“…in leading a life of inquiry and exploration on the sea of doubt without a compass and guide…out in the middle of the immense ocean of ideas one often longs to return to firm land” – Emerson
My research interests fall into the broad categories of economic development, political theory, transportation and public policy but for the past three years I’ve been focusing on the intersection of transportation, economic development and land regulation in American cities. I started my dissertation research with an interest in how public subsidies are used to encourage property development near modern streetcar projects. I felt that investigating subsidy-provision near transit investments is important for two reasons. First, it increases our understanding of the range of tools used in transit-oriented development (TOD) projects. Second, understanding the use of subsidies is important for assessing the social equity aspects of streetcar projects. The fiscal behavior of public entities is at the heart of questions about social equity, as resources spent on specific investments or to stimulate private activity is intentional redistribution toward particular purposes and away from others. By looking holistically at the public resources used in streetcar projects, as well as the decision-making apparatuses that determine the allocation of resources, my research hopes to inform local planning practice to favor more equitable development patterns in U.S. cities. Below is an updated summary of the dissertation project.
Modern Streetcars in U.S. Cities: Institutional Innovations and Pitfalls
Progressive ideas about land use and transportation (i.e. higher density, less parking, more active and collective modes of transport) face substantial barriers to implementation in mid-size American cities. Over the last decade, however, an increasing number of these urban areas have turned to modern streetcar systems as a solution to achieving the progressive ideals articulated in their regional and local planning documents. This dissertation looks at the implementation of modern streetcar projects to identify the institutional barriers faced by local actors and the innovations being crafted to overcome them. Key barriers identified by local implementers include (1) federal funding schemes that do not encourage the integration of land use and transportation, (2) state laws about taxation and public financing, (3) state policies on the use and purpose of economic development subsidies, (4) resistance to lower parking and higher density developments from private lending institutions and (5) an entrenched sentiment among elected officials and the public that collective transport is only a social service for the poor. Institutional innovations crafted to overcome these barriers include the creation of a new financing mechanisms for public transit, the establishment of a new governing bodies for public transit, leveraging existing economic development tools for new purposes and changing the public discourse to emphasize the economic transformation and placemaking benefits rather than the mobility benefits of transit.
While local innovations have been successful for implementing “starter” streetcar lines, there is a real possibility that these innovations may preclude long-term sustainable development, and regional transit investment. Corridor-based financing mechanisms have limited use for funding new transit across the city and region. Governance models that vest decision making with property owners in a single corridor preclude cross-subsidizing transit usage to areas that may have larger transit dependent populations. Discursive changes that frame transit as an economic development – rather than a mobility – tool have impacts on where future transit investments will be sited and how funds will be raised to pay for them. Local policymakers have faith that streetcars – and the real estate development patterns they facilitate – will change the politics of transit investment and land use policy in their regions, although history tells us that this is not a foregone conclusion. After identifying the institutional barriers and innovations in modern streetcar projects, this dissertation concludes with an assessment of the steps that need to be taken now and into the future to ensure that today’s innovations do not become tomorrow’s barriers to building inclusive, sustainable urban areas.
Referred Publications and Book Chapters:
King, David A., and Lauren Ames Fischer. “Streetcar projects as spatial planning: A shift in transport planning in the United States.” Journal of Transport Geography 54 (2016): 383-390.
Schwieterman, Joseph P & Fischer, Lauren A. 2017. The S-Curve of Technological Adoption: Mobile Communication Devices on Commuter Trains in the Chicago Region, 2010–2015. Journal of Public Transportation, 20 (2): 1-18.
Fischer, Lauren Ames and Elliott Sclar. “Value Capture: Why We May Be Disappointed” in Improving Urban Access: New Approaches to Funding Transit Investment, edited by Elliott Sclar, Mans Lonnroth and Christian Wolmar. Routledge (2016).
Schwieterman, Joseph and Lauren Fischer. “Competition from the Curb: Survey of Passengers on Discount Curbside Bus Operators in Eastern and Midwestern Cities” Transportation Research Record 2012: 2277. December 2012.
Fischer, Lauren and Joseph Schwieterman. “The Decline and Recovery of Intercity Bus Service in the United States: A Comeback for an Environmentally Friendly Transportation Mode?” Environmental Practice, 13(1): 7-15. March 2011 (Cambridge University Press).
Schwieterman, Joseph and Lauren Fischer. “Variations in the Rates of Passenger Usage of Portable Technology on Intercity Buses, Trains and Planes: Implications for Transportation Planning” Journal of Transportation Law, Logistics and Policy, 2011. Vol. 78, Number 1.
Curbside Bus Reports:
Schwieterman, J., Fischer, L., Ghosal, C., Largent, P. Netzel, N. and M. Schulz. 2011. The Intercity Bus Rolls to Record Expansion: 2011 Update on Scheduled Motor Coach Service in the United States. Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development Policy Study, Chicago, IL.
Schwieterman, J. and L. Fischer. 2010. The Intercity Bus: America’s Fastest Growing Transportation Mode: 2010 Update on Scheduled Bus Service. Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development Policy Study, Chicago, IL.
Schwieterman, J. and L. Fischer. 2008. The Return of the Intercity Bus: 2008 Update. Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development Policy Study, Chicago, IL.
Schwieterman, J., Fischer, L., Smith, S. and C. Towles. 2007. The Return of the Intercity Bus: The Decline and Recovery of Scheduled Service to American Cities, 1960-2007. Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development Policy Study, Chicago, IL.
Technology and Travel Reports:
Schwieterman, J. and L. Fischer. 2010. Privacy Invades Public Space: The Growing Use of Portable Technology on Intercity Buses, Trains and Planes between 2009 and 2010. Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development Policy Study, Chicago, IL.
Schwieterman, J, Fischer, L. Field, S. Pizzano, A. and S. Urbanczyk. 2009. Is Portable Technology Changing how Americans Travel? A Survey of the Use of Electronic Devises on Intercity Buses, Trains and Planes. Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development Policy Study, Chicago, IL.
Fischer, Lauren Ames, Valerie Stahl and Bernadette Baird-Zars. (October 2017). Geographies of Exception: Zoning Relief in NYC, 1998-2017. Paper Presentation at the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning (ACSP), Denver.
Fischer, Lauren Ames. (October 2015). Integrated Planning or Divide and Conquer: Assessing the views of transport and economic development planners implementing modern streetcar projects in U.S. cities. Paper Presentation at the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning (ACSP), Houston.
Fischer, Lauren Ames. (April 2015). Who Pays? Who Benefits? Assessing the Social Equity of Modern Streetcar Projects in U.S. cities. Paper Presentation at American Association of Geographers (AAG), Chicago.
Fischer, Lauren Ames and Adam Davidson. (January 2015). (Re)Producing Transport Systems: Uber, Driverless Technology and the Modern City. Poster Presentation at Transportation Research Board (TRB), Washington D.C.
Fischer, Lauren Ames. (October 2014). Assessing the Rhetoric of Transit Oriented Development: Modern Streetcar Planning in U.S. cities Paper Presentation at Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning (ACSP), Philadelphia.
King, David A. and Lauren Ames Fischer. (June 2014) Assessing the long term land use changes associated with San Diego light rail: How long should we wait for change? World Symposium on Transport and Land Use Research, Delft (Netherlands).
King, David and Lauren Ames Fischer. (April 2013). Do New Rail Systems Affect Metropolitan Spatial Structure? American Association of Geographers (AAG), Los Angeles.
Schwieterman, J. and L. Fischer. (2012) Competition from the Curb: A Survey of Passengers on Discount Curbside Bus Operators in Eastern and Midwestern Cities. Transportation Research Board (TRB), Washington D.C.
Fischer, Lauren Ames. (2012) Build It and They Will Come…Maybe: An Evaluation of the Empirical Evidence for Transportation Investments and Economic Development. Krueckeberg Doctoral Conference in Planning and Public Policy, New Brunswick (NJ).
Schwieterman, J and L. Fischer. (2011) Privacy Invades Public Space: The Growing Use of Portable Electronic Technology on Intercity Buses, Trains and Planes between 2009 and 2010. Transportation Research Board (TRB), Washington D.C.