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Study documents need to account for low-income communities in planning transit

General Foundation News

The development of light-rail transit systems in U.S. cities represents a positive step toward reducing urban sprawl and traffic congestion and revitalizing inner-city neighborhoods. A recent research report by PolicyLink finds light rail also generates new jobs for residents and creates compact, walkable communities centered around transportation.

However, carefully designed transportation planning and land-use regulations – and broad-based community participation in decision-making – are critical to ensure that low-income and minority households are not displaced and share equitably in the health and economic benefits of transit-oriented development, researchers say.

The report “Healthy Corridor for All” provides a comprehensive health impact assessment of a rezoning proposal that would lay the foundation for infrastructure development along a $1 billion light-rail line connecting the downtowns of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn. According to some estimates, the Twin Cities’ new 11-mile Central Corridor line would spur up to $7 billion in public and private investment over the next 20 years.

The light-rail line route passes through racially diverse, low-income communities, which stand to benefit from increased economic activity, expanded affordable housing, improved transit access, and greater infrastructure investment. However, many neighborhood residents express concerns that they may be forced out of their homes and businesses by rising prices, changing ethnic markets, and altered social-support systems.

PolicyLink, a national research and action institute, collaborated with TakeAction Minnesota and ISAIAH on the two-year research project. The partners identified the potential impacts of transit-oriented development on the health and well-being of existing communities. The overarching goal was to empower residents and improve community health in the Central Corridor.

The Kresge Foundation’s Health Program was among the funders.

“Creating equitable transit-oriented development is critical and possible in the Central Corridor, but it takes creative thinking and working closely with the community,” says Angela Glover Blackwell, PolicyLink CEO and founder. “Low-income people and communities of color cannot be left behind as new opportunities enter their communities.”

Among the findings:

  • Rents are likely to rise during redevelopment, forcing residents and small minority-owned businesses to leave their communities.
  • Most new jobs to will require higher education.
  • Transit access will increase.
  • Rezoning does not go far enough to support a healthy, equitable Central Corridor.


Policy recommendations to mitigate the potential negative impacts of the rezoning include:

  • Create a community equity pilot program to ensure affordable housing maintenance and production.
  • Codify the commitment to affordable housing and neighborhood cohesion.
  • Provide a density-bonus program to promote affordable housing.
  • Use undeveloped parcels for temporary parking during light-rail line construction.
  • Support the hiring of local workers on construction projects.