Reshaping the Region: Transit Proximity and Leverage in Metropolitan Boston, Massachusetts

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

place - north america, place - urban, mode - bus, mode - bus rapid transit, mode - rail, land use - impacts, land use - planning, land use - urban density, infrastructure - station, infrastructure - stop, ridership - behaviour, planning - environmental impact


land use, travel behavior, high-frequency transit, transit leverage


The American Public Transportation Association’s use of a “land use multiplier” as part of its methodology for calculating greenhouse gas reduction from transit has increased interest in methodologies that quantify the impact of transit systems on land use and vehicle miles traveled. Such transit leverage, however, is frequently evaluated for urbanized areas, although transit systems serve only a small proportion of those areas. If transit leverage is stronger in areas closer to transit stations, studies based on larger geographies may underestimate land use and travel behavior effects in transit-served areas. A geographic information system–based data set was developed to understand better the leverage effects associated with the mature and extensive Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority transit system in areas proximate to its stations throughout Metropolitan Boston. The region was divided into the subregion that was transit-proximate (within a half mile of a rapid transit station or key bus route), the portion that was commuter rail–proximate, and the remaining 93.3% of the region that was not proximate to high-frequency transit. Households in the transit-proximate subregion were significantly more likely to commute by transit (and walking or biking), less likely to own a car, and drove fewer miles than households in the non-transit-served areas of the region. Commuter rail–proximate areas, although denser than the region as a whole, exhibited more driving and car ownership than regional averages. Given these spatial and modal variations, future efforts to understand transit leverage should separately evaluate land use and travel effects by mode and proximity to transit stations.


Permission to publish the abstract has been given by Transportation Research Board, Washington, copyright remains with them.