Alex Cecchini recently argued that we should allow multifamily buildings along leafy, quiet streets. One of the points he used to support his argument was that transit service in many Minneapolis neighborhoods is flexible. This point seemed particularly ripe for further analysis and visualization. How good is transit in low-density neighborhoods in Minneapolis? Is our zoning code preventing people from living in areas with lots of economic opportunity?
I used two data sets: zoning districts for Minneapolis, and transit access to jobs for the Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI metropolitan statistical area. I got the zoning data from the City of Minneapolis’s Open Data site, and I got the transit access numbers from the University of Minnesota’s Accessibility Observatory, run by streets.mn’s own David Levinson. The zoning data should be up to date. The transit data is from 2014, so it doesn’t show the effects of the Green Line LRT, but it isn’t missing any drastic changes to transit in Minneapolis.
I used the two datasets to find the overlap between low-density zoning and high transit service. Minneapolis defines “low-density residential district” as being the following zones: R1, R1A, R2, and R2B (Chapter 546.20(1)). I defined “high transit service” as being the 10% of the metro area with the greatest access to jobs by transit. In other words, I found the areas where you could access more jobs by transit than in 90% of the rest of the metro area. To show some nuance, I further classified these areas with high transit access to jobs as being above the 90th percentile, the 95th percentile, or the 99th percentile of the region.
Then, I found the intersection of the high-transit areas and the low-density zoning areas. I was left with a layer that shows where transit access to jobs is very high (top ten percent in the region), and the primary zoning code doesn’t allow anything denser than a duplex. (If I had wanted to be more thorough, I would have looked at the overlay zoning districts, too.) The blank spaces either have different zoning (downtown, for example), or worse transit access to jobs (Longfellow and Southwest).
Here’s the map (interactive version here):
This map shows that big chunks all over the city are both zoned for low-density residential and has more access to jobs by transit than 90% of the metro. Small areas in close-in neighborhoods (mostly along Franklin Avenue in South Minneapolis and University Avenue in Northeast and Southeast) are zoned for low-density residential use despite having more useful transit than 99% of the region. It’s predictable that Minneapolis has good access to jobs by transit, because we have a big downtown job center and transit lines (bus and rail) that converge on downtown like spokes on a hub. So, a person who’s closer to downtown not only benefits from having a shorter bus ride, but has more bus routes to choose from. Being farther away from where the jobs are geometrically entails having worse access to the jobs.
Alex is right: many single-family homes on quiet, leafy streets have exceptional transit service (as measured by access to jobs by transit). It’s not necessary to live directly on a busy street to benefit from transit. If we want apartment- and condo-dwellers to live in places where they can get by without needing a car every day, then we should make room for them in the interiors of our close-in neighborhoods.
Note that I am not calling for the mass demolition of grand old houses! The difference between a single-family building and a multi-family building is often one of function, not form. Zoned properly, six-thousand-square-foot homes in Lowry Hill (for example) could be adaptively reused as spacious triplexes or fourplexes.
Part of smart growth is letting people live where they can get to a lot of valuable destinations without having to use an expensive, dangerous, and polluting vehicle every day. In order to make the most of Metro Transit service, and to make the most of Minneapolis’s limited land area, we should permit multi-family buildings in areas that are within walking distance of downtown.