKane, Rachel Gayle
This dissertation challenges us to redefine transportation (in)accessibility in the age of rampant development and racial banishment in the gentrifying city. The first paper links the affordable housing crisis to a crisis of public transit accessibility by exploring variation in distance to transit by median rent, housing prices, and percent rent burdened at the block-group level in six urban areas. The findings from the Bayesian hierarchical modeling show that across all cities, areas closer to public transit stations are becoming increasingly unaffordable. Thus, the findings represent an affordability paradox, whereby residents must choose between affordable housing with no transit access or unaffordable housing with transit access. The second paper explores how light rail transit (LRT), a particularly contentious form of transit-oriented development, is linked to gentrification, displacement, and racial banishment in the inner-city. This paper uses longitudinal data at the census tract level to demonstrate how proximity to LRT leads to changes in racial, economic, housing, and transit use characteristics in 11 urban areas that developed LRT between 1990 and 2004. The most important findings from this paper is that in some areas, the percent of racial minorities has rapidly declined since the development of LRT, but LRT has not increased public transit ridership overall. These findings highlight how, ironically, transit objects can be used as tools to benefit a system of racial capitalism that is detrimental to sustainability goals in cities. Finally, the third paper explores the racial dimensions of public transportation inaccessibility and links it to the process minority suburbanization. This paper uses cross-sectional and longitudinal data at the block-group level in 5 urban areas to measure the changing demographics of race and class in areas with poor access to frequent transit networks. The cross-sectional results show that areas that have poor access to public transit are wealthier and whiter, matching traditional demographics of suburban areas. However, the change models demonstrate that in many urban areas, places deemed inaccessible have seen an increase in racial minorities and low-income earners. Discrepancies between the cross sectional and change models demonstrate how accessibility is a dynamic process that is changing in the face of rampant urban development. Each paper highlights how transportation equity is an important site for sociological inquiry. This study challenges us to refine transportation accessibility and inaccessibility as both a product and a tool of a system of racialized capitalism that continues to shape the continual construction and reconstruction of the city.