Connecticut's "Transportation Gap"
New research from the Brookings Institution's Metropolitan Policy program finds a stark disparity in public transit options between Connecticut’s bigger cities and their surrounding areas.
Brookings researcher Adie Tomer spent two years running transportation models in 100 metro regions across America. He says having data on commuting times is crucial in figuring out how to jumpstart struggling economies.
“Public transportation is a critical cog in actually making sure our metropolitan economies function to the peak of their abilities," Tomer says.
Those metro regions Tomer looked at include Hartford, Bridgeport, and New Haven. They all rank in the middle of the pack when it comes to how much access people have to public transit. But more importantly, public transit is much harder to access for people trying to get to the suburbs – by a ratio of about three to one.
“Commuters are forced to route through downtown core, hub kind of station set-ups, and oftentimes that can create much longer timelines for commuting," says Tomer, "just long enough that can maybe induce people to take their car.”
The finding might sound a little obvious. But it has important implications for states like Connecticut as they envision a future where people shed their cars for the train and the bus. Across the metro areas Tomer looked at, 65 million jobs are in the suburbs. Only 38 million are in the cities.
Tomer says transportation planners need to focus on suburb-to-suburb routes, not just the big cities. But that means land-use planners would need to make suburbs less, well, suburban.
“Connecticut is a suburban state, and that’s really the issue that we’re talking about here," says Norman Garrick, an associate professor of transportation engineering at the University of Connecticut. Garrick says most jobs in suburbs are located in places like office parks or malls. So even if there is a train station in the suburbs, it’s nearly impossible to get to.
"The patterns we have created over the past 50 years have made it very, very difficult to support public transportation.”
Still, Garrick says, initiatives like the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield commuter rail are a step in the right direction. But he’s looking to see whether the train stations in those smaller cities on the way – like Meriden and Windsor – are going to attract those suburban workers.
For more on this story, read the Connecticut Mirror at ctmirror.org.