The Virginian-Pilot

Light rail can reorder life around train stations in ways that help attract people and business and protect surrounding communities.

It has done so in places as different as Portland, Ore., Salt Lake City and Charlotte. It will do so in Hampton Roads.

The principle that mass transit changes cities and the people in them showed up again last month in a study from scientists at the University of Southern California.

The researchers looked at how a new light-rail line has changed the lives of Los Angelinos, whose city is known for its entrenched car culture. The Exposition Line runs for 8.7 miles, from downtown Los Angeles westward. It has six stops and is the first of six new lines due to open in the city by 2020.

According to the USC scientists, who studied about 100 households within a half-mile of the new stations before and after they opened, light rail led to huge reductions in driving, increases in physical activity and large reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions.

The study also examined the lives of 100 people in a comparable neighborhood not near a light-rail stop, providing the researchers with a control group. Residents of that neighborhood showed no change in behavior after light rail arrived.

That allowed the scientists to conclude that the difference – for the folks within a 10-minute walk of the stations – was light rail itself.

Travel patterns and greenhouse-gas emissions measure but a few aspects of mass transit’s success. Rail ranks among the most costly projects any growing community builds, a fact that generally dominates debate about the wisdom of construction. {….}