Recently, the Downtown Little Rock Partnership, the North Little Rock Chamber of Commerce, the Maumelle Chamber of Commerce and several community leaders have endorsed the quarter-cent sales tax to fund public transit on the March 1 Pulaski County ballot.
Even though some of these advocates don’t personally use the Rock Region Metro transit system, they recognize the economic benefits of public infrastructure investment: helping citizens get to destinations such as their jobs, schools, vocational training and health care; easing congestion and parking needs; conserving natural resources while reducing pollution; providing the alternate transportation choices that in-demand workers want; and allowing our senior citizens to remain active in their communities.
Maybe you expect a real estate developer with a background in urban planning to tout the economic benefits of transit investment. Research shows that transit indeed improves property values. But don’t just take my word for it.
Consider some of our current local initiatives to develop jobs and attract high-talent workers to our area: In its Dec. 14 article, Arkansas Business identified the Little Rock Technology Park as the type of rejuvenating “innovation district” featured in the Brookings Institute’s 2014 report, “The Rise of Innovation Districts.” This report details the key elements of successful innovation districts, which create a “physical and economic transformation [within cities]. This change is powered, in part, by transit access.”
Or read one of several pro-transit articles written by Paul Weyrich, co-founder of conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation. In his writings, Weyrich notes that cities such as Portland, Oregon, have reduced air pollutant emissions through its transit system, indirectly avoiding federal mitigation for air quality control and keeping a competitive disadvantage at bay for expanding and attracting businesses.
A quick check of national news stories proves that millennials, the largest and most diverse generation of workers in America, want transportation choices and are spurring communities to adapt to their demands: For example, GM is launching a car-sharing program called Maven in Ann Arbor, targeting University of Michigan students and faculty, and Birmingham, Alabama, recently introduced its new Zyp BikeShare public-private partnership program.
Clearly, communities that intend to thrive in the 21st century need to make investments now to build the appealing transit systems of tomorrow. Here in central Arkansas, we need a transit system that complements the efforts of the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce’s Create Little Rock and Stock in the Rock programs, North Little Rock’s Innovation Hub and Little Rock’s Creative Corridor and Tech Park to attract top talent to drive our economy.
The board, staff and advocates for Rock Region Metro understand this trend and have spent the past 18 months developing the Move Central Arkansas plan to bring modern transit to central Arkansas. It is a fully vetted plan, guided by a professional transportation development firm and built with extensive community input.
The plan makes possible better and more bus service, including the possibility of bringing bus rapid transit to our system’s core, bringing with it the promise of transit-oriented development along its corridors. The Cleveland HealthLine BRT project “leveraged … $118 of new investment per dollar invested in transit — by far the highest in the United States,” the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy says. Just four years after opening, the project, which links Cleveland’s two most important economic hubs, downtown and the University Circle, had generated a 67 percent increase in ridership. It has leveraged $5.8 billion in transit-oriented development.
While the Move Central Arkansas plan, if implemented, anticipates a more modest 30 to 40 percent increase in ridership, no one can deny the economic benefits the plan brings to our county in increasing connectivity among people and opportunities. The plan’s related tax will provide Rock Region Metro the dedicated funding source and autonomy it needs to make more efficient and effective public transit possible for our region. The time to act is now, before our streets and highways become impossible to navigate.
Having seen firsthand the agency’s progress in the past two years, I know Rock Region Metro is capable of aiding our economic development efforts and building a transit system other communities envy. All we have to do is vote for public transit om March 1.