Vestiges of Transit: Urban Persistence at a Micro Sale
70 Pages Posted: 17 Apr 2016
Date Written: September 18, 2014
Intra-city density heavily influences both economic activity and the amenities that neighborhoods can offer. In this paper, we examine the persistence of intra-urban density, specifically by analyzing Los Angeles streetcars’ long-run impact on urban form. Streetcars had their heyday in the 1910s, experienced declining ridership thereafter, and were off the road entirely by 1963. Our theoretical framework suggests that, in the absence of increasing returns to scale in density (agglomeration) or land use regulation, density near streetcars should return to that of other locations after the streetcar’s demise. Despite the streetcar’s extinction, we observe a persistent correlation between current day population density and distance to the streetcar that reinforces, rather than weakens, from 1940 to the present. We use property-level data and an estimation strategy comparing streetcar stop areas to very close geographic neighbors to argue that the effect we observe is driven neither by the preferential geographic location of streetcars nor substantially by their influence on follow-on public capital investments such as roads. Because new structures near streetcars are as dense as the average structure, we also reject the argument that density is driven by old structures that have not yet reached time for redevelopment. We find that modern zoning statistically explains the density near streetcars, and that modern zoning is substantially correlated with the initial zoning that post-dates the streetcar. We find evidence consistent with both zoning and agglomerative forces at small scale working to causes persistent density.
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation