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The Need for Increasing the Capacity of Public Transportation Infrastructure

Area Development Online Research Desk (Q1 2014)
We often think of the nation’s transportation infrastructure in terms of moving goods in to, out of, and around the United States by water, air, rail, and road. But what about moving people in densely populated areas…areas where high-tech industries cluster?

With respect to this issue, a recent report, entitled “The Role of Transit in Support of High Growth Business Clusters in the U.S,” examines how America’s fastest-growing, knowledge-intensive industries — such as biotechnology and information-technology — are creating demand for land and transportation capacity in cities where these industrial clusters are concentrated.

High-tech clustering increases travel demand and puts stress on the capacity of local public transportation infrastructure, according to the EDRG report The Boston-based Economic Development Research Group, Inc. (EDRG) prepared the report for the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). It discusses how the high-tech sector has transitioned to a greater emphasis on information technology services and biotech R&D services. This, in turn, has created the need for even tighter clustering in urban areas that have access to a highly skilled work force and proximity to leading research institutions.

This clustering of high-tech, high-growth industries adds to U.S. productivity and strengthens the nation’s competitive advantage. Milken Institute’s “Best Performing Cities” report explains how high-tech is responsible for allowing certain cities to weather the recent recession better than others. Nonetheless, this high-tech clustering also increases travel demand and puts stress on the capacity of local public transportation infrastructure, according to the EDRG report.

Specifically, the study examined high-tech business clusters in Boston, Seattle, Chicago, Atlanta, San Francisco, and Denver, to identify the transportation policy issues and needs being created by their growth. The case studies showed how high-tech, high-growth business clusters across the nation are facing limitations on future highway capacity and generating the need for public transportation solutions to support their future employment growth. Both older highway-oriented tech clusters and newer, urban-redevelopment clusters are facing this problem of strained transportation capacity. According to the report, private-sector stakeholders as well as public agencies are aware of this problem and are already initiating and planning for future investment in public transportation to address these needs.

According to EDRG President, Glen Weisbrod, “While the study raises as many questions as it answers, it clearly points to the need for a national discussion — not just about the role of business cluster locations in supporting global economic competitiveness, but also about ‘real world’ needs for public transportation investment to help sustain their growth.” The research indicates that a failure to increase public transportation availability at high-tech business clusters will cost the United States billions of dollars in lost economic activity.
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